Hemingway was wrong

by Christopher Klingbeil

I open the house. Pulling curtains, lifting blinds. The mountain range begins with foothills through our first son’s window. When I need to wake him I watch the sunrise looking west from his room. The hillsides rouse from shadow and navy into hides of sleeping bears. Cinnamon and gold even when the winter sunlight strikes, glowing closer into focus.

My father is supposed to call today. To say if he thinks he might die early. Now the kid is stirring. He’s wet the bed. Ammonia in the air. I missed my window and he slept right through the accident.

I strip the bedding. He peels red pajamas printed with Christmas elves from his soaking wet body. By seven, the hills are almost hiding beneath a brand new purple hem of clouds. A sfumato skitters across the hills as dust. The hills are like some dreamy memory of themselves. I start the laundry. While the kid runs naked through the house his bread loaf feet pad dry piss into the blonde wood flooring. Then I’m trying to dress him for school. To run him down. Deciding what to do about everything outside. The purple prairie dress above the hills has swept itself into a gloam of blue. Too early, the sky is growing bruised again. The kid hasn’t heard a word I’ve said.

Then the wind goes upslope. I’m still chasing him for his boots. The attic beams pop like knuckles on a ridge. The whole world heaves. Some big bad wolf. Another moment and it’s snowing sideways. The hills are gone and then you are gone and again there’s nothing but the chase of leaving to keep our schedule. We’re already late. We’ll be driving through the first and wild snow of another brand-new year with Goodyear tires. My father might have devastating news. Or he might not call.

At seven fifteen my phone alerts: THIS IS A SQUALL WATCH OUT FOR THE SQUALL. At seven thirty we’re driving through the snow and fog. The edges of the road are gone. The railroad tracks are here and then gone. The kid is crying about his pajamas. He can’t wear them again tonight. The snow is another sheet torn sideways. A train light might emerge the same as any school bus strobe tipped off its track. He’s wailing about wet pajamas. I’m crying for quietude. I can’t see, I tell him, yelling. I’m like a barking dog. White spots appear and then disappear. There’s something already wrong with us. Then the sound of a call the same as an alarm and a silhouette substitute for your face rings through.

I press my thumb against the wheel for answering, Yes, while the horizon is a wall of gray we just keep driving through.

It’s static before you ask, How’s the weather? Snowing yet?

You live a thousand miles off. Do you know already?

Nice here, you say. I’m safe for now.

What does that mean? You’re good.

I’m good. Good until I ain’t.

The wipers thunk like sticks dragged down the stairs.

Your mother was looking into my funeral nonetheless, says hi by the way.

Hi! the kid chimes. He holds a wooden trailer for make-believe cars. Folding it flat and opening it like an organ for the wind. Messed my sheets, he says.

That’s good, you say. More static on the line.

I say, It’s snowing, again, although it’s ending.

                                                                                I don’t know why.

                                                              These words are not a part of how I’m moving.
                                                              What I know to be cornfields pass by outside,
                                                              unseen. I picture us all around a coffin in the
                                                              snow above a hole in the snow and the ground.
                                                              The smell of grass and new flowers when we
                                                              realize we have to wait to bury anyone who
                                                              dies in winter where you live.

I think I ask about what comes next.

Next? It’s what comes first. The preparation. Remember?

You tell a story about yourself doing my same job. Maybe you didn’t hear right.

Talking about what amounts of snow you shoveled to get through to us on any night in February. Thin yellow lights above a dining room table in the yellow house in a field so covered in snow you could barely see it from the end of the drive. And when you get inside we’re just fighting and screaming about not sharing the same dumb toys.

                                                              But you’re in it, you say. You see.

Better at it than I was.

                        Better at it than I was.

I offer thanks, although it’s unclear if I am speaking or being heard.

                                                              More static. Are those strings attached to ether
                                                              and the distance? Or just more telephone poles
                                                              in rows to hold the ice?

You sound like you have something else to do.

                                                              The fog is either going icy or the ice is giving
                                                              way to fog. Gravity is a memory

Tell everyone I love them. I say hi.

                              Could be either one of us on either line. We say goodbye I’ll call you
                              later. We say we love you now. I think about our white car
                              overturned in the washout fog or worse. Hit by a train and turned to
                              pulp on the upholstery. I think about him losing us. He’s hardly met

The snow outside is suddenly thinning into dust. I turn off the windshield wipers. Half arcs freeze in the places where there had just been storm. In another minute the windshield is exactly what it does and we are at your school. The car lilting as if in harbor when we stop.

It’s eight and we’ve made it. The sky opens by a rift of blue so pure it might make you cry. The wind is sharp. When I step out of the car to get you out of the car it feels astonishing to stand here. Needles in my back and on the back of my bare neck.

                              There is blue above the hills again. Emerging as elephants through
                              thin fog. Let’s face it, the tusks create these signatures in the
                              distance. I point out small arcs of relief in the lines of shadows in
                              the hills where water runs like holding tails.

And I take a picture of us before the snowhide hills and beneath the blue that comes from knowing we’re alive today. The driveway will be shoveled when you come home.

When I catch you studying the backs of hands of the perfect strangers as I leave you in their care I share the picture we just took of us:

                      your unintended toeprints glint

                      against the window like a series

                      of crescent moons for the rows

                      of teeth the mountains pose

                      beneath some clouds just dancing

                      shedding themselves then catching

                      the way any monumental body

                      works as a dream of snow against

                      light falling in an opera

Safe for now. He said. He didn’t ask it. You were smiling in the picture with my arm around you.


Christopher Klingbeil is the author of evaporatus (ELJ Editions). He lives in Colorado, and teaches English at Laramie County Community College. His poems and stories appear or are forthcoming in mutiny!, fact-simile, Salt Hill, Radar, Vinyl, smoking glue gun, Slush Pile, and elsewhere.

Image: Otto Spechtenhauser

Image description: fog blankets blue-gray mountains.