Storyglossia Issue 47, August 2012.

Water Witching

by Lam Pham


The sexton's face looks like a broken jar, as if his doglegged cheekbones had been roughly hewed with glass. There are no ravens in Alturas, California, only Black Phoebes that hold early Spring in their throats as late February tears through my coat. The wilted Hackberry trees stand like old soldiers who fell asleep on their feet. Father is crying. He wanted to dig a canal behind the underwood. She loved the water, He says, his thin fingers gripping the hem of his clerical collar for some purchase of air and grace. The sexton, more wraith than man, nods.


They lower Nana's coffin. The last time I saw her, Nana's back had been braced into a treble clef and she'd told me, I want to see the ocean before I die. She would have liked last year's algal bloom, how it clouded the Pacific like red dye spilling into a pail of water. We could have watched the tanned men chopping across the beachfront together. Licked saltwater from our fingertips. Listened to her shoulder blades saw through the back of her hospital gown.


Remember, I'd say. The night you drove us down an empty street, chasing its winding ribbon past the cracked hips and turns of downtown. My little sister Cam had fallen asleep at midnight and every time your car hit a pothole, she stirred and moaned like a caught woodland creature. You told us that my father was waiting for us with warm arms, reassurances and cold toys that blinked LED lights. You handed me a stick of gum before fetching your cigarette out of the cup holder and I remember asking you for tobacco instead of sugar.


The growing heart is not a pink-colored strip of mint, I told you, it's a planting of seeds in glebe, of slow cultivation and quick harvest before curing by fire.


You're only nine, You argued.


That night to our left, moonlight struck a polluted basin, casting silver across mangled sea life and plastic trash. You told me that love is subterranean, a body of water always receding into the distance. Memory, You insisted, is the dowsing rod that will draw us back, time and time again.

Copyright©2012 Lam Pham

Lam Pham was born in Midland, Texas. He blames his birthplace for his affection for bleak spaces and quiet struggles. Currently, he is an MFA candidate at the University of Wyoming. His fiction has appeared in Mud Luscious Press, JMWW, apt, Fractured West, The Good Men Project Magazine, Foundling Review and more.