Your beloved older sister, Molly, visits today. Molly is a tall, boom-voiced lawyer. Your brother, Nick, died four years ago and your sister means everything to you, but you have not seen eye to eye with her for years.
By Maria Anderson
You wake at six on a foggy morning, from a dream about grey wolves—sprinting, blood, a peculiar stiffness to the air. Each morning you dutifully write down the images which came to you in the night, trying to remember, even though you aren’t sure you believe in this stuff.
You hustle to the greenhouse to turn a 40-foot garden bed. You turn the dream over in your head as you spade the thick soil. At 32, you’re leaner than you’ve ever been, blocks of muscles in your legs, your arms, even your hands. You measure soil amendments, feed the bathtub-sized worm farm. Your face, when you look in the outhouse mirror, is a stranger’s: soft, peaceful, sun-darkened. You sit for an hour with the others in a clean, warm room on Navajo rugs.
Sometimes sitting is lovely—watching your thoughts flap by like birds. But today, you struggle. You’re worried about Molly. She has panic attacks or drunken episodes, calls you on the satellite phone bawling or freaking out, calls again in the morning saying she’s fine.
Your legs sweat. The rugs smell like a barn. The new woman next to you keeps scratching her arms, making a dry sound which sets your teeth on edge.
You live in an intentional-living community called Night Farm, founded by a long-limbed man you met at yoga. The leader’s name is Moon Bow. A dumb name for a smart, humble guy, a graduate of the Carl Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. He grew up down the road from you in Bozeman. He is about 40 years old, handsome, and a little exasperating. More folks arrive here every day, drawn in by Moon Bow’s books, you suppose. They stay in drafty lodges that came with the eight-acre property, buses, shipping containers, canvas tents.
“Our goal,” he always says, “is to heal humanity’s inherited psychic pain by learning to listen to our dreams as our ancestors did.” He holds weekly seminars, blowing up images of everyone’s dream-journal entries so you can decipher them together.
Anxiety was the psychic pain that snaked through your family—bankers, copper-mine owners, ranchers. Your sister dealt with it by becoming a brutal lawyer. You? By drinking one gigantic nightly glass of wine and making brutal paintings. You had one sold-out show after another. You threw up foam every hour. You were mystically bare, miserable, a successful artist.
You’re not any more mystical now, necessarily, but you are calmer. Here, your brain has space for unfamiliar types of thoughts, has built a need for them.
When Molly arrives in a self-driving Mercedes, a sleep line cleaves her left cheek.
You know she’ll beg you to leave. She does every visit.
“You trust those things?” you say, indicating the car.
“To be a functional lawyer, you have to,” she booms. “I sleep on the commute, an hour each way. And it’s much safer than a person driving.”
“Doesn’t seem safe,” you say.
“Don’t be so paranoid,” she says.
You used to believe screens drove humankind’s slow demise. Now you sort of miss them.
You miss her. You used to believe screens drove humankind’s slow demise. Now you sort of miss them. Not having screens gives your life a certain weightlessness. Portents appear, and, without much else to think about, you try to listen.
You walk to the lake. The thick, swishing grass tickles your legs, sets rivers of electricity flowing up your spine. The sensation gathers at the base of your skull.
Molly closes her eyes and sweeps her hands through the grass. “I miss Nick,” she says.
“Me too,” you say.
You watch a blue heron walk around the edge of the lake on thin legs, peering down every so often into the water.
Your brother had lived in a community dedicated to protecting grey wolves.
In the past decade, oil-and-gas-people bought politicians, who gutted public lands and passed horrible laws aimed at clearing the land of anything remotely threatening. They created wolf-killing derbies, for instance, harvesting—an awful word, you think—your brother’s beloved animals by the hundreds in $1,000-per-kill bounty programs. They loosened snare laws, causing wolves, because of their thickly muscled throats, to suffer for days before dying. They encouraged private-land night-hunting of wolves with pheromone bait, artificial light, and night-vision scopes.
This stuff makes your heart slip down your spine and down into the bowl of your pelvis.
You tell your sister how Moon Bow does not support vigilantes. They have, he believes, lost their way. “It is our fellow humans,” you recite, “whom we must forgive and help find the path again.”
“I don’t support them either,” Molly says. “Killing is killing.”
You tell her how Moon Bow wants to invite all the worst people to Night Farm, to help them heal inherited psychic trauma. So it doesn’t get passed on.
“Well that actually seems logical,” Molly says.
You both look at the water. The heron needles the surface with its beak, gulps the fish, and flaps away on slow wingbeats.
“Does it?” you say. Sometimes you think Moon Bow is full of shit. Sometimes you debate joining your brother’s people and actually doing something to protect the wolves, animals your brother always said he saw as guides of the sacred.
Over dinner—vegetarian lasagna—your sister fills you in. Mom: in stunning health. Work: dismal. Husband: fine.
Before coming here, you’d flick on your phone from photos of ancient Martian rivers to a childhood friend’s mycology farm to a Joy Harjo poem (We/ arrived/ when the days/ grew legs of light). But after four years? Your attention is a stone dropping through water.
“Fine?” you say. “Fine?”
Molly pauses. Here it is. Surely she’s about to beg you to leave. But she is strangely quiet. You pick at your lasagna, thinking of Nick trying to cut a snare buried inches deep in the roof of a wolf’s mouth when a hedge-funder from Denver shot him in the forehead, ear, neck. Your brother bled out for two days while the hunters filmed him and posted it to their live channel. You remember how the blood pooled in the ridges of his ear, how the quality of the video was such that you could make out the sleep crust in the corners of your brother’s eyes. After that, you had quit wanting to try to paint brutal images, to commune with darkness and pain. You wanted to look for joy. You decided to move to Night Farm.
You and Molly return to the lake with wine and sit on the worn dock. The satellite trains wink in the sky and the lake.
Molly still has not asked you to leave this place. In fact, she seems different this visit.
“Remember when we used to look up and see only stars?” she says. She lights a cigarette. “You seen these yet? They’re actually good for you—deposit Vitamin D or something into your blood.”
“Yuck,” you say, but you accept several citrussy drags.
Finally, she comes out with it. “I’m leaving Jeffrey. I’m quitting work and moving here. I’ve already spoken with Moon Bow about it.”
You jump into the lake clothed and scream at the cold. She jumps in screaming too, with that huge voice. She finally gets it, you think.
But Molly does not last a week. “Too quiet,” she says. “Not for me.” She doesn’t return to Jeffrey, thankfully, but she does not quit work either.
You jump in the frigid lake every evening. You swim until your limbs warm, which takes a few minutes of sheer suffering, but being in the water feels good.
The truth is, you have come to trust this place as an imperfect vehicle for what helps you talk to your brother…
In the coming months, your dreams shift and deepen. You start to ask for Nick. You begin to speak with your brother most nights. “Speak”—you hear his raspy voice, and you seem to be able to heed it. Sometimes you only remember what he told you when you sit with the others in the sun-warmed room, dreams percolating like coffee.
Nick asks if you trust Moon Bow.
“I do,” you say. The truth is, you have come to trust this place as an imperfect vehicle for what helps you talk to your brother, to see what he wants you to see.
Nick shows you how he snuck through the hunting camps. You had no clue he harmed so many hunters —hundreds—the lengths he’d gone to. This sickens you at first, shifts your thinking around Nick dying. Maybe he deserved it. But then he starts showing you what the hunters did to the wolves. He shows you the wolf-killing derbies. Close enough that you can smell a hunter’s sharp perfume. Her sour, chewing-tobacco breath.
“I was trying to protect us all,” he says. “But I’m starting to think this was the wrong way.”
You decide to show your brother what you want him to see. You put him inside your skin and let him feel the shock of jumping into the cold lake, the pockets of warmth in the water, the slow flap of the heron’s wingbeat which lingers in your chest. You show him how to heal.
Maria Anderson’s fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly, Sewanee Review, and Best American Short Stories 2018. She has been awarded residencies from Jentel, Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and Joshua Tree National Park. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram. She grew up on a cattle ranch in southwestern Montana.
Darren Garrett looks after creative things and helps with production matters at Storythings. Prior to working with Storythings he ran his own company for 13 years making games, animation and digital things for companies such as BBC, Channel 4, Universal, Paramount and Disney winning a BAFTA, BIMA’s & a Games for Change award along the way.