Browsing Tag

Renée Thompson

Guest Posts, Relationships

Alternate Universe

May 21, 2024
alternate universe steve

My husband’s family: I belong to them, and they to me. Today, when I visit with Steve’s mother, she hugs me and waits for me to speak. I know what she needs to hear. “I miss your boy,” I say into her ear. She tightens her grip around my waist and, not wanting to break the connection that is mother and wife and friend, neither of us lets go. When Leal at last releases me, she steps back, her face wet with tears. I know she’s thinking what we’re all thinking: Steve’s death will forever be with us, forever a weight to bear. His family and I stand in the driveway of his sister’s house, reluctant to say goodbye. There’s an understanding now between us where there wasn’t before, and we struggle to accept this truth.

In my alternate universe, Steve is alive, riding his bicycle alongside me at twilight, oaks spreading their canopies as if to protect us, keeping our connection intact. Steve laughs at the sight of an otter tumbling down a creekbank, and a beaver in a pond, its bullet body torpedoing forward through water clotted with branches. The images get me through, and so I tell myself I’ll stick with those imaginings, until the day unfolds when I no longer need them, how many years from now?

In my alternate universe, I haven’t yet given away our camping gear—sleeping bags, cookstove, axe, and tarp—and Steve loads everything into the back of his pickup. I climb into the truck, sit beside him, and we head northeast from Sacramento, toward the Warner Mountains. We’re the only humans for miles. We set up camp on the evening of the summer solstice, the best night for viewing stars. We hope to view the Northern Cross at 10 p.m., but at 7,000 feet, it’s thirty degrees, so we slip into our sleeping bags, cocooned in winter clothing. Steve looks at me, I look at him.

“Should we get that pup we’ve been talking about?” Steve says, his face a sketch in the dark.

“Should I write a second novel?”

The questions are easy, the answers clear. We say yes to everything.

In my alternate universe, Steve is here for our daughters when they need him most; when they despair of letting him go, because they owe him something. “What?” I say. “What do you owe him?” I know they’re thinking loyalty and gratitude, and while I understand this, I have something to tell them. It takes a long time to get the words out. “Dad is dead,” I say. “He taught you everything you need to know to move forward. He gave you permission to move forward. Now do what you need to do.”

In my alternate universe, I haven’t hurt my husband. I haven’t betrayed him. I never dream about him, and I don’t kneel at his feet. But in the real world, I ache for his forgiveness. The yearning is constant, a rhino on my chest, a python around my heart, and so I step into a carnival wheel like a wooden barrel, its interior lined with humans. I stand shoulder to shoulder with the Others. My anticipation is high as the barrel starts to spin, slowly at first, and then picks up speed. All at once the floor drops out and I slip downward, knees folding against my chest. I laugh. I cry. I laugh again.

And then all at once the ride slows, the floor rises, and the barrel jolts to a stop. “Everyone out!” the carny barks. I extend my legs and rub my hands, breath outside my body. My vision settles, and I see Venus through the widening forest, a she-star waiting to greet me. “Hello, forgiveness. I’m here,” I say. “I’ve waited a long time to meet you.” I reach out—I want to connect. Venus stretches toward me her long tentacles of silvery dust, but our fingertips don’t touch. “Be patient,” she says. “Try again,” she says. “I’ll still be here tomorrow.”

Renée Thompson is the recipient of Narrative’s Fall 2023 Story Contest prize and was a finalist in The Missouri Review’s 2023 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors Prize, as well as Missouri Review’s 2023 Perkoff Prize. Other honors include placement in competitions sponsored by the Literary Death Match Bookmark Contest (judged by Roxane Gay); Glimmer Train; Writer’s Digest; and Literal Latte. Essays and short stories have appeared in Narrative Magazine, Twenty Twenty—A Stories on Stage, Sacramento Anthology, Nevada Magazine, Sacramento Magazine, Crossborder, Arcadia, Bird Watcher’s Digest, and elsewhere. She is the author of two novels and is devoted to birds, mammals, and the people she loves. Renée lives in Folsom, CA, with her black Lab, Donner.

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