The Sieve

The Sieve
Anne Gudger

Stand in the wind.

Rooted on a boulder taller than a one-story house, a favorite spot where a Never Give Up tree cracked the rock and grew. Five feet tall. Like you. Taller next summer. Not like you.

Arms wide out, fingertips tingling like when you were a girl and sure you could fly. If the wind were strong enough. If you jumped. If you believed. Girl bird. You squeezed your eyes, hard. Fluffed your feathers like Homer, your lemon yellow canary who you had a bird crush on. Can he fly around the house? you begged your mama who said, No, he’d poop all over. So you put an extra mirror in his wire house. Did your best to whistle with him when he sang even though your whistling sounded like you had a mouth full of Saltines.

Stand in the wind.

Blink back spitting dust. That one strand of hair, too short for your ponytail, whips your cheek, your ear. Bare arms prickle with the push of the wind and the underlying heat. Dry hot rock heat. Hard. Not moist heat that frizzes your hair. Wind whistles through your pores, curls around muscle, arteries, blows on your heart, like a wish, a promise.

A hawk circles in the air currents. Its cool shadow blinks over you.

Valley below. Wheat colored. Crisped by summer sun. Speckled with boulders that rolled off the massive rock—a giant sized game of Jacks. Endless blue sky. Not Sky Blue. Bluer. Persian Blue. French Blue. Blue as a chip of lapis you carried in your pocket at 14, a gift from a boy, a French horn player who told you Blue’s the color of love.

 

Wind.

Never scared you. Even that time you got lost in the Wyoming Mountains with three other backpackers in a storm. Wind screeched. Thunder and lightning so close you could barely count one, one thousand from the flash to the clap. Snow slapped the nylon thin tent walls as they billowed in, out. Sour breath—yours, theirs—smelled like fear. Okay. You were terrified of the thunder and lightening and being snowed in with a fat ankle too tender to walk on. But not the wind. You closed your eyes and saw yourself at five, at your family ranch, standing in the open, arms wide, wind puffing your windbreaker, telling your favorite cousin, Watch me fly.

We’re going to die, one of the tent guys said in that snowstorm and your stomach buckled. Fuck, you thought. But you listened to the sky breath and thought about Homer the canary and all those times you prayed to fly. We’re not, you said to your tent mates, throat squeezed straw-sized. Not today.

You’re a sieve.

Full of tiny holes that let the wind through. Holes punched with man rage: bedroom door kicked open while you slept, fists in walls, a pair of pants ripped in two, red hot words, silent words that seethed like underground fire. Woman rage: biting words, beaten daughter turned woman turned mother who slapped with words over belts. More holes from boy hands on your skin, down your pants, when you were four, five, holes so jagged you hid them from yourself.

Stand in the wind. Leggy grass bends in a deep bow. The sky a blur of streaming clouds. The rush of air in your ears. The feel of wind through skin and ribs, whispering to your heart.

 

You’re a sieve.

You remember washing dishes with your sister, elbow deep in soapy water, squishing fists of mashed potatoes between your fingers, lifting a sieve to watch grey water arc out of the holes. For years you two traded kitchen chores. One set, cleared, and dried. The other loaded the dishwasher and scrubbed seared meat off pans. You fought each night until your stepdad trudged up the carpeted stairs, trailed by pipe smoke, that rich, sweet Sir Walter Raleigh smell. Who started it? he’d ask and you’d both go silent. Allie Sisters. Gotcha In My Back Pocket Sisters. Okay, he’d say. Just finish. You’d hum a song, the Beatles maybe, as his balding head disappeared down the stairs. You and your sister would share a grin and you’d remember how much you loved her, how you were the one she’d come to in the dark of a nightmare, how she was the one you’d miss most when you packed for out-of-state college and left her behind, how she was your first love, how later you’d turn to her in the belly of your grief.

Later when you were forging your life, past Dad’s drinking, Mom’s depression, their ugly divorce, when you were crazy in love with your first husband, when you were pregnant, when your love cup overflowed, when. Your love husband crashed his car on a mountain road on a snow-white dark night. Dead. Before anyone could open his door. The pilot light on your heart snuffed out. You turned back to your sister who held you while you bawled.

A hole in your heart. Grief. Deeper than any tattoo. Woven in skin. Braided in your cells. In time you remembered who you are past survivor, left daughter, widow. You saw how grief cracked you open, gave you super powers: your ability to witness pain, unflinching. Your belief in love. Your understanding of your first husband’s words that didn’t stick when he said them. “Nothing ever dies,” he said on one of your long drives in the Getting To Know You And I’m Mad About You stage. Windows down. Your tanned arm in the air stream, hand rolling in waves against the rush of cool ocean air. Tangy on your skin. “You know that, right?” he said. “What?” You lifted your sunglasses and turned towards him. “Nothing dies. Energy transforms. It’s never lost.” “All right,” you said and thought about high school Physics and your favorite teacher Mr. Eastly who joked when he and his wife had a baby that they’d named him Wesley. You wished you’d paid more attention in high school now that you were in love with a physicist. “Energy’s never lost,” he said again, staring through the windshield at the honey-colored sun.

 

You had that beautiful boy you were pregnant with when your husband died. He punctured your grief, tethered you to love, reminded you your husband’s death was his, not yours. Two years later you married another sweet man and lucky you, in another two years had a daughter. The million dollar family, one of your friends said, meaning, I guess, a boy and a girl. You laughed because you both knew you took the hard way to that family. The loves of your life.

Stand in the wind. Arms stretched in Ready to Fly. Wind and sky whistle through your sieve holes, blowing your heart big. Girl bird. Woman bird. Golden feathers. Golden heart. Full of holes that let the light through.

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