Gone Lawn
a journal of literature
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Gone Lawn 14
Spring, 2014

Featured Novel Excerpt
New Works

Rebecca Cook

What It Does

First there was a box, a bird, a breadbasket. There was a man in a three-piece suit with a pipe in his hand, swirls of smoke rising up the page. There was Sally and Dick and the state of Alaska, a tisket, a tasket and a basket of Easter eggs. Train cars and transfer trucks and the ball lost in the hayfield. Baby dolls and blankets, milk bottles and Vick's Vapor Rub; a thermometer, a baton, and a pair of cowgirl boots. Noodle soup and sandwiches and cakes and bible stories. Persons, places, and all this myriad of things, these nouns stern in their jackets, standing at attention, the beginning of the sentences. Sally and Jane and corn on the cob. Laura and the big woods and Mulberry Street. Put a name to the thing, call it a raspberry and there it is—seeds in your teeth, juice on your tongue. Put a name to the first friend you had in grammar school. Her name is Angela and she is a personal noun, she can't be used in Scrabble, she is capitalized and she shares stories on the playground, stories beginning with nouns but then something must happen, the predicate must come, the ball must bounce, the girl must swing the basket back and forth. The man taps his pipe and strikes a match, Alaska fogs over and the wind blows from the west. The train whistles and the soup boils on the stove. Always things doing things, verbs jumping and throwing and pleading with their mother for a sleepover. The verb squeals too loud and there's a spanking and a mouth full of tears and this verb pouts in the corner, this sentence unfurls and cries out in want of color, of texture, an adjective to explain the smoke, the grit after the storm. An adjective to color the afternoon, to color the ball blue, the ball you looked for all day, the blue ball you'll always remember, torn to shreds by the mowing machine, and you can't forget the boy's missing front teeth unable to bite into the corn, the only black face in the book, see Spot run. Oh what a verb can do, what blood can flow from the noun. Laura's ears are covered when the pig squeals, the death squeal, the steaming pig up and down in the boiling water, Pa scraping all the bristles off. Little girls run to their fathers and the world is a brilliant shade of orange and yellow and never stare at the sun, the wrong verb, the wrong color. Red is for danger, red is for the feeling rising up in your chest, red is for your hand picking up the phone and flinging it across the room, an active verb. This is what it does, the girl opens her hand and lets the June Bug free, buzzing off across the noon yard. It is a hot summer, sticky and wet on the neck. The person picks up a thing and walks to a place, walks quickly because that's what adverbs do. Intensely they stare at each other from across the room. In another thirty minutes they will be in love, they will move through the predicate, fingers entwined, sweetly they kiss, softly they lean into each other and here comes the tuxedo, here comes the willowy white cloud of girl and the baby carriage and the rest of the story tied up in nouns and adverbs, verbs and modifiers happily always white bows. And that's the way of it, Jack and Jill and the down hill tumble, the broken crown, your thumb shut in the car door, the black blue of the nail, the sand dollar in your hand, the salt in your mouth. Much later you'll help the Koreans with their pronunciation and your hills and heels are all the same, the pale and pail of it. Fill the cup, call Phil on the phone, only a pretense, how words pile up between you, his misbegotten love and your studied indifference till everything flows back to a memory of first grade commencement, and you can't tell the big L from the big I and you're worried they'll find you out, you with your pockets full of Dixie cup rings and wadded tissues, the same tissue your mother tossed to you in a crowded room, something running from your nose, something always running, the pumping of your feet pounding the side yard full of leaves, the snap of late fall full of compound words swirling into the frosty air. This is the last season, this is the whole language unrolling with the go cart, flinging everyone forward and down and all around the prepositions, the up and under of the things. She put her finger on the tip of it, she opened the box and looked inside, she crushed the scrap of ball into her hand, put the rubber into her mouth, that taste lasting all through the years of her. First there was a page with As and Bs and cats and dogs and next thing you know she's writing a story with a misanthrope noun lounging in the corner of the party, she's watching him watching her. O great adjective, o great verb, show yourselves. Make him upstanding, make him walk toward her, a glisten of wine in his mustache. He is blond and only slightly good looking, he reminds her of her father, he is a noun she can only contemplate, he is an adjective taking her hand, leading her to the dance floor and this is how it works. The bodies sway and toss to the music, a steady rhythm and the words of the song rhyme and all the hearts beat faster a thump thumping thump, beats on top of beats and it's red and raw and underneath is a stream of water leading back to the creek you floated in, your fingers turning blue, the predicate pulling you backwards to Dick and Jane and that perfect black and white world with splashes of yellow and blue, a pair of red pedal pushers, a striped shirt and suddenly it's a story. Someone is in trouble, maybe it's you, maybe you forgot your homework, so you copy Sherry Green's long division and your heart tightens up when the teacher takes your paper, fast scribbled numbers all in rows, plus and minus signs, signals inside an abstract world uncurling in the girl's brain full of division. A predicate with an equal sign, a woman flung backwards to the fourth day, the day they brought her home, an adjective of pink bunting, a brain full of white noise, a swaddled noun nursing a bottle of sweet water, a magic girl with brown skin and browner hair inside what it does, how it starts again every time. A person, a place, a bassinet, love and marriage and a baby carriage, a bird in the cage at Laura's house, something that squawks in the morning, a verb, a verb. And then it's over because of the silence, the adjective slipping under the door and flipping off the lights and now we must lie down and sleep, sleep until morning, sleep until it starts all over.

Rebecca Cook writes poetry and prose. Her essay, "Flame,"(Southeast Review), was a notable essay in the 2013 Best American Essays. She was a Bread Loaf Fiction Scholar (2009) and has recently published work in The Georgia Review, Antioch Review, Massachusetts Review, Atticus Review and The Rumpus. A series of love poems was published recently in the Romanian Anthology, The Mood At Noon. Her book of poems, I Will Not Give Over, was published in 2013 (Aldrich Press). Her ebook novel, Click is coming soon from New Rivers Press.