The survivalist club meets Thursday nights, once a month, and the week always changes. Popcorn, the kind sold in bags and not popped in the microwave, is served in paper cups. Water and soda is also served. A lot of paper cups are used with every meeting. The street is lined with cars parked side by side, cars on the lawn, on the drive, cars blocking one another. Their wraps and jackets and coats and bags take up two rooms in the lodge. The survivalist club has a secretary who takes minutes. The president welcomes new members—every week there are at least one or two new members—and opens the floor to questions. If your house was burning down, what three things would you take with you? Death by drowning or strangulation? How many tracts of land could a community of two hundred people live off of? What was the most horrible thing that happened to you when you were nine? Someone is stealing things from the coat rooms, both of them, pockets are turned out and the non-valuables, the secret things are exposed on the carpeted floor, like a woman’s panties, odd keys, perplexing notes in shorthand, exotic nuts, a very small remote control. Turned inside out, the survivalist club does not know what to do. They collapse slowly, the popcorn goes soft and the soda flat and their cups tip over until water spills and forms a lake in the middle of the room, cratered like the moon.
They lived in a house built into a hill, so it was inverted. The kitchen and living room were at the top floor, and the bedrooms were all on the bottommost floor. They existed like moles, living there. They came upstairs only to forage for food at night. During the day they slept and made love and burrowed deeper into the hill. They could have existed blind in that house. They felt their way upstairs and fed themselves. When they were done, they moved by memory back down the stairs to sleep off their feast. Over the years the house opened up tunnels into the quick of the hill. One of the tunnels sloped up into the attic they never built. One tunnel passed into the abandoned halls of a snow queen. One tunnel streamed into the dim spaces of their memories, twined there, knotted, and took root.
In building a coffin for the unicorn, they find that they need special lumber, and special nails, and special sandpaper, and special glue. It all needs to be specific because the coffin needs to contain sugar and stream and smoke. So the lumber must be reclaimed from a two-hundred-year-old fir and the nails made of cold iron to keep the fae away and sandpaper from the bristling skin of a fish that surfaces only once in its lifespan and glue drawn from of the spit of a mountain. Only then can the unicorn be put away, peaceably.
Men drag the ghost river for bodies while their women, if they have them, hug the riverbanks with their hands and knees. No true river, this: this is a swamp of pitch and tar and creatures have been wrecked in it. They are searching for their dead, the ones lost long ago, they’ve heard the dead may be found entombed in the river. Grandfathers and grandmothers and stillborn children and dogs that warned them of snakes lying in wait and fathers who took belts to them sometimes and mothers who stuffed packets of secretive herbs under their husbands’ pillows. The men comb their hands through the river, pulling, pulling. Each time their hands come out, their palms are slick. Their women urge them on, saying, Look there, you were so close that time. Almost you had it.
L. Chapman owns stacks of paperback mysteries. She is at work on her first children’s book, for which she is both writer and illustrator. Her fiction has previously appeared in Lightning Cake.
“I would have to say that my favorite old thing is a collection of wind-up circus animals made by my grandparents.”
Back to Issue 2: Old Things