Turnpike by Kathryn E. Hill
Managing Editor Robin McCarthy on today’s bonus story: Kathryn E. Hill’s “Turnpike” won my heart with the line “…she died like the Venus de Milo.” Forget how beautiful those words sound on the tongue—-all Hill’s words sound this bright, her use of repetition and assonance is pitch-perfect—-it’s the way the story moves us through haunting images, each pairing the beautiful with the grotesque. The result is a strange sadness, a heavy grief wrapped in language and imagery that delight.
And in broad daylight she was hit, her body backing up traffic eight miles on I-75. There was no livor mortis—everything spreading on the hot black tar, her back open, pulpy, wide. Her tricycle wheel, pink and silver, still spinning between her knees, people looked and drove and looked and drove on. (The gate had been left open behind the house. She had wheeled out.) The ambulance broke down in the backed-up traffic and she died like the Venus de Milo, her arms in a cornfield. The bees danced and tried to lick the reflectors on her wheels. Motors churned and motors sputtered and motors purred down and people watched and people watched. They passed. They moved on to lunch.
Her parents decided to burn her (not the arms) with her helmet on and put her ashes in a pink and silver cup that they would empty next to fern bushes and bent Coke cans in a crowded National Park, somewhere near the border, somewhere where all the trees had tiny signs punched into their bark, their names in white Helvetica. Somewhere nice.
At night her mother locked the gate. Her mother bought nine padlocks and locked the gate shut. She stared at the headlights, the lunging streams of headlights blurring past. She twisted the blue lock dials one more time. She went upstairs and swallowed twenty aspirin. She undid the locks in the morning. She watched, broad daylight, no cars with lights.
The tiny brown-faced grave was a pockmark in the earth, eight miles away from Sinking Spring in the shadow of a shaved gray mountain, shaved for skiing, shaved for coal. There were long sandwiches with wettening meat and machine-chopped lettuce at the funeral lunch. And red and silver Cokes. (They accidentally played Hava Nagila at the funeral. Her mother danced. They accidentally misspelled the name on the bulletins, misfolded.) Someone said there were six lasagnas in the fridge for them to take home with them, six lasagnas to mold in the back of the fridge. Her mother swallowed twenty-eight aspirin. Her mother swallowed and carried the lasagnas in from the overheating car.
Two weeks later he said he wanted corn for dinner, corn chopped and simmered in milk and butter. She told him to go fuck himself. She told him to go open the gate and go walk across the turnpike and pick his own goddamn corn. Told him to go look for his daughter’s rotting arms. Told him to go walk slowly. He came back ten minutes later and said the gate was locked. She swallowed thirty-four aspirin. He went back out with the bolt cutters. She watched herself be sick in front of the mirror.
Four days later the silver-pink wheel became a clock she made, a wall clock with backwards hands, minutes for hours, hours for minutes, turning and turning in the widening house, slouching toward the browning corn, across the humming stream of lightless cars, moving, moving on toward what.
Kathryn E. Hill is an MFA candidate in fiction at Arizona State University where she also teaches English composition. She works as a freelance copy editor and serves as a prose reader for Hayden's Ferry Review. Her work has been published in Glass Mountain and is forthcoming in Pamplemousse.