Poky’s Levitating Grandmother

By Jonathan Baker



The first time Poky Jernigan told me about his levitating grandma, I thought he was full of shit. He mentioned it so casually. I figured it was some gag he played on kids he invited home. It was one of those warm Oklahoma nights in late June when the lightning bugs lend the entire state an eerie hue, and Poky had erected his father’s old canvas military tent in the backyard. We were sitting outside, smoking and watching the bugs flicker. I can’t forget the smell of that tent, even still, an overpowering odor, like the inside of a neglected duffel bag.

Art by Loren Erdrich

We’d bought a pack of Lucky’s from the diner on Yale Avenue during our walk home from school and been trying to finish them off before Poky’s mom got home. We were talking, as usual, about Mickey Mantle, the Yankee’s rookie phenom, and a fellow Oklahoman. As we smoked, Poky squinted up at the second-story windows. I asked what he was staring at.

I’m watching, he said, in case the old lady makes a break for it.

I knew his grandma lived with him. I’d heard him talk about her at school. But this seemed an extremely odd thing to say, given the window opened onto a sheer twenty-five-foot drop. I’m not sure I take your meaning, I replied. I had a ton of phrases like this, stuff that sounded very adult. I’d stolen this one from a Jimmy Stewart movie.

The old lady can float, said Poky, in the same tone he might have used to explain that his grandma was an expert at cribbage. As he talked, white mist puffed from his mouth. He was really good at smoking. He was good at everything.

Float? I said.

You know, levitate.

He passed the cig over, and I inhaled a lungful of Lucky Strike, nearly puked into the hydrangeas, then leveled a serious gaze at Poky. Would you, I intoned, kindly tell me what in God’s name you’re talking about? I’d stolen this sentence from William Holden.

I’ve seen her, he said. He took the smoke from me, dragged on it, then pointed the smoldering cherry at the window. Couple times now. Floating a foot or two over the floor in her room.

The rule among thirteen-year-olds of the day was, no matter what anyone said, play it cool.

Neat, I said.

I didn’t stay long that night, had to flee before I barfed all over my Levi’s. After a week, I forgot about Poky’s weird statement. The following Friday, Poky asked me to spend the night at his house, and I was reminded in stunning fashion of what he’d said about his grandmother.


Poky Jernigan and I weren’t natural companions. I was a slightly rumpled boy, short of stature, with my hair perpetually sticking up. Poky, on the other hand, was lean, long, and always appointed with military precision. His hair was flat-topped and squared off in the back, and when you glanced down at his black shoes, you saw your reflection looking back. I remember once, a clear memory, Poky discovering a stray thread dangling from my collar and snapping it away with a sharp flick of his fingers. It won’t do, he said. It won’t do.

In any place besides Tulsa, Poky and I wouldn’t have been friends. We shared only one quality: We were both born in the wrong place. In a school full of future farmers and ranchers and oilmen, we were the outliers. My head was stuffed with Hollywood dreams, and Poky was... well, Poky was different. Before I came along, Poky didn’t have any friends at all—by choice, it would seem. But he endured my presence, and I rewarded his attention by entertaining him with quotes from The Asphalt Jungle and Call Northside 777. I imagined he liked me, but the truth is I have no idea. Our friendship was born of necessity rather than mutual admiration.

I should clarify: I did admire him. But my esteem wasn’t reciprocated; Poky looked up to no one but his dead father.


The following Friday, I arrived at Poky’s locker after school, hoping he would invite me over, and my wish was granted. I was doubly surprised when he asked me to stay the night. I’d asked him over to my house before, but he’d always declined. He had to look after his grandmother, he always said.

We rode our bikes around town that afternoon, drank some milkshakes, smoked a pack of Chesterfields, then went to Poky’s house, where his mother served us a pot roast. Poky had one of the few unmarried mothers in our neighborhood. His dad had been shot down in ’44, piloting a B-29 off the coast of Saipan, and Poky’s ma never recovered. Their living room was a shrine, with a tri-folded flag over the mantle below a photo of Major Richard Jernigan in his Officer’s Service Dress, arms crossed over his broad chest and eyes gazing sternly into the distance. Poky did everything he could to resemble his father, even striding down our school’s hallways in his father’s drab olive overcoat, though the Melton wool was far too warm for the Oklahoma weather.

At dinner that night, Poky’s mom still wore her turquoise uniform from the diner where she waited tables. The meal was a stifled affair with Poky and his mother on one side of the table and myself seated next to his glassy-eyed grandmother on the other. As I took my chair next to the ancient woman, I watched her through my peripheral vision, eyeing her splotchy, shaking hands and knobbed knuckles. Her eyes reminded me of the ventriloquist’s dummy in the window of the costume shop downtown.

Poky served his grandmother a small hunk of roast and some boiled carrot, and she pushed the food around on her plate. During the meal, I never saw Poky’s mom look at the old lady. Not once. I would later learn that the ghostly woman wasn’t Poky’s maternal grandma but was, in fact, his father’s mother. They’d taken her in after her son’s death, a loss that provoked the old woman’s descent into dementia.

We dined in silence, the four of us, except for a few perfunctory questions from Poky’s mother about my schoolwork. Poky and his mother were like a married couple who’d let the spark of love burn out. They moved in choreographed rhythm, passing food and salt across the table, never acknowledging the other’s presence. I deduced that she and Poky traded shifts watching his grandmother, which explained why Poky had to be at home so often. The most exciting moment came when Poky’s mom asked about my favorite movie. I told her it was Key Largo. Never seen it, she said. I didn’t eat much of the roast due to post-cigarette-and-milkshake queasiness.

After dinner, Poky’s mom disappeared into her bedroom off the kitchen. Poky and his grandmother and I went into the living room and tuned into an episode of Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons; Poky’s house hadn’t entered the Age of Television yet, so the radio was the best he could offer. We listened to Mr. Keen solve the mystery of a murder involving a poisoned sandwich. I figured out the culprit long before Keen and spent the last thirty minutes rolling my eyes at the corny dialogue. Poky leaned languidly back on the couch with one leg flung over the other, his arms crossed, his eyes closed. Poky’s grandmother maintained an expression of profound seriousness as if she were listening to news of Hitler invading Poland.

After the episode, Poky made a pallet for me on the floor of his room upstairs. His bedroom had a military efficiency about it, like his haircut and his ever-polished boots. A USAAF poster on the wall showed a leather-jacketed airman standing among clouds. O’er the ramparts we watch, the poster announced. Apart from the twin bed and poster, the room held only a wooden table with a lamp and a green footlocker on the floor. When Poky went to use the bathroom, I glanced inside the locker. White t-shirts, boxer shorts, jeans, socks, all folded with perfect exactitude.

When Poky came out of the bathroom, I could hear him moving around in the room next door—his grandmother’s room. I heard her voice for the first time then, like the groan of waterlogged wood. When is the morning coming? she said. And again: When is morning? Under the pretext of taking a leak, I went out into the hall and glanced through her doorway. Poky was bent over her bed, pulling the covers tight over the tiny woman’s shoulders. Her room, too, was bare but for a bed, a nightstand with a lamp, and a wooden chair. Good night, Grandma, said Poky.

When is the morning coming? asked Poky’s grandmother.


I’d spent the night at other boys’ houses before. Not recently, and not frequently, but enough to know that the best part was staying up late talking. However, there was very little of that with Poky. When he came back into the room, he simply stripped to his boxers and lay on his back, his skinny, grim lips turned downward, staring into the darkness.

I brought up a movie we’d seen the previous week, The Day the Earth Stood Still, but he didn’t want to talk about it. I asked how he thought the Yankees would do in the World Series. We were both rooting for the Yanks pretty hard because of the Mick’s heroics. Allie Reynolds had thrown a no-hitter to clinch the American League pennant earlier that month, and Poky was excited about the Yanks’ prospects. But that night, he was quiet, and I fell silent, too, folding my hands behind my head and looking out the window at the papery moon. Soon Poky began to snore. Not long after, I drifted into a light sleep.

I was awakened by a thump. With the late-September full moon shining through the window, everything seemed fuzzy, like looking through a spiderweb. I thought I’d dreamed the sound and was drifting away again when I heard it once more. I whispered Poky’s name. He responded with a heavy snore. Then it came again, louder this time. Very loud.

The sound was coming from Poky’s grandmother’s room. I stood and waited, my ears perked. Poky, I said. The black hole of his snoring mouth yawned up into the darkness. Maybe it was curiosity, maybe it was real concern, but something drew me into the hallway. I pressed my ear against the old woman’s closed door, waiting to hear it again. And I did, a heavy thud like someone punching a wall.

I turned the knob, pushed the door open, peeked inside. The bed was empty; I could just make out the rumpled sheets in the moonlight. I shoved the door further ajar. Poky’s grandmother was nowhere to be seen. The wooden chair I’d noticed earlier was gone, too.

Then I saw her, lit by the moon outside the window. The ancient woman hovered in the chair near the peaked ceiling, naked, her wrinkled breasts and legs swinging like pendulums, her hands gripping the sides of the chair, her glossy eyes reflecting the darkness. While I gaped at her, the chair lifted further, and she conked her skull against the plaster ceiling.

She turned her attention to me, and I saw—or felt—her eyes focus.

Richard, she said.

I didn’t know whether I should try to pull her down or if I should answer her. I was rooted to the floor.

Richard.

I’m sorry, I whispered. I’m not Richard.

Is it morning yet?

Not yet, I said. The chair walloped her against the ceiling.

Next door, Poky hadn’t moved; his snores rumbled like a freight train. When I shook him, his eyes snapped open. What’s wrong?

It’s your grandmother. She’s—

Wait here. He padded into the other room, and I listened to various bumps and whispers through the wall. He came back and climbed under his blanket. It’s okay now.

What do you mean, it’s okay? She was, I mean, did you see her?

She does that every night. She’s asleep now.

A long silence. Shouldn’t you wake your mom or something?

My mother doesn’t know.

Doesn’t know what?

About her. About that.

Okay, I said dumbly.

I don’t want to bother her with it, he added. It only happens at night, when Mom’s sleeping.

A moth appeared in the room, tinked against the window, then fluttered up to the ceiling and beat its wings against the smooth white surface.

She called me Richard, I said.

She calls me Richard, too.

Can’t anything be done?

He rustled on his bed, turning his back to me. I’ll have to do something, yeah.

I wanted to help him so badly then. We have to do something, I whispered. She’s going to hurt herself. My mind whirled like a carnival ride.

We can’t do anything right now. Go to sleep.

Of course, I didn’t sleep. I lay awake watching that moth, listening for movement through the wall, thinking, thinking, until at last, dawn crept through the window and I drifted off.


I woke to the sound of hammering. My watch said it was eleven; I rarely slept past nine. Scratching my hair, I went out into the hall, following the clatter, and found Poky in his grandmother’s room with a couple of nails jutting from between his thin lips. He held one down against the bottom of the window frame and pounded it home with a few solid whacks. He was shirtless, and the ropy muscles of his back rippled as he hammered. I saw no sign of the old woman.

She’s stronger than she looks, he said, taking the last nail from his lips. Window was open when I woke up.

Where is she?

Downstairs, having some graham crackers.

And your mom?

Work.

With three heavy cracks, he knocked the final nail into the wood then turned to me, holding the hammer by his side. Promise you won’t tell anyone about this.

Shifting nervously on my feet, I gave him my word. I leaned against the door jamb, hugging my arms close though I wasn’t cold.

Can I ask you something?

I had a hundred questions, but I’d settle for being allowed one. He opened his mouth to protest, then stopped.

Okay.

Why not tell your mom? Seems like you could use some help with this.

Poky sat on the chair that only a few hours ago I’d seen hovering over my head. He placed his elbows on his knees and dangled the hammer from his fingertips by its claw. All of the energy seemed to go out of him.

My dad ...

He gripped the hammer by its handle and started again.

My dad loved his mother—a lot.

What does that have to do with your mother?

My mom never loved Grandma. She’s always looking to put her in a home.

Would that be so bad?

He turned his eyes up to me. Yes. This was the closest he’d ever come to raising his voice to me. You’d better get home, he said.

Downstairs I found Poky’s grandmother at the kitchen table, munching on a graham cracker and staring out the window into the backyard. Have a nice day, Mrs. Jernigan, I said. I saw no sign that she’d heard me, not even a faint shimmer on the dark pools of her eyes.


I spent the afternoon helping my father clean our garage. We talked baseball and gangster movies, working up a decent sweat in the warm fall afternoon. My dad was a gentle creature but strong. I lost my mom to cancer when I was three, and my old man had done the yeoman’s work of raising me. I told people Jimmy Stewart was my hero, but the truth was I wanted to be my father. If anyone would know what to do about Poky, it would be my dad, but I’d given my word to Poky, so I kept my lips zipped.

That night, in my bedroom, I was awakened by knocking. This was becoming a regular occurrence. I opened my eyes, listened, and heard it again. When I opened my drapes, Poky’s grim face blinked back at me through the glass. I tugged the window open.

Come with me, he whispered.

Are you crazy? I can’t go anywhere, not without telling my dad.

His torso seemed to deflate a little. Okay, he said. Sleep tight. He turned and trudged through the grass.

I slithered out the window in my boxer shorts and followed him. Parked alongside the curb, I recognized his mom’s car. Wait, I whispered, did you drive here?

In his father’s airman’s overcoat and green USAAF crusher cap, Poky looked like he was off to bomb Tokyo with Doolittle’s raiders. He turned to me in the moonlight. I have to go get my grandmother. Didn’t want to go alone.

Where’s your grandmother?

Ramona.

Ramona, Oklahoma?

Yes.

I don’t even know where that is.

I have a map.

I grew suddenly very aware that I was standing in my front yard in only a t-shirt and underwear. What’s your grandmother doing in Ramona?

I saw the muscles tense in his jaw, pulsing his temples. You coming or not?

I deliberated for a moment, told him to hang tight while I put on some clothes. Minutes later, an overnight trucker might have seen two thirteen-year-olds motoring northward in a paint-peeled Packard, smoking Lucky Strikes with the windows rolled down.


I was impressed by Poky’s driving skills but not surprised. I threw my smoldering cigarette out the window, coughed a little, and repeated my question from earlier: What’s your grandmother doing in Ramona?

She got out, he said.

How?

She went through my window.

Okay, how did she get to Ramona?

He shrugged. She flew.

I lit another cigarette. How far is it?

Thirty miles or so.

I leaned back into the bench seat. How do you know she’s in Ramona?

Some folks out there found her and called me. My mom didn’t hear the phone, thank God.

I nodded as if this were the most natural conversation I’d ever had. And how did they know to call you?

Poky leaned forward against the steering wheel, the crusher cap tilted jauntily on his head; he looked like Gregory Peck in Twelve O’Clock High. Remember how kids used to tie a note to a balloon and set it free? To see how far the balloon would go? And they’d put their address and stuff on there?

You tied a note to your grandmother?

He nodded. To her ankle.

How did you know she would escape tonight?

I didn’t. I started doing it a couple nights ago, tying the note on every night and taking it off in the morning. He took the cigarette from my fingers, inhaled a long drag, and flicked the ash out into the whirring gloom. Out in the countryside, a lonesome pump jack nodded its head among the dark hills.


Half an hour later, we arrived in front of a tumbledown farmhouse five miles north of Ramona on Highway 75. A single yellow bulb glowed on the porch. As we approached, the door glinting, and a tawny-skinned man in a tank top stepped out, the shiny blackness of his pomaded hair gleaming in the porch light. I remembered now. This was Cherokee territory. I waited for the man to ask where our parents were, but it occurred to me that a thirteen-year-old driving a car probably wasn’t unheard of in farm country. At any rate, he simply uttered one word: Inside.

We stepped through the front door. As I brushed past the man, I noticed how well-defined his bicep was: smooth, dark, hairless. He held a coiled sort of power, and I sensed that, though we’d only driven thirty miles, we’d entered a new realm.

Inside, settled into a ripped leather armchair, we found Poky’s grandmother. She wore faded overalls, rolled at the legs so that her knurled feet poked out. I saw the note tied like a tag around a table leg in a furniture store. Nearby, a bright-eyed woman in a flowered housedress watched the scene from a worn sofa; her feet tucked beneath her. She was smoking a funny kind of cigarette, one that emitted a pungent odor. Poky’s grandmother stared at a hole in the carpet.

Grandma, Poky said.

She rose to her feet and chirped, Do you remember Carolina? The pines? We had a nice home there, in the pines.

That was a long time ago, said Poky. Before I was born.

But you remember, Richard.

I remember, said Poky, and he took her hand and led her out the door, like a man leading a child off to bedtime. The woman on the sofa followed then with her sparkling eyes.

From the porch, I watched Poky escort the old woman through the weeds. He opened the rear suicide door, and his grandmother climbed inside, and I turned and shook the Indian’s hand. Poky appeared on the porch again. I’ll get those overalls back to you, he said. Not sure how, but I will. The man didn’t respond, didn’t even blink. He and Poky were kindred souls, I think. We stepped off the porch, and Poky turned back to the man. Can I ask you something?

The man nodded.

Did she do anything... unusual?

The Indian crossed his arms. You mean, besides showing up in my front yard naked at midnight?

Poky shrugged.

The man looked down on us for a moment, the muscles in his crossed forearms bulging. We keep to ourselves out here, he said. We aren’t the type to report unusual happenings. Now, take your grandmother away from here, and keep a better eye on her.

We rode in silence, Poky’s grandmother sitting forward with her wrinkled hands perched on the front seat like a prairie dog peeking out of its hole. Her eyes were empty as ever. We were lucky she didn’t land in someone else’s yard, I said. Someone who might phone the police. Poky just drove on through the night. When I crawled back into bed, it was almost three a.m. Down the hall, my father was snoring.


I barely saw Poky at school that week. On Wednesday, I caught up to him on Yale Avenue, dragging his feet along the sidewalk, black rings under his eyes, and his shirt and trousers wrinkled like he’d slept in them. When I placed my hand on his shoulder, he nearly leaped out of his shoes. Sorry, he said. You surprised me.

I asked what he was doing that afternoon, and he said he planned to sleep until sundown and then sit up all night with his grandmother. I asked how long he thought he could keep this up. He just sighed and shuffled off toward his house, shoulders hunched, head hung low.


On Thursday, I dropped by Poky’s house with my mitt to see if he wanted to have a catch before sundown. The Autumn air had turned chilly, but I figured he could stand to get outside for a while. As I raised my finger to ring the bell, I heard voices through the window. I recognized Poky’s mother’s voice shouting, Listen to reason! She’s hurting your schoolwork.

What about the money? This was Poky speaking. We can’t afford it.

We’ll pay it out, said his mother.

I hovered on the porch, wondering if I should leave. There was a long silence, then Poky said finally and simply: No.

The sink jetting water, the tink, and clang of silverware and pots. The water stopped, and Poky’s mother spoke again: I’m sorry, I need her out of here. I’ll give her another week, then we’re putting her in Shady Acres. No response from Poky. Only a brittle quiet, groaning across the evening. I walked home, weighing my friend’s dilemma.


At school the next day, Poky glided through the halls like a phantom, paying no mind to the other kids. He wasn’t at his locker when school let out, and I couldn’t locate him on the sidewalk, either. Later in the evening, my worrying—and curiosity—got the best of me, and I walked over to his house. I rang the doorbell three times before he answered, shirtless and haggard, with pillow wrinkles across his face. When I asked if he was okay, he responded by inviting me to spend the night, his voice hollow as a mason jar.

I made a quick call to my dad to make sure I could stay, then found Poky sitting beside his grandmother on the living room sofa. The old lady’s wispy hair had been done up in rollers. Good evening, Mrs. Jernigan, I said.

She grinned at me. What time is the dance?

It’s later, I replied. I eased into a nearby armchair. You getting your hair done?

She lifted her shaky hands to the rollers and smiled. Yes, indeed.

Poky told me she’d wanted her hair curled for the dance. I asked if he put the rollers in her hair, and he nodded grimly, saying he’d done it before school that morning. The frail old woman turned to Poky and blinked her glassy eyes. Take me upstairs, Richard, she croaked. I need to get ready.

They disappeared up the stairs, and I sat in the descending darkness before turning on the radio. Game Two of the World Series was on—it had almost slipped my mind with all the Poky confusion. The Yanks had dropped Game One to the Giants, and now they were looking to even things up. Two nights ago, third-baseman Bobby Thompson had knocked a triumphant homer into the stands at the Polo Grounds to send the Giants to the Series. It was the first baseball game ever to be televised, and I’d watched with my dad on our new Westinghouse. Thompson’s heroics had sold me on the Giants, and I’d switched loyalties—but I wasn’t going to tell Poky that. When the game ended—Yanks 3, Giants 1—I climbed the stairs and discovered Poky snoozing on his bed. In her room next door, his grandmother sat in her wooden chair, dressed in a pink knee-length dress with frills on the sleeves, her hair curled and her head tilted at a weird angle. Her closed eyelids had been painted a stark royal blue; her cheeks splashed with crimson rouge.

Downstairs I heard the sound of jangling keys and Poky’s mother sighing as she entered the house. I woke Poky. Shit, he cried. Is it night? Before I could respond, he scurried into the next room, and I soon heard the old woman’s voice.

This dress is really lovely, Nathan. Her voice sounded different than it had in the past, more clear. I wondered who Nathan was. Thank you, she added sweetly.

You’re welcome, Poky said.

There’s not going to be any dance tonight, is there?

No, grandma.

What will we do?

Go to sleep, I suppose.

But I’m all done up. I look pretty.

Poky agreed that she did indeed look pretty, and I could hear the strained smile in his voice. The floorboards squeaked as he moved toward her. I don’t see any harm in going to sleep looking beautiful, he said.

Poky’s grandmother agreed, reluctantly. The bedsheets rustled, the bedsprings squealed. Poky switched off the overhead light, leaving the hallway bathed in the orange glow of her bedside lamp. I waited for Poky to return, but his grandmother spoke again.

Nathan?

Yeah?

Her voice quavered: Sometimes I miss your father.

Me too, Grandma. Go to sleep.

Again, I waited for Poky to appear, but he didn’t come. I stepped into the hallway and peered into the old woman’s room. He stood at her window, looking down into the backyard. His grandmother lay in the bed. Her blue-shadowed eyes shuttered, the rouge smudged onto the white pillowcase. Her lips held a gentle smile. Poky turned when he heard me at the door.

I think I’d like to sleep out in the tent tonight, he said.

What about her?

She’ll be okay. His eyes were steady, his voice firm.

It’s pretty cold out.

We’ll bring blankets. I need to smoke.


We carried quilts down; I was grateful I’d worn a bulky sweater. Outside the tent’s flaps, we rested our forearms on our knees and smoked cigarettes, talking baseball like a couple of soldiers in a bivouac. I recounted the events of Game Two, and Poky came to life, talking energetically about the Yanks’ prospects in Game Three. In the old lady’s room, the pink light of the lamp still glowed. Beyond the peaked dormers of Poky’s house, the stars burned, and a waning moon cast a paltry glow across the yard. A late-season cricket thrummed, and Poky fell silent.

Who’s Nathan?

That’s me, he said. I’m Nathan.

I laughed. I never thought to ask your real name.

He took a long drag, exhaled. Now you know.

It’s a pretty good name. Nathan.

He nodded, his lips downturned in that way of his. I like my name.

Why do you go by Poky?

Kids chose it, he said. In first grade. He handed over the Lucky and added, I move slow, I guess.

I pulled smoke into my lungs and breathed out smoothly. I was getting good at smoking. I think, I said, I’ll call you Nathan from now on.

He squinted at me. How about Nate?

I smiled. Even better.

Glancing up, I saw the old lady standing at the window. I leaped to my feet. Poky tugged my sleeve and told me to sit.

But your grandma . . .

Sit.

I did as he asked, crossing my ankles and dropping down Indian-style. We passed the smoke back and forth, watching the old woman tug at the frame handle. She gave a couple of meager efforts, then a sturdy yank and the window opened. She leaned out and took in a heavy breath, like a Swiss maiden about to burst into song. When she lifted a bony knee over the sill, I again moved to stop her. Poky placed his hand gently on my forearm, and I shot him a questioning glance. He looked placid, the cigarette dangling from his lips. When I turned my eyes back to the window, the old lady had pulled the other bare foot out and was sitting on the windowsill like a limp marionette.

Then, she stood, angling herself outward and keeping her toes anchored to the windowsill. My heart vaulted into my throat. She stepped away but didn’t fall, floating instead like a solitary cloud in the air outside the window. Her eyes turned off to the north, toward the horizon, and the night grew silent; even the cricket ceased its chirrup. Then she began to ascend.

Poky—Nate—took my forearm in his tight grip again. It hurt a little. I stopped breathing. We watched her rise higher and higher, grow smaller and smaller until she became a shimmering pinkish dot in the darkness. She passed across the face of the half-moon, and I could still somehow make out her neatly curled hair. I squinted, focused, tried to track her in the firmament. She continued to rise, and there was a long moment when I wasn’t sure if I was still watching her or if the flickering speck of gray was simply a trick of the eye. After that, there was no doubt. She’d gone, vanished into the stars. Nothing remained of the speck of gray, nothing but blackness.

Poky loosened his grip on my arm but didn’t take it away. I finished off the cigarette and used the cherry to light another. That was—and still remains—the most comfortable silence I ever knew with another person. Just the two of us, smoking, staring up into the stars, until pretty soon that October cricket began to thrum again.



Jonathan Baker’s work has appeared in The Daily Beast, and he has been featured on The Other Stories podcast. Originally from the High Plains of West Texas, he now lives in Maine.




Art by Loren Erdrich



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