s a r a h    g a l l i e n



A Note on alice blue

When the Rains Come



Oh man. Well. You start a journal for the same reason you start a band, right? Because you aren't getting enough of what you love out there. And when we started ten years ago, we felt necessary, vital. The internet was wide-open (early Millennials know, I won't explain). We built from solicitation, from friends, made what we couldn't fill, and quickly you all found us. All you stun-brilliant writers, you sharp-sharp readers—lovers of small difficult things. We were one of many writers' first publications back then—the first, even. And we still are. We still do that. And this year we've published some of the best pieces I've read all year. But it's different. Each time I uploaded a new piece, I knew, even if we hadn't, someone would have. Someone would have published these pieces. All of them. We aren't necessary anymore. Isn't that beautiful? It is. It's the best of all possible outcomes. The sweetest kind of obsolescence. What a world! What a time to be alive! I'm not crying, you're crying! No—what? Stop it!





When the Rains Come


Whether or not the cattle noticed—now engineered so far beyond thinking, beyond even self-preservation—the sheep noticed, gathering themselves in a swell, pushing themselves against the gate. There was nowhere for them to go, and that was my fault I guess. Specifically and generally. I knew it was coming, but I didn't notice it had come 'til it had swallowed the dock ramp, touched the blackberries, canoe then bobbing among the tangle of thorns and leaves. I don't even see it now, the shore thirty yards from the middle of the pasture, thirty yards from the tree. The shovel, the pick, black-red with wet where I left them. The ground there bothered but holding. Pecks here and there, scarring the roots but barely. Some things you don't get back.

I suck in air, lips pressed flat. Out in the field, out in the rain, the dog runs and weaves—in manic figure eights—circling that tree, yapping at nothing, its black hair matted down and dripping, sure it has a job to do. I unlatch the screen door—can barely hear it over the downpour—hold it open, and let out a slow, low whistle. The dog freezes, then, hearing it again, bolts up towards and through the front door, tongue flying.

In the last twenty-four hours it's come and gone. Each time, the sun cutting in low through the bruised clouds like a reprieve before closing back up again. Each time there's more—siding slick and flashing on the water, rocking on the tide like leaves in a steel trough. Each time there's more—bodies bobbing on the surface, facedown mercifully, clothes sticking to flesh and billowing alternately. And each time there's less. Less town. Less country. I can still see the spire on the crypt in the Old Wapanaw Cemetery—where my Mother's buried, where my Father and his sisters and brother are buried. I can see the spire, but I can't see the rest of it. I've been told I have a hard time letting go.

The dog shakes off the excess, just inside the door, and makes its way to the fireplace. I follow, flipping the lever on the flue to guard and filter. A blue light blinks on its side, the computer plinks. The clinking of metal plates, the hiss of the electrolyser, tell me it's working—should work, should hold. I almost word a prayer—the one my father taught me, the one his mother taught him—lips forming the O out of muscle memory, but then I don't. The orange pulse dies and the analog voicemail reel clicks on. "Oh John—" The voice wavers. Her lower lip trembles when she holds back tears. "You were right." The high-pitched squeal of a cockatiel peals across the tape, topping out, the distant shriek of the bonobos in echo. "You were right."

The fire recovers and the dog falls onto its side. The house is shelter, the home—armor. Should've been. The second floor creaks above, struggling to contain its own empty space. I know what it is without looking, so much life collected there that I feel its order like a muscle. I know how many stairs and, at the switchback, how many steps back to the bedroom where I still sleep—try to—not by count but by habit. And the room where I slept those other months, before she left, with the machines. And the boy's. The patchwork quilt, playbills and posters, walls sweating. Its floor the kitchen's ceiling. I know its door's slam, the sound of soft-shoed practice, hours of it, through the dusty floorboards. The echo of music in them, the vibrations. The echo of his voice—an echo of mine. It's too damp up there, but I don't look.

Her breathing changes and I make my way to the kitchen, grab myself a glass from an upper cabinet, a bottle from below, and let the door clatter shut. "—ve you." The smoke off the scotch marries well with the humidity. I take a moment; I feel something and it's gone. "I always have." She smiles at me from a photo on the desk, bright pink lips—fuchsia, I think—doing that; it's been a long time. The boy still beside her there, all limbs and grace. I go to photograph. "I just—" I mash the button on the sill above, and the shutters snap and seal. I hit one after another until the kitchen goes dark. I run to the door and fling it wide. The dog lifts its eyes.

Out there, the ocean laps at the base of the tree. The boy's swing knocks against the trunk. The shovel's there, its sharp edge just below the path of the seat. There's never enough time. The grass bends to the tide—goes down, stays down. The roots are deep, but even the roots can't hold him. The remains.

The rain's in my eyes and my sleeve won't dry it. I let out a series of lilting whistles, like code, and the dog leaps to action. I wait—listening to the rain on the tape mixing with the rain on the island, hundreds of miles away, one thinned out in the delay—and they begin to crowd in, one after the other, dog last. "I'm so sorry." I wade through the murmurs and the bleating, the smell of wet-wool and animality, and slump down onto the couch. My hands tremble with possibilities, but there's nothing left for them to do. I put my head in them and hope the roots will hold, that the house will float.



SARAH GALLIEN lives here. Work forthcoming at the Fanzine and Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. Excerpts from her (SF) novel (in-progress) in the final installment of Shotgun Wedding. This. This is going to be her year.

in issues six nine

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