Turn on Your Machines by Kate Gehan

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I add to the festivities. I create glow because I otherwise wouldn’t return from the darkness. I don’t turn down the dial. My walkway is lined with small flags we waved on the 4th of July before the accident in August crushed everyone in the car but me and I keep spare sparklers in my purse now for emergencies. What makes you think it can’t happen to you? Deep winter spreads inside me and I keep it lit with potted fir trees twinkling on the porch, flanking the front door hung with a misshapen heart wreath. All the holidays every day! The car took us to the health checkups and the fun parks, the playgrounds and parties, to the grocery and work, to the last vacation. The car took us to the end. What makes you think it won’t happen to you? I fall asleep beneath twinkle lights and wish for visitations by familiar ghosts, but I have Ada instead.

Ada slides through the summer’s thickest air in my night kitchen, wanting to press a cheek against the oven’s blue finish, to skate across the half-laid Brazilian walnut flooring. Ada wants to cook for her family too—bacon butternut squash peasant bread mushroom risotto tomato bisque cinnamon walnut rolls vegetable beef stew rack of lamb—she wants a foot to caress the rich wood, a finger to trace the star-shaped burner. She rises beneath the cavernous stainless-steel hood, a reverse birth, and the metal gleams in the streetlight beyond the French doors and she wears the apparatus like a costume from the future, her metal dress. Ada taps a rhythm on the surface, a song a lament a message to say this neighborhood has interrupted a one-hundred-and-forty-three-year peace—in just one year we have laid foundations, mansion atop mansion, changed the course of a meandering stream for a golf course, upended the forest around her bed. From my bed I respond with a fingernail against the copper lamp, tapping a plea for punishment.

Ada tries to give me what I want and feeds me metal dreams: A harried woman in a sequined gown rushes towards an elevator and claws at the seam until the doors part. She throws herself into emptiness, shrieks she has made a mistake but there is no time to take her outstretched hand, and our agony repeats for hours. Another: My daughter’s shoelace is caught in the teeth of the airport escalator, the free foot hopping up the toothy steps hopping hopping. Endless nights. 

I set the master bath aglow with candles to thank Ada for the torture and she whispers her woes: diphtheria, hemorrhaging during childbirth, infant pneumonia. We sizzle one sparkler for each lost love, ritually dousing them in the bathtub when they turn black before we dance outside beneath a Super Pink Moon. The landscaping is a pristine sea of green, a product of roaring machines but we follow the two carefully planted strips of pollinator-friendly growth, weaving our way through the bellwort, bloodroot and tall grasses until we reach the last cluster of century-old beech and sugar maple left in the neighborhood. This is the last place Ada recognizes and the trees remember her. I kneel and run my palm against the moss growing at the base of one and wonder what will remember me when I go and who will I haunt? What makes you think I won’t happen to you?

Kate Gehan’s debut short story collection, The Girl and The Fox Pirate, was published by Mojave River Press in 2018. Her writing has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Split Lip Magazine, People Holding, Literary Mama, and Cheap Pop, among others. She is nonfiction editor at Pithead Chapel. Find her work at kategehan.com.

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One thought on “Turn on Your Machines by Kate Gehan”

  1. Pingback: Publications – Kate Gehan

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