Topanga

by Michael Ryerson

I knew her before she was published, when she lived in that little house out on the point with the cabinetmaker. And the dogs. She was writing every day, in longhand, in that schoolgirl cursive learned so many years ago, each letter a monument to Mrs. Baird’s persistence, leaning slightly to the right as though to the future, moving resolutely forward toward some metaphorical end, smooth and perfect.

 She’d send out her little submissions, always just one page, and back they’d come, sometimes with a form letter, full of editorial regret or sometimes just the submission alone in the self-addressed and stamped envelope she’d provided. Those were the saddest to me, the ones that came home alone as though not even worthy of formal rejection. But none of it affected her. Out they’d go with, I suppose, a quiet benediction and back they’d come. A regular metronome.

 Until Horse. Horse didn’t come back for a very long time. I would have chalked it up to being lost in the mail or something but not her, she said this is the one, they’re passing it around, trying to decide what to do with it, this one they like.

Weeks went by, a month maybe and finally a thin envelope, not like the others, this one razor-thin, nearly empty it seemed from the outside and she didn’t open it right away, let it lay on the little table near the stove and continued with her chores and all the while I nursed my cup of coffee and glanced over at it trying to gauge what, if anything, could be in it. Finally she scooped it up and in one smooth motion, ripped it open and out fluttered a check for twenty-five dollars. Twenty-five smackeroos. She was in. A little one page note on blue onionskin accompanied the check, it said, ‘We’d like more. Can you accommodate?’ We both laughed.

We lost touch. It seems a million years ago. Funny phrase that, ‘we lost touch’, but that’s how it was. I was travelling with the girl by this time and we had just about come to the end of our string. The weight was coming down on me again, it was time to move on, I could see that.

The morning I went up to her place to say good bye, she was gone so I left a note on a scrap of paper wedged in her screen door on the back porch. The wind was blowing like a sonofabitch. I turned my collar up and walked back to the truck where the girl was waiting. She wasn’t watching me. She didn’t like to look at me anymore. It gets like that when you’re coming to the end of a string.

Michael Ryerson

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