FICTION: Opening the Dam

Winner, 7th Annual Volume One Fiction Contest

Katie Nolan, illustrated by Mike Jacobsen

We drink amber bocks on her roof, she and I. We drink them like lumber barons, proudly, looking out on a river of logs. But the barons lived closer to the river. We can’t see the river from up here. I set my bottle down, forgetting to make the first drink big enough to counter the grade. Top heavy, it falls, foaming and filling the spaces between the roof shingles as it rolls zigzag toward the gutter. I think this town wants those barons back, or the logs. I guess they need each other. 


    I think we’re on the edge, she says. I mean this house, it’s the edge of something. Everything east is students, but I was walking the other way yesterday and heard a domestic dispute. Real people with their problems. This is the edge of that, or of the students. I move my chair closer to the edge of the roof. The canals between the shingles are almost empty now, and I can hear the bock streaming down the gutter.


    This feels like summer camp, she says, and turns the dial on the radio. I tell her I never went to summer camp, but I think I know what she means. What I mean is that I know summer camp only happens in the summer, and I don’t really know what that is. I think she knows what I mean. When she says “this” she means college. I pretend she means sitting on her roof in the afternoon when spring gets warm.   


    One time we were grocery shopping in her hometown. After ambling through the fluorescent patchwork of excessive packaging and SALE signs, we rolled our cart into a checkout line. She didn’t have her discount card, and the cashier couldn’t find the one usually pinned to her nametag: DEB.  The pink and blue flower sticker she’d placed inside the D was faded and beginning to peel. Deb asked Jan from one line over if she could borrow hers, and the woman waiting behind us made a noise like she’d been startled from a nap. We turned and watched her empty the contents of her large, black leather purse onto the counter—receipts, gum wrappers, keys, several prescription bottles of pills, a single tampon. The last thing to drop out was her discount card. She leaned across her shopping cart to hand it to Deb and then looked Jan dead in the eyes, “Crisis averted, Jan!” It’s funny when you say crisis and don’t mean it. We all laughed. The woman saved us two dollars and seventeen cents. 


    I think this is a crisis and I will never say it. It wouldn’t be funny.