In the Garden of Broken Things by Mercedes Lucero
To begin with, we broke windows. We didn’t mean to, of course. It just sort of happened, the way most anything happens. Sometimes the glass shattered slowly and rippled out from the center like a flower blooming. The fake-signature baseballs we threw often broke windows this way. Other windows broke quickly like when we lifted classroom windows by pressing our palms against them. We pushed against the glass and it would break, or rather, disappear. There were moments when the windows were there, clear and shining and then there were moments when they weren’t, when there was nothing but sharp edges of glass poking out from the wood. The other children would gather to see a small trail of blood dripping off our hands. They tell us a teacher once fainted at the sight of our blood, but we don’t remember. Instead, we remember the pieces of glass on the floor and the way they sparkled when the light hit them.
We broke bones, too. Sometimes only days after getting our casts off our right arm, we broke our left. We broke our fingers when we accidentally shut doors on them. We broke our ankles and wrists when we fell from trees. We used to climb trees and imagine the big houses we could see just over the hill were our own.
When we were young, our mother broke a fingernail almost every day. She used to buy those stick-on nails and paint them all sorts of colors with names like Lemonade and Cherry Pop. When one would break off, she would bring us all together and say, “First one to find it gets a dime,” and we all would go running around the house, up the stairs and through the hallways. We would crawl on our stomachs to look under beds and reach our small fingers under the sofas and chairs. We would always find them in strangest places. In the ashes of the fireplace. On the dog’s tail. Once, we found one while eating a pumpkin pie our mother had baked only three days before.
During adolescence, we broke out in acne.
Over the years, we’ve learned to break the ice with new people we’ve met. We ask them about their family and jobs and the names of their children. We smile and laugh a laugh we’ve perfected over the years when we are alone driving in our cars. We always ask the same things. We tell ourselves we sound like broken records.
One summer, our car broke down at least once a week.
Our father once broke our mother’s favorite ceramic bowl. It wasn’t her favorite, really. She never used it. It was her favorite unused bowl. She brought it home one evening after our grandmother died. It was a cream color with little blue chickens lined all the way around. She put it atop the cabinets in the kitchen and there it sat for a long time collecting a layer of gray dust. An antique, she called it. Our father used a stepladder to bring it down one day. What good is a nice dish if we never use it, he said. He blew on it and we danced under the dust and pretended it was snow. When he missed the bottom step on the ladder, he fell. The bowl slipped from his hands and broke into sixty-eight different pieces. We counted them as we placed them into a plastic grocery bag.
We’ve lost sleep thinking about our broken relationships. When our friends moved away, we wondered if it was because of something we said. It usually was. We said we would call our mother and we never did. We lied and told people who loved us that yes, we were happy. Sometimes we caught ourselves staring at old photographs late into the night and wondered if maybe it was possible for two people to have nothing in common.
In order to avoid getting our heart broken, we sometimes pretended we did not have one. We probably learned this from our father.
Sooner or later, we broke rules. When we were young, we broke them by sneaking out of our windows and telling our mother we’d never kissed anyone. We often broke curfew. Now that we are older, we break different kinds of rules. We don’t make full stops at stop signs. We don’t take our vitamins. We don’t wait an hour after eating to go swimming.
When our father lost his job building railroad tracks, we saw him break down. He just fell to the floor of the living room. He wept heavily, kneeling on the carpet and covered his face with his hands. We were young and had never seen our father cry. We didn’t know what to do. We were scared. We spent a long time just staring at his hands, wrinkled with small folds of skin around the knuckles. Sometimes we stare out windows thinking of memories like this.
Sometimes we feel as if we’re broken on the inside, but we can’t really say why. Sometimes we wonder if we’ll ever feel unbroken.
Several years ago, the beaver dam up north broke and parts of the town flooded. Our father took us to see the dam and we spent the morning hiking along a trail to the small river to see the damage. Our father pointed to the beavers amid the sludge of broken sticks and mud and grass. They would only carry small handfuls at a time. It will take them forever to rebuild it, we said. Our father stood silent for a long time, then sighed and said yes, but that’s what we do with broken things, isn’t it?
Mercedes Lucero is a first-year MFA student at Northwestern University and has previously been published in The Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal, North Central Review, Whitefish Review and elsewhere.