Opera House

Opera House

By Robert Stothart

Everything seemed married to everything else.

—Gustave Baumann, printmaker, Santa Fe Overture

A mere 7,918 miles in diameter, Earth, our home together, travels a minuscule distance in relation to all that we see on clear nights, light years away out in the stars. The core of our globe is a mix of iron and nickel, solid like a cherry pit. That solid inner core is wrapped in a liquid outer core, and around that a mantle eighteen hundred miles thick, about the distance from New York to Denver. This mantle—solid in parts, liquid in places, plastic in others—roils in convection currents under a relatively thin fourteen-mile crust, a vulnerable skin of sorts that weathers all seasons while holding on in a tenuous relationship with the globe’s deeper workings. That crust beneath our feet is constantly buckling, cracking, spreading, wrinkling, and pouring forth to reveal, as a face reveals, what goes on inside. Earth is face-all-over, and its insides are hot, reaching in places eight thousand degrees Fahrenheit.

The Trailer

Sometime in late March the camper trailer appears: fifteen feet long with a crude black-and-green paint job, discarded on our property behind Starbucks, Little Caesars, and the AT&T store. It sits parallel to one of the metal outbuildings my father rents from my sister-in-law, my husband, and me for his woodworking projects, the front-end tongue jack balanced on a block of wood as if someone has planned to set up camp in our gravel parking lot. Zebra-print curtains flap in the open window. The door dangles from one hinge.

I don’t remember exactly when my father tells me about it or when I first mention it to my husband and his sister. My mother-in-law, the actual owner of the property, has recently, unexpectedly, died from complications related to diabetes.

“Don’t worry,” my father assures me, “I’ll get rid of it.”

He reports it to the police, who write down the license plate number and tag the street-side window with a bright pink sticker. After a few weeks pass with no response, he calls again. An officer tells him the phone number linked to the plate is out of service. There is nothing they can do. The city does not tow abandoned vehicles from private property.

“Where in the hell do our taxes go?” he asks me.

Jamilla

My assistant, Boris, came flapping through my front door like an injured raven, one arm clasped to his side, the other flailing widely. He was dressed all in black, head to toe, his nylon shirt sweat-pasted to his torso. Gobbets of red mud adhered to the hems of his trousers. He had been drinking; he moved sideways, unsteady, at an angle, with his head turned askew. His eyes were restless; he knew how unacceptable his message would be, and he wasted no time greeting me but came right out with what he had to say.

Rachel’s Wedding

The early September light on the lake is unreliable. It’s late afternoon; clouds race on the wind and the water laps the shore. Flashes of sunlight glint off restless waves in quick succession. The surface of the water changes from gray to bright blue as the clouds pass over the sun. I am looking out the window over one of the small lakes near our home in upstate New York. This is after I get married but before I get pregnant. I’ve spent the summer waiting for a baby to quicken: a baby I know is close but elusive. Beyond the lake is a cornfield, stretched out across the hills. The tips are turning brown. The corn gathers sweetness, waiting to be cut.

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Swarf

Winner of the 2016 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize for Essay

Hot swarf hit me in the eye, the pain insane, furious, awe-inspiring. The pain was so intense it seemed to take on shape, flare red: shards of fire illuminating my cornea. Inhuman pain.

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