Putting together this collection was time-consuming and difficult, but reading the submissions and working with the authors was the opposite of a burden. Selection was the burden. I narrowed it down to fifteen, then seven stand-outs. I did all the usual things: lying awake in the wee small hours, annoying my partner, comforting myself with clichés. You can’t please all of the people, et cetera. Then I got over myself long enough to choose four.
Things at the house were different to how they’d been before: the shapes of light on the lawn, how short her father cut the grass, where they taught the dog to climb the stairs, where she pushed her sister into the dirt, where she let her high school boyfriend fuck her mindlessly and without care, where she had thrown cigarettes onto the neighbour’s roof. Now there was no dog and no daddy.
On their third day without food, Billy shows his sons how to draw the symbol. He takes a handful of charred kindling, burnt out in the pot-bellied stove, and gives a piece to each of them. He uses the bottom of a mug to make the outer circle, shows them how to hold it steady against the plasterboard wall and trace around its rim. He should have a compass but he sold his, borrowed the boss’s when he had to.
The snow has stopped falling when we approach the old bus, although the motionless air stings perhaps colder than when it snows. Some boys throw stones up at the bus windows; their arms wave strange circles over and again as though motioning to someone we cannot see. Clumps of snow leap up from their shoes as they run off. We too used to throw stones, when we were young boys ourselves.
When the mighty roar goes up, I’m in the alley, looking for my keys in my pockets. The ground falls away beneath my feet. I stop. I think it might be a delusion again. But the earth starts moving up and down slowly, then quickens. It looks as if somebody is shaking the asphalt street and everything stuck on it, like when you shake a mat out of dust and soil.