My Name was Supposed to be Elizabeth Ann

— Stories from the Roads (Not) Taken

Somehow, I acquired a dead man’s interrupted life.  His grey stone cottage, mid-forest. Books, a barn, blank stationery veined with mold. Curled edge photographs stacked like kindling in a dusty hope chest. They claim me. A rusted horseshoe slumbered in the cook stove. I burnish it with wire, secure its resurrected luck with a trinity of nails …

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In eighth grade, Leann’s California brother blank-check, birthday-gifted her a whole new wardrobe, accessories included. I tried not to hate her. Tried not to worry whether anyone saw my Thursday jeans were Allthedays’, my sweater winnowed from Glad bag cast-offs, my wrists braceleted with scabs. They healed up mostly clear, except just there. See? One …

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… strolling hunched and sandalled along the highway berm. His right hand clutched a blanket ‘round his shoulders. His left, a cigarette whose smoke wafted through my car’s open window. I cat-sneezed, but he kept on walking. Didn’t say god bless. Just shrank inside my mirrors as  I slowed and braked for red. Tuesday, I’d …

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The day after, Birdie bins and washes, shelves detritus of a home upended. Dust clogs her nose. Tickles her eyes. She sneezes. Blinks. Sneezes yet again. Birdie knows dust is partly skin, that skin sloughs and regenerates each moon cycle while her bones and heart require ten years of cycles to renew. By which math, …

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Outside, monsters roam. They won’t hurt you, bud.  Behind his mask, curiosity battles fear. How come? Magic, she says, sidekick to his cartoon hero. Kneeling, she steps his feet into leggings, arranges a cape about his shoulders and goblets on a table. Their cream faces blush dull orange as she pours.  How’d you–  Witches’ secret. …

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Before Everyone discovered Someone’s bones,  Someone stored their faces in a box in a drawer in the middle of their dresser and,  mornings when they awoke, tried on each in turn, discarding each facsimile as smallish or loose or lacking in some necessary, elusive detail  heard about but never seen (like unicorns or potted gold), …

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