THE CROSSWORD by Sadie Hoagland
1 A LITTLE LIE
Like a white lie? Like a fib? Like something dead.
The old woman remembers now.
“Sometimes it’s okay to lie, you know, like a white lie, or a dead dog lie.” Her father stood bent over the workbench, cranking a screwdriver. What’s a dead dog lie?
“Well, before you born, we had a dog, a damn good dog, best dog I ever owned, a chocolate bird dog named Bear. Your mother and I took that dog everywhere, and for a long time it was just the three of us, especially after we lost that first,” her father paused and wiped his jaw with his sleeve. “Well, it was especially the three of us.”
Her father cranked the screwdriver harder before stepping back, away from the bench. He was making a bookcase, and she could smell fresh sawdust.
“One summer I was out in the Sierras fighting a fire, and one day while I was gone, your mother found Bear dead as anything on the front porch. Now I’ve always thought that s-o-b Mitchell down the road baited Bear with some kind of poison. See Bear was always killing his hens, so I think that bastard killed Bear. Wouldn’t ever tell it though. Anyway, your mother knew it would break my heart, and she didn’t want me out fighting fire with a broken heart, so when I called from a payphone in Truckee and said, ‘How’s Bear?’ she said, ‘oh he’s fine, just fine.’
“Now that was a lie, but it was for my own sake. So dead dog lies, they’re a kind that’s alright, because really the truth is just hiding for a while til it can do more good than bad.”
The pencil scratches over all the lines twice. F I B
1 A little lie
4 Slapstick weapon
If 4 Down is right, if Ghost is PHANTOM then it has to start with a P. It would have to be Pie.
That thing she hasn’t made in years. The old woman eats only the gelatinous lemon kind that come in boxes with plastic windows. Her niece brings them to her. The kind that stick everywhere in your mouth. But she remembers the other kind, the made kind.
(She leans over the empty shell, furiously pinching the damp crusts between the knuckle of her index finger and her thumb. She usually likes this, but not today. She had wanted to be tender, to show the other girl, her cousin, what their Grandmother had shown her, how to make a perfect edge to frame the smooth center (the dough can never be too thin or it will burn). But today the dough smells like a wet magazine. Today her cousin—standing taller, so thin she has a vacant look like she was a wire hanger for her own clothes—bothers her. She can smell the cigarette smoke in her cousin’s hair.)
16 City in Mexico
She remembered Guadalajara, “Do you remember Guadalajara?” she says out loud. The kitchen yawns back. All the mariachi, and the flowers in the market, and oh, do you remember the thunderstorm sky above the gold steeple in El Centro? She has another warm, vague notion. The kitchen opens its yellow eyes.
(One day she leans down to pet a dirty sleeping dog before she realizes it is really a dirty dead dog, lying in a dirty street.)
She pencils it in quickly. G U A river D A of L A stones. J A R A
19, 19 Across is Intoxicated Like drunk, or happy, or consumed. There are five letters.
There were times when she had wished her life had been a movie, the old woman thinks, because then there would have been exact measures of gestures and words, and in the end there would have been some balance. Everyone that had gotten too drunk or too mean would have died, or at least learned how to love without so many rules. She has always felt this way, since she was young, when she lived in other places.
Well, it must be drunk. The old woman pencils in D
Those were times when her life was like a movie: when she sat, drunk, in the bathtub looking at her nipples and thinking that the bathroom and her body and everything, really, had a shiny saran-wrapped look.
Once, she was little, and he was big and smelled like hot metal, he told her she had stolen the little candies. I did not, I did not, she gave them to me, you were there, she gave them to me, remember remember remember. He looked like he was going to push, or hug too hard, but he just stumbled and the hard pink candies bounced off the wood floor. He laughed and laughed like rain on a car roof while tears drew lines on the back of her throat. (If this is a movie, she will run away on a train in a dress to a city and a job and a fast-paced life of wise-cracks, and loneliness will only last three and a half minutes of staring out the new alley-facing window petting her new cat and glancing sideways at a framed picture with a little crack in the glass, of Her and her and him and even HIM. This picture will be all she has left of her old life, because it is just a memory, and memories are not even real living things but only thoughts you don’t even have to have.)
(In the bathtub, the glass sweats. The ice tastes hot.) You never remembered lime.
You just stooped and picked up the candies and they began to stain your hand before you could pick them all up. You don’t even have a framed picture of them.
7 Kind of cry
It could be sob, pout, or like a cry of joy, or ecstasy, or a silent cry, like the ones that never get past the throat, and never really go away either, what is the word for that?
The old woman stops and swallows.
(She lay awake, nothing had happened for a while. None of the other girls seemed to be awake. The cabin was dark and the upper bunk felt like a shelf in a hot warm cave. No one cared if she was awake or not. It was night, the dark warm night.
She did let her hand slide to her lower belly, where it was damp. This was a cave within a cave. Her pajama pants stretched across her young pelvis.
She did let her fingers massage the little coarse hairs there.
Someone turned in her sleep and she stopped. Nothing happened again.
Her fingertips moved further down, and she sunk her pelvis into the thin mattress, feeling a hollow there, at the base of her spine, a kind of hungry hollow. She traced circles on the edges of her thighs, and then she closed her eyes tight and she did let her hand touch her, the wet sticky gross red wrinkled real her.
She opened her eyes, still nothing had happened and still everyone slept. She wished it would be night forever and not just two more hours. She hated the sun now, and she squeezed her eyes tight and promised she would be good forever if the sun did not come for at least six more days. )
20 A support group, for short
I hate these ones, these acronyms these big letters that stand for long words that stand for the names of things that stand for big spider webs of more stand-fors.
Like AL ANON AL anon. Too many letters.
The old woman puts her hand to her head.
No, I won’t tell. No, I won’t tell. ANON. They are not even my stories to tell.
(But then she finds herself leaning into him (oh, him), resting her head where it fits just right between his shoulder and his breast. “This one woman said tonight she used to dump out her dad’s bottles of Everclear and fill them with water when she was a little bitty girl, she thought he would never know.” His chest chuckles a little. She can’t stop now. She feels bad, but she cannot stop. “A man said his mom was passed out dead drunk on the front porch the first time he brought home his new wife.” His chest doesn’t chuckle but he says: “Can you imagine?” and she snuggles closer, her head between his shoulder and sternum, she smells soap and salt and does not imagine.
Later in the meeting, the same man said how his daughter used to get up at 2 am in the morning to get ready to leave for school at 6 am, so that she would look perfect, and that’s when he knew something was wrong.
But she does not say this to him. She rolls onto her back. It’s 12:36 am.)
They are not even my stories to tell.
20 “The heavenly coffee,” first word only.
The song was on the T.V. Chock Full o’Nuts is the heavenly coffee, heavenly coffee… Was it? She never watched T.V., she always read. Does Chock fit?
The old woman remembers the song, the taste. They only had canned coffee on vacations, when they were camping, or staying in cabins, or at motels with scratched mirrors when they went to the East Coast Family weddings. And funerals.
(She needs two cups to be ready. She needs two cups to lose those images. The dream, again, of the four horsemen as baroque statues she is trying to climb. She can smell the stale coffee in her mouth as the acolyte walks down the aisle. Is this the beginning of death? He had milky skin.)
The old woman puts the pencil down again; the sun is falling fast into the kitchen. The pencil rolls off the table in that sided, punctuated way pencils roll and lands on the floor. The old woman sighs at the distance of the linoleum beneath. The pencil is under the table. It is far away and down and blurring away. She pulls her glasses off and sets them on the paper, below the crossword.
“No, I won’t tell,” she shakes her head, her voice sounds fermented; the syllables are ripe and oozing.
I am just a batty old lady. Memories are not even. I won’t tell, but I guess might as well now. No dead dogs here. No Hot Water to burn.
The old woman puts her fingers to her sinking mouth. Just please let this be Idaho. Let there be six more days of this dark, and I will be good forever.
The old woman still stares at the crossword. It is fuzzy without her glasses, but not as fuzzy as the pencil on the floor. She thinks she reads
18 Down, “The Arc of the—.”
But she can’t be sure.
These stories are not even mine to tell, they were maybe, but now they are just voices without bodies, or they had bodies once but only for one day in one room. Now they are just the thin shell-piece secrets of peoples’ cracked-egg hearts. Brown eggs and white eggs and bright pink Easter eggs, they all have the same sunny pupils.
(These stories are secrets, and when they had bodies, they were hot secrets—they were at least 98.6 degrees. Now they are cold, no bodies, no faces even. Just little, little words kept in a jar under the new window that the new cat paws at…they are just hiding a while).
The old woman puts her glasses back on. The kitchen is still empty. She does not want to but she reads Across 23, A popular stacking game. It starts with a J. She is probably too old to know it. She sighs. I am too old. She sighs. The milky skin, the new jar. (The things said.)
28 Down, A type of joke
One day, after the three and a half minutes of loneliness and the six days of darkness that never lasted past dawn, the cat will finally knock the jar, whose shininess in the morning sun has perturbed his feline sleep for cat years, so he will paw it onto the carpeted floor, and the secrets will spill out and they will scatter, a few will break.
But most will heat up a little from the crash.
30 Across, Like some hair
They will not look for their bodies; they are gone maybe.
32 Down, The early years
They are getting hotter. If they are too thin, will they burn?
33 Across, Nihil Longe
They have been waiting for this cat; this black and gray grid, this slanted, sun-filled moment.
52 Down, Old Woman, to Stravinsky
(The cat brushes his claws at the jar,
The woman kicks her toe at the pencil,
The sun warms the black and gray paper until it smells like a hot warm cave).
SADIE HOAGLAND has a PhD in fiction from the University of Utah where she also worked as editor of Quarterly West. She has an MA in Creative Writing from UC Davis. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Black Herald, MOJO, Alice Blue Review, Oyez Review, Grist Journal, The South Dakota Review, Sakura Review and Passages North.