THE WOMAN WHISTLES
The woman stands beside her house and whistles for something, her hands caught up in her apron. She whistles, and her hands are caught up in the damp fabric of her apron, holding the entire weight of her worry and working at it there. First a child comes trotting up the lane, a tightly swaddled baby in a basket that smells like cloves. The woman barely glances at the warm, mewling bundle before looking back out toward the furthest horizon and whistling for something again. A unicorn comes trotting up the lane. The woman keeps whistling. Her husband comes trotting up the lane. Her ex-husband comes trotting up the lane. Her two dead husbands come trotting up the lane. She whistles. A sycamore tree, its bark mottled and smeared and beautiful, comes trotting up the lane. The woman glances at the tree and then whistles yet again. Three swans come trotting up the lane. Her dog comes trotting up the lane. A typewriter comes trotting up the lane. The woman whistles. Her mother comes trotting up the lane, three fat suitcases in tow. Her sister and five sickly elves come trotting up the lane. The woman closes her eyes and concentrates. She whistles. An ocean—tiny fish and large fish darting and shimmering in the clear, rising crests of waves—comes trotting up the lane. All of Paris comes trotting up the lane: warm, crusty baguettes hopping, the Eiffel Tower jigging. The woman whistles. Her best friend from childhood comes trotting up the lane, clutching against her that impossible, solid feeling that they used to have when they were alone together: that they were the only ones. The woman opens her eyes and watches the horizon and whistles. Her dreams come trotting up the lane, and they quiver when she looks at them for just one second before fixing her gaze on the horizon once more. She whistles. All of it comes trotting up the lane. Every last thing comes trotting up the lane. The whole ball of wax, the whole enchilada, the whole lot, and the whole shebang come trotting up the lane. The echo of her own whistle, even, comes trotting up the lane and returns to her as one long, plaintive sound that she must catch in her apron and hold tight against her belly until it is still and rigid and then finally soft and thin and as empty as air.
SARAH GERKENSMEYER‘s story collection, What You Are Now Enjoying, was selected by Stewart O’Nan as winner of the 2012 Autumn House Press Fiction Prize and was longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. A Pushcart Prize nominee and a finalist for the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction and the Italo Calvino Prize for Fabulist Fiction, Sarah has received scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Ragdale, Grub Street, and the Vermont Studio Center. Her stories have appeared in Guernica, The Coffin Factory, The Massachusetts Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Cream City Review, among others. Sarah was the 2012-13 Pen Parentis Fellow. She received her MFA in fiction from Cornell University and now teaches creative writing at State University of New York at Fredonia.