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ISSUE:  Fall 2021


for Kristine Carlson

Before North took a seasonal job 
fishing for kings in Alaska 
I’d never admitted to myself 
that he was my only friend. 
For a little income and to cope 
with the lonely summer, I rented out 
his room at a nightly rate, listing it 
online as a bed-and-breakfast 
so I could charge more. I hid 
all his stuff in the closet, took photos,
and at the top of the post I wrote 
eco-friendly, but never explained 
what that meant. Evenings 
I’d check-in tenants, then leave 
on my rounds to various 
dumpsters, keeping ahead 
of the week’s trash pickup schedule. 
Back home, I’d wash 
the food I’d found and count 
our stocks—staying above a hundred meals 
was important to me. Over bacon 
and blueberry pancakes 
my first tenant told me it was only 
after his wife died that he could finally 
pursue his lifelong passion 
for gambling. Catnapping 
on a Monday afternoon, I missed 
another call from my mom, 
who was retiring soon and wanted 
me to hear her preach 
one last time. She was good 
at justifying my lifestyle, calling it 
stewardship of the Earth, 
the saving of small parts of God’s 
creation. As if she didn’t know 
how cheap I was, how greedily 
I clung to each free hour 
of each free day. Running 
the B&B was the most work I’d done 
in years, and that was nothing 
but living how I always did 
plus keeping the lights low 
so the sheets looked clean. 
July brought windless days, air so thick 
you could feel yourself passing 
through it. Unprecedented highs, 
the weatherman said, sweeping 
his arms apart as if to make room 
for the heat. All the dumpsters 
became ovens, spoiling 
the food and plummeting 
our stocks below sixty. Whoa,
one tenant said during a Pepsi commercial,
I forgot how beautiful what’s-her-face is.
Even after I started skipping 
a meal a day, the stocks 
kept dropping, so I simplified 
the B&B’s breakfast menu. 
I knew I’d lose stars online, 
but with North coming back at the end 
of summer it wasn’t like I was trying 
to build a presence. The end
of the world already happened,
another tenant told me 
as I made her a PB&J. Now 
the most important thing is to avoid 
contact with trees. Think about it, 
she said. We mustn’t touch them. 
Both of us had sweat rings 
in the pits of our shirts, and as we spoke 
they spread. I cut off her crusts 
and served her sandwich on a blue plate. 
She tapped the windowpane: 
Watch for unnatural colors 
in the sky—that’s the mood ring 
God’s wearing. Each week, 
another historical record 
was broken. If tomorrow 
is like today, the weatherman said, 
I’ll see you folks at the beach.
Online, a tenant gave me one star 
because I didn’t have A/C. 
Another, because I had a cat 
and hadn’t said so. In August 
a salmonella scare fed the dumpsters 
and shot our stocks into the black. 
Upon arrival, my guests found 
complimentary Clif Bars 
on their pillows. My stars went up.
I ran out of Ziplocs. 
I could have gone back 
to three square meals, but I froze 
the bulk of it, wanting to impress
North when he got home.
Sometimes I heard footsteps 
in his bedroom and let 
myself pretend it was him.
On her final day in the pulpit 
I took the 17 to see my mom preach. 
After the service, members 
of the congregation kept touching 
my shoulder—I’d been dragged 
to enough funerals to recognize 
the gesture. My mom 
looked tired, her eyes sad 
but also full. She hugged everyone. 
She knelt down and hugged 
the children, her bright vestment 
enwrapping all but their tufts 
of hair. There was no question 
about what mattered or if 
she loved me. I excused myself 
to the bathroom and cried. In the end,
August shattered all previous Augusts.
I stopped looking at my stars.
My final tenant talked 
about a series of inventions 
he claimed to have come up with 
that would all but put to shame 
our current way of life. 
Patents are pending, 
he explained over coffee and toast. 
Now it’s only a matter of time.



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