A slant of light glares through the small oval window in the upstairs bedroom. Above the window, the roof peaks, and outside, especially when viewed from the street, the dramatic A-framed gable is reminiscent of a steeple. In high school, your third girlfriend, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, played bass for a heavy metal band called Prayer Hands.

The ray of sunshine is bright, an illusion of warmth striping your bare feet as you stand there—heels kicked off, cashmere tights slouched on the floor. While the twin bed remains, everything else has changed. Even your dresser is gone. The smell of fresh paint, taupe walls, a glossy white trim to match the new wainscotting.

A recumbent exercise bike occupies the area where your drafting table once imposed the cramped space, a yoga mat beneath the window where your fainting sofa used to be a sprawl of crushed red velvet, you’d hauled it down from the attic while your mother was at book club.

This sofa where you’d curl up with a book at night or nurse hangovers come Sunday morning. Where you’d reclined the first time you received cunnilingus: Amantha Evans, strawberry-blond curls, coke bottle lenses that steamed up, enthusiastic but probably still closeted at age thirty.

The yoga mat has a lotus stenciled on one end, the Om symbol on the other. A cairn of weights teeters beside a boom box from the eighties you remember being in the kitchen when you were a kid, perched atop the Frigidaire, NPR talking to your mother as she poached salmon or baked artichokes. When you first arrived six days ago, you noticed the stereo while putting your stuff away. Your mother was defrosting a casserole downstairs where the kitchen table was set for dinner, and stalling your return to her, or maybe looking for answers, you’d checked both sides of the dual cassette player.

On the right, you found Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate; the store-bought tape paused three-quarters of the way through “Joan of Arc,” and on the left, a compilation tape had Otis ready to sit on the dock of the bay.

Thalassophobia, you’d thought then as you do now: the persistent and intense fear of deep water such as an ocean or a lake.

To get to the airport you took a taxi across the Golden Gate Bridge, the orange steel winking through the fog, the sea below a churning cauldron.

The black dress you borrowed from your mother is too tight, the wool fibers itchy, further evidence of her full-fledged descent into anorexia athletica. You came to put on jeans, but now you can’t move—downstairs a murmur of friends and family, the nosiest of neighbors—downstairs, where your mother sips coffee while everyone else drinks wine from round glasses with dangerously thin stems. Downstairs, where your mother nods and greets each guest, “Thank you for coming.”

Last Sunday when she picked you up from the terminal this is also what she said. “Thank you for coming.” As if you weren’t her daughter, hadn’t swam the waters of her womb.

The oval window frames the canopy of the cottonwood in the yard, an image you’ve studied every time you got stuck like this getting dressed for school or work or a date, back when you still lived here, back when you still tried to call this house a home.

Your mother hates this tree, and while your parents discussed having it removed, it’s only gotten larger. The electric company routinely clips the rogue branches to protect the powerlines. The other houses on the block boast proper New England hardwoods—maples, black birch, hemlock—trees whose leaves catch fire every autumn, a spectacular display of scarlets and golds picture perfect for the postcards the tourists send home. Meanwhile, the swamp cottonwood drapes your parent’s house with white dander every spring, each garland a reminder of middle school when Caitlyn, Brianna, and Cora snuck into your yard to toss roll after roll of toilet paper into the night, Ultra Soft Charmin, one form of vandalism to punctuate another. In red spray-paint, scrawled across the side of the shed, they’d saved you the trouble of coming out.

Today, almost twenty years after they branded you a Pussy Eater Dyke!, a gust of wind sends the few remaining heart-shaped leaves spinning from the cottonwood into a cold blue October sky, and you too spin, six years back to the last time you were here; the last time you saw your dad alive.


There you are, packing to go back to finals, back to finish a clichéd paper on Kiki Smith’s feminist reaction to Duchamp’s iconic urinal. You’re folding long johns, the red kind with the butt flap, and even though you’re cross-legged on the floor, not standing in the spot that catches you now, you’d been distracted by the view the oval window had to offer. It telescoped you out of your body: That afternoon it was crows on the bare branches which caught your attention, the gray-yellow smear of a winter sky beyond them.

When your father knocked on the already open door, he’d asked, “Permission to enter?”

He knocked with the side of his fist, a small courtesy in a pushy world. He always did hate loud noises. Startled when the wind slammed the metal door on the shed, jumped if a passing car backfired. You knew why he was there and you couldn’t look at him.

You let your eyes wander from the window to the walls plastered with a palimpsest of your adolescence—fliers, ticket stubs, sketches, Polaroids, and Absolut vodka advertisements. Even though you’d been away at college for two years, this ephemera remained, and you figured they’d keep your room like this forever.

Your eyes landed on a poster of The Cure you bought with babysitting money when you were fourteen. A Technicolor close-up of the band member’s faces, each mouth a red blur, you were studying Robert Smith’s lips when you replied, “Sure Dad, permission to enter.”

But he didn’t.

He stood inside the doorway, didn’t even lean against the frame as he had in years past back when he’d check on you, ask to see your latest drawing or listen to whatever song you had playing on the scratchy turntable you kept atop the dresser once pressed against the wall next to the closet.

That morning you’d gone searching for your great-grandmother’s mink stole in the attic to use as a statement piece for a found art assemblage class at Pratt. Animals slaughtered in the name of capitalism and misogyny. Women wrapped in pelts of fox, turned trophy. But folded into the ratty fur you’d found a gun. Like opening another Christmas present you didn’t want.

The fur was disintegrating, coming out in clumps, moth-eaten, you wore it down to breakfast. Made sure your parents saw it swallow your hands as you rested your elbows on the table, your chin propped atop the carcass, the cracked leather emitting the ghost scent of Chanel No. 5.

Your dad had choked on his coffee, made a fist to cover his mouth as he tried to clear his windpipe, and your mother hit him on the back with a fist of her own, then turned to look at you and said, “Honestly Meredith.”

You didn’t put the gun back where the fur had always been stored. Where you’d been able to find the stole as a child when you’d play Jo from Little Women.

You’d never touched a real gun before. It was both heavier and lighter than it looked and the compulsion to lick the trigger passed quickly because the curved metal also made you want to puke.

You left it on top of the trunk, another message. But in case it was loaded, in case it could fire itself, you pointed it away from the trapdoor.

“It’s not what you think,” your dad had said.

“Okay,” you replied, and he flinched at this abbreviation for “alright.” He flinched as if the sharpness of a “k” could hurt a person.

Then you kneeled on your too-full suitcase trying to get it to latch. All those turtlenecks from the Gap your mother had meticulously gift wrapped, a trap, the different sheets of green and gold, the velveteen bows she tied by hand, you had to rip them open while she watched, and now the luggage wouldn’t shut.

You bore down with all one-hundred and twenty-three pounds of what you weighed back then until finally you heard the metallic click, but when you looked up again, your father was gone.


When the sparrow flies into the windowpane, you jump back into the present moment. The bird slides down the glass, drops from view, a streak of black in its wake.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Audubon Society.

At the service an hour and a half earlier, you’d overheard an aunt telling Mrs. Howard, the widow from across the street, that he’d done it in the attic.

Nathaniel (Nate) Lawrence is survived by his wife Sophia and daughter Meredith.

The attic is above this room. Its roof another steeple.

Nate was born in Mystic, Connecticut on September 1st, 1944.

You run down the stairs, past the whisper of aunts by the sideboard, through the vestibule where the damp coats crowd the hooks, out the door into the yard to find only leaves decomposing beneath the monolithic tree. No dead or wounded sparrow, not even a feather. A rake leans against the trunk, the bark the same gray as your one bad tooth.

You turn in circles searching the frostbitten grass. You check the skeletal tangle of lilac along the house where a Walgreens bag is caught, trembling in the breeze. A hose runs green from a spigot someone needs to detach before winter burrows in. The cold burns your feet, and you remember the need for shoes. You run back inside where the aunts all reach for you, so you say, “My feet,” and you jog back to the bedroom where the windowpane is so clean it might have just been washed.

But inside the stencil of the lotus on the yoga mat, the sparrow’s head bends backward, its eyes two black pearls, blood glistens from the yellow of the slightly parted, broken beak.

You know sparrows can swim fast to escape predators even though they aren’t technically water birds, yet you don’t know how you know this. You win at Trivial Pursuit and should be a contestant on Jeopardy. At age two you could beat most adults at Go Fish.

One wing is splayed open while the other attempts to blanket its own body. The feathers are mouse brown, the down a grayish-cream, the belly so round there must be eggs within.

You also know the event horizon is the spherical outer boundary of a black hole, a boundary beyond which the events cannot affect an observer, but you don’t actually know what this means. You need anecdotes to understand.

You crouch down to look at the sparrow.

“Thank you for coming,” you whisper, and an hour later, having changed, you’ll stand beside your mother in the vestibule. You will be wearing the 49ers sweatshirt you appropriated from your wife’s drawer before you snuck out at 4:30 a.m., a note on the stove explaining how you’d be home in two weeks, tops.

As you bid farewell to the guests, you will slip your left hand into the pouch-like front pocket of the pullover sweatshirt where you tucked the sparrow’s corpse.

When your mother visibly stiffens reciting this script, you will secretly stroke the dead bird, the coolness of its body contrary to the softness of its feathers.

As the coats vanish from the hooks, the vestibule windows misted, you will also repeat these four words. To each and every guest, you will say, “Thank you for coming,” even to the aunts, “Thank you for coming,” and to Mrs. Howard whose nostrils flare, whose lips are thin and chapped, her cheeks spackled with liver spots, you will say, “Thank you for coming.”