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July 2013, vol 9, no 2

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Seánan Forbes

The Snail's Last Growth

She can go home again. Why not? She has a passport, money, memory, lineage, a strong sense of direction. An arc of flight, a rattle on the rails, a rental car . . . Means, winged and wheeled, are hers to beckon. She sorts options, sifts through many modes of transportation, ways of going back. She's not sure why she wants to, but her drift-dreams begin to flow with events to be revisited, memories to be unpacked.

birthday presents
the toddler plays
with an empty box

She opts for air and rail, first seeing the past a patchwork, small and manageable; then peer-matching her gaze on a level with the land's. They stare at each other: land and one who had abandoned it. She glimpses the abyss.

family dinner
her father's gaze
a calling forth of guilt

Staring through windows, she waits – wants – to recognize something. Anything: a vista from a long-ago drive, a view from an excursion, a road oft-driven, a rise of hill against sky, a fold of landscape . . . She opens a window, steals snatches of rushing air, searches her hindmost brain for a flare of recognition from a fleeting odor of fertile fields or flowers. Her senses are as blunt as conversations with her ex, as dull as forgotten dreams. The vista is a shrunken matrix; only she and the train are the right size. She thinks of Carroll's Alice, wishes she could order 'Drink me' from the railway coffee cart, shrink herself to size.

childhood garden
only the oak
as vast as memory

She walks a long route home. Her roads lead anywhere but homeward. Grateful to have a friend's borrowed rucksack instead of her roll-along luggage, she wanders the beckoning streets. Paces the route between her first school and the nearby home of a childhood friend. Is surprised to find her feet still know the way. School to diner (now a chain coffee shop); school to bookshop (closed); friend's house to once-cherished ramshackle art shop (now an exclusive boutique she could, in theory, afford to enter). She walks a spiral, out and in. Lets curiosity lead her. Enters the school, expecting to be challenged. On a stairway landing, she bends, runs her fingers along gouges in a wall. His initials, hers, chunkily entwined, softened by decades of paint, eroded but still extant. Childhood romance. A quick kiss, near the mouth. Innocence.

old school
the toilets
lower than her knees

She'd lied, given a later time of arrival, purchased hours to acclimate to the depth. She trails slowly toward the old house, taking in the façades of old haunts. The magical history tour, minus the magic. The economy has not been kind here. There are signs of renewal, signs of struggle, signs of death. Scattered signs of redemption: rare and elusive. As she walks, she feels her veins alter, her heart adapting to the old air. She feels breath clutch in her lungs, waits for gills to slice her throat. At every turn, she expects to hear her name shouted, to find herself faced with a face she knows. There are only strangers.

in shop doorways
heaps of dust

She purchases pastries from a patisserie lodged against the lobby of an office block: napoleons, cream spilling from between crisp layers; éclairs, so fat they might be pregnant; palmiers, a week of calories in every curve. Knocks back a demitasse of coffee, bitter as truth. Runs out of deferrals.

Her traitor feet (or other traitor parts) almost take her past her house. She circles, backtracks, retraces her life. Paces the walkway. Knocks at the door. After a while, it opens.

scalding water
the snail's
last growth of shell