Jill Boyles

Smoke & Steam

Photo Credit: Gerry Balding/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

His hurt charged like a steam engine in a huff of smoke, whistling and clanking against clenched teeth as he stalked every room of that empty house trying to pick up the scent of her, synapses firing crumpled clothes, dirty dishes, empty cupboards. His boots stomped louder than his heart racing across memory tearing on jagged edges of accusations and silences he followed to the threshold of their bedroom and grunted before crossing into the center of blue where a hollowed-middle pillow lay on the left of an unmade bed, clothes draped over half-opened drawers of a bureau with a mirror hanging above cockeyed reflecting his foreshortened figure of cradling wants and bloated birthright. Snatching a thin quilt from the bed, coarse hands catching on patches of pregnancies and babies, he thrust it under his nose smelling staleness and threw it in the corner puffing up faded, red feathers around a dismembered Mardi Gras mask he had bought her on their honeymoon.

He left the house and went to his workshed of sandpaper with smooth spots and planes with worn handles and chisels with soft angles. He dragged a forefinger through sawdust on a table saw and inhaled air heavy with the pungent scent of cut and scored wood. His latest project lay prostrate on the worktable. Before he touched it, he sensed the mahogany’s firmness and its eventual yielding. Resting a hand on the warm wood, his eyes traced linear grains that curved and folded back in multiples of Us.

Something clawed at the window. His wife’s rose bush grown wild. Grabbing a handsaw, he left the shed and thrashed the saw against the trunk pulling teeth over wood, screeching and pushing back, blade bending in a bungling U. A corner of a book protruded between the rose bush and the shed, and he threw down the saw to tear away at the loose dirt. Holding the book in front of him, he searched for a title on that old, leathered face but couldn’t find one. He opened the book to her handwriting that looped, curled, snarled incomprehensible, page after page his dirt-smudged fingers turned until a plump, red feather dropped from the book to the ground.

pencilJill Boyles’s work has appeared in Calliope Magazine, Focus on Dalian, and The Minnesota Women’s Press, among other publications. She holds an MFA in Writing from Hamline University. She was the recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Board grant and a finalist for the Jerome Grant. Email: 01jlboyles[at]


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