Still Life with Stalk Eyes by Mekiya Outini

  We’d looked all over the house for Dad, gone down to the basement, up to the second floor, the attic even, taken flashlights out and paced the edges of the freshly mown yard, poked around in the toolshed, even sent John to the top of the maple-crowned hill overlooking the old apple orchard where Dad used to set up his easel for landscapes, but there’d been neither hide nor hair until Gayle had glanced out the backdoor one last time, on the verge of giving up, and spotted him there at the edge of the trees. 

The yellow light stretched from the steps to the toes of his work boots, laces bramble-entangled. He looked as if he knew that this was home, but not how it had gotten in his way, or maybe not why he had gone. Shirt untucked, hair disheveled, something clamped to his side like a pale shield. When the four of us reached him, crowded around him, and escorted him back toward safety, smothering him with our relief and agitation, it was John who prized the thing, the sketchbook, from beneath his arm. It was John, and maybe that was why there was no sharp intake of breath, no hiccup in our motion toward the house, no pause. John’s the Occam’s Razor type. He takes these things in stride. 

Gayle guided us all up the porch steps, an arm looped through Dad’s, through the mud room, and into the hall, taking the lead as if she weren’t the youngest. I fell behind as if I weren’t the oldest, and Vivian went ahead of me, and John ahead of Vivian. In the living room, Gayle eased Dad into his favorite chair, and I went for water while John retreated to the corner, inspecting the sketchbook with a furrowed brow. Only Vivian stood aside with folded arms. 

“Why, Dad?” I heard Gayle asking as I filled a glass. The tap spat rusty, lukewarm water. Plunk, plunk went the ice cubes, hand-cracked from the tray. My footsteps made the linoleum groan. The plywood beneath it was starting to go, termites nibbling, grasshoppers warbling, upturned June bugs spinning iridescent circles in the corners, crickets scraping up a storm. It’s a fact, not a judgment, that under Gayle’s stewardship, our childhood home has been going to seed. It’s a fact that she’s handy, knows her way around chalk lines and handsaws, even spent a year making sculptures in art school, but she’s never been able to stick with a project long enough to see it through. Besides, the money’s almost gone. 

I saw myself reflected in the pane above the sink, looking very on-duty except that I had on a tank-top, not scrubs. I could’ve sworn I’d had eyeballs in the morning, not those bottomless holes. Beyond the glass, a huge moth beat itself against the screen. 

“I don’t know,” Dad murmured from the other room. Dementia patients wander in and out of dreams, and those who’re losing their memories must be convinced that something has indeed gone missing (I’ve learned from eight years on the hospice ward), but the disconcerting thing about our dad is his precision. He knows exactly what he doesn’t know. The only thing he doesn’t comprehend is why it’s gone. That insight’s too abstract, the sixth neurologist explained. 

“Why ask him?” Vivian’s voice flared up like a match held too close to a stove burner, clicking. “You know he doesn’t know.” She’s not always so tactless, but she had a few glasses of wine before dinner, and a few more during, and another after, and then there’s the fact that she’s been paying off her MBA loans for the last five years by cooking the books for a new-age organic deodorant retailer, whereas the rest of us opted for selfless professions: nursing, nursing, and the daughter who stayed. Being the only corporate sellout in the family isn’t easy. The more self-conscious Vivian gets, the brasher she becomes. 

“The doctors all said we should talk to him,” Gayle retorted. “And don’t talk about him like he’s not in the room. We’re not supposed to talk about him like he’s not in the room, remember, because then he’ll start feeling like he’s not in the room, like he’s an abstraction and—like you’re an abstraction, I mean, Dad. And you’re not. See? You’re right here.” 

I returned in time to see her squeeze his arm. He cocked his head quizzically. Abstraction was, at this late stage, probably too abstract a word for him to understand. 

“Dad,” said John, but Dad didn’t hear him, too distracted by the water glass I pressed into his hands. He stared at it intently for a moment, then seemed to realize what it was, raised it to his lips, and drank. John said, “Dad,” again. 

“What was I just saying?” Vivian asked, rhetorical as always. “Wasn’t I just saying we should put a tracking device on him?” 

“Maybe you’re the one who needs a tracking device,” said Gayle. “You’re the one—”

“Okay,” I said, “okay, okay,” because if I didn’t, Gayle would say something that cut to the bone, and Vivian would come back with one of her trademark, drawling barbs, as if she really were the evil fairytale sister she believes herself to be, and call Gayle “Sis” in that nasty way that really means the other thing. The thing Gayle’s not. And then nothing would be salvaged: not the evening, not our yearly get-together, not our lives. 

“Dad,” said John for a third time, stepping into the light with the sketchbook held before him. “What is this?” 

His voice carried tension, and that raised the hairs on my neck because he’s usually so damn calm, like the surface of a pond frozen over: the kind of calm that’s good for dealing with hyped-up junkies shambling into the ER at two in the morning, bleeding unaccountably from their assholes, or small children swept up by sugar highs. Except that we’re not children. 

We all swiveled toward him. He held the sketchbook out with both his hands. We saw the figure sketched in charcoals there. 

We saw. 

The last thing our father had painted, really painted, before the onset of his illness was our mother’s grave. In that piece, her headstone stands atop the hill behind the house, beneath the maple. You can see the apple orchard in the background, skeletal and backlit by a fading winter sky. His six-figure sellers had always been oils, but he’d gone with acrylics for this one—to set it apart from the rest, I suppose. Three days before he’d mixed the paints, we’d laid Mom to rest in a cemetery near Walla Walla for, as it turned out, burying a loved one on private land in Washington State isn’t lawful, unless that loved one is a dachshund. She’d always wanted to be buried on that hill, though, and Dad had, too, and so he’d put her there. 

In retrospect, the signs of his illness were already clear. The image of the grave is well formed, as if he’d held it firmly in his mind, but the trees’ barren limbs in the background appear, at first glance, unexpectedly dense. Through them, you can barely see the sky. He’d done the painting over several days and hadn’t left the chair and easel on the hill, meaning he’d sat in a slightly different place each day. Breezes would’ve stirred the tree limbs, too, and the result had been a palimpsest, like an amateur learning long-exposure photography: ghost-limbs overlapping, repeating themselves. Focused on painting the grave as he’d been, he’d failed even to notice, much less correct for, those small variations. It had been a harbinger of things to come. 

His disease is so rare that they gave it his name: Chester Emerson Syndrome. Four years of study have yielded little understanding of its etiology and underlying mechanisms, but most of the neurologists agree, at least, on how to describe its main symptom: Dad’s capacity for abstract thought, including his imagination, is deteriorating. After a local paper ran a story eulogizing his career, making much of the obvious irony, Gayle had gone the extra mile, dropping out of art school, moving back into our childhood home, and devoting herself to his fulltime care. John and I send money when we can, and Vivian’s said that she’ll pay for the doctors when Dad’s savings are depleted, which they almost are, but there’s no telling if she’ll stick to her word. She’d been the closest to him growing up, but more recently she’d taken a job in Atlanta while the rest of us stayed in the Northwest, let her former relationships lapse, and almost couldn’t be convinced this year to visit for his and Gayle’s birthdays, which fall only four days apart. We’d courted her by saying quaint, manipulative things like, “I’m sure he’ll feel better just knowing you’re here,” and, “How many more years do you think we’ll get to do this?” until, eventually, she’d come around. 

Now that she was here, John and I regretted our insistence. But we all make mistakes when it comes to our families. What else can I say? 

The charcoal image Dad had sketched was of a creature, strange and gruesome, spiderlike in its design. It seemed to peer inquisitively down on all of us, though John held it at the level of his naval, from stalk-mounted, compound eyes. From where I stood beside Dad’s chair, I couldn’t tell if its lower appendages were legs or mandibles. Its edges were hazy, bleeding into the darkness all around, but a sense of scale came from the faintly sketched trees. The creature, if real, would stand a good deal taller than my Subaru. 

“That’s,” said our father, fingers bloodless on the armrests of his chair, “that’s…a sketch. A drawing. Charcoal.” 

“Yes, Dad. What’s it a drawing of?” 

We all fell silent. He craned his neck and stared with such prolonged intensity that none of us realized we were holding our breaths until Gayle let out hers in a sharp little whimper. “Hmph,” Dad said after a minute. Then he settled back into his chair. 

“What’s ‘hmph,’ Dad?” 

 “I don’t know.”

“But you drew this, didn’t you? You just drew this, just now.” John gave the sketch a little shake as if to jar our father’s recollection. 

Gayle opened her mouth, but Vivian got there first: “For heaven’s sake, maybe that’s from, like, ten years ago. Maybe he grabbed an old sketchbook on his way out the door.” No one had seen her pour it, but she had another glass of wine. 

“No,” Gayle said. “That sketchbook’s mine. I got it last week.” 

John dropped it on the coffee table, ran his fingers through his hair, turned away. “Happy fucking birthday.”

“John,” I said sharply. He didn’t meet Gayle’s eyes or mine, just headed for the kitchen and the whiskey. I started after him, then came up short. It wouldn’t do to leave our sisters there unsupervised. 

“Dad,” Gayle said, ignoring Vivian, kneeling on the hardwood in front of his chair with the sketchbook in front of her, “You don’t need to remember or anything. Just try and tell me what you’re seeing? Would you do that? Would you tell me what you see?” “

“‘Don’t remember,’” Vivian echoed. “Isn’t that kind of like telling a dude in a wheelchair, ‘Don’t walk?’” I tried to catch her eye like, Hey, come on, let’s take this to the hall, but she didn’t see me, or she didn’t care. “I need a smoke,” she said, then banged out the side door, letting it swing and rattle hard against the frame. 

John had already poured me a glass when I got to the kitchen. “She is gonna—” he started, then cut himself off. 

“I know.” I leaned against the counter. “But at least we found Dad, right? No need to call the police and have them round up all the neighborhood bears and pump their stomachs. That’s something.” 

A noise escaped his mouth, an ER nurse’s mirthless laugh, and he took a quick swig and agreed, “Sure. That’s something.”

“Maybe we should get her a motel.”

“Come on, Audrey.” He fixed me with his most exasperated glare. “Who’s going to drive her?” 

“I don’t know.” My shoulders rose in a shrug and stuck there. “Uber?” 

“She can walk.” 

“Let’s maybe not let her monopolize…” I started. “I mean, let’s maybe think about Gayle.” 

“I think telling Vivian to take a walk is looking out for Gayle.” 

“I don’t mean like that.” I dropped my voice as if that made a difference, as if our sister couldn’t hear. “That thing in his sketchbook….” 

John puffed air through his lips. 

“That’s the sequential model, no?” I whispered. “John, she’s fucking terrified of sequential.” 

“I don’t know.” He pushed away from the counter and sipped his drink, pacing. “Who the hell knows what it means?” 

“But what else would it mean?”

He drew his free hand down his face to his chin. “I don’t know. I’m just saying, let’s not jump to conclusions. Like, remember what the one guy said, who wasn’t even a sequentialist; he said, ‘We don’t see objects and then infer meaning; we see meaning and then infer objects.’”


“What if his perceptions are degrading because his memories aren’t contextualizing anymore,” said John, “and he’s out there in the dark in the woods, on his own…I mean, if your feelings are filling in the gaps in perception, and you’re lost in the woods in the dark, don’t you think you might perceive…?” 

I was about to point out that it was the thought of Dad’s losing his grip on reality that scared Gayle, not the underlying mechanisms, when Vivian burst through the kitchen door. “I can’t,” she declared. “I can’t smoke out there. I can’t! That thing gave me the creeps!” Smoke trailed from the cigarette clamped in her fingers. She slurped from her wine.

“Maybe you should cool your jets, Viv,” John hissed, rounding on her. 

“My jets?” She echoed. “Cool my jets? Who the hell says ‘cool your jets’? Is that a thing people stay sill in Washington?” 

“Stay still,” I corrected, or tried to correct. “Stay sill.” 

“Say still,” Vivian retorted triumphantly. “Okay, but seriously, can we talk about that thing? What the fuck is that thing?” 

John mumbled something into his glass that sounded like, “Artist’s impression.”

“But he can’t make shit up,” said Vivian. “I thought that was the whole fucking point, right, is that he can’t remember how to make shit up?” 

“It’s not whether he’s making things up,” I started. “It’s his memories—”

“His memories go,” John cut in, “so his brain starts producing hallucinations—”

 “But he can’t hallucinate.” Vivian tends to turn impatient when the standard fifteen seconds she’ll devote to understanding something proves inadequate. Evidently, Dad’s disease is no exception. “Isn’t that the whole fucking point? He can’t hallucinate, he can’t imagine—”

I said, “There’s two theories.”

“Hypotheses,” said John. “Two hypotheses.” 

“But hallucinations are only consistent with one.” 

“And how much are we paying again,” said Vivian, “for these two theories?”
“It’s a rare fucking disease, Vivian,” John said. “It’s fucking—they fucking named it after him. Do you think it’s that easy to predict where it’s going?” 

          “I think you need to cool your jets, John.” 

He paced to the other end of the kitchen, gripping the back of his own neck so hard that his palm left a red mark. I could see his livid, pale reflection in the window. Vivian’s chin jutted out like a boxer’s who’d just won a round. 

I tried again. “There’s two hypotheses. Either he loses everything at once and his mind goes blank, basically, or he starts hallucinating and then his mind, his memories, his perceptions—eventually, everything goes. Either way, he’ll be a vegetable in the end.”

I was dumbing the progression models down, of course. John and I had spent months of our lives reading everything on perception and cognition we could get our hands on, interrogating Dad’s neurologists, and doing our best to pass along our takeaways to Gayle—which, admittedly, might’ve given us the sense of understanding Dad’s condition better than we did. In short, most of his specialists fall into one of two camps. The first predicts that his capacity for reasoning will be the first to go, followed by his memories and then his sensory processing. As I understand it, this model derives from the view that inference is the most abstract process involved in perception. Sensory inputs yield rough sketches of the world, and our brains use our memories to fill in the gaps, but only once we think we know what something is can we infer why it’s significant or how it might be used. In the words of the second neurologist, “Most of what we see is actually recollection.” 

Another prediction of this model, this sequential one, is that his memories’ deterioration will usher in a period of bizarre hallucinations. As his mind strives to contextualize his perceptions, random neuronal misfirings will masquerade as memories and trigger surreal, impressionistic waking dreams. It’s this part that terrifies Gayle, who can’t stand the thought that her and Dad’s realities, which have only recently aligned, will all too soon diverge. 

The second hypothesis is also disturbing, but doesn’t predict hallucinations. According to this model, inferences can’t be secondary to perception because they are perception. Whenever we perceive an object, we’re not just perceiving its attributes, but also, and more fundamentally, its function. Apparently, there are psychiatric patients who drink from every glass they see and walk through every doorway they encounter. For them, supposedly, the artificial barrier between perception and physical action has broken down. If this line of thinking turns out to be true, then Dad’s inferences, memories, and perceptions won’t deteriorate sequentially, but rather simultaneously, producing no hallucinations but merely blank spots in his consciousness that grow larger and larger until they eventually swallow him whole. 

“Okay. Sure.” Vivian arched an eyebrow, glancing goadingly from me to John. “But what if both theories are wrong?” 

John watched her in the window, wary as an animal patrolling its territory. “Explain that drawing, then.” 

She shrugged. Put the cigarette to her lips. Took a drag. “Maybe he’s getting better.” 

“He’s not getting better,” John said flatly.

“Hear me out, okay?” She said it like YouTubers say, Just asking questions. “Maybe his imagination’s coming back. Healing. Isn’t that possible?”

“He’s not getting better.” 

“But maybe all he needed was a minute to breathe. Space to think and reflect and realize he’s not really all that sick after all.”

“You’re talking out your ass, Viv.” 

“How do you know?” she demanded. “How do you know he’s not in…is it relapse?” 

“Remission,” I said automatically. 

“Remission.” She swallowed a mouthful of wine. 

“You think he’s in remission?” 

“Who knows?” She shrugged. “It’s a rare disease, right? You’ve said that a million times. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. So maybe it’s remission.” 

“The models,” John started, but she cut him off: 

“Maybe the models aren’t good for him. Maybe being surrounded by people who think he’s sick and crazy and losing his imagination when his whole fucking life’s been about imagination isn’t good for him. I mean, what about his dignity?” She plowed right over John and me, both of us protesting. “Maybe being around one person all the time isn’t good for him. You know? One person who doesn’t want him getting better, who wants him sick, who’s also sick!” 

Now none of us could hear ourselves over ourselves. 

“Or shit, I don’t know, maybe he really did see something out there.” Wine sloshed redly in Vivian’s glass. She seemed indifferent to the spittle, John’s or mine or both together, shining on her brow. “I mean, he must have, right? If he’s still sick, if he still can’t imagine anything, he must have. Maybe it’s out there in the woods right now.” 

“You haven’t spent one fucking second trying to understand what’s happening with Dad,” hissed John. 

“I think you just don’t like my idea.” Vivian seized a bottle of cab and filled her glass dangerously close to the brim. “You don’t like thinking of Dad getting better—”

“Fuck you, Vivian.” 

“—because you like him better when he’s sick,” she went on, her voice rising, “you like him better when he plays along with all your little games, and you’re afraid, you think if he remissions he’ll remember that our sister”—there were air-quotes on the words—“had a dick last time anyone checked. Am I wrong?” 

We all stood in silence. Liquid lapped at the sides of our trembling glasses. Gayle had heard. We all knew Gayle had heard. But none of us knew what to do with our knowing. 

“We want you to leave,” John said quietly. His glass made a noise as he set it on the counter, gunshot-loud. 

“I’m not leaving.” 

“You’re not welcome in her home.”

“Who’re you to—” 

Out.” John aimed a finger toward the front door. “Now.” 

Vivian folded her arms. “Are you kidding? There might be a big fucking bug-monster out there.” 

“Cut the shit, Viv.” 

“Why don’t you go, if you don’t think there is?” We could see in her eyes that she knew it was three against one, that she’d backed herself into a corner, but she was defiant and wouldn’t be cowed. She took a drink, took a drag, said abruptly, “There’s not even smoke detectors in here,” then tapped out a pile of ash on the counter. “And Danny does the cooking, huh?” She looked from John to me, then back again. “You know what I think? I think you all want Dad to die.” 

It wasn’t as if our youngest sibling had never dropped hints growing up, but John and I have always been down-to-earth people, unattuned to subtle cues, and Vivian’s attention, all through our childhood and teenage years, had been completely focused on our father, on winning and maintaining his approval, and the end result had been that none of us had seen our sister as she was. 

Proud though our parents, especially our father, had been of Vivian’s ambition and grades, she’d never been permitted to rest on her laurels. Whenever our mother, herself overeducated and underemployed, had acknowledged Vivian’s academic achievements, our father had been quick to observe that, for instance, she would be beautiful, yes, indeed, beautiful, if only she lost a few pounds. He was an aesthete, after all (or so Vivian had insisted, defending him even when she’d lost all the pounds that she’d had, when she’d gone to the hospital). His commitment to beauty was borderline spiritual. It couldn’t be criticized, couldn’t be wrong. 

Maybe this continual striving for beauty had made an impression on Gayle, too, back before we’d known to call her Gayle, before the day three years ago when we’d gathered at our childhood home, our first reunion since our father’s diagnosis, and the youngest among us had opened the door in lipstick and an evening gown. 

We’d had group phone calls almost every day since our father’s visit to the first neurologist, discussing arrangements, symptoms, treatment plans, but we’d noticed nothing different in our sibling’s voice, which had always been delicate, a touch on the high side. Yet her transformation had been so complete, even in the absence of hormones and surgeries, that for a moment, standing on the threshold, I’d thought our father had somehow acquired a mistress. 

“I’m Gayle,” she’d said, extending a hand in a peculiar, formal way. “I’m your sister.” 

Her grip, at first, had been too firm, and then it had loosened, and I’d let out a little, “Oh,” and almost said, “I’m Audrey,” but caught myself, and Gayle had smiled nervously and shaken John’s hand, too, and Vivian’s last, a little stiffly. Then she’d led us all inside. 

Those three days had been, I think, the strangest of our lives. None of us had been quite sure what could be said aloud, but gradually, carefully, Gayle had taken the initiative and broached the delicate topics one by one, though never with the five of us together in a room. To me, one night while we were chopping vegetables, she’d said out of nowhere, “You’re just so…poised. Your patients are lucky. I wish I could be more like you.” 

At the time, I’d hadn’t known what to say. Since then, I’ve mulled it over many times, thinking I should’ve answered her with something along the lines of, “I suppose I just have faith in people.” Except that “faith” isn’t exactly the right word. What I mean is that people will follow their paths, and that in everything—but in hospice especially—it’s not about healing. It’s about holding hands. 

Later that night, while washing dishes, I’d heard her and John talking on the veranda. “It’s the most amazing thing,” she’d mused. “He really doesn’t know. These days, he treats me like…I mean, he doesn’t know that I was ever different. He just sees me as I am.” 

Ice had clinked in a glass, and John had cleared his throat and said, “Well. That’s a hell of a silver lining.” 

“I don’t know if it’s me being selfish,” Gayle had gone on, “but I guess I feel like you all had your time with Dad, and now I’m having mine.”

“I’m happy for you. Proud.” John had sounded like he’d meant it, even if his mouth was dry. He’d always been protective. The next clink I’d heard had been their glasses tentatively toasting. 

Our last night there, Gayle and I had gone for a walk after dinner, and she’d told me, “I think I’m too much like him. I’m afraid.” It had rained, and the matted grass had stuck between our toes. “I always used to think I might be,” she’d added, “but now it’s like there’s nothing in the way. Like there was a glass between us, and it’s broken now. It scares me.”

“Scares you?” 

“I never want to be that kind of asshole. Even to myself.” I’d kept my eyes fixed on the darkness ahead, but I’d heard the tears creeping in the wake of her words, stalking us like something in the night behind. “And, yeah,” she’d added a few minutes later, “I want to be famous. I want to get my shit in the Met, that’s for sure. But, sorry-not-sorry, I don’t really want to hit sixty and lose my damn mind. I guess I only want some of his genes.” 

The next day, John had taken Vivian to the airport, and I’d had lunch with Dad and Gayle, then driven home. If Gayle ever sat down with Vivian the way she did with John and me, that week or since, I never heard. 

“I’m going to bed,” Vivian said. Not giving me and John a chance to stop her, she left the kitchen, wine in hand. John chased her. From the living room, I heard him swear the way a man does when he cuts himself while chopping onions. A door slammed, the one to the spare room that Vivian had claimed, and when I reached the living room, John’s hands were at his temples. “Unbelievable,” he murmured, turning in a slow, disoriented circle.  We were alone.

“Maybe she’s putting him to bed,” I suggested. But when we checked our father’s room and Gayle’s, we found them empty. 

“Un-fucking-believable,” John repeated, a vein pulsing rapidly over his eye. His face was bloodless. I’d never seen him look so frayed. My own heart was beating an irregular rhythm, but I did my best to bob there gently, cork-like on the boozy swells. I told myself that maybe, just maybe, she’d left the house before she’d overheard. 

We tried calling her cellphone. It jangled in the purse in her room. 

“We’re not doing this next year,” John said, sitting at the top of the stairs. “I swear. I’m out. I’m done.” 

“I can’t think that far ahead.” I sat beside him. He kneaded his forehead. I steepled my hands beneath my chin. From the top of the stairs, we had a clear view of the wall in the hallway where Dad’s last painting hung, grave and sky and far too many branches on the trees. 

“Maybe she’s onto something.”

I said, “What—Vivian?”

“We really don’t know what the hell’s going on in his brain.” He’d brought his glass and sipped it dry, then set it on the step below. “I mean, who the hell knew he’d go werewolf at our family reunion?” 

“He hasn’t bitten anyone,” I pointed out. “He’s still got his clothes on.”  

“You don’t know that.” 

“You’re right. I don’t know that.” Several minutes passed in silence. Then I said, “I think we should look for them.”

“I need some time.”

“She didn’t just let him wander off,” I said. “She went first. Or she went with him.” When he didn’t seem to grasp what I was getting at, I said, “What if she hurts herself? Because she heard?”


From Vivian’s door beneath the stairs came bass and trilling vocals: Cardi B. An odd choice at that hour. A terrible soberness had entered me and spread, as we descended the stairs, from a point at the center of my forehead through my body, suffusing my vision, rendering everything in muted, vaguely mawkish hues. I made for the side door, the one by which they’d probably left, and stepped out onto the veranda through a swarm of moths. 

I didn’t expect to see them there. I did, though, almost instantly. 

Gayle stood on the grass with her back to the trees. Mascara streaked her face, and her expression was too many things at once, but she held herself stock-still. I imagined standing like that with the woods at my back, recalled what I’d seen in the sketchbook, and shivered. 

Dad knelt before her. If they’d been strangers, I’d have thought he was proposing marriage. Yet it wasn’t a ring that he held, but a sketchbook, resting on his knee and trembling, steadied by his left hand while his right worked frantically across the page. From where I stood, I couldn’t see what he was sketching. I couldn’t even see what he was seeing as he glanced from the paper to his daughter, from his daughter to whatever was behind her, within that regiment of trees. All I saw, what little I could perceive, was that his old career had ended, and a new one was beginning, brief though it would surely be; and that a happiness, all too brief, had faded, but hadn’t left my sister’s face a barren place; and that something was beginning, something not yet named, anticipation equally divided into hope and terror as she watched our father drawing for the second time in four years, all too conscious of the horrors that might spill across the paper, all too conscious of the possibility of beauty, too. 

I sensed John beside me. When I looked, his face was only half of the equation. “Jesus,” he repeated. 


“I hope she’s ready for…” he said, and couldn’t finish. 

I didn’t think. I didn’t have to think. I said, “She is.”

Mekiya Outini is a writer, editor, and co-founder of The DateKeepers, an international media platform dedicated to telling untold stories and spotlighting well-lived lives. His short fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in Chautauqua, the Michigan Quarterly Review, Willow Springs, and elsewhere, and the first two chapters of his novel, Ashes, Ashes, have been featured in the West Trade Review. Mekiya earned his MFA in fiction from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and now lives with his life partner, Itto Outini, in Kansas City, MO, where they’re curating The DateKeepers and co-authoring Itto’s memoir, Blindness is the Light of My Life.