In the idyllic landscape of suburbia on the edges of a forest lies the story told in a series of soul-capturing vignettes created by Kristy Bowen in her collection the Shared Properties of Water and Stars published by Noctuary Press. Wildlife such as bears and rabbits mingle with the neighbors who live out their secrets in painted houses with little labeled boxes hidden away inside. The children of the neighborhood experience life in a way that would make their parents’ skin crawl if they had any idea and the adults also participate in rituals and lifestyles that would cause their neighbors to be wary and cautious if they had any notion. The prose is gripping, imaginative, and whimsical and has me looking out the windows from my own house imagining the secret lives of my own neighbors. Below I am happy to share a sample:
There are 3 houses in 3 different colors. Each owner keeps a certain kind of sadness locked in the cupboard. The tall man lives in the white house. The short man keeps rabbits as pets. The woman in her white dress drinks vodka and stays up late. The yellow house is to the immediate left of the white one. The woman in the second house keeps her sadness in a smallish box. The older woman with the violets on her hat lives in the first house. The girl with the blonde hair lives next door to the man who keeps rabbits. One summer the rabbits multiply and chew through the fence. Mostly, they all keep to themselves.
This is the introduction to the homes and the lives of those inside that appear through the rest of the pages. I feel it is important to include this prose poem in your introduction because it sets the stage for an odd and whimsical look at the lives within.
Inside the yellow house are two boxes. One marked with less, the other with forgotten. The girl with the blonde hair holds a tin marked desire and keeps trying to hide it in the bureau. Her movements startle the starlings that have just begun to weave themselves into her hair. If both boxes are marked incorrectly, how long until the wallpaper begins to peel off in sheets? How long until she finds herself crying in the kitchen, every cup filthy in the sink? Every shoebox marked open me?
What I love is the mystery of the contents of the boxes. The blonde girl trying to stuff a tin marked desire into her bureau makes you wonder her age, is she hiding this from her parents? The idea of the wallpaper peeling and the cups piling in the sink show the slide of neglect in keeping house and home. You wonder what is causing the blonde girl to descend into sadness and it keeps the reader engaged page by page.
Once, in the meadow behind the elementary school, the bear boy finds a cache of clean white bones. When he shows them to the girl, they lay them out side by side on the porch, running their fingers over the smooth bleached surface. Such whiteness makes her uneasy, fuzzes at the edge of her vision. Such smoothness undoes the rigging of her ribs, where the bears inside her begin shuffling their way into the cavity of her chest.
This piece reminds me of my own childhood, digging for buried treasure or scouring the woods for interesting finds. I wonder who the bear boy is and what he looks like. The girl’s unease is expressed in an elegant and unusual way: “undoes the rigging of her ribs, where the bears inside her begin shuffling their way into the cavity of her chest.” It makes you think of the movement of your own breath in your own chest and what the shuffling bears would feel like. The bones causing the uneasiness as they are laid out, one by one, on the porch.
The woman in the red dress waits for significant damage. To sprout feathers or scales. For a trapdoor inside to open and swallow her whole. She places tangerines in her pockets and hides them in the shrubbery. The story depends so much upon the hidden. The reveal. The cloaked movement under dark of night.
Another character in the story in which we wonder about the pieces of her life. She wants to escape and we have no idea why, her odd behavior of hiding tangerines in the shrubbery makes us wonder who she is hiding them for. What I love is that each character is described vaguely and succinctly and leaves a lasting impression for us to create our own story around. Kristy Bowen is a master of open-ended storytelling.
I would love to share many more samples than I have but I will leave you with those above. If you enjoyed this sample you may purchase a copy of the Shared Properties of Water and Stars by Kristy Bowen for yourself for $14.00 through Noctuary Press here:
Thanks always for reading, please drop in again soon…