I Go To Some Hollow
by Amina Cain

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Please visit Minimalbooks to read a Polish translation of this story.

 

I’ve been pressing my hand into sharp places.  I’ve never held something and used it to cut myself, but if I’m outside I’ll press my hand into a thorn to make sure I can feel it.  It’s embarrassing.  If I have a fight with someone this is what I’ll do.  Yesterday I got into a fight with Celeste, with whom I’ve been building a house.  I was holding a nail and I pressed my palm hard against it.
            “What are you doing?”  she asked.  She saw me with the nail.  Later in her room she handed me a plate with sharp things on it.  They were tools I’d never seen before.  I couldn’t figure out how a person might use them.     
            “Why did you give me this plate?”
            She sat down on an old chair.  I looked at her arm; it was muscular.  If I looked inside it would I see myself? 
            On my way home, I pictured those small objects while looking out the window of a bus.  I pictured the objects separately, never together.  And then a grain elevator was reflected in front of me.  I couldn’t see them anymore.           
           
“I‘m here,” I said, when I showed up in the morning for work.  Celeste was on the roof, laying down shingle.  It was cold and I could see my breath. 
            “Alright.”  She looked at my breath or she looked at me.  It took too long and then I felt uncomfortable. 
            “What should I do?”
            “You can help up here.”
We worked side by side, not talking.  From the roof I could see a small stream.  As I pounded nails into the shingles I began to sweat underneath my layers of clothes.  I wondered if she was also sweating underneath her layers of clothes.  She wore a red hooded sweatshirt and under that a flannel shirt.  I wasn’t sure what else she might be wearing because I had only seen her in cold weather.   
            Once when I drank a beer with a friend of mine on her deck we talked about what we did when we were turned on.  We did the same things.  Later, on the phone, we admitted how turned on we had been when we had talked.  When you’re turned on your heart beats fast.  But long periods of time can go by when I don’t even think about sex, when I would rather read, or go through my things and get rid of them.
            “What are you thinking about?” Celeste asked me.
            “Drinking beer.”
            “You don’t look like someone who drinks beer.”
            “I’m not.  Are you?”
            “Sometimes.” 
            When she crossed to other side of the roof I felt lonely.  But I always fantasize about being alone.  I picture myself walking around the city, never with another person or with a group of friends.  I know it’s not what I want; I don’t know why I’m so interested in it.
            After lunch I drove home and made a cup of tea.  “I’ll see you at two o’clock,” I said, but I didn’t go back to work on the house.  I got into bed and stayed there all afternoon and evening.  I read a book.  I thought about what was happening in the mountains around me, what the animals were doing, what the plants looked like, how the ice was melting, or hardening in the cold.

            “You look like you’re a million miles away,” Celeste said.  We were waiting in line at Home Depot. 
            “Have you ever done cocaine?” I asked her.
            “Did you do it this morning?”
            “I did it once and it made me sick.”
            On the loudspeaker someone made an announcement about lumber.
            “It’s always so crowded here,” I said. 
            “That’s because people never stop making things.”
            The man behind us held a doorknob in his hands.  I wondered who would walk through his doorway and touch that doorknob.  Would he want that person to be there? 
           
Out in the parking lot it began to snow.  It made me feel as if I had shared something with Celeste.  I knew I wouldn’t know her long.  She backed her truck out of our parking spot and then pulled onto the road. 
            “Do you have a favorite bird?” I asked her.
            “I like all birds.”
            “Have you ever held one?”  She looked for a second as if she was thinking about my question, and then she looked like she was thinking of something else.  “Well?”
            “Why do you want to know if I’ve held a bird?” she asked.
            I felt uncomfortable again.  The snow had covered the ground.  Soon we were stopped in front of the unfinished house and we would have to begin to work on it again.  A man walked up
to the house and asked us how long it had taken to build it.
While Celeste talked to the man, I sat on the stairs and grasped their edges with my hands as hard as I could.  It was cold and I wasn’t wearing gloves. 

Sometimes people die when they build houses.  They fall off roofs or accidentally shock themselves when it rains on a drill.  If someone I love is dying I want to be able to look at that person and say, “you’re dying.”  I also want a person to be able to say it to me.  The only time I knew someone who was dying I said, “you’ll get through this” and it wasn’t true. 
            “When will the house be finished?”
            Celeste and I were sitting in the woods, next to the stream you can see from the roof.
            “You should be happy to have a job.”
            “I am.”
            “Put your hands in,” she said.
            “You first.”  She put her hands in it, and then I did. 
            We sat next to the stream, our hands freezing in the water.