We moved to Bozeman to be closer
to him while he serves his time. At least
this is what I say to kids at school
to make him seem tough, criminal.
They’re too busy being sad about Kurt Cobain
to really care. It’s a year of work release

for tax evasion, though to anyone
who asks I tell them robbery. Sometimes
when Mom slams her fists against
the steering wheel and screams at the roof
of the van, we know she’s probably
thinking about the house in Everett,

the life she wasn’t able to keep,
and us stepping through the cold, front hallway
as if returning from vacation, everything
where it should be, furniture, pictures
on the walls, magnets on the fridge,
food in the pantry, countertop cluttered

with mail and old dirty dishes. Every so often
she mentions divorce. It’s getting easier
for her to say. Families at a church
in town take us in, the five of us using
spare bedrooms, couches, blowup mattresses
on basement floors. They collect

hand-me-downs, a little money, extra food.
On Sunday mornings we’re greeted
at the door like refugees, women hugging
her and asking, How are you doing?
Is there anything you need? She shakes
her head, returns smiles as we follow her inside

toward the pews. I wonder how she can
even begin to answer, if belonging
is enough, if kindness only feeds a sense of debt.
She still wears her ring, but hardly
looks at him when we stop by the office
supply store during his break. Smiling one day,

he says he got a second job. Dishwashing
at Perkins, graveyard. His hands are coarse,
cracked like a sidewalk. They bleed
constantly, he says, showing me a half-open
gash between his knuckles. He thinks
it’s the dry Montana air. The manager made

him shave his beard off and his cheeks
are pale and speckled with razor burn.
I barely recognize him. Very soon, he tells Mom,
there might be enough for a deposit,
first month’s rent. Over the next four weeks
I hear the talk of divorce less and less,

but the number of wine boxes in the recycle bin
grows. I walk to and from school, passing
a barbed wire fence, peering through
at the detention center. I wonder what window
is his, what his room is like, if he has a view
of the street. He shows up at our door

between shifts with boxes of pies stacked
in his arms, key lime, chocolate, lemon meringue,
spreading them across the kitchen table
as we crowd around. He’ll grin and be the first to grab
a fork, saying he can only stay a minute,
long enough to check each one for poison.


Brandon Lewis