Coming Back by Sophie Klahr and Corey Zeller

My mother was reading a book to me in bed when we saw the reflection of flames on my bedroom wall. Across the street, the neighbor’s house was burning. I remember being outside in my nightgown, barefoot, my feet in the run-off the fire truck bled. I wasn’t scared. In the dark, I saw the ambulance-men rustle something dark on a stretcher into their boxy truck. My parents told me later that our neighbor, the old woman I called Aunt Heppy, had died, and that her old white dog had died too, but that her German shepherd puppy had survived. It jumped through the big glass window of the living room, and broke through the broad pane. Everything was uniform. The kids all wore the same outfits and their parents all had the same medications. If you looked long enough, the wood moved. You looked out the window most of the time. You learned more than anyone should ever know about the sky. You drew a line with a stick in the new snow and dared a friend on the other side to cross it. Once you cross it, you can never come back, you told him. He was reduced to tears, and you got in trouble, even though his explanation made no sense to anyone. They told me I could never come back, he wailed. Only when I was grown-up did I realize that it couldn’t be true, that the German shepherd puppy could not have broken the glass. I asked my mother, and she admitted: it wasn’t true.

Sophie Klahr and Corey Zeller’s collaborations appear or are forthcoming in Copper Nickel, Denver Quarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. Sophie is the author of Two Open Doors In A Field (University of Nebraska, 2023), and Meet Me Here At Dawn (YesYes Books); Corey is the author of You and Other Pieces (Civil Coping Mechanisms) and Man Vs. Sky (YesYes Books). Individually, they’ve been published in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, and beyond. Currently, they live in the same time zone. Though they’ve been writing together since 2012, they have only met once.