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Vo l . 6 N o . 2 metropolis to another, always yearning for something she didn’t even know how to name. Every few years her parents would gather her and her sisters in the latest living room of the latest apartment and pull out a map and explain that they were going to move somewhere new. When she was 8 or 9 she moved to the East coast to the city where her parents had met, living in an apartment building so high above the street that she could barely pick out faces when she sat for hours looking down at the motion below. She was terrified of the height from the bedroom window she shared with her sisters, and she held her breath every time she took the elevator to the ground floor, slowly releasing it when she felt her feet on the ground. At some point she had seen a picture in a book of the city in a precious century, of the farms and forests that grew right where her building stood. It astounded her to think that somewhere beneath the pavement, beneath yards of concrete and tunnels and pipes, were soil and bedrock, perhaps even something alive. The thought was at once thrilling and terribly sad, as if that something real was lost, its potential trapped beneath unbreachable layers upon layers. Leah’s mother’s family was from a poorer suburb of a lesser city and she was estranged from most of them, carrying within her whatever secrets drove her to follow Leah’s father with hope that crumbled into resignation as the years wore on. When they moved back she reconnected with a cousin who lived a couple hours north in what Leah’s parents referred to as the “country.” They would visit cousin Jackie on occasional weekends, driving the car out for long afternoon visits and returning in the dark, Leah and her sisters laid out in the back of the station wagon with scratchy wool blankets from the army-navy store over them, blankets that always smelled faintly of moth balls and mildew. They watched the stars above them through the back hatch, fighting to stay awake as long as possible until they finally succumbed to exhaustion and the rhythmic rumble of the car moving through the darkness. On the days they were to drive out to Jackie’s they would wake early and pack their bags, having to think about extra clothes and snacks for the drive and rain gear and snow boots in the winter, as if the very act of heading into the “country” meant having to worry about surviving weather and all sorts of possible calamities. When they were all finally loaded with their provisions safely stashed around them, Leah and her sisters would press their faces

Texas Van

Brenda Roper

to the windows and take in every sight, drinking in the shopkeepers and the homeless people and the taxis and the crowds with the glee of someone making an escape. They had to drive north through parts of town where they knew they didn’t want to break down, where dark-skinned men sat on steps drinking beer and large apartment complexes that looked beaten and old as soon as they were built sat stunned and surrounded by cyclone fencing and broken shopping carts upended in the middle of sidewalks. Somehow having to drive through these crumbling and menacing landscapes was part and parcel of leaving the city, of breaking away. They would sit in the back of the station wagon watching the concrete jumble give way to empty lots with straggly weeds growing impossibly through cracks, to ragged stands of weary trees, and eventually to open space. Leah’s eyes would strain to pick out the first bit of dark forest, the first patch of greenery that looked like it grew by its own design, not as a ragged survivor from some long-lost past. After an hour or so they had left the city far behind, and they would begin to talk into the silence of their hunger for wilderness. Leah and her sisters would count road kill as they drove up the turnpike. Years later Leah had tried to explain this ritual to Ben, and he had laughed and asked her how much roadkill there could possibly have been to satisfy them the whole length of the drive. Leah had admitted that the bodies might have multiplied through the lens of hindsight, but in her mind she could still picture a steady stream of mangled animal corpses littering the side of the highway. Perhaps each one of those corpses was so exciting to her that it took on special

Profile for Michael Burwell

Cirque, Vol. 6 No. 2  

A Journal for the North Pacific Rim

Cirque, Vol. 6 No. 2  

A Journal for the North Pacific Rim

Profile for burwellm
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