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Six Stories

Now that the bumblebees are sounding in the yard, sprint to the garden store in your tank top with your poodle as if there is a headwind. Stub a toe. Hear the tick of the clock as you place your items on the trolley: a new houseplant, two and three: a philodendron since you already have a few and they grow so nicely. Pay for mulch. Get some stones while you’re at it. Some daisies for the back. Black-eyed Susans too. Wheel the cart with your dog by your side. Leashed, though she really doesn’t need a leash. (Sometimes you comply.) People pet her. What a nice dog. What a fluff! She’s even friendly to people who don’t seem to like her. Her tongue hangs. She walks delicately, with her head high, as if at a pageant.
     Stand in line. Get out your credit card and pay. See the beam of the transaction like a scale: the old barter days of maybe wheat exchanged for thread or maybe added to a list of things to pay back later. Wheel your cart with your new items into the blistering sun. Unload your cart and place items in your Honda. Open the door and say to your dog, “Sweet Pea.” Get in the car yourself. Drive to the corral and wait for a worker to look at your receipt so he or she can load your mulch. Let the workers load. Let them pet your dog and thank them. Driving, think of the things you have to do. Turn your thinking clock back to the winter, to the blizzard, where everything was buried, everything so cold, everything so white, so much death, you doubted days like these: life expanding from the ground and shooting. Up. Sprouting, blooming, blossoming. Breathe.
     Later, put your hands into the earth and feel the dirt. Let it seep into your pores. Lodge into the grooves and wrinkles of your fingers. Feel it under your feet, sunk into your least deserving nail beds. Bathe in it for as long as you can, as if it needs you.



My mom sang songs. A Sweet Adeline, she’d play tunes, and on our player piano, we’d sing stanzas belonging to Fiddler on the Roof, The Sound of Music. We weren’t rich, but I felt rich during those times, the notes like pearls that rose above the ceilings. And when I felt my fingers on the keys, playing the piano on my own, I felt a certain magic: the air helping me breathe, the sensations of my soul, the physicality of my foot on the pedal, my fingertips, my trunk swaying on the bench: the sound so powerful it could transport me.
     After a while, I found a piano teacher who would be my mentor, and she taught me in her home. Every wall was lined with aquariums, high and low, so full the home felt like a sea. When I played there, my fingers on the keys, I closed my eyes and pictured myself as a fish, the water absorbing notes, myself with fins, as if I were playing for the whole sea of my past, my present, future, the beings all around me. I imagined sea creatures offering each other consolations, putting away every pocketknife, looking from their watered worlds into mine. There were no boundaries: we were underwater, swimming into notes and moving our fingers, bodies, fins, holding our breaths until it was time to come up again.



She cooks again, thinking of herself in the third person. She isn’t hungry, but there’s more produce in the fridge and she wants to be creative. She imagines the vegetables like medium, colors: watercolors or acrylics. The pans perhaps a part of her canvas. She isn’t so versed in sculpture, but she thinks maybe she should be. She imagines her hands in clay, forming objects that will take on their own forms. She’s mostly versed in two-dimensional stuff, save a piece of soap she once carved into the shape of a doughnut. She carved a bite into the doughnut. It was for 4-H. She was just a girl. She took it to the fair. It got maybe a blue ribbon. She still has a scar on her left finger where she accidentally carved the knife into her skin.
     She likes to eat foods that make her feel clean. Herbs like sage and thyme. She cuts the onion, uses the garlic press. They’ll go with just about anything. She even has a shallot. She remembers a recipe of cauliflower soup. She remembers lots of recipes but doesn’t use recipes. Her mom used recipes.
     When she was a kid and her mom went away on trips, her mom would make a list of things she’d have to thaw out for her dad. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There were directions of how to serve things. She was maybe five, and six, and seven, maybe even eight. These lists went on. All she had to do was maybe warm a biscuit, cook an egg, but one time an egg was rotten, and she wasn’t prepared for that, nor for the yelling of her father. The soap in her mouth. The nakedness. The spankings.
     Now, as she cooks, she plays music on the Bluetooth, stuff of bonsai trees and conifers and teacups. She tastes the broth, adding needed herbs.
     She wonders what her life would have been like if she had had a different childhood. If her parents hadn’t had to deal with the traumas of their own. She maybe would have been a famous chef. She might have been an artist. She might have been a dancer, possibly a ballerina. She’s just turned fifty-four.
     It’s no one’s fault her dad was schizophrenic. It’s no one’s fault she loved him. It’s no one’s fault he died alone. It’s no one’s fault (or is it?) that he had to take all those medications.
     She wants to be a chef. She wants to paint. She wants to go back to the piano, spreading out her fingers. She wants to sing so loud.



In the middle of a blizzard, my dreams welcome me to skies. I’m my own pilot, on a motorcycle, flying over trees like ponderosa pines, kokerbooms, then I become a Humvee with a checkbook, overseeing a factory full of plums. On the ground, I develop a niche for creating the most exotic fruitcakes.



There’s a downpour and she’s on the back of someone’s motorcycle, trying to find cyclists who are drafting, blocking, not passing within the allotted time. She has her stopwatch, penalty cards, which she can flag in front of cyclists to let them know they’ve broken a rule, and they should stop at the penalty tent once the bike portion of this race is over. If they don’t, they’ll be disqualified. Meaning, this whole race for him/her/them is over.
     It’s not the best gig, but it isn’t the worst. At first, she thought the most fun would be riding on the back of someone’s motorcycle. She had to buy a helmet. After about an hour, she realizes the helmet is probably too small, as she starts to get a headache.
     Riders look kind of silly doing this race for no reason. First you swim in the lake for a long time. Then, in transition, you have to follow certain rules to mount the bike properly, then, on this particular day, you ride big hills and get caught up in a rainstorm.
     After that, you unmount your bike and then, if you signed up for the long race, you still have to run a half marathon.
     She’s signed up for a similar race that’ll happen in two weeks. As an official, she mostly corrects. Her fellow officials help her in correcting.
     It’s all so serious. People cheering on the boardwalks. She hears the motors roar. After a while, she starts daydreaming, imagining stuff like truffles, price tags (these races are expensive), saluting to anyone wearing helmets (mandatory for the bike leg).
     After finishing, people eat loads of food. They talk, compare notes. Some athletes stretch their muscles.
     Then it ends; everyone goes home, reporting to a social media page for triathletes labeled as pathetic because of the pathetic things they do, and they talk about the next one.



Hearing the roar of the thunder, the windows brightening and shaking, I cook, listening to yet another audiobook: a novel about a farm town like the one where I grew up. I hear of cornfields, cows, and it brings me back there. The smell of the manure, the cold nose of a calf as I feed her the mixed formula I felt with my own hands: a night chore every evening, as my sister took the mornings. I don’t eat meat now, cooking vegetables, tofu that I’ve learned works best if I press it before freezing, then again after it thaws. It absorbs the seasoning. Curry. That’s what I smell now, and on the audiobook, the speaker talks of a dairy farm that burned, and I wonder about the animals. They’re never mentioned. The book won awards. I wonder what might’ve happened if my family’s farm burned down. It was in the family for centuries. Nothing burned but my father got sick. He was the one to run the farm, didn’t want to hire helpers. We had over a hundred acres, over a hundred milking cows. My sister and I had to milk them after our dad was hospitalized, after screaming out in church. I was thirteen. In the barn, there was a little stair that went into the parlor where we milked, and there’s no way I’ll ever forget that feeling: my dad in the hospital, my mom staying there with him, my sister and I and a neighbor boy who I was shy about just trying to keep up the farm. Cows came into the stalls. I cleaned their udders with a hose. They felt so full and bloated. I put on the milkers. My dad had shown me a few times how to milk, as if he knew there was something happening to him, as if he knew his daughters would have to take it on someday. It was obvious when the udders were empty, and when they were, we simply released each cow, and opened the stall for the next one.

Kim Chinquee has published eight books, including her debut novel Pipette (Ravenna). She is senior editor of New World Writing Quarterly, associate editor of Midwest Review, chief editor of ELJ (Elm Leaves Journal), co-director of the writing
major at SUNY-Buffalo State University, and a competitive triathlete. She lives in Tonawanda, New York.