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Through 1400

JESSIE LEITZEL

Though it wasn’t known to Emilie, the foyer of their house had always been that cold. It was the first real Pennsylvania winter Emilie had experienced, and she was trying to convince Marc she felt at home there. She’d gotten into the habit of checking the mail each morning, and when she smiled at her husband, she always mentioned how nice it was to have one of the mail slots built into the front door, how she thought it was what living in London must be like, and she would hold her tea in her hands and shiver as she scanned for envelopes on the tile. 

 

When she got back to the kitchen, Marc was pouring cereal for the two of them. They both wore heavy knitted socks, gifts from the neighbors when they had first moved in. They lived a slow life, she and Marc, waking slowly, showering slowly, kissing slowly, opening curtains with a sense of lingering so deep and organic she couldn’t be sure it wasn’t something that came with the snow. Even the bears and bunnies, hibernating. Each cold morning, she and Marc, dripping into the kitchen. 

 

“Raisin Bran?” Marc asked. Emilie sat down, nodding. Her eyes drifted across the windowsill, where snow from the previous night was beginning to collect like piles of dust . Nancy, the older woman who had sold the house to them, had let them keep everything in it. A marriage gift, she had called it, but really it was because the house was three stories tall and each floor held a lifetime of items, too much for an older woman to go through. Emilie and Marc loved these items, though; little stories collecting dust. Yellowing legal pads, greeting cards. Four different wooden spoons. Three plastic Christmas trees. An old stopwatch; a grandfather clock. And many, many busts of cherubs and saints. During their first night in the house, Marc was sent from their bed by Emilie for Advil, Tylenol, whatever we brought, and he stumbled into the gaze of the Virgin Mary. She was nestled in the stairwell, looking over the realm in quiet solitude, and to Marc’s unease, she glowed in the dark—a silent, chernobyl green illuminating from across the hall. They had tried to give her away, but failed. As they found out, the small statues were given 

as gifts to newly confirmed girls in the 80s; no one past the age of 50 living within ten miles of the town wanted another. They settled with laying three blankets over the figurine, which helped in the sense that they could no longer distinguish the details of the thing that was glowing. Mary continued her vigil, emitting only a slim neon haze from underneath. 

 

With her back to the pantry, Emilie watched Marc work his way around the table to find the silverware drawer. He tested each one, only creaking them an inch or so as to not disturb them. The house was nearing its bicentennial, and the wood smelled of it, of cedar and creaking joints, like dust falling from barn rafters. The whole house felt like one breathing unit. She watched Marc searching and thought that if this is what marriage is like, then she would be just fine; if her husband could treat their house like waking a baby from its crib, this decision of theirs would be okay. Marc, instead of commenting on the six bedrooms they now owned, set strawberries to sail in her cereal and hummed the tune to Jeopardy as he handed her a spoon. 

 

“Mrs. Hillenburn told me they’re shutting down the sub shop down the street,” Marc informed her. “It’s kind of sad, I think. Everyone seemed attached to it.” He lifted the spoon to his mouth, looking over at Emilie. “Get anything good?” he prompted her, his mouth full, motioning to the letters on her left side. When she raised her shoulders as if to say she didn’t look yet, Marc’s phone rang. They smiled, excusing each other, and he pushed himself up from the table. 

 

“Guh-mornin’,” he chirped into the phone, a hand on his hip. Emilie nodded when he mouthed madre to her and wandered across the floor, listening to the muffled voice on the other end. As he hummed and listened, Emilie glanced at the names. Most of their envelopes were ads, local businesses that shoveled snow from walkways and fixed drainage pipes. She knew of a home closer to the heart of downtown that was without electricity, for sale and in shambles. It was an old town. Her computer had told her that it used to be at large for coal mining, that it rose and fell like a geyser, magnificent and rich and then not. She and Marc were the young, wombless couple who had moved into the big brick beauty off the corner of Mahantongo. They were the oddity that had chosen an exoskeleton of a town in the middle of the mountains, and they kept to themselves and stayed mostly inside and didn’t care for the foliage as well as Nancy had, but the neighbors were kind to them anyway. In some strange way, they even felt for the couple. They had seen life on Mahantongo Street when 1400 was full, and they were sorry for the emptiness that was in it now. They had stocked the couples’ mail with scattered welcome notes and entrepreneur offers, which is why Emilie halted on the envelope with a return address from the South. 

 

Marc drummed his fingers on the countertop, patiently listening to the phone. “Everyone’s nice here,” he said. He looked at Emilie and the envelope. He covered the receiver with his hand and mouthed, from who? 

 

“Do you have relatives in the South?” Emilie whispered back, turning her attention back to the letter when he shrugged. She used the other end of her spoon to unstick the opening. “We’re doing real nice, mom. Oh, you know. The place is old. The shingles are going and everything. But we insulated the basement so the storms stay out a bit better. No, it came insulated. We just redid it.” Marc stared at his feet as he answered the questions, placing one foot in front of the other, as if trapezing across a powerline. “Well, you know, we’ve been eating mostly takeout. We still have to get the gas hooked up to the stove. But there’s this great ice cream place down the way that has blueberry soft serve… yeah, I know it’s November. Emmie’s always cold, mom. She’s eating a lot of soup.” He stared at his wife as she read through the letter she had opened, his mouth parted. “She likes the pickle soup the churches make…it has chives and radishes, I think. Pretty warming.” He moved further away from the table as the voice on the other end commented on how thin Emilie’s wrists were, how her own wrists were never that thin when she had Marc, and Marc hushed his voice a bit when responding, and normally Emilie would have noticed and pretended not to hear the comment, would of stared at the green lining on the cabinets instead of thinking about how she felt as though she was doing the house an injustice by living in it. She, however, was not paying attention to Marc’s mannerisms. When he ended the phone call and sat back down, she had read the letter quite a few times. 

 

“Gentleman caller?” Marc asked, raising the now soggy mini wheats to his lips. Emilie flipped the envelope to the return address. 

“Nancy moved to SC, yes?” “Somewhere down the coast, yeah. Wanted to see her grandkids grow up. She’s a sweet lady.” 

 

Emilie picked at the corner of the envelope. “Her granddaughter.” 

 

Marc raised his eyebrows. The old heater switched on in the background, giving the air a grunting, rumbling echo. “Hmm.” 

 

“She wanted to know if we’d given away the lace on the window.” 

 

Marc smiled into his bowl, some milk pooling in the corner of his mouth. “Does she want radioactive Jesus too?” 

 

“Marc.” 

 

“We could send the blankets with it. It’ll be like they never moved.” 

 

“They wanted to know if we could send the lace,” Emilie said. “It’s what they asked for.”

Marc rose from the table again, bowl in hand. He examined the rings linking the crochet to the window frame as he poured the dregs of his breakfast into the sink. “Looks like it hasn’t been moved in a hot minute. But yeah, I’m sure we could.” The sink gurgled as bits of wheat shreds pooled in the metal tub. “They include a number or anything?” 

 

“No, just an address.” 

 

“Ah, they’ll get a nice surprise then.” Marc started fidgeting with the loops, and Emilie watched him lean over the counter. He removed it with the delicacy he had maintained since their first day fully moved in. It was a gentleness similar to waking someone else’s kid, an almost-intrusion, and she loved her husband for the way he respected that, how they both knew that most of the objects in that house belonged to others more so than to them. Even so, the lace let go without protest. Marc laid it on the table. The couple stood there for a moment, a little bit cold. The radiator thrummed in the background, circulating heat through the house. It was a warm, healing type of heat. It expanded the wood floors, gave breath to the wallpaper. As the structure creaked and groaned above her head, Emilie imagined they were footsteps. She thought about how even Marc had yet to call it their home; like they had to wait for it to be passed on to them. Marc smiled when she told him this. He offered her the window-lace. She let it leak through her fingers, the thread thawing.

JESSIE LEITZEL is a writer and poet living in Charleston, SC. They are the Co-founding editor of Trace Fossils Review, a literary magazine publishing emotionally resonant work, and is studying creative writing at Charleston School of the Arts. Alongside being a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts Nominee, they are a gold medalist of the Scholastic Writing Awards and a YoungArts Award Winner with Distinction in Nonfiction. Leitzel has been published in reviews such as Rattle, Beyond Queer Words, The Echo and Lucky Jefferson, and has participated in summer writing workshops such as The Adroit Journal Mentorship Program. Currently, they are drafting their debut collection to be published in Spring of 2024.

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