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In the spring, the dogs stopped barking. By then our windows were held open with tomato cans or washed-out jars of jelly. In the dark of the kitchen, we sat barefoot and halved grapefruits, looking toward the window with the pulp between our fingers, licking the tart from our teeth, and longing for the sound. The rooms in our house were hot and silent and sticky. We drank seltzer over ice and sometimes said nothing, squeezing the juice from limes into our glasses, listening instead to the freight whistles from the north. the dishes rattling in the cupboard, the dirty ones in the sink.
The windows of our house faced other houses and parked cars and power lines. From the bathroom in the back of the house, you could climb to the roof above the mudroom, where I used to go in my sandals and listen to the foghorns and watch the tops of barges, passing silently like old ships. In the streets came traffic sounds, some boys I used to know, some girls, the way they laughed and kissed and tossed beer bottles by the necks toward the sewer grates and under the tires of cars.
In the shed below, my mother soaked combs and scissors in a jar by the window and waited for me to sweep the clippings of hair, which I always did after she had gone to sleep. There was only one stylist chair and a sink near a pasta bowl from which to fill warm water and rinse men’s razors, running your thumb along the blades. I’d never seen her cut my father’s hair, but sometimes the way her fingers would float across a man’s scalp, touching, trimming, the way she concentrated or squinted or smiled, it was so heartbreaking that I had to sit down.
When she went into the house, I knew she’d use her toothbrush and still place it in the cup next to his, next to mine. When the rooms were turned down and the lights all shut but for the lamp in the front window, just in case anyone came home, she might feel along the walls, coming toward my room. Her knees might find the pocket of my knees and later we would sleep with the fans turning the humid air and no breezes coming in through the screen.
Alone I liked to kick the soot from old shingles and watch the lights in Mrs. Otto’s house turn on and then off and then on again. I liked to braid my hair or touch my ankle and try to see stars and think about the way Gabe’s hands were nicked and red, from what, I didn’t know, not then. I imagined curled wood shavings on the floor by his work boots, the sharp teeth of a table saw. Toward the river, the summer nights smelled like motor oil, like clay. There was always the distant sound of traffic from the south-bound cars along the gypsum plant where the plumes of smoke came and the lights blinking all night long, there was always a door closing, a shuffle in the leaves, the smell of something sugary, something raw, something sweet.
Alissa Riccardelli holds an MFA in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College, and a BA in English from Manhattanville College. Her work has appeared in Nano Fiction, Stumble Magazine, The New Orleans Review, and others. She lives in Queens, NY.