- Madeleine Voge
I wasn’t expecting visitors, I’m sorry for the hair. You may not see it now, but I’m going to ask you to leave your shoes by the door. Then it will twine between your toes and ball up around your heels. I would’ve swept had I known you were coming.
We’ve stopped cleaning the windows. In the spring the birds hit right into them and then the dogs get to their bodies. The feathers are the giveaway. They’re stringy and get caught up in their teeth.
The grass gets long this time of year. Now that the snow’s all gone back to the clouds, the pokey stems look longer and weaker than ever. We’ll get it cut just how you like. So it glides along your bare feet but doesn’t get caught between your toes.
We’ll move the cushions closer to the fire before nightfall. Chamomile and steamed milk.
It was nice of you to come, to see our home, how the trees dip their branches over the pond out back. The edges of it frozen still. The slate roof droops from decades of snow and the wooden floors screech if you don’t know where to step. Once you learn the dance, to sweep the halls without waking even the mice, you’ll have been here too long to depart.
This house of ours, it’s like whiskey. You get too comfortable with it, you’ll forget what life’s like without it.
The grey shutters are like lungs. When the breeze passes through them, this whole place breathes like a sleeping baby. You ever get woken by the wind or the whimpering coyotes by the pond, remember I don’t sleep much and I’m near unbeatable at chess. It’s a good way to pass the time.
If you ever need something, please let me know.
We may not have much.
What we do have is yours.
Our little one sleeps with me. You can have his bedroom because the sun shines best through those windows, and he’s too afraid to be in there by himself anyways. His name is engraved into that bedframe. Lucky for you, you share the same name. It’s like we’ve been waiting for you to come all along, James.
He won’t recognize you of course, it’s not like his eyes had seen the light before you left. Maybe he’ll see some of himself in you. I sure do. The way his eyes flicker for a moment when he’s thinking hard about something. Or how he gets cranky before bed and kicks his feet and balls his fists up.
We call him Jay for short.
Maybe then he won’t turn out like you.
I used to have dreams where you’d knock on our door. I’d hold Jay tight against my chest and quiver, listening to hear if the knock would come again or if it was just an echo of my tired mind.
When you knocked today I didn’t listen for it again, because I knew it was true.
We waited at the station for you. He fell asleep under the bench and I was shaking too badly to lift him into my lap.
You said, Marie, I want to help you. You should have said, when will you learn?
My little one doesn’t understand. The barbs on the hedgehog cactus stuck into his palms once. But he did it again today. He put his hands right onto it. When I tried to hold him, he pushed and ran away.
Did you teach him that, too?
If you stay until the autumn, you’ll see the trees ignite. The crickets hum during the day, but by dusk they wail like the third stair in my home. I leave the windows closed to keep in the warm and keep out the screaming sound.
You’ll hear the crackling of wet bark in the woodstove. The smoke sometimes coaxes maggots from their holes and they wriggle against hot coals. Don’t watch.
You’ll hear the coyotes yipping at the wind, perhaps to harmonize with its howls.
You’ll hear me. When I cannot sleep, I pat my blankets and for the dogs to climb up and curl around me. I grow easily fearful and place my hand on Jay’s chest, feeling for its slow rise and fall.
If you have forgotten, which I know that you have, walk to the water’s edge and peer below the surface. You may ask, “why am I here, there is nothing to see?”
Look deeper then, beyond the reflection of your sunken eyes, into the murky blackness of the rotten leaves. Imagine you are looking beyond your body and inside of yourself. That is why the pond is there. That is why my little boy is here.
Reminders. Something is absent.
Madeleine is part houseplant. She thrives in direct sunlight with a window view and infrequent waterings. If you cut off her limbs and replant them, more Madeleines will grow. Madeleine also has a degree in Creative Writing from the University of Colorado, Boulder. In 2021, she was awarded Forbes 30 Under 30 for her sparkling water company, Aura Bora — she writes blogs, stories, and haikus for the labels on every can. Today, she is writing her first book about a girl with special powers. And this is all very unusual for a houseplant.
instagram: @madeleinevoge twitter: @madeleinevoge