Let the Milk Bubble: Surrender Series (1)

June is impatient to add the oats. Keeps lifting her cup to the hot pan.

Now?

No. Let the milk bubble.

Ok, now.

Then she wants to stir, moves her stool too close. McCormick endures the risk.

When the goop is in the bowl she arranges apple slices just like the picture on the box, but adds a few raspberries. Then declines sugar or honey.

Doing it herself is sweet enough.

At school he unsticks a zipper, puts wet boots away. She doesn’t turn her head or say a word. Just a backwards wave.

Always, there will be these leavings.

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When You Were Young And On Your Own

Falling in love. Deciding to be in love. What’s the difference?

“Long May You Run” is playing. McCormick remembers the “chrome heart shining in the sun.” Winter Matheson driving away.

He’d chosen her at chorus practice from a row of altos, written her number on his palm like he imagined people did.

Neil Young songs charted the whole thing. She was a “Cinnamon Girl,” hungry mouth offering lifetimes. Until the day she couldn’t stand him, after which McCormick lived on his knees and always replaced the needle.

“Nestled in your wings my little one…tomorrow see the things that never come…”

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Where the Arrow Landed (Shrinks He’s Known 4)

(McCormick tells Sal Bergen about the night when he was six and thought he was going to die…)

The poison-lemon-juice arrow grazed his cheek and became a part of him.

The spindly shaft matched his skeletal appendages. He was the skinniest boy in any class. Frayed green fletching precursed thrift store and even home-sewn outfits Barbara sent him off in (more out of Pioneer thrift than necessity, he explains to the crossed, hairy ankles just visible from the couch). And the crux of the biscuit, that fraudulent head, only pretending to be special.

That’s how you see yourself? Sal spits.

No, he admits. Then, yes.

Whenever he trips someone’s wires like that, McCormick knows he must be wrong.

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How He Got This Way

Did the Delaware cul-de-sac teach him he’s a Sad Sack?

The neighbors had big lawns and lots of kids. After dark they threw crab-apples at bats that dove from beech trees. But it was just dusk when McCormick, the youngest, ran in front of the bull’s-eye painted on a hay bail.

Bud, the oldest, was sorry to say he’d dipped his arrow in poison lemon juice.

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Fear of dying—Bud said he would by morning—was overmatched by shame over what he’d let happen. It was fitful 4am before he called Barbara and Bill to his room and said goodbye.

 

Things He Wanted to Be (1)

The Mighty Thor, who could fly if he had his hammer.

A cowboy. His banana seat was a saddle, alleyways dry riverbeds, the rack at school a hitching post.

 

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A lawyer, because it was good to prove people wrong, and he watched Perry Mason summer mornings on channel 11, and talk came easy.

Then a writer. The pleasure of converting deeds into words—things you could call poems—struck him in college and he started thinking how well they used their loneliness (Hemingway in the bunker, Salinger at the farmhouse, Woolf in her hard-won room).

Only last (resigning?) a teacher.

 

How’s the Frost Out on the Pumpkin?

Julie and the contractor consider stains for June’s new bed and closet.

Recalls a prompt he gives students. What’s the first room in which you remember falling asleep?

June’s window reveals green-leaved limbs, a sweet swath of sky, a balcony directly across where four Dachshunds pee at barking intervals. At sunset, tattooed owners dine on the same concrete plat.

McCormick’s place is Montana. Cinder block bare in Married Student Housing. To doze off, he listens to Bulldog football and songs that weren’t popular in Delaware. “The Streak.” “Country Bumpkin.”

Should be a lonely memory, but no. He was good then.

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Why He Didn’t Join them in K-Town

According to his grandmother, people named Grivas died with their own hair and teeth.

And McCormick always believed going gray at thirty meant he wouldn’t suffer baldness. If he didn’t wear hats he probably wouldn’t recede at all.

As for teeth, he’s replaced what God gave him with titanium more than once.

He texts a photo from the chair to Julie (Jung-hye), who’s at lunch with her brother-in-law, niece, and June. They lost their sister, wife, mom, aunt (Sun-hi) in April.

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He hates kimchi, but still feels left out. He taps another text:

Dr. Lotus says I have complicated roots.