Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Summer 2017    poetry    all issues


Cover Marija Zaric

Mary Lucille Hays
Tribute in Black, White, and Gray

Anne McMillan

Faith Shearin

James Hanna
Tower Duty

Nektaria Petrou
Black Lace

Rebecca May Hope
Coyotes from Kazakhstan

John Maki
There Are No Angels Singing

Lisa Michelle
A Happy Birthday

Alison Turner
Actresses Auditioning

Brian Beard
Problems in Poultry Farming

Liz Bender
The Hypnotist

William C-F Long
Pet Hive

Wendy Dolber
Charlotte's Plan

Emily Holland
Something Cool

Faith Shearin


The summer of my parents’ divorce, my mother, Ruth, and I moved two miles away to a cottage by the sea while my father, Henry, stayed on in the neighborhood of my childhood, in a house that quickly became dark, dusty, and silent. That first summer, I was with my mother during the week, and with my father on weekends. It was humid, and my skin felt wet, whether I had been swimming or not.

For much of June and July I was either floating on a raft in the ocean, or attending grief group with my mother because my sister, Beth, was dead. She had driven off the three mile bridge that connects our island to the mainland, with her boyfriend, Caleb, and two girls named Amy and Heather. Sometimes I dreamed of Beth’s car filling with water: how no one could open a door or window, and all the time they were descending into that strange unbreathable world beneath the surface. Sometimes, in the dreams, I was my sister and sometimes I was watching her as the car grew heavier.

The first week of June, my mother’s sisters, Anne and Frances, came to visit. They were large women, prone to tearful outbursts and, because my mother was the youngest, they hovered over her as they must have when she was small. They came with six heavy suitcases, and at least three of their bags were devoted to mysterious creams, ointments, and hairsprays, vibrant lipsticks and nail polishes. Frances also brought her cat, Christmas: a plump, white creature, under abundant fur, with a pinched face. This was an immediate problem because our cottage had a crooked tree in the yard, and that tree was full of cats.

Our island is hospitable to feral cats: seafood washes up daily, and it is rarely cold, so they wander our beaches, and sleep under abandoned cottages, and multiply; it is not unusual to find a tribe of cats sunning themselves at low tide; they drape themselves over our gravestones, our outdoor furniture, our stairs. When my aunt’s cat, Christmas, went out to relieve himself, he wound up in a hissing match with the cats who occupy our property: hair raised, swollen back, sounds formed deep in the throat.

Afterwards, I found myself driving with my aunts, in the slow traffic of tourists; each June they arrived on our island to get sunburns, buy post cards, and return home with tiny lighthouses inside globes of water that rained glitter if you turned them upside down.

“This is some kind of traffic,” Frances said, as she steered us onto the beach road.

“Is it always like this, Hazel?” Anne asked.

“Yes,” I said, “In summer.”

I felt a headache coming on, from my aunts’ perfume; I was alone in the wide back seat and I shifted to one side, turned my head to look out the window. In this way, if I did not turn around, I could imagine Beth and I were together. In the months since Beth drowned, I had tried different positions in the back seat: the middle made me feel sick—emptiness opening on either side—but if I sat on the left, the side Beth favored, I felt worse: my own abandoned space by the window suggesting I was the one who died.

“How is your mother?” Anne asked me.

We stopped so three middle aged men in bathing suits could cross the street, to the beach, with a cooler, and a stack of folding chairs.

“She’s okay, I guess,” I said.

I thought of my mother, who had spent the past month on the porch of our cottage, among cats, looking out at the ocean as it writhed and changed color; she was not hungry and she did not drink the hot tea I brought her but let it sit, growing dark and cold.

“It’s never the same,” she said, and I was not sure if she was talking about the ocean, or our life without my father and Beth.

“We did not need a litter box this badly,” said Anne, after another twenty minutes.

We passed the huge dunes that formed a park, Jockey’s Ridge, where children climbed and flew kites. From the top of those dunes, you could see both sides of our island: the blue ocean, the darker sound, and the sand itself, in between, shifting and changing shape. I began thinking of the sand blowing through my childhood: on the floors of our cars, in my sheets, in buckets Beth and I filled together. Sand was the irritation that caused our oysters to make pearls; there was the sand we could never sweep out of our house, and the sand that blew into our sandwiches whenever we had picnics, so we had the sensation of eating glass.

“Have I told you about my neighbor, Nancy?” Frances asked Anne.

“No, I don’t think so,” Anne said.

I could tell Anne didn’t want to know about Nancy.

“She had a rash on her breast and, of course, she thought it was nothing,” Frances said, “She thought it was probably an allergic reaction to her laundry detergent, or that she was wearing a bra with an irritating fabric.”

I rolled down my window and there was Beth again, in the sinking car with her friends. If she had just waited until they were half sunk in water, and pushed very hard on the door, it might have opened and now I imagined her rising towards the surface, the water filling with light.

“But when Nancy went to the doctor,” Frances went on, “they told her it was stage 4 breast cancer, and you know how she always had that beautiful, long hair? It’s all gone now; she’s as bald as the moon. We have been making casseroles for her at church.”

“Is this our store?” Anne asked, pointing to our left at an old cement building with a burned out sign.

I thought of a bald woman named Nancy eating casseroles; I imagined how she would die and meet my sister in a place like Atlantis where they would swim through hallways and float over their own furniture.

On Saturday, my father came to get me, and my mother’s sisters stared out at him through the slits in the blinds. I was sitting with my suitcase in the living room, where Christmas had been trying out each piece of our furniture: his white fur drifting over chairs and accumulating near a window where he liked to languish on a pillow; he turned his big albino head to watch me leave, his gaze indifferent.

My father was now the owner of a golden retriever named Ino, after the sea nymph who saved Odysseus from drowning. My father did not come to grief group with my mother and me, but had a psychiatrist of his own: a man with a Spanish accent who recommended he get a dog so he would not feel alone in the new silence of his life. The dog was devoted to my father; she went to work with him, crouched under his desk, while he fashioned arguments and briefs; she wagged her tail for him whenever he came home from buying groceries, and she slept beside him at night, turned on her side, her chin resting on his pillow.

My father took me to fly a kite on a beach in Nags Head and, while he threw sticks in the ocean for Ino, I unwrapped a kite shaped like a dragon and ran along the shore until it lifted, riding the currents of air I could not see: its tail swishing in a cave of wind, fire flapping in its mouth.

“I’ve started going to church,” my father told me, when we sat down together in the sand.

“I thought you were an atheist,” I said.

“I am,” he said, “But my psychiatrist told me I should allow myself to ask spiritual questions.”

“Are we going to church tomorrow?” I asked.

“It only takes an hour,” he told me.

Ino stepped out of the ocean, a stick in her mouth, and shook herself very hard.

At the Unitarian church on Sunday, my father and I were late and sat at the back; the minister was describing how Cain killed Abel, and was banished to the Land of Nod: marked by God. He said there were none among us who had not been jealous, as Cain was when his father praised his brother’s offering, and insulted his own. It was natural, the minister said, to feel competitive, but these first brothers showed us that rivalry can ruin the goodness in our hearts. I thought then of Beth, in her last months, opening the window late at night so she could sleep on the beach with Caleb. I was angry with her as soon as she fell in love: I felt abandoned, lonely, unimportant. In the weeks before she died, I often sat with my back to her, pretending to read a book. Even Cain’s descendants were too flawed to survive: erased by a flood; I imagined him, East of Eden, where rain clouds gathered.

We went back to my father’s house, so I could pack my suitcase, and the street where Beth and I rode our bikes led to the driveway where we once found a snapping turtle. Beyond that, was the beach where we sometimes slipped off our suits in the evening and swam with the water against our bare skin. Beneath a tree, there was a hammock where every member of our family had slept with a book over their chest. I did not stay in my old bedroom when I visited my father, but on a bed in the laundry room where our grandmother used to sleep.

“Your mother should have been more careful,” Grandma Hawthorne said to me in April, after the funeral, when everyone began to place blame. My sister hadn’t been at the wheel; it had been Amy and Heather in the front seat, Caleb and Beth behind. No one had been drinking; there were no other cars on the road; they were just driving home from a school dance, in a light rain.

I was searching for socks when I found some of Beth’s clothes, folded on a table beside my father’s shirts; I decided to take them with me, to wear them sometimes when I was alone.

At the cottage, my mother and her sisters had been playing cards and eating take out Chinese food. The white boxes that were once their lunch formed a miniature city on a counter in the kitchen.

“How is your father?” my mother asked me.

“Fine,” I said.

Aunt Frances and Aunt Anne sat together at a table by the window, painting their nails; they had opened one of their suitcases and spread the contents over a wilted newspaper.

“Want your nails painted?” Aunt Anne asked me.

“No, thank you,” I said.

“Did you do anything fun over the weekend?” Aunt Frances asked.

“Dad took me to church,” I said.

“He did?” my mother asked.

Christmas, who had been on the ground swishing his tail, leapt onto the counter and the city of leftovers trembled.

That night, I wore Beth’s clothes and went walking on the beach with the wild cats. They came out of their tree to follow me, their tails in the air like question marks. We walked under a pier, and past a doomed sandcastle; we walked where a baby and a bird once passed. Sand has a short memory: a shape pressed against it for a day before the wind or tide erases the story. I’d brought a bottle with me, with a message inside, for my sister, who now lived in the sea. In it, I told her about grief group, and our father’s new dog waiting for him to come home, and about Cain living in exile, knowing he had no brother. I told her about our mother, sitting on the porch, looking out at the waves, and eating nothing; I said I was sorry I had not been a better sister. Then, before I went into our cottage, I poured all the sand from my shoes.

Faith Shearin’s books of poetry include: The Owl Question (May Swenson Award), Telling the Bees (SFA University Press), and Orpheus, Turning (Broadkill River Press). She has received awards from the NEA and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her poetry has been read aloud on The Writer’s Almanac and included in American Life in Poetry. Shearin’s short stories have appeared in The Missouri Review, Frigg, and The Atticus Review. She lives with her husband, her daughter, and two dogs, in a cabin on top of a mountain in West Virginia.

Dotted Line