The Asarco Smokestack ’93 by Keely O’Shaughnessy

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The first time my sister talked about running away was when our stepmother gave us dolls’ clothes she’d sewn from scraps of our mother’s bath robe. When my sister had ripped them at their tiny seams and cried, Jane had called her ungrateful and said Dad should smack us, which he did. Sal had showed me the print his palm left on her flesh. She told me how she’d gone under the kitchen table and Jane had pulled her out by her ankle like a whippet snaring a rabbit.


The damp on our bedroom ceiling grows like soda poured too fast, bubbling up in patches. I tell my sister that the latest growth looks like her. She slaps me, pushing herself up from the bed next to mine and leaning close, but says I’ll miss her when she’s gone. 


As we grow, Sal’s plans become more elaborate. She’ll go north of Tacoma to watch the towering smokestack that billows clouds of lead and copper into the sky. She’ll travel to Europe, to The Sistine Chapel, so she can crane her neck to see Michelangelo’s frescoes. She’ll keep bees in the valley of Durance and grow lavender in endless domed rows of purple. At night, she sprawls herself across the globe. Running ever faster away from here until she’s gone completely. 


It’s late and I don’t know why I’m out in the bat-swooping twilight wearing only my night dress, turquoise fringing brushing my thighs, my toes dug deep into the stones, but I thought I heard Sal whispering to me. I’m standing beside the fence that divides our property with the next one. I’m on the gravel side where the cars park and our neighbour’s son is in the paddock, the grass side, where the sheep graze. He’s flicking a lighter. It’s fizzing but not catching. I ask, and he hands it to me through the squares of wire. I flick the spark wheel with my thumb. It grinds, leaving pink ridges in my flesh. On the third spin, the blue-orange flame erupts. We share a cigarette and puff smoke out into the frigid night. He doesn’t ask to come closer or touch me. I know, like me, he’s wishing I was Sal. 


When Sal has been gone a full month, I go to the gasoline station on the corner of our street. It’s been repurposed as a religious centre for years now and the pumps on old forecourt are painted with messages from God. During Sunday meetings, when most families were inside, Sally and I used to bike down together and take turns pretending to guzzle from the pump that said, “fill up with old time salvation and you will be reborn.”


When Mom left, we watched from the window. The car was a muted, mossy green. The taillights glowed in the dark. The voices were muffled, but we knew it was bad. We understood tone by then. And, when Jane arrived, we watched from the window as she kissed Dad. Both of them pressed to the metal shell of his works van. Her arms weren’t around his neck; instead, she balanced her weight against the van, her fingers pushed into the groove of the door’s sliding side panel.  


On the nights when Dad and Jane take themselves upstairs, I tuck myself under the kitchen table until the floor joists stop creaking. It’s not our kitchen table. It has rounded corners. It’s baby blue, a colour my mother would never allow and is rimmed with metal. I trace the ridges where Sal carved her name into its underside years ago. 


Waiting to collect my kids from the religious centre that’s now a mixed martial arts gym, I’m older than Mom when she left, and younger than Jane when she died. One of the original gas pumps stands in the parking lot, the faded features of Jesus just visible. Be sure to Fill up with the Holy Ghost and Fire.


At home, I feed my hungry boys dinners of melanzane di parmigiana, and desserts of shop-bought tiramisu. And after they’re in bed, I stand on our porch and smoke, thinking about Italy and France or that corner of Tacoma and the smokestack they brought crashing down in 1993.

KEELY O’SHAUGHNESSY (she/her) is a fiction writer with Cerebral Palsy, who lives in Gloucestershire, U.K. She has writing forthcoming with Bath Flash Fiction and Five on the Fifth. She has been published by Ellipsis Zine, NFFD, Complete Sentence, Reflex Fiction and Emerge Literary Journal, among others. Find her at or on Twitter @KeelyO_writer

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