This excerpt is from the story “The Silence Here Owns Everything”, from Kirsten Clodfelter’s chapbook, Casualties.
II. Welcome Home
When Kendra’s brother comes home on leave, her parents
tie three balloons to the mailbox—one red, one white, one blue.
He’s been back for almost a week now, and the balloons are
mostly deflated, hanging limply on their strings. Today they look
especially sad, a reminder that something fun happened here
recently but is now over. Kendra and I walk into her kitchen when
we get home from school, and Gavin is standing at the counter
with a bag of chips, drinking a beer. He nods at us but doesn’t say
hello. He’s tan and his hair is short, and a part of me wishes he
were still wearing his fatigues—I like the way he looks when he’s
dressed up in his army outfit.
Kendra takes two beers from the box in the fridge and passes one
to me from the other side of the counter. Gavin lifts hers from her
hand and says, “Not old enough,” and Kendra snorts. “Neither are
you,” she says as she opens the refrigerator door and takes another.
“I’m fighting in a war, I can drink if I want,” he tells us, and the
way he says it makes me think he’s been practicing that line in his
head for a while now, waiting for a chance to use it.
Kendra squints until the sharp blue of her eyes dulls. “You’ve
been in Nevada for the last ten months. Shut up.”
The noise of her can cracking open in the still, warm air of the
kitchen makes me jump, and Gavin laughs, and this is a good thing
because somehow it eases the tension between the two of them.
I watch Kendra hold the aluminum to her lips, and I think about
the way the bitter liquid is splashing cool and bubbly into her
mouth, and then Gavin slams his hand down hard on the counter
and yells, “So, Natalie, how’s it going?”
“You know, fine,” I say, and then I open my can and raise it in
cheers because I can’t think of a single thing to say. I don’t want to
hear the sound of myself swallowing, so finally I ask Gavin, “What
were you doing in Nevada,” and sip my beer slowly as he replies.
“Military defense by satellite,” he tells me. “Some pretty intense
shit.” He takes a handful of chips out of the bag and adds, “Enough
to deserve this fucking beer, anyway.” Kendra rolls her eyes, and
I think of telling both of them that not everything has to be a
competition, but I let the words wash back down my throat. When
I finish my beer, I shake the empty until Kendra hands me another.
Kirsten Clodfelter’s writing has been previously published in The Iowa Review, Brevity, Narrative Magazine, Green Mountains Review, and The Good Men Project, among others, and is forthcoming in storySouth. Her chapbook of war-impact stories, Casualties, was published last October by RopeWalk Press. A regular contributor to As It Ought to Be and Series Editor of the small-press review series, At the Margins, Clodfelter lives in Southern Indiana with her partner and young daughter.
Meagan Cass is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Illinois Springfield, where she teaches courses in creative writing, independent publishing, and composition, curates the Shelterbelt reading series, and advises the campus literary journal, the Alchemist Review. Her fiction has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Pinch, Hobart Web, PANK, and Puerto del Sol, among other journals. Magic Helicopter Press will publish her first fiction chapbook, Range of Motion, in January 2014. She holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Louisiana Lafayette and an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College.