Jolene at the End of the World
by Matthew Vasiliauskas
Her mother always said that Jolene’s house clung to the roots at the end of the world.
Cracked, exhausted strips of white paint tortured themselves in a feeble attempt to maintain a grip on the scornful sinking land that had once been ripe
with cypress trees, but now had become a paralyzed, disoriented block of wood drifting helplessly in a current of scurrying bits of dust and sand.
It was a place where the sharp, hairlike bits of grass lifted their heads, taking in the strong scent of processed oil and the calloused hands of pioneers
maneuvering their vehicles through stuttering pools of blind, colorless sunlight.
Jolene was part of the great wave, the soon-to-be famous exodus of thousands of malnourished wrinkled faces carrying with them what little possessions
they had, past the scavenging, dirt-stained shadows of the city streets, through the open highways eliciting the radio mating calls of anxious vans and
roadsters. They took whatever exit possessed the most attractive billboards advertising toothpaste and long-forgotten casinos, where the rolling hills
and meadows would whisper the language of soothing wind.
She was alone, but strong, using an axe from her father—a man whose being now resided on a loosely strung-together raft drifting in a sea of alcohol
towards the horizon of her fragmented memory—to chop down the surrounding trees offering little shade. She molded them as if they were clay into the
walls and doorways housing her tired flesh, which wanted nothing more than to press itself against the glass of the windows, sucking in the cold and
leaving it to the living-room reflections to decipher the written, evaporating scribbles of her skin.
Her man gave her warmth. Locals said he had been born of the fields, and when he showed up on her doorstep, she found herself descending into the
blue of his eyes, washed into a kind of floating haze reminding her of the comfort she once knew of skipping stones across local lakes with her
sister, when there were still lakes that rippled their faces in excitement at the touch of flying stones. She enjoyed many years of laughter with
him, until he had been called away when the fighting broke out and she watched his figure walk the long road outside of their place, eventually taking
the shape of the surrounding trees, remaining frozen there, never to return again.
She opened a school, which she had always wanted to—an old boxcar, where the children would peer over the chipped green seats and laugh at her impressions
and stories, clapping their hands as she rode around on an imaginary horse, proclaiming herself to be the fairest king in all the land, waving an old
broom handle as if it were a saber and sending the children leaping out of their seats and dancing in place. In the evenings she would rest outside
on the railing of the car, a hot cup of coffee in her hand, gently blowing the trails of steam into the night, and wondering just how far they might
travel, and who they may encounter.
As the years went by, and the fields and people disappeared, she and the house were all that remained. She had been feeling weak for some time but
went about her nightly ritual, brushing her hair in front of the mirror her man had given her, and reading from a book whose cover had always been
missing and whose title she would change depending on her mood. As she turned off the light and glanced about the room in darkness, she felt for
the first time the breath of the house, wrapping itself around her like a blanket, and the sudden, gentle sound of stones skipping across water once more.