What­ever This Is, It’s Some­thing

Broken Pencil - - Table Contents - by Ni­cole Chin…


my fa­ther told my mother. “I’m un­happy and I need to find my­self.”

My mother is still in her PJS. Dried drool at the cor­ner of her mouth, rat’s nest at the back. My fa­ther is stand­ing in san­dals he got on sale from the sports ware­house and a Na­maste t-shirt. They’re stand­ing in the kitchen and he’s drink­ing some­thing green. “Why can’t you find your­self here?” My fa­ther sighs, gives a smile, and lays his hand on my mother’s heart.

“No, my love. That is not my di­rec­tion.” His hand lifts up into the air, flut­ter­ing. “My­self is out there.” I imag­ine blow­ing it up into smithereens.

“Don’t,” my mother says. That’s all she can say. She’s not a crier. She’s a clean-the-whole-house-and-run-five-kilo­me­ters-er.

“I must,” he says. “I must lis­ten to my heart. I must find my own hap­pi­ness.” My mother’s hands are clasped to­gether, pressed against her chest, like some kind of silent wish. “I’m so glad you un­der­stand,” he says. “I’m sorry it has to be this way.” “No,” my mother says. “Ac­cess your in­ner truth,” he says. “I have ac­cessed mine. My third eye is open and re­cep­tive to the guid­ing light of the uni­verse. Un­der­take your own jour­ney, open yours, and then, you will fully un­der­stand.”

This is when I wish my mother had slammed the door and told him to fuck off. She didn’t. She cried and grabbed his sleeve.

His part­ing words, “I will be with you, our souls will min­gle to­gether in the greater be­yond.” Rich. Later, when she’s telling me this, I ask her what he meant by open­ing her third eye. “Did he leave a key?” I say. “June, be se­ri­ous,” my mother says. She’s re-pot­ting a plant.

“Where is it?” I say. “Here?” I touch the top of my head. “No,” my mother says. She rinses her hands, picks her ring up off the counter. “Lower.”

My mother sits down across from me. She’s hold­ing the ring in her palm. I’m press­ing my fin­ger firmly into the mid­dle of my fore­head. Pres­sure point, I can feel my skull. I won­der if this alone can make it splin­ter.


I haven’t talked to any­one in a week. I’ve been stag­ing my own monk­ish ex­is­tence, which in­volves get­ting up, eat­ing and semi-en­joy­ing it, smashing down parts of the back shed, crying, feel­ing okay, eat­ing more, start­ing many books, and work­ing on my pil­low marks.

I spent two days try­ing to chan­nel my en­er­gies into hat­ing my fa­ther, but it didn’t last long. Hat­ing peo­ple is ex­haust­ing busi­ness. Hat­ing them still in­volves think­ing about them.

“Maybe I’ll start smok­ing,” my mother says. We’re stand­ing in the back­yard hold­ing our de­mo­li­tion mal­lets, wear­ing old t-shirts and ski-gog­gles.

“No, don’t,” I say. I swing my mal­let. Wood goes fly­ing.

“It must be nice,” she says. “There must be a rea­son why so many peo­ple en­joy it. I’ll look cool.”

“No,” I say. I swing my mal­let again. “Don’t.”

Our fam­ily is very good at com­mu­ni­cat­ing im­por­tant opin­ions with sin­gle words. Mono­syl­labic per­sua­sion. A shard of wood flies off and bounces lightly, grace­fully, off my mother’s chin.

We spend an­other half an hour smashing apart the shed, and then we go in­side and stare at it. At the be­gin­ning, I asked my mom why we didn’t just get some­one to move the shed, or take it. But she said, “No, it can’t be taken. The wood is aw­ful. It shouldn’t be in the world. We should get rid of it be­fore any­thing hap­pens.”

Like it had the po­ten­tial to start an epi­demic.

Some squir­rels go in and hop out. Ev­ery day, be­fore we start, we have to do a small an­i­mal check.

“But hit­ting one would feel kind of good, right?” I say. “June, what a hor­ri­ble thing to say.” “It would be an ac­ci­dent.” My mother leaves me star­ing at the back shed and then comes back with two pieces of toast. She gives me one, all dry and not hot. We crunch on them.

“I for­got I made them,” she says mid­crunch. My feet are cov­ered in crumbs. “Oh,” I say. We keep star­ing at the shed un­til my mother fin­ishes her toast and dusts her hands off.

I’m still not done mine when she re­turns with a broom and dust­pan.

“June,” she says. “Stop mak­ing such a mess. Go eat over the sink.”

I re­lo­cate my bar­baric habits to the kitchen and watch as she cleans. When she’s done she stands there, star­ing at the ground with the broom and dust­pan and it takes for­ever for her to move. I want her to move. I want her to get go­ing, to do some­thing. She doesn’t. She just stands.


We get a post­card from Thai­land. My mother is the one to find it, of course. “What does it say?” I ask. “It says,” my mother throws it onto the ta­ble and it nearly slides com­pletely off. She opens the fridge door and stares in­side. “It says, it says, it says…”

She sits down with an ap­ple. I’m al­ready pick­ing the post­card up and read­ing.

“It says,” she lifts her hands up, “Eureka! I’ve found it.” “Isn’t that re­dun­dant?” I say. My mother doesn’t an­swer. My fa­ther’s post­card is con­fus­ing. It says noth­ing while say­ing too much. There are no clues as to how long he’ll be there or if he’s com­ing back. It’s also only ad­dressed to my mom. Soul search­ing does not al­low for the ex­is­tence of off­spring. It says stuff like “my soul is eter­nally bound to you, but I must be free,” “You are a pos­si­bil­ity,” “I miss you daily,” “This is a hard de­ci­sion that I am happy I’ve done for my­self,” and my favourite, “I have learned not to get drunk on hope.”

I start to crum­ple it up but my mother says, “No, June. Don’t.”

I leave it in its half crum­pled form. My mother looks at it and then rubs her mouth.

Af­ter she’s done her ap­ple, we go back out­side to smash the shed. We go at it for a solid hour. Then my mother holds her hand up to me to stop and we take a break. My mother brings out fig new­tons and juice boxes. Sus­te­nance for chil­dren. “Where should I put it?” she says. “I don’t know,” I say. “Where the shed is?”

We have ski gog­gle shaped im­prints

I spent two days try­ing to chan­nel my en­er­gies into hat­ing my fa­ther, but it didn’t last long.. Hat­ing peo­ple is ex­haust­ing busi­ness..

around our eyes. Deep white lines. It makes my mother look per­plexed. She drinks from her juice box. “No,” she says slowly. “Too ob­vi­ous.” “Ob­vi­ous to who?” My mother just shakes her head, her eyes scan­ning the back­yard. Be­fore we started, we had a shed sale. Not many peo­ple wanted to buy any­thing, so in the end we left it all on the curb. It dis­ap­peared quickly that way.

“How about there?” I say, point­ing un­der the tree.

“Oh,” my mother fur­rows her brow. “No, no. Too shady.” “Right,” I say. “Bad crowd.” My mother doesn’t laugh. We go back to smashing the shed and then go in­side be­cause we’re both tired. The post­card is still crum­pled on the ta­ble, mak­ing friends with a house­fly. “You think he’s com­ing back?” I say. My mother doesn’t say any­thing. She just puts her hand on her heart and flut­ters it up in the air with a sar­cas­tic look on her face and then goes to take a shower.

I feel best when I know my mother is off some­where and all she can hear is wa­ter. Wa­ter makes me feel okay about be­ing up front with how sad I am and let­ting it all out.


In the morn­ing I wan­der into my fa­ther’s old of­fice. I turn on his com­puter and go through his desk. I want to find some­thing. The pa­pers that are left in there are use­less, scraps of le­gal pad that have cof­fee stains on them. Stuff about taxes. Stuff about case stud­ies. My dad, the le­gal bea­gle. I chew on my nails and spit the scraps onto the car­pet.

I go through his books. I go through his In­ter­net his­tory. Noth­ing. Noth­ing about Bud­dhism or soul search­ing or zen wis­dom. On the book­shelf across from me, my eyes catch on a pic­ture frame fea­tur­ing my fa­ther’s smil­ing face with his arms around my mom and me.

I go out­side in my PJS with my nails half-chewed and my mother’s ski gog­gles and smash the shed. I smash it and smash it and smash it. When I come back in­side my mother is stand­ing near the back win­dow, ad­mir­ing my work. I sit down and sulk.

“Time to go to Home De­pot, then?” she says.

I don’t an­swer and she takes my si­lence as a no.


We get an­other post­card.

This one is also cryptic and writ­ten in messy hand­writ­ing.

“Pe­tal flower,” it says, in its way of ad­dress­ing my mother. “I breathe beauty and for­give­ness. My jour­ney con­tin­ues. Bliss is eter­nal in the gar­den of my soul. Al­low for space in the world. The uni­verse will re­ward our open­ness.”

My fa­ther doesn’t even sign off. He’s cer­tain he’s the only one we know who’s trav­el­ling and would want to keep in touch.

My mother tacks it up on our cork­board with its crum­pled pre­de­ces­sor. “Why?” I say, point­ing at them. “Let’s con­tinue, shall we?” she says. She picks up her mal­let and trots off.

We fin­ish the re­main­ing parts of the shed, which mostly in­volves mak­ing con­tact with the grass and feel­ing bad about the div­ots, and then we go to Home De­pot.

My mother picks one with grey speckle and two fake birds on the edge, to en­tice vis­i­tors or to con­fuse them. We get it car­ried to our car while we choose grass seed.

At home, lug­ging it out of the car takes a lot of in­ge­nu­ity from my mother. We make a ramp out of skis my mother isn’t too con­cerned about and then we drag it slowly to its des­ti­na­tion. It scratches against the drive­way and leaves long white lines on the black­top. We place it in the space be­tween the tree and where the shed was. I’m not en­tirely sure how much of the choice is based on aes­thet­ics and how much of it is based on the fact we’re ex­hausted.

“Shouldn’t it be at least a lit­tle closer to where the shed was?” I say. “Why?” “Oth­er­wise, what was the point?” “Oh, no, no…it’s best this way. If the shed was still there, it wouldn’t look as nice. The shed was an eye­sore.”

“Right,” I say. I point to the square spot of dead grass and dirt where the shed used to be. “That’s much bet­ter.” My mother ig­nores me. “Be­sides,” she says. “No­body used it.” “I guess so.” My mother nods. “Ex­cept your fa­ther.”


It stands there for three weeks and no birds come.

My mother is per­sis­tent, un­fal­ter­ing. She changes the wa­ter, she even puts up a bird feeder to at­tract them. No birds. A greedy fat squir­rel sees the bird­feeder as par­adise, so later my mother takes it down.

It takes an­other two weeks be­fore my mother takes the two post­cards down and puts them in a box with her ring. She places the box at the top of our front closet, un­der­neath some win­ter hats.

We sit at the ta­ble and look at the bird bath. “You want to get rid of it?” I ask. My mother sighs. She rubs her face. “I can’t,” she says. “We got rid of the mal­lets.”

A week af­ter the shed was gone my mother put our mal­lets out on the curb. She wiped the han­dles down while wear­ing gar­den gloves, in case some­one was go­ing to use them for mur­der. “Oh,” I say. “Right. No mal­lets.” Our fam­ily never did get rid of things prop­erly. We break things into messes.

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