Something That’s Nothing
BY WENDY OLESON
The thing about the Heaven’s Gate cult you half-hear trying to do your homework in the hotel double bed next to your parents watching CNN from the other double bed, and a bunch of people died on purpose wearing Nikes. You picture them in tracksuits—purple and pink like Grandma wears—their legs lined up: lavender, lilac, dusty rose, legs like logs along the floorboards and bags over their heads, not for dramatic effect but death by drugs, applesauce, and asphyxiation. You miss details because you’re writing an essay about Dutch shipping and why the Dutch were so great at shipping, and the whole Dutch thing is generally confusing because the Netherlands and also Holland and what is Dutch but the way your mom and grandma split the lunch bill at Perkins? It’s either a trick question or an obvious one—something about the placement of oceans relative to land, rivers, inlets, sounds, and pancreases—peninsulas—geography’s not your strong suit, and you feel their tracksuits, the swoosh of the soft, slippery fabric, and maybe their legs kicked convulsively—like, you’d imagined columns of legs straight as hat pins but really, they’d kick and bend, thrash and quake, running in new Nikes to Heaven on an intergalactic treadmill. You examine the wall art, faded flowers, not tulips, and force your eyeballs squarely over the Dutch crap, which needs to be five paragraphs minimum and to include (and define) the words “commerce,” “merchant capitalism,” and “stadtholder.” You can’t ask your dad because he’s asleep and Mom’s flipped to home shopping where they zoom in on rings with square-cut, red, green, and blue gems that you wouldn’t wear but can admire for the way light fills them. The Hale-Bop comet was supposedly brighter than Halley’s, which came when you were six, but the Bop of Hale-Bop sounds silly and frizzles in your brain against the pink legs and mass grave, and you shut your eyes, shivering. Later, a figure hovering in the dark: your mother standing over your bed, white cotton nightgown cut with yellow bathroom light, and she’s glad you have a nice big bed to yourself when she can’t sleep, and Dad’s snoring, and she’s glaring, eyes glowing, because, You were kissing! She smacks her lips furiously, pecking and tearing the air between you: In your dream! Who were you kissing? And you remember dreaming nothing, no one, not kissing, a literal nothing that’s supposed to be something—the Act of Abjuration! The Treaty of Nonsuch!—but might just be nothing, like Heaven could be a construct, and that’d be shitty and empty but not much more empty than you feel right now.