American Negative

by: Cooper Feste

A horizon framed impeccably, but as the day gives way to night, menace is unearthed, parceled beneath the moon’s light…


Huggy Smith never left Westfield. She was an institution, like the sun, or the moon, or the lake her one and only ever residence rested shore-side of. Across the lake from her back porch she could see the high school she’d attended. Between them was a field of fractured flora and fauna; bones broken beneath a weight. Huggy didn’t know if the soil was poor or just unlucky, nor did she care – the sight of soiled soil was quasi-divine, with a multicolored pattern protecting its malaise. Only the tan, dead grass wore stunted sheen. Over it all set the sun before the moon, melting the day into a bright and hollow horizon. The landscape was all framed between the lines of her six by six porch where she watched the sun cycle churn the day’s end. Huggy never stuck around for the moon’s turn of territory. The rock was too singular and stable to watch long, like if she did her eyes would become as stale as the widespread, black void of its context. Besides, it was the setting sun that gave Lake Westfield its prismic property, its surface gleam. As for the sun in static, a still-life high overhead, Huggy never saw it. She left for work before it rose and she was back by the time its setting started.

This made Huggy’s porch a holy place. It became a place of sunsets, of lake-tops set in technicolor. She cast her gaze towards a focal point of fantastic proportion. She rejected a voided peripheral. Her gaze was gluttonous and over-saturated with too pretty a picture. The scene was a photograph framed six by six, beneath the sun’s yellow hue, and above the lake’s kaleidoscope glaze.

Huggy sat in her rocking chair everyday.

Her body ached everyday.

The chair was pushed back. With each passing day Huggy pushed her chair further back. And for every mile of bread baked she baked for Bimbo, her back crept closer to the sliding glass paned door. It may have been unconscious that she crept closer to the door – and thus slid quicker into her after work sit down – but it may have been a decision for a slimmer sight, a shortening of the edges of her six by six foot view, tightening the portrait’s width and height.

But Huggy lived a long day – what did it matter how or why a chair crept deeper into the porch? She could see the lake and the horizon’s gold-tinged tapestry as good as ever.

What’s the problem with voided peripherals?

“Mom!” Huggy heard. Her daughter Millie was home from Cara’s.

She slid through the sliding glass door and kissed Huggy on the forehead.

“How was school?”

“I had a migraine all through the day.”

“And what about Cara’s? Did you have fun?”

“I had a migraine all through the day,” Millie repeated.

Millie went back inside and Huggy tuned back into the lake, the high school and the hollow horizon. The familiar static audio of a television being turned on fell through the door Millie left slightly open. Her feet were locked into standing stature and her arms were too stiff to do anything about it. Her neck throbbed and the cushion she was sitting on was too soft to get up out of.

She let the door be as the audio came through.

Look at her,” it said. “Miss Georgia Green. Isn’t she an American photograph?

Huggy thought about Millie and the two generations of Smith girls graduating Westfield High. Well, if only those migraines would go away, she thought. Huggy mused about the fact they’d been taught by the same teacher – Mr. Bentley. He had a shed of a classroom, an annex off the high school’s main building but with the same busted air conditioner. A tree fell on the classroom one afternoon, she remembered. It nearly broke Rebecca Flowers in half.

On the screen, Georgia, you play these plots. You play all sorts of ’em, in a wide array of costumes and caricatures depicting human life. But we’re here, now, to talk about your own life’s plot. From a poor town to the Big Town, U.S.A. How does it feel to have lived out that plot? The plot so deeply ingrained in American life?

The soil around Lake Westfield had always been poor, but the setting sun bathed the tan, dead grass in copper hues. The trees could hardly keep upright against the wind but the sun’s rays painted silver-dipped branches, all bone-like, and their discarded foliage formed a bedding of many colors across the land when fall came.

Y’know, the world can be so unpredictable sometimes. I never thought this dream I’d had as a kid, playing star mirror-side and singing too…I never thought it’d be anymore than just this dream. Something to look toward when things got rough.”

And how rough did things get?

No, Huggy thought. Rebecca Flowers wasn’t nearly crushed by the tree. She had been thoroughly crushed by it. She remembered seeing her at Westfield High’s Parent-Teacher Conference a year back. The air conditioner was still busted and Rebecca walked with a cane.

She said her leg had been limp since the tree fell on the roof, and the roof had fallen to the floor and she was caught between the two too-strong institutions.

“Mom!” Millie called. “Was the air conditioner always broke when you went to school?”

Huggy didn’t answer.

The lake’s color calmed, the shimmer died down to a surface slab of meager green, and milky froth where the color used to run. Huggy never would stay out this long but rumbles of community sent shivers shaking her social relations. She was going to have to explain to Millie what she couldn’t bear explaining.

Her stiff work stature did not help.

Rough like – like a hard mattress, like people smoking sidewalk butts.”

The sun set. The moon took its turn. The six by six was a vacuum of her prior portrait. Huggy became caught beneath a void, a black context, and above a decayed lake top, a terrible glimpse of the world caught in contrast.

Before we go,” the television said. “Do you have any words of advice you’d like to share? Some encouragement to some little girl watching, wanting for all the pain in the world to become, like you, a superstar?”

All I can say is, is that anything can happen. I’m livin’ proof of that.”

Streams of chemical passageways were parcelled beneath the moon’s light. Neon greens, toxic glowing grays, and purple pollution all swirled about. Bubbles rose from the depths of the lake to break on the surface showing, in outline, circles in the sludge like lead-poison lily pads.

“Mom,” Millie slid open the door. “Did you hear me?”

“Yeah. Yeah, they always were.”


Millie took a seat on the back porch railing.

“Did you hear they’re finally doing something about our water? Said they’re switching us from Lake Westfield. Said it’s got lead all in it. D’you know what they’re saying about it? Lead, I mean…all the effects on the brain…”

“And,” she said, “What’s that mean for me?”

Huggy didn’t know the answer – or, at least, she couldn’t bear explaining it. So, she watched. She watched Millie beneath the moon and the way the portrait framed in six by six a new, photo negative. She watched the tan, dead grass as imperceptible as the earth’s rotation; the once technicolor top of Lake Westfield as hidden as the earth’s revolution around the sun. The school across the lake fell under shadowed weight – both by night’s consuming black and the tree branches like weighted bone.

Then Huggy remembered why she never framed the moon-rise.

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