From my kitchen window I scan the bird of paradise, a pair of yellow striped folding chairs, the Walburns’ A/C unit, the Walburns’ empty kiddy pool below their A/C unit, and distant pines that loom like guardians, dreading nothing. Nothing here is wet.

Ten days til Autumn. Three til Veda Lou. Today I’m making her a Barbie house and Zelma Vesce is making a story that involves the world from fifty thousand feet. The world is grainy and mechanical. A coiled, psychedelic bruise churns the ocean and one mild enveloped eye spies America and nothing’s wet

yet. The wallpaper is floral; the carpet is green. The glue gun is warm in my hand. In three days Veda Lou, in twenty her fourth, in twenty days cone hats and Duncan Hines. If I hadn’t done ninety-two on the nine-oh-six last month there would have been a DreamHouse. Memory sure panics like a lead foot though! You don’t want to be with your mind too long between the coast and Half Hell. So no DreamHouse. Hence the cardboard, carpet samples, scraps of wallpaper snagged from Rooms-to-Go, vistas of magnolias and lives Oaks and Spanish moss snipped from Southern Living that I’ll hang on walls beneath pink chiffon, like windows.

I keep worrying I’m not ready but Sister Wanda believes I am. Believes it thoroughly. I done the twelve steps and I got Duncan Hines. I got a bank account, gumption, Junie B. Jones. I got this place all by myself no man no nothing and a room just for Veda for sleepovers, crushes, angst, college apps. I keep reminding myself. I think I’m ready. I go back and forth — god, it’s terrifying! Sister Wanda says come back to the feeling of whatever’s in my hand. The glue gun. The grip is warm. My hand is sweaty on the plastic. Today I’m making a Barbie house. Greer says Veda loves Barbie. She’s got three plus a Ken doll plus an airplane with an ice machine and fifty tiny beads of ice that hide in the carpet like


Drop-offs. Pick-ups. Pick-ups. Drop-offs. Suddenly all these chances for me to prove he was right to high-tail? It’s daunting! Because how much can you say about the weather? Zelma Vesce says weather’s a pattern of destructive coincidences. If this one hits I’ll say This rain? Crazy! and he’ll say Can you believe it? Cats and dogs! or something like that, then both kind of shake our heads, then wave, all amicable, before he disappears into the possibilities of his Honda and then back to Wrightsville and out of my life. It’s important for Veda to see how men and women can be amicable. If it spirals south I’ll say How was she, did she behave, etc. No What-if’s, no Remember When’s, no Shoulda-Coulda-Woulda’s. No asking which cheap thing he’s sleeping with this week. That’s no interest of mine. They call them cyclones in India, which I used to confuse with the one-eyed monster from those stories. Which, like, how shitty would that be? I cover my left eye with my left hand. In my right hand the glue gun is as far as the kitchen window is as close as the pines. The pines are leaning. Lolling. Lulling? Sister Wanda’s got myopia, says light focuses before it touches her eyeballs. So she can see close stuff clear but everything else is a blur. That seems not so bad honestly, like the world’s in portrait mode and you only have to look at one thing at a time and not the whole trainwreck hurtling around it?

Am I right?

The carpet is dark green. Kind of serious like something you’d find in an office, but with white polka dots, which I think says have fun, take risks! The wallpaper’s floral. Huge blushing peonies and little puckered berry things. Vines. The Walburns’ kiddy pool is scuttling across the gravel toward the Gainsbroughs’ Tacoma. All the things he’ll say to our friends if I do something dumb. His. His friends. All the things he’s said. But we all got seasons, right? I got Duncan Hines. I got Trix and two percent. But what if she asks me about stuff? There’s so much in this life that you can’t get until you get it. You know? Zelma Vesce reminds me of an actor but I can’t put my finger on it. If Florence is real why the hell is all this make-up involved? Yesterday his thumbs danced across a kalimba like they used to. It was similar to the dream where I’m brushing my teeth before work and it feels so real because it’s possible, like theoretically. Cheekbones teasing my cheekbones, eyelashes feathering sun, fingernails branding the grooves of my spine    Stop it. When I woke up the windchimes were going like mad next door. Pixelated turmoil glitching on the brink of land, infinitely approaching. Always the awe and terror of the thing and never the thing. (Almost always, almost never.) Attention, obsession, what’s the difference? All these modes of homecoming. Zelma Vesce says reconciling pressure’s a balancing act; before you know it you’re naming something you can’t control.

Veda Lou. My Veda.

One day we’ll have a house just like this: the carpet and the wallpaper exactly what we choose, windows and moss and a garage and a laundry chute. The scary thing — I mean the really scary thing — is that you have to do it day in and day out forever. Even on the bad days. And there are so many ways to fail a person.

Today I am making a little house. This involves glueing currants to the inside of an Amazon box. The glue is hot and stringy. Each time I touch it I have to hold my throbbing finger beneath the tap for ages while the lukewarm water becomes slightly cool. Right now I’m pressing my hand against the wall and moving it around, smoothing air bubbles. Beside me on the kitchen table are two pieces of chiffon that I’ll hang above the picture from the magazine. One for each side to be tied with a Wonder Bread twisty. The pines lean and sway. Makes you dizzy to look at.

I’m thinking of rain.

When I was Veda’s age Riley took us to Topsail. We ate ice cream sandwiches and walked on the pier at night. Seeing the surf thrash between the cracks in the boards from that height terrified me. Riley said be vigilant or I’d slip right through. This is my first memory. I don’t know if he said vigilant, but I know how it felt. He made my heart manic in my ribs; it was never an accident. A few years later the only traces of that pier were a couple of barnacle-scabbed pilings on a leveled dune. They named that one Fran. It is not raining. It is just the clatter of chairs and the tantrum of chimes and that kiddy pool drifting like a Hardee’s bag. But it feels like it’s raining because my heart’s doing that thing that it does when everything’s wet.

The chiffon is soft. The gun is warm. Soft, warm. Soft

I’ve thought of writing him. Greer. Like old-fashioned gesture of affection via USPS. Like, not as the mother of our child but from the tender needy spot that blisters without warning. I think of it often. But I don’t know. The issue is that my whole being hovers in the ink and coils and mysterious mechanics of my pen, and if I make one bad move it’ll all come out. Sometimes I become so overwhelmed imagining the letter that I don’t get a single word on the page. Like how sometimes he’d get so scared imagining love that he couldn’t plunge even an ankle. Water reminded him of violence; the past sprawled malignantly from his toes to his hips each time he got close. But you can’t ruin a page you don’t touch. In fact you can’t do anything with it. The long defense of absence will eat you alive.

I keep reminding myself this isn’t new. I’ve seen it before. The sky boils; the wind tortures flags and clotheslines; the Atlantic dismantles gas stations and rocking chairs. It will change everything, or certain things will be spared in certain ways. Catastrophe is always coming for you somewhere. You have to build a little room to keep that shit at bay. Four sturdy walls, a reliable foundation, a roof that won’t sag in the middle. No one tells you when you’re a kid and then when a storm comes you go right out with it. How could you not? With no walls, nothing? Chaos without is chaos within. Trying to figure where your self ends and calamity begins would be absurd. You are the disaster.

Today I am building this house for Veda Lou so she is not the disaster and so her heart won’t bust of conniption when everything’s wet. It’s not really about timing — there will be days when the weather’s calm; there will be startling days when I’ll fight the instinct to scrutinize what came before or to count all the ways a fire can start. It’s a decision made over and over again, a commitment to return to this room. To feel the air in the wallpaper, to finger beads in the carpet, to hold Veda on her fourth without spoiling from shame because I didn’t hold her on her third or fearing a future in which I’ll lose her. Just holding her, just cone hats and Duncan Hines, making a home of this house like the enveloped eye where clarity lives: not lucky but dogged, elastic.