Milk Days

— Maeve Holler

It is deep July in Centralia and the raging mine fire beneath our home swells like a swarming honeybee inferno. Charlene and I sit on her family porch: even from a distance, we can see the pulsing, cavernous fault line on the horizon as it exhales green coal-smoke into the sheets of summer flood rain.

We wait for the milkman and pray to the forever deluge of internal burning: let this storm extinguish the inside-out thirst, let it pour down in thick baths and wash away the fire’s electric residue from our skin. We imagine an opalescent, underground froth stream sealing the land cracks—a magic unseen.

Before her stroke, my granny used to tell us that if she were allowed to tear open the fault line with her bare hands, we would find a secret city of fiery tunnels carved out by flame-handed miners. She would say, That’s where I was born, and that’s where I’d like to be now, and I would picture her there: a wingless angel fluttering under the dusk-blue sod; a torrid whisper shapeshifting among the passageways.

It will keep burning long after I’m gone, she’d say. Now, she lives with the hungry fire. Granny was stronger than us, and we were scared—of the graffiti highway, its blood flow, and the lush, toxic forest overgrowing us. And when milk day comes each week, Charlene and I sit, recklessly tilling the anxious soil with our dirty fingernails, whispering our fruitless prayers into the fog like lost babies, scorched and alone.

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