Postcards from Alaska
To my therapistI’m sending you this mosquito to show you how small I feel.
A clerk at a corner store mashed his thumb against this one when I asked what card was his favorite—pointed at the photographed guy, a real alpha male, I thought, holding the gun in one hand and the giant mosquito superimposed in the other. But he told me it isn’t the mosquito’s bulk that I have to worry about; it’s their abundance, like a cast of black dots coming over your eyesight the moment before you black out.
“Yep, we all get a real kick outta that one,” he said about the card.
Is there a disparaging difference between me and alpha males? Should I have more of a desire to conquest the mountains at my doorstep, to invade the spread of pines curving into the full moon? At home I pull the curtains shut tight so I don’t have to see all of it.
I met Lindy in the store too. She was buying a bag of charcoal and caught me lingering over the kitchen appliances. She said all I really needed was a good set of knives for cooking and that my truck bed would be big enough to haul a bookcase. After paying, she slumped the bag of charcoal into my arms to carry out to her car. In return for hauling her bookcase, she said she would cook dinner and let me watch her do it, the way she handled the good knives she convinced me to buy. She told me like it was a proposition.
She showed me her bedroom, but then she showed me all the rooms in the house to disguise the significance of the one room. The sun was setting, and the meat of the sockeye salmon was the same orange as the horizon. She talked about the bookcase while she filleted, her hand and the knife gently sawing, parting the flesh from the insides, plucking the bones. She dismantled the wholeness of the fish, making it something smaller than it was meant to be as she spoke in clipped sentences.
With her words, she placed me in the pile with the meat, the place I most wanted to be—the way she held the slabs so gently, but that was all we shared.
To my motherIf you didn’t know, half of the year is dark here. There’s science behind it that I can’t explain and you wouldn’t understand, but it’s as if someone plucked the daylight from the horizon off of the beach cottage, where the orange ball of light sways in the ocean and chucked it over the green. There’s a density, a thickness about it that I can’t really add up for you except to say that I feel like I have to squint when I look at the mountains, to artfully manipulate them into something more manageable. Into something possible, like the picture I’m sending you on this card, a tasteful snowscape. And also to keep the sun out of my eyes.
I met a woman named Lindy who asked me to haul a bookcase to her niece's house because her husband had flown to Anchorage for business. In return, she invited me to stay for dinner. Grilled salmon. We sat on her back porch. The bookcase was anchored to the truck bed with bungees hugging the contours of the wood furnishing, the angle of it lined up with the pointed horizon, emulating the shape of the mountains in miniature.
Lindy laid the raw fish down on a whorled wooden board and started by carving the head out. “Stay here tonight and take your truck down in the morning,” she said. She sliced down the middle and started removing all the pieces from inside and stored them on the end of the board like coveted treasures. “Nina will be home at noon.” She sliced along an invisible seam, from collarbone to tail. “Take the bookcase up the front stairs for her. She'll take it the rest of the way.” Stomach meat chopped in pieces, set aside. She plucked out the pin bones. She could have been sewing, tenderly, restoring. “Go and light the grill for me.”
It was not an act of butchering.
To the black bird in my houseI've known about you since I caught you roosting in the top of the cupboard next to all the canned soups, when you went to stretch your wings and were spooked by the metallic clang, so unlike the sound of your feathers. All over the kitchen, you flew, startled and domineering at once. I wanted to hit you, to break you, and I wanted to do neither of those things. In your incessant flapping, you got tangled up in the blackout curtains and the summer light fell in fragments all over the table, the large, un-conquerableness of Alaska inside my kitchen, glimpses of the mountains I'd been hiding from. And you. I opened the window for you to fly out and be with it.
It is like Lindy is here with me, showing me something. Instead of being lost, I am discovering. I think she would understand the moment for more than it is, would appreciate there being light where there hadn't been light before. In a future meeting where I imagine telling her these things, she won’t look up from the fish as she chops and speaks. She will thank the bird, thank the fish.
At night, I hear you again, the rustling of your wings settling against your side in another room, or closer to me than I realize. I reach over and turn the lamp off, and you grow quiet at the soft interjection of the switch's click-click, a subliminal reminder, a whisper from the emptiness of night where you came from.
Abbie Lahmers is a fiction MFA candidate at Georgia College and State University and a managing editor of Arts & Letters. Her fiction has appeared in Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment (winner of the 2016 Sweet Corn Contest), Beecher’s, Pif Magazine, and SLAB.