Iowa Writes

SARAH PILLMAN
Excerpt from A Day Made For Burning


It begins at eight AM on a Saturday morning, a day Trevor and I both have off.  I'm in the shower when I hear it.
        It sounds like a tree limb has fallen through the roof in the middle of a storm, even though it's 85 and sunny out.  Suddenly it's a matter of washing the soap out of my hair as quickly as possible in order to open the door and find out what has happened.  When I do, I'm still dripping wet and wearing only a towel, and there is chaos before my eyes.
        The boxes stacked outside Trevor's room, those that he meticulously removed one by one since he moved home three months prior, that I've grown used to dodging on my way through the packed hallway, have fallen over.  And not just fallen, but seemingly exploded, as tops are thrown off and folds have come undone and contents are everywhere.  There are books scattered across the floor: porcelain bears Mom collected years ago in a pile spilled from a box, newspaper still wrapped around some; stacks of old greeting cards; jewelry gone green with age; photograph negatives; a single shoe.  What had been a tower minutes before, when I'd entered the bathroom, is now a carpet of destruction.
        Trevor stands in his doorway, hair grown long over the summer spent moving home, reclaiming his territory, searching for jobs, finding nothing in either field.  He is shirtless.  It's obvious he's just woken up.  There are creases down the side of his face from his pillow, like some kind of twisted scar.  He looks less like a recent college graduate and more like a middle-aged man who woke up one day and wondered how he'd gotten here in life: moved back into his parents' house, surrounded by boxes.
        At first he looks bewildered, but as we stand there in silence, a silence that grows, his face changes so rapidly from bemusement to frustration to anger to straight-out rage that I hardly recognize him in the blink of an eye, wonder if I've ever seen him clearly before this moment, even though we've spent the entirety of the summer getting reacquainted again, reconfiguring our bond as big brother and little sister, closer than we've ever been before.

It begins at eight AM on a Saturday morning, a day Trevor and I both have off.  I'm in the shower when I hear it.
        It sounds like a tree limb has fallen through the roof in the middle of a storm, even though it's 85 and sunny out.  Suddenly it's a matter of washing the soap out of my hair as quickly as possible in order to open the door and find out what has happened.  When I do, I'm still dripping wet and wearing only a towel, and there is chaos before my eyes.
        The boxes stacked outside Trevor's room, those that he meticulously removed one by one since he moved home three months prior, that I've grown used to dodging on my way through the packed hallway, have fallen over.  And not just fallen, but seemingly exploded, as tops are thrown off and folds have come undone and contents are everywhere.  There are books scattered across the floor: porcelain bears Mom collected years ago in a pile spilled from a box, newspaper still wrapped around some; stacks of old greeting cards; jewelry gone green with age; photograph negatives; a single shoe.  What had been a tower minutes before, when I'd entered the bathroom, is now a carpet of destruction.
        Trevor stands in his doorway, hair grown long over the summer spent moving home, reclaiming his territory, searching for jobs, finding nothing in either field.  He is shirtless.  It's obvious he's just woken up.  There are creases down the side of his face from his pillow, like some kind of twisted scar.  He looks less like a recent college graduate and more like a middle-aged man who woke up one day and wondered how he'd gotten here in life: moved back into his parents' house, surrounded by boxes.
        At first he looks bewildered, but as we stand there in silence, a silence that grows, his face changes so rapidly from bemusement to frustration to anger to straight-out rage that I hardly recognize him in the blink of an eye, wonder if I've ever seen him clearly before this moment, even though we've spent the entirety of the summer getting reacquainted again, reconfiguring our bond as big brother and little sister, closer than we've ever been before. 
        "They just fell over."  Even with fury on his face, his tone is still disbelieving, wondering.  "I just opened the door and they fell over."
        I say nothing.  Water trickles down the back of my neck, steadily cooling, uncomfortable.
        He backs up, and for a moment, I think he'll kick the boxes, just unleash anger on it all.  He steps back into his room.  He does not close the door, and is back a second later, with a shirt on.  He walks towards the boxes now, but instead of kicking, he bends down with short, jerking movements and pushes a cluster of things into an upended box.  It's all debris, the shattered remnants of a mirror, papers scattered across the floor. 
        "Get dressed," he says. He disappears down the hall.
        I have just enough time to scramble over the wreckage and escape into my room, to pull on shorts and a t-shirt, before he's back.  He's pushing more things into another box as I pull my wet hair back, and Dad's office door opens.  Dad's face is lost behind the scruff of the beard he's grown longer now, the hairs almost entirely gray, and his face is so eerily similar to Trevor's in that moment, the confusion before the storm, that I can do nothing but stare.
        We stand in a triangle, the three of us, Dad and I watching as Trevor bends over, pushing things into boxes, settling them, straightening them, with the calmness of a madman.
        "What happened?"  Dad's voice sounds cracked, weary, unlike him.  It's been that way since he finished his yard work, the yard barely recognizable, his hay fever likewise making his voice so.  Like Trevor, he's never seemed more aged than he does in this moment, and strangely, never more dangerous.  After a summer spent hacking away at weeds, pruning trees, transplanting flowers, there is nothing left for him to tackle outside.  Suddenly it's evident: there is nothing left for him to do, nothing left for him to distract himself with, but the inside.
        "Fuck this.  Fuck this, Dad," Trevor says.  We've never cussed in front of Mom and Dad before.  It cracks like a whip against my ears.  Trevor stands, the muscles of his arms bulging as he lifts one box on top of another.  "We have to do something.  And I'm doing it."  His eyes are sharp as he turns to me, his face still unrecognizable.  "Ally."  His voice hits like the weight of a hundred bricks.  It's a command, a plea, demanding and desperate all at once.  "Are you gonna help me or not?"
        He waits for no answer, and I don't wait to think.  Eighteen years following in his shadow, desperate to impress him, to make him proud, make my decision automatic.  I grab a box, one that has fallen on its side and spilled half its contents, and follow him down the hall, across the kitchen, out the door.  My feet are bare and the pavement burns as we walk across the driveway. Since Dad cleared the yard, there are no sticks or thistles to step on.  Trevor leads me across the yard, down the broken cement path towards the garage, and to the side of it, where Dad has collected his brush pile.  It's full of twigs and branches and clumps of brown grass.  Trevor dumps his boxes unceremoniously on top of them, turns, and walks back inside.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


SARAH PILLMAN

Sarah Pillman is a student at Iowa State University.

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