Sarah Norek, We’re Here. Cupboard, 2014.
It’s coming for you. It is many things, but Sarah Norek’s We’re Here never flees. Vulnerable but unflinching, We’re Here is the story of a mother and a daughter, of a family irrevocably changed and imperfectly re-formed. It is a story of bodies and injuries they cannot heal. This is a work of deep beauty and deep hurt, but it is not grim. No, this is a story about what hope can hold together and what love can keep away.
After Ellen and the horse is a house burning in which a toddler and his older brother are lost. I see the dead boys’ mother on a run to the grocery while I root through bins of travel-size toothbrushes, toothpastes and mouthwashes, and she stands before the full-sized tools. Her hair looks new and prettily, as curls, frames her face. She has none of the fat at her middle I’ve been battling, but the breast of her shirt holds dark amoeba shapes. Her nipples are weeping. A suckling baby remains. I have no idea what or where it is, or whom with. I don’t know her, have only skimmed her stats in the paper and seen her face there with none of her eyes. Here, they’re sunken, bruised beneath, lids swollen and a little translucent and whites pink with loss. She and her husband have work to return to. There are so many fees that will need to be paid. I think of Ellen back in her gated bed with her head lollipop-bandaged but safe. I have nothing extra to cover the woman with and worry she’ll be gone if I leave but I do and come back, to bath-wares and back, and there she stands, unmoved, so I drape her shoulders with what towel I’ve grabbed, an unbelievable aquamarine. I arrange the terry in a collar and my knuckles brush her neck and jaw. She has a fine tautness in her skin, some degree of youth or regimen or punishment. Her eyes close and she folds her neck to lay her cheek to my hand that holds her shoulder, first to manage her coverage and then just to hold, all the way to the hot hearts of her cells. Next she’s blinking, upright, looking hunted as if she’ll scream or swipe an entire shelf clear of its contents. She radiates instinct. Empty-handed, I leave her.
Sarah Norek lives and works in Oregon. Her stories have previously appeared in The Collagist, Juked, Wigleaf, and elsewhere, and can be found topping the bottles of Harris Bridge Vineyard dessert wines. Her work has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and she’s currently finishing up a story collection.
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