T Batty to the Rescu in Your Season of Greef

A Short Story by Sarah Freligh

Sarah Freligh

When Corrie had asked Matt in July what he wanted for Christmas, he answered you, and she’d laughed until she coughed. He didn’t see what was so funny and said so, but she just shook her head and coughed some more. She coughed so hard he finally had to haul her up and prop her against the pillows until her throat settled down. The bones of her back felt like toothpicks spilling from a box, light and sharp and shifting through his fingers. He could barely remember what a feast of a woman she’d been before the chemo, a smorgasbord of thighs and belly and breasts he used to gobble up in handfuls.

His mother calls as he’s starting on the Christmas cards. In the week since the funeral, she’s called daily—sometimes twice—to check up on him. Today she reads to him from an article she found on the Internet about the importance of eating certain foods while coping with grief. An occasional “uh-huh” is enough to keep the conversation going, but really, he’s thinking about the proper way to sign the cards. There is no more “Corrie and Matt Polk,” no such unit as “The Polks,” but “Matt Polk” looks too forlorn, a spindly Christmas tree of a name adorned with a few strings of stale popcorn.

“Are you listening?” his mother says. “The white of an egg, a half teaspoon of salsa and just enough whipping cream—it has to be fresh whipping cream—to form a paste.”

“Uh-huh,” he says. He finally decides on “Matt,” finishing off the two t’s with an upward slash of his pen. A jaunty look to it, the signature of a man who is coping.

“Are you writing this down?” his mother says.

“Salsa and whipping cream,” he says.

Fresh whipping cream.”

Corrie had bought the cards the day after Christmas last year. Half-price, she said when he asked her if she weren’t jumping the gun just a little bit. And, It pays to think ahead. They’re UNICEF cards, a Nigerian child’s crayon drawing of a Christmas tree and the message: Wishing you the peace of the season. Matt remembers the Halloween he trick or treated for UNICEF, the flicker of annoyance on people’s faces when they were greeted, not with an open sack, but a canister bearing the photo of a skinny, big-eyed child. The door answerer would grumble about having to locate a purse or a wallet, avoid his eyes when they dropped a few coins through the slot of his can: well, it’s really all I have.  Matt gave up after eight houses and would have come in last in his class if not for the ten-dollar bill he pinched from his mother’s wallet. The rest of the class showed up with cans fat and clanking with change, chattering about how great it had been, how worthy they felt. Matt felt like apologizing: to the people he’d bothered, to his mother for boosting the ten (not that she noticed: her wallet was always brimming with crumpled bills) but mostly to the kid on the can for being poor and exploited.

“The white of an egg,” his mother says. “Did - you hear me?”

He can’t resist. “No yolk.”

She sighs. “Matthew.”

He taps his pen against the table, hangs up only after promising to call her tomorrow unless she calls him first. Which she will.

At school, Matt stops to read the graffition the school’s Wall of Fame that’s sprouted there in the week he’s been away. A lot of gibberish, as usual, puffy letters in scarlet and black that don’t add up to any words he can dictionary—OBLOTA POKS—so he makes up his own definitions. A village in Czechoslovakia, maybe. Or better yet, an enzyme that promises to obliterate the pockets of women store in their butts and thighs. The makeover shows seem to be full of such women sheepishly cringing in those cruel head-on “before” pictures, rims of fat peeping out from above and below their underpants. Women Matt would have dismissed as “not his type” until the afternoon Corrie took off her clothes in the middle of the living room and grinned at him as she were a Christmas present she was sure he’d like, love handles and all.

The door to the mailroom opens and Curtis emerges, hands full of doughnuts and colored paper.  “Oh, man,” he says. He grabs Matt in a half hug, leaving streaks of powdered sugar on the sleeve of his navy blue sweater. “How are you?”

He’s ready for this. He is. “Okay,” he says, nodding. “Yeah. I’m okay.”

And he is okay because Corrie is still with him. He’ll look up from his solitary cup of coffee and there she is, pen in hand, bent over the New York Times crossword. Or he’ll wake in the blue-black morning to a clicking sound that he knows is Corrie on the couch, knitting, a mug of coffee on the end table next to her.

“You sure?” Curtis says, giving him a long, level look. He has eyes like a Siberian husky, so blue they’re nearly white. Curtis teaches English or “Language Arts,” as it’s called at Roberto Clemente School. Under his direction the sixth graders had performed a hip-hop Hamlet the previous year and even Matt was impressed. He’d felt a twinge of envy when a group of laughing students dragged Curtis onto the stage for a curtain call, and Matt had vowed to try harder, to find ways to reach and inspire his students. His resolve had lasted one week before it was back to scissor fights and naps and paint by numbers sunsets.

“Sure,” Matt says. “How about a beer after work?” Says it jauntily, trying for a certain nonchalance. As if everything in his life were just fine.


First hour, it’s the fifth graders, twenty-nine of them. “Hi, troops,” Matt says, greeting them with a limp wave. “Great to be with you again. Remember, no smock, no art.”

As usual, they ignore him, continue their urgent conversations while he unloads the contents of his briefcase on top of his desk. The first year he taught, he’d beg for their attention, make puns and grandstand. Once he even climbed on top of his desk and flapped his arms like a bird getting ready for takeoff. Rather than being amused, his students sat there with their arms crossed, unsmiling. He’s learned: The less said, the better.

Their normalcy is comforting, like a little cave he can tuck into and escape the deluge of sympathy that’s rained down on him lately. He never told anyone at school about Corrie’s illness, not exactly. My wife is a little under the weather, is all he said the few times he’d shown up at school functions where a spouse was required, a vague-enough explanation that covered everything from a cold to menstrual cramps.  He didn’t want to be like Bryan Burson, a fourth-grade teacher whose wife had run off several winters ago with a man who sold vacuum cleaners. Bryan Burdensome, Matt had come to think of him, for the way he sucked the air out of whatever room he was in, a one-man gloom machine who spent hours and hours hunched on a couch in the faculty lounge, sobbing out his story to one of the big-breasted 45-going-on-65 spinsters who taught first grade. Matt learned never to ask Bryan Burson how he was, no matter how casually.

Matt distributes coloring books and crayons to each table and tells them to be creative.  There is the usual flurry while they settle down, whispers and rustlings Matt has learned to ignore. Back at his desk, he picks up the crime novel he’s reading, a sloppily written ditty about a detective, Dirk, and a sluttish blonde named Brenda who may or may not be the so-called Daddy Killer responsible for a string of murders involving elderly rich men. The cover features the usual lurid pulp art, a trench-coated detective with shoe polish hair squinting through the smoke from the cigarette he’s tucked between his fingers. Matt will give it a few more pages before he skips to the end to see if Brenda is actually the killer. He’s betting she’s not and that Dirk’s suspicion of her will put the kibosh on their embryonic relationship, which would serve him right, as far as Matt’s concerned.

“Mister Poke!”

He looks up from the page to see Sissy Prentice fluttering her hand in the air. A skinny, insistent child with long coltish legs and a gap between her teeth. The kids seem to fall into three categories: the me-me’s, the incorrigibles and the lumps. Sissy is a me-me, her need for attention as raw as a newly scraped knee. In high school she’ll be the one to make hundreds of toilet paper flowers for the homecoming floats on which other, prettier girls will ride.

He sighs and puts his book down. “Yes, Sissy?”

“Mister Poke, Laverl ain’t sharing.”

“Laverl isn’t sharing.” Matt has long since given up on correcting their pronunciation of his name—Polk, with an l, hear it?—but he’s damned if he’ll let them backslide on grammar, too.

Sissy looks at him impatiently. “What I say. I ask him for the red crayon, he don’t give it to me. And I need the red crayon on account of the, you know--”

Matt shifts in his chair. “Doesn’t give it to me.”

“—for the stop sign, see? Right here it is in the picture. Only Laverl say no way, he need the red crayon for his fire truck.”

“Laverl?” Matt tries his best to sound judicious, wise, but God help him.

Laverl shrugs. He’s well on his way to becoming a lump, a fat, placid boy whose anxious mother is one of a handful of parents who actually show up for Open House.

“He say to use orange,” Sissy says. “When you ever see an orange stop sign?”

Matt hands her a fresh box of crayons. “Peace, Sissy,” he says.

He walks around the room pretending to examine their work, hands in his smock pockets. Now and then he’ll make an offhand remark, say something like nice use of turquoise there for the dog. He tries not to sound phony or condescending. They’ve been schooled in dishonesty; they’d pick it up.

At the back of the room, Matt pauses behind Tyshaun’s chair. As usual Tyshaun has obliterated the drawing in the coloring book—a grinning farmer flanked by a couple of wooly sheep—and done his own thing. Usually it’s a couple of stick figures and something that may or may not be an airplane. Today it’s more abstract, a jagged wall of black spikes topped by a froth of orange.

“Looks good, Tyshaun,” Matt say. “Real creative.”

Tyshaun grunts. That’s about all Matt’s been able to get out of him in five weeks: a grunt, a shake of the head, a shrug.

They’d been cutting Halloween pumpkins out of orange construction paper the day the principal, Dr. Sela Stein, brought Tyshaun into the classroom. A transfer student from the city of New York, Stein had said in her thick German accent, unusually formal even for her. Looking at Tyshaun in his tiny high-top sneakers, dwarfed by his navy blue backpack, Matt thought at first that Stein had made a mistake bringing him in here with the fifth graders: the girls already with breasts and the boys with their sharp elbows and legs. Tyshaun is not only small but seems badly put together from scraps of things. His skin fits him like a hand-me-down suit: too baggy in the elbows and too tight in the skull.

He draws slowly and carefully, absorbed by each stroke, pressing down with a crayon until his drawing is a single, shiny surface. No matter what he draws, there’s always the same blob of yellow with blue wings in the corner of the picture: a superhero he’s named T Batty. Always the same title crayoned in black: T Batty to the Rescu.

Always left on Matt’s desk at the end of class with a note: From Tyshaun.

Teaching was Ilsa’s idea. Ilsa-the woman-before-Corrie is how he thinks of her now. And not really before, but overlapping with. Matt prefers a tidier version of his life, one in which the women from his past are filed away in a mental drawer, all separate and correctly labeled: Ilsa, Maureen, Renae.

He’d been an artist when he met Ilsa, a woodworker who built tables and chairs out of the debris people heaped on the curb on trash day, scraps of stuff studded with nails or pallets from work sites. Their first date he drove Ilsa around in his rickety pick-up in the middle of the night, warning her to be as quiet as possible while they tossed wood into the truck bed. “I thought you said it was legal,” she whispered anxiously.

Later, over cups of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, bookended by tables of snoring drunks, Matt realized her jeans were actually black leather, her turtleneck was cashmere and she was studying the drunks as if they were science projects. That should have been a tip-off, a giveaway, the yellow light of caution, but Matt was already through the intersection. He had never gone out with a woman with ashy blonde hair that silvered in the moonlight, a woman whose life was as ordered as the Filofax she carried in her leather handbag. It wasn’t long before she was ordering his life, arguing that he shouldn’t have to live on beans and racket around the country peddling his art. He could teach school—teach art at school—and still have his summers off as well as the weeks at Christmas and Easter and occasional Mondays. He’d never have to schlep home papers to grade. He’d be out every day at 3:30, plenty of time to put in a couple of hours at his studio and still be home in time for dinner.

She’d concluded by pulling out the heavy artillery and aiming a little Flaubert at him: Be orderly in your life so you can be wild and original in your art. And Matt, fresh off a weekend show in Peoria, Illinois, where he had slept in the cab of his truck and awakened stiff and cranky, where three days of rain had turned the entire fair into a sea of mud, where he would have been rich if he had a nickel for every variation of “Eight hundred dollars for that little bitty table????”—well, maybe a little stability was just what he needed. 

Curtis is waiting for him at the bar. Except for the bartender and a dishwasher who appears now and then with a tray of clean glasses, they have the whole place to themselves. It’s too late for the lunch crowd, too early for the second shift from the brewery across the street. Someone has hung tattered cutouts of Santa Claus above each of the booths and wound fraying ribbons around the pillars. It’s tacky as hell and Matt likes it that way. The beer is cold, the popcorn is free and he doesn’t have to listen to some asshole shouting into his cell phone about derivatives and selling short. He can watch the Weather Channel on the lone television while he listens to Curtis lay out his plans for proposing to his long-time girlfriend. He wants to do it on Christmas Day, dressed as a knight in shining armor, complete with helmet and plume.

“The first place I call, there’s this five seconds of silence,” Curtis is saying. “I say something like, buddy you still there? And he says, I’m sorry, sir, I don’t think I heard you right. Did you say a suit of armor? Then he starts laughing, cackles like a madman. I say, what’s so weird about a suit of armor. This a costume joint, right?” Curtis shakes his head and helps himself to another handful of popcorn.

“Well, yeah,” Matt says. He glances at the TV. A shivering newsman in a red parka is standing next to some highway in the middle of a blizzard. Behind him, a string of cars is creeping along, bumper to bumper, windshield wipers going full tilt.

“Two more places, same thing. It shouldn’t be this hard, should it?”

“Can you actually kneel in a full suit of armor?” Matt says.

Curtis shrugs.

“How about a Santa Claus costume instead? Like the commercial where the guy gives his wife a diamond necklace.”

Curtis shakes his head. “It’s got to be different. Memorable, you know.”

“Well, sure,” Matt says. Though he’s convinced you remember what you want to, forget what you can. Like the past is a paragraph you can go back to and revise until it’s the way you want to it be. Love at first sight, is what he told a church full of people at Corrie’s memorial just a week ago. A revision if there ever was one, but now he can’t remember a time when he didn’t love her.

In his head, Corrie hoots at him: Love me! You didn’t even like me!

The week before Easter, his first year of teaching. He was in the midst of setting out construction paper, paste, and scissors for Easter eggs when Stein marched into his classroom trailed by a shortish woman carrying baskets of yarn and knitting needles. One of those pear-shaped females, practically flat on top but bulbing out in the hips and ass, as if something had gotten switched up on the DNA assembly line.

“Your guest speaker,” Stein announced.

“Oh,” Matt said. He considered the rolled-up jeans, Dansko clogs and short neat hair. A lesbian, he decided, one of those crafty, self-sufficient women who used to refuse his offers of help at shows. Now and then he’d try to pick one up just for the hell of it.

She set her baskets on his desk and asked if there was a bathroom nearby.

“Down the hall,” he said. He waited until the sound of her clogs died away to say to Stein, “I don’t remember anything about a guest speaker.”

Stein wagged a finger in his face. “Matthew. We discuss this after last staff meeting, yes?”

He raked his hand through his hair, trying to remember. He was tired and not a little bit hungover after driving around most of the night with Ilsa searching for refrigerator doors for the magnetic poetry kits he’d bought for the kids. The three he’d found rattled and slammed around the back of his pickup, a fine accompaniment to the argument they’d had. She was glum because she’d torn the cuff of her black leather pants on a nail and because Matt refused to get a hair cut and looked – in her words – like a bag person. Worse, he hadn’t worked in his studio for weeks. Matt whistled the theme song to “The Flintstones” and laughed. He was blotto from the Wild Turkey he’d been drinking to stay warm. And yeah, his hair was too long, and yeah, he hadn’t worked on his art in a while. But he’d found refrigerator doors, couldn’t she see it? Big white metal canvases for the word art his kids would make.

“I can’t—” he started to tell Stein, and then he did remember: Stein cornering him and mumbling something about Tris Speaker, Matt answering that he didn’t know much about baseball history, and here she had been saying guest speaker.

“Okay, fine,” he said, just as Corrie walked back into the classroom.

She looked first at Stein and then him. “Am I interrupting something?” she said, smiling. She had a crisp way of talking, rounding off to the nearest syllable: In-trupting. As if to say enough already, move on.

He cleared his throat. “No,” he said. “I’m happy to have you.”

And he was, wasn’t he? A day off from the agony of standing up in front of a courtroom of little judges and their blank faces, letting him know how bored they were, how silly he was, but oh, well, they might as well do this because they were stuck here.

“Okay then,” said Corrie. She picked up her basket and walked over to the first row where Caleb Weathers, too big for a twelve-year-old, sat with his arms folded across his chest. “I ain’t doing no knitting,” he said. Several boys nodded in agreement.

Corrie stopped in front of him, tapping a pair of needles against her palm as she considered what he was saying.

Needles, God: they’d kill each other with those things, at least poke an eye out.

“Because boys don’t knit,” she said finally. “Am I right?”

“It’s a girl thing,” Caleb muttered.

“Who told you that? Actually,” Corrie said, “men invented knitting.” She paused and gave Matt a sideways glance. “Like so much else.”

“Like, what men?” Caleb said. Still with his arms crossed, but sounding less confrontational.

“Fishermen!” Corrie said. “They needed nets so they knit them.” She grinned. “Try saying that ten times.”

The kids laughed. Matt noted that they were riveted to her now, following her with their eyes as she walked through the rows distributing a ball of yarn to each child. Exactly the right color, too, how did she know?

“Nets as big as football fields,” Corrie said, opening her arms. “Needles the size of goal posts, can you imagine?”

They laughed again. “And how about these guys?”  She held up a photograph of four men the size of offensive tackles with faces like sides of raw beef. All of them knitting socks. “Who’d make fun of them, huh?”

Matt noticed that she’d also placed a pair of knitting needles next to each child and miracle of miracles, the boys weren’t staging sword fights nor were the girls using them for elaborate hair ornaments and she hadn’t had to say a word about tanning their butts or the dire punishment that awaited them in the principal’s office.

“So let’s get started, okay?” Corrie said. In unison, they picked up the needles and yarn the way she indicated, even Caleb who still looked a little doubtful as Corrie led them through a process called “casting on.” And it was then, and not at first sight, that Matt fell in love with her, though he can’t remember exactly the how or why. But he remembers the first chilly day the following fall, long after Ilsa had moved out and Corrie moved in, when he saw Caleb out front by the flag pole, in the midst of a trio of boys as big as he was, a bright red scarf tied around his neck, saying “Yeah, you heard me right. I knit it myself, okay?”

And later, Matt will remember the moment he shifted around on his barstool to try to tell Curtis everything he knows about memory: how it’s a lump of clay that you can push and pull into whatever shape suits you. How memory is like the air you breathe, but don’t see. It’s everything the mind chooses to hang on to, file away: the moment the bartender tips a glass against the tap to top off a fresh beer with an inch of foam and on the Weather Channel, clouds like dirty potatoes float across the TV screen.

It’s the moment he realizes that Christmas is coming and Corrie is gone.


The next day he avoids the mail room and the faculty lounge and goes straight to his classroom two minutes past the bell. “Hey troops!” he says.

They look at him with blank faces, suddenly quiet.

Sissy raises her hand. “Mr. Poke, your hair be sticking up all over.”
“I know,” he says. “It’s electric. I’m electric.”

He is also a little drunk, he realizes, and there is a brown stain on his shirt that looks (and smells) like bourbon, most likely the bottle of bourbon he emptied last night before passing out in the clothes he was wearing yesterday. He notices he’s wearing one blue sock, one brown. What the hell?
“What the hell,” he says out loud.

He opens his briefcase and pulls out the stack of white envelopes. “Today’s art project is   . . . Christmas cards!” he says. He walks up and down the rows, one for each child, follows up with the box of scissors.
“Okay, troops. Have at it.”

They look down at the white squares in front of them, puzzled, and then at him.

“What are you waiting for? Yes, Laverl?”

“These envelopes got stamps on them,” Laverl says.

Have,” Matt says. “Not got. Have stamps on them.”

Sissy raises her hand. “This one got an address, too. Mr. and Mrs. Bradley, um”—she squints up her face—“Davis.”

“Sissy,” Matt says. “I know them. They’re nice people. They would want you to open the card.”
“Okay.” She rips the envelope, yanks out the card and reads: “Wishing you the peace of the season Matt.” The air fills with the sound of paper tearing, some low notes, others high. How could he, an artist, never have heard the harmony of paper tearing?

“Now take out your scissors and cut down the tree,” Matt says. “Any way you want.”

They are silent.

“You can cut down the ornaments or you can cut off the trunk or even—”

“Mister Poke?” A small voice, dusty and unused. Tyshaun in his chair next to the door, his backpack still on his back.
“Yes, Tyshaun?”

“Can I color?” he says.

“You can do anything you want to,” Matt says. Those are tears on his cheeks, he’s crying, how can that be? “Any damn old thing.”

Sissy shoots her hand into the air. “You said damn.”

He wipes his eyes. “Damn right—”

It’s Stein filling the doorway, arms folded. Not angry though. He searches for a word: concerned, that’s it. Troubled.

“We’re making art,” Matt says finally. “Aren’t we, troops? Learning all about the healing power of art.”

“Matthew,” she says again, softly.

“My damn socks don’t match,” he says, lifting the cuff of his khakis. “See?”

He turns toward the class. “How about that, troops? I can’t even goddamn dress myself.”

He feels Stein’s hand on his back, her palm wide and warm as an iron, steering him from the room as if he were blind. He hears the radiator clank twice, then whoosh to life. It’s a mile to the door. He’s forgotten how to walk. The kids have never been so quiet.

The house is full of noises now, asserting itself like never before. The bass grumble of the furnace, the off-key whine of the refrigerator, the ring of the landline ripping open the silence — sounds that tip his heart off the high wire it’s walking. One day he gets down on his hands and knees and follows the phone cord into the wall socket where he unplugs it. There is no one he wants to talk to but Corrie, and she can’t be reached by telephone.

He sleeps often and yet he is so tired, his bones feel liquid. His nerves are strung with electric lights. One night he finds himself standing in front of the open refrigerator  sawing chunks from a ham. It’s Technicolor pink, glistening with fat, and he can’t eat enough of it. He is stuffing yet another piece in his mouth when it occurs to him he’s eating the haunch of a dead animal.

He spits a half-chewed mouthful into the wastebasket. “I’m sorry, pig,” he says. He washes his hands and goes back to bed where he waits for another morning to arrive.

Corrie died while he was emptying the garbage, while his mother was in the kitchen rinsing the lunch dishes. People often do that, explained Denise, the hospice nurse. They wait until their loved ones are away—out of the house or in another room—to let go.
“Let go,” Matt repeated. An image of Corrie clinging to a rope attached to a rising helicopter, suddenly leaping.

“Especially a spouse,” Denise said.

He wrapped his hands around a mug of coffee gone lukewarm. One of their spare mugs, a painting of a clown whose bright oranges and green had faded to pastels by too many trips to the dishwasher. A mug they always meant to pack up and send to the Goodwill.

“She should have waited,” Matt said finally.

Denise nodded as if she understood. “Waited for you?” She had a beautiful voice, low and full of music. Choir music, a hymnal filling her hands, an unearthly glow around her face.

Matt shook his head. “Waited for Christmas,” he said.

He is opening his underwear draw one night when he realizes he’s been robbed: someone, it seems, has broken in and made off with the tidy piles of folded Jockeys that are always there. Or have they? A litter of coins and bills covers the dresser, his laptop is propped open on the desk—why underpants? He shuffles from room to room in his bedroom slippers, finally locates a pile of dirty Jockeys under the dying ficus in the den. He is trying to recall how they might have gotten there when he hears a knock at the front door. He waits for whoever it is to go away, but there’s a second knock, louder this time.

He tiptoes to the door and peers through a crack in the curtain. A woman, elderly and black, wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a flowered scarf knotted under her throat is waiting expectantly on the Welcome mat.

He opens the door a crack.

“Mr. Matthew Poke?” she says.

Polk, he thinks. Hear the “l”?

He nods.

“I’m Bernice Walters. Tyshaun’s grandmom?”

“I don’t—” he starts, then remembers. Tyshaun, yes. “He’s okay?”

“Oh, yeah, he’s fine. Thing is, he going to be staying full time with his mom now. In New York City. But he wanted me to be sure to drop you this.”

She fumbles around in the bag hanging from her wrist and comes up with a square white envelope. “I guess I could’ve mailed it and all, but being as my church isn’t too far from here, around the corner, practically, I thought I’d just, you know—well, there you go.”

He’s aware that his hands are full of dirty underwear. “Sorry,” he says. He looks around, dumps them on the floor next to the telephone. He opens the door wider and takes the envelope. “You want to come in? Have some coffee or something?”

She shakes her head. “Like I said, I got church.”
“Sure,” he says.

“He said you really encouraged him. Tyshaun did. With his drawing and all.”

“Oh,” he says. He feels a twist in his chest: his heart again, another free fall from the high wire.

“Yeah, he loved your class,” she says. Then, “I’m real sorry about your loss, Mister Poke.”

“Well, thanks,” he says. “Thank you.”

“Tyshaun, he lost his daddy.”

“Oh?” Matt says.

“On, you know, September 11. In the World Trade Center. Tyshaun seen it on TV.”

He nods, not trusting his voice. Black and orange, smoke and flames. T Batty to the rescu.

He hears himself saying good night, thanks again. He shuts the door carefully. In the kitchen, he sits down at the table and opens the envelope. It’s a Christmas card, one of his Christmas cards, the Nigerian boy’s drawing of a tree hidden under waxy layers of crayon. A blue blob, a gauze of yellow wings. The figure of a man wearing a smock.

The crayoned message: T Batty to the Rescu in Your Season of Greef. Love from Tyshaun

He looks at the card for a long time, finally getting up to pour himself a shot of something. He hesitates then pulls out the bottle of bourbon he’d been saving for their second anniversary. The bourbon is twenty years old. It’s December 23. His wife is gone. He won’t get his wish.

And yet.

He takes a sip, letting the bourbon wrap his throat in warm flannel. The refrigerator kicks in, humming its off-key note.

Tyshaun, he thinks. Tries to conjure his face and can’t. Only his blue backpack, the sorrows Matt imagines are zippered there.

“Tyshaun,” he says out loud. Raises his glass.

This time, the sibilance of wings. Coming closer, lower,

aiming straight for his heart. 

Sarah Freligh is the author of Sad Math, winner of the 2014 Moon City Press Poetry Prize and the Whirling Prize from the University of Indianapolis. Other books include A Brief Natural History of an American Girl, winner of the Editor’s Choice award from Accents Publishing, and Sort of Gone, a book of poems that follows the rise and fall of a fictional pitcher named Al Stepansky. Her work has appeared in the Sun Magazine, Brevity, Rattle, Barn Owl Review, on Writer’s Almanac, and anthologized in the 2011 anthology Good Poems: American Places. Among her awards are a 2009 poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a grant from the Constance Saltonstall Foundation in 2006.

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