The Water Given

Denise Calvetti Michaels


It was my fault. I should have known not to climb into the back of the truck. It was what any boy would do, pick up a shotgun and pull the trigger, my younger brother wild, on the edge. Adults forgot children in the garden. My brother’s godfather came for us when he heard, me in the backseat beside Aunt Celia. The water given was to bring us back to real time. In the front seat, Uncle Frank repeated to my brother you wouldn’t want to hurt your sister. I was close range, smiling as though he held a camera. Grandmother walked me to the kitchen for a drink from a glass I watched her fill and drank to show I was alright. We were hidden in the boxwood. Grandfather swore at his friends for their negligence. When I turned around the farm would never be the same. While the men were inside the house, my brother and I climbed in. I stumbled over sacks of grain, tailgate to the cab window. When I turned away my brother found the rifle. When Dennis called my name, he was pointing the muzzle in my direction and I don’t remember his face. In fourth grade, I’ll meet a boy from Texas out of reform school and baseball players who follow me home for cookies and milk, packs of boys, but not to one do I confide my interpretation of when I was spared.


The water to drink after the gunshot was to draw us back to real time, protected, where accidents don’t happen to frighten the elders who couldn’t have known.

Accidents happen when adults forget.

Something breaks down but we were lucky.

It was a moment when the adults forgot children in the garden.

It was my fault.

I should have known not to climb into the back of the truck.

It was what any boy would do, any little brother who’d watched cowboy shows, and
my responsibility to realize what he might do.

I’ve been told the reason the bullet missed me, but I will never understand, only my
brother smiling as though he is holding a camera asking me to smile.

Uncle Frank came for us that evening and we drove back late at night, me in the back
sitting beside Auntie Celia, her daughter Sandra, my age, on the other.

In the front Uncle Frank kept asking my brother what happened, reminding him he wouldn’t want to hurt his sister, over and over as I watched the moon follow us into the night; the burden on my brother to answer for his behavior weighing on me. Until Aunt Celia said it’s late, go ahead, rest against my shoulder, my mother far away, her daughter soothed by another mother, dorme, dorme, sleep.


The farm that summer was stolen but I didn’t know it.

In the beginning you string beads as though one idea will easily follow the other in linear order because the primary colors call out to be chosen so that you leave behind the pastels and grays to focus on the bold and resonant that are strong featured, not knowing you’ll have to come back to sleuth what was missed, the garden scent, phrase, forgotten incident, meaning.

You already know anything can trigger. Yet you are torn between the desire to go where the prompt takes you and the fear of what it might bring. Writing close to the bone is a form of rock climbing, risky. But the terrain draws you including spikes in temperature, fire in the distance, smoke moving out to the Pacific. And sometimes landscape is a place to hunker as you question, are you using writing to deflect what is unsolvable within the sphere of human relationships?

You think you need to somehow link the passages to allow the readers’ coherence. Then you realize you are on the journey you’ve carved out for yourself. Leaps, synaptic in nature, imagined you here.

In fourth grade I’ll meet Casey from Texas, the one to whom I confide my narrative of the accident in which I was spared. Not to speak shapes the memory. But this sound is the memory.

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