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108 that evening felt muffled to Leah, trance-like and slow. He had talked her into staying together and saying nothing to the children until after they got through the holidays. One of her girlfriends told her that her children would probably hate her for leaving him, but not to worry – it wouldn’t last forever, they’d probably forgive her eventually. During those in-between days Ben and Leah wandered stiffly around each other and had occasional painful conversations, and she would invariably tear up and sob out her guilt and her angst while he stayed dryeyed, staunch and silent. Leah knew that she deserved all this, and by mutual unspoken agreement they would play it out every few days. If only he was terrible to me now, she thought. If only he went out and did something reprehensible, or threw a fit, or slammed doors and called me names. But no, he packed things quietly in the night after she and the children had gone to sleep and looked self-righteous and bereaved. Every morning something new would be moved, or would have disappeared. Every morning Leah hustled the children out the door so that she could take stock of her ever-changing landscape and make any adjustments she could before they got home. She felt that his midnight packing was passive-aggressive, strategically planned to make her reconsider, or at the very least to make her hurt. Leah herself was also going through their things, though with much less purpose. She felt anesthetized, clumsy, waiting to see if she would change her own mind. She almost did, several times. It seemed that every time she pulled some books out, tried to file some bills, reorganize some cupboard, she would run into a picture of them years ago, younger, and obviously in love. She wondered where all those pictures were coming from, how she had failed to notice them tucked into forgotten corners for all these years. In moments of weakness she would actually look at one of those pictures, and it always hit her somewhere below the breastbone, somewhere less vital than her heart or her womb but critical all the same. She was surprised by how young Ben looked, his hair dark and full and his face unlined. Her younger self never surprised her – what came as a shock to her instead was the woman in the mirror, the lines and the brittle kinky grey hairs she wasn’t bothering to pull out anymore, and the overall heavy dragging look of resignation, of defeat. The dull eyes staring back at her. One morning she came downstairs and found the shotgun standing, upright and casual, in her closet. It was

CIRQUE leaning against the left over boxes from Christmas, the few gifts that still hadn’t found their home. Left where the children could find it, not loaded and dangerous, but full of questions that needed to be answered, that would scream to be asked. It struck her how toy-like the gun looked, all clean and innocent just leaning against her things. How toy guns look real and real guns look like toys, how confusing that line between showmanship and lethality was. In that moment she stopped feeling guilty long enough to resent him. They had argued about guns after they were first married, and again when they talked about having children. She had an urban sensitivity about guns and the killing of animals, and Ben had teased her about her squeamishness. He had grown up in these Oregon hills hunting and raising meat animals, and she had been attracted to this, strangely comforted by how unperturbed he seemed by small questions of life and death. When Ben had given her this gun shortly after the birth of their first child, she had hesitated and cursed him and laughed. They had been drinking bourbon through a light early summer evening with the baby finally sleeping peacefully just inside, and she had kissed him and picked up the weapon with the wonder of a child being given an unexpected and extravagant gift. She had felt strong, grown up, a woman willing to compromise for the man who had chosen her, whom she loved. Now she leaned against the door jamb and stared at it in her closet, just another reproach. She was surprised by the anger that suffused her, finally burning through her numbness. It felt almost breathtaking. By the time Leah made it to the faint blood stain on the road where the doe had lain she was no longer shaking. There was little traffic on this stretch of road mid-day and she started hauling the boxes out and stacking them carefully in the ditch, pausing every time she heard an engine approach. She added the framed photographs and her wedding dress and his fishing waders, the boxes of mementoes she had swept off her desk and her shelves. She lay the empty shotgun on top of the pile. She knew the children would be home soon and she would have to be back in time to explain to them that she and Ben were splitting up. She stood there on the road and said a quick clumsy prayer for the doe, and then she got back in the driver’s seat and squeezed her eyes shut and cried. When she finally looked in the rear view mirror her face was puffy and red, but she recognized the anger in those eyes looking back at her. She knew she wouldn’t be going back.

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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