Because this is a small village and people tell other people’s news, I already know when I walk past your mother’s house, and the garage door is flung open wide as if it got stopped mid-scream, and you are lining up the contents on the lawn (an artificial Christmas tree, boards that once belonged to shelves) that your brother died fifteen hours ago in the early hours of morning, that he had trouble breathing because of the flu or because of some other condition the coroner will discover—I will learn about that, too, surely, when the news comes, because this is how a village runs: on private information, on what really happened, on what maybe happened, and especially if it’s bad news, we pass it along like hot potatoes so it won’t burn our knowing hands, and in this way perhaps it might not happen to us, not in the same way, or not so badly.

I pause at the edge of your lawn and pull out my earbuds—Katy Perry is crooning and won’t stop just because I did—and tell you I heard about what happened and I’m sorry, and you are startled because we have never talked to one another but as happens in a small town, I know who you are and you know who I am, by name anyway, and you have forgotten for a moment the way a village runs: on recognition and proximity. We must look each other in the eye if we are to ever look at ourselves. You don’t know what crises I have lived through, for I moved away and am only back now, and it isn’t really fair that I know about your brother today, and it isn’t fair that we are both alive and that his silver Grand Marquis sits with a cold engine on the side of the street and it isn’t fair that after I have expressed my sorrow for your loss I can step back on the sidewalk and off your lawn. I can slip the earbuds back in, and there will be Katy Perry, still singing, and if I want her to start up again all I have to do is push rewind which I won’t—but I could—while you are left with the contents of the garage laid out on the lawn and you won’t be able to put any of it back but you can’t leave it out either in the rain that is coming down already.

Shuly Xóchitl Cawood is the author of the memoir, The Going and Goodbye (Platypus Press). She has an MFA from Queens University, and her writing has been published in The Rumpus, Zone 3, Santa Clara Review, New Madrid Journal, and Cider Press Review, among others.

Photo by Therese Brown