Bethany W Pope

The Visitation

Over a decade later, I returned.
We drove past the run-down McDonald’s, through
the solitary crossroad (with one dangling,
unreliable streetlight) next to
City Hall and the peeling antiques shop
where I used to steal comics. My husband
cranked up the radio when we passed
the field where I saw the songbirds bound up,
flattened by twine in square hay bales. I
remembered the feel of their dead feathers.
I had entered that old familiar state, that
dangerous (necessary) cold I wore
when I was desperate. I drove without
the GPS. I’ll always know my way
home. On campus, past the white clapboard church
Where children spat chewed fragments of the Host
onto the dusty floor while I prayed
and dug my nails into my palms until
they bled, past the office where my social
worker lurked, hunched behind her plywood desk,
and the defunct high-school where I left behind
a tooth. I parked the rental in front
of the cottage where I spent my first year.
The windows were dark (not blind) and there
were dead leaves and a rusted tricycle
husking the porch. No one lived there anymore,
except my ghost. I could still smell the bright
residue of blood and bleach; the scent
of my loss. I could feel Fallon’s breath,
hot and sweet on my neck, and the cold line
of her razorblade shiv tracing the veins
in my throat. My husband said, ‘You don’t have
to do this.’ He said, ‘You’ve made it. I’m proud
of you. You know you can rest.’ I walked
around the high stone walls, the decayed
camellias, until I found the window
whose bars I could never seem to pry
away and break. I’d brought a copy
of the book I wrote and I held it
so that the cover showed, ‘You can take
the picture now. I’m ready.’ There was a click.
Then we climbed into the car again
(a rental, without memory) and drove.

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