Jessica Hollander

It's simple: we feel compelled to leave. There is no specific date or week or month. It doesn't happen when the temperature breaks 90 degrees, or when tulips nod off, or when grass sprouts from cracks of the sidewalk. We don't pack a suitcase or arrange for pets or contact those who might notice our absence. The feeling comes at different times for each of us. We pull a U-turn or board a train or find ourselves running wildly down the street. We migrate to Danny's for the summer.

Danny might be somebody's uncle or much older brother; we don't know because we don't remember much about the first time we were brought here. Some of us have tried to piece it together. Some of us recall handcuffs and blindfolds, bumpy rides in the backseat of a grumbly old Jaguar, or rolling around in the bed of a truck with nothing for company but thick gray shadows punctuated by the occasional fleeting headlight.

Danny lives in a tattered Victorian backed up to scraggly woods with a lake on the far end, where people lay naked on one side of the dock and clothed on the other. This is Saginaw, Michigan, a glorious place for summer. The house has pocked hardwood floors and three broken windows patched from the inside with broken down cardboard boxes that have probably carried some of Danny's organic fruit. If you edge close enough to the windows, you can see the house's address repeated on the box labels.

This is Danny's house.

The days here are long. Danny has hundreds of puzzles and games we set up on a picnic table in the woods. He has coloring books with intricate pictures; he has freshly-sharpened crayons. There are rabbits to follow, birds to watch splash around baths. Some of us tend the garden, others fish in the lake, or knit soft blankets for cold people, or fold paper into shapes of animals and plants.

We are unpleasant people where we come from. There, if you smile at us, we look at the floor like there is nothing interesting but it is better than looking at you. If you hold a door for us, we do not say thank you but pretend to busy ourselves in our purses or grocery bags, or we laugh loudly into our phones.

Our bodies shiver through winters in the city. They endure slow circulation in lofts so near the sky they could have been nests. Their skin grows dry and itchy; we scratch and pieces fall to the floor by our feet. We force our bodies to stand and walk across pieces of themselves.

In the summer, in the country, our bodies grow heavy with moisture. Most of us are accustomed to various sorts of drugs, but Danny allows no chemical abuse on his property. His living room fills with primary-colored sleeping bags thrashing around; and sometimes we sneak to the dock, where we have sex with naked people or trick the clothed people into believing it is better to be naked. Danny does not approve of this behavior. This is why every winter we say we won't be going to Danny's this summer. But most of us show up eventually.

Because at Danny's, we conserve energy. We grow fat and happy, and this is worth the physical stress of the migratory period, the length of time we flap the air suspended, feeling constantly like this might be our last flap.

We have found all the hiding places here because they are not really hidden from us. He wants us to find them. We conspire; they are objects worth marveling over. The silver phone in the harmonica case taped to the chimney. The baggie of white powder folded in a washcloth in the bottom of the bathroom closet. Every summer one of us slips and it is soon obvious and this person is banned forever from Danny's. We crowd into the overgrown lawn to watch them leave; usually they are on foot; usually they yell loudly and thrash branches down the street. Weeds tickle our legs, and for the first time in a year we realize we are glad to feel this.

We assume those who leave will die. Without Danny's next summer, they will flap aimlessly above city streets trying to find the way. They will fry.

At the end of the summer, we make no promises to be nice people when we return to where we are from. If weather is a mindset, it is not one easily adopted by the weak. It is a place moved into, visited, endured. There are comforts in both seasons. We are people who like comfort. We are people who have gotten used to variety.

Jessica Hollander has had stories in Hobart, Hayden's Ferry Review, Alice Blue, Sonora Review, FRiGG and others. She's in the MFA program at the University of Alabama.

To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/201101migratory.htm

Detail of art on main page courtesy of Doeki.

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