Micah White works as an editor for Oxford University Press in New York City and lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife and two sons. He spends a considerable amount of time each day on trains, upon which he does most of his writing. His fiction has appeared in Children, Churches & Daddies and is forthcoming in Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine and Per Contra.
Chandelier: User Guide
- Attach top canopy and body column and bottom bowl. Screw candle cup into each bobeche. Secure pendalogues, chains. Repeat for sixteen hours. Accept fifteen yuan from boss. Be thankful. At home watch daughter sleep in fits on mat. Feel crumpled yuan in pocket. Make choice: doctor or food?
- Slide polystyrene tips over bulbs. Dump approximately ten thousand packing peanuts into box. If chandelier still unsecured, dump another thousand. Tape and retape box flaps. Forklift onto deck and drive into container. Secure with bungees. At sea, think of wife, not Hóng. During storms or nights in Pacific darkness, holding fast to Hóng, think of wife. Warning: You will be persecuted. After one month watch large green woman with torch appear in harbor. Deliver box to dock. Smoke on gangplank. Wait for cast off. Think of wife.
- Atop ladder in banquet hall, yell down to Jimmy. Call him fuckup or idiot. Instruct to get replacement bulb. Descend ladder. Cut eyes at Jimmy when he returns, threaten termination. Be aware: Jimmy is union. Climb ladder with replacement bulb. Order Jimmy to hoist chandelier. Screw replacement bulb clockwise into candle tube. Connect main wire to ceiling electrical box that Jimmy said was off. Tip from top step. Behold approaching floor. Lie still, in peace, then writhe on elegant marble tile.
With tea and soft morning jazz, filter for refurbished chandelier on wholesale site. Select one-click checkout, next day shipping. When Rosa finishes the week’s cleaning, ask: Do you have a handy son, brother, friend? Pay José Luis ten dollars under the table for installation. Take shower. Exfoliate. Swaddle in spa robe. Wake children from nap and lead to parlor. Turn on oldies. Flip dimmer. Watch chandelier and young eyes blaze. Say: dance, dance, my darlings, it is all for you.
Lift Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates
A country road, potholed but seldom traveled and no more than a dozen feet wide, split the area. To the east: Father Michael and Bernadette, the windblown chapel, the homely parsonage. To the west: Don and his dogs, the smell of seared bacon, soybeans for miles.
“Who else you think done it?” Father Michael said one night from the table. He dabbed sweat from his scalp’s enduring hairs. He had just come from town. “Police said they’ll dig around but you and me both know we ain’t never gonna see them again.” Bernadette stood at the stove. Catfish sputtered in grease.
In her youth Bernadette was slim, hard-bodied, but years of grits and boiled peanuts had augmented her thighs and inflated the skin above her elbows. “What would he want with a microphone and music stand?” she said. “He gonna teach his dogs to harmonize in a bean patch?”
She persuaded him to go over. Father Michael tucked in his shirt and crossed the road. Don filled out his porch rocker and overalls, his bare chest straining against the straps. Two Labradors, black as the country night, snored in a pile at his feet. Bernadette watched from the chapel steps. Don laughed and shook his head and offered Father Michael a drink. In minutes Father Michael was back, undressing in the austere bedroom of the parsonage. He searched every pocket he could find. He had torn to pieces the receipt from the pawnshop, but part of him still expected its appearance atop the dresser, in his wife’s hand, or, worse, on the chapel floor and in the sight line of a congregant on Sunday.
“As if it’d kill him to see what we’re all about,” Father Michael said as they lay in bed. “Ten years on and he can’t cross a road, even for some singing?”
Bernadette turned off the light. “Can’t reach everyone, hon.” Father Michael stared ahead, waiting for his eyes to adjust. His felt his neck, took his pulse. Outside the katydids sang and soon Bernadette’s breathing turned rhythmic.
Through moonlight he crossed the yard to the car and opened the trunk. In the duffel he found the bottle, a few leftover bills, scattered coins. He looked over his shoulder. Don’s windows were dark. In his hands the bottle was cool and of great weight. The tawny liquid prickled his tongue. He tallied stars until he lost count, thankful that all was forgiven.
Tomorrow they’ll flip the switch on the machine that helps Papi’s lungs do their job, but tonight Mom’s making Brussels sprouts. Most of Dad is under the sink, struggling with a leaky pipe. I’m at the table trying to solve for x if y is four and z is something else. Into a large white bowl Mom dumps a couple dozen sprouts. She asks: how’s the homework, babe?
Mom says I’ll see Papi again someday, but from under the sink Dad says no, I won’t, so I’ll need to hold my memories close and tight like deep secrets. I don’t know who to believe. Over the sprouts Mom pours golden oil. She inverts the saltshaker above the bowl and jiggles it aggressively, hitting its bottom with the palm of her hand.
Once Papi pulled me from a deep sleep to catch fireflies. He was mansitting, as he liked to call it, so Mom and Dad could go into the city to do who knows what. In my room his face was half darkened by night, half lit by the trespassing moon. He said: come, my little thing, we’re missing the show.
Barefoot and in flannel pajamas we stepped into the yard, already wet with dew. I rubbed sleep from eyes. Above the grass, against the infinite blackness, points of light flared and bobbed, drifted and faded. Papi gave me a mason jar and instructions and not once, as we jumped and slid over the dampened earth, did I think about what was to come.
The preheat bell dings and Mom slides the sprouts into the oven. Dad stands up and turns on the faucet and says: that should do it. I ask: what’s going to happen tomorrow? Mom and Dad pretend they don’t hear me.
Later, we eat. It’s a good meal, except for the sprouts, which Mom burned. But I don’t say anything. We are a family.
*All work is the property of the author and is distributed with their permission