2022 Summer Creative Writing Academy
Featured Visiting Writer
Karin Cecile Davidson
Karin Cecile Davidson is the author of the novel Sybelia Drive (Braddock Avenue Books, 2020). Her story collection, The Geography of First Kisses, was awarded the 2022 Acacia Fiction Prize and is forthcoming from Kallisto Gaia Press in 2023. Her stories have appeared in Five Points, Story, The Massachusetts Review, Colorado Review, Passages North, Post Road, The Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere. Her awards include an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, the Waasmode Short Fiction Prize, the Orlando Prize for Short Fiction, a Peter Taylor Fellowship, and residencies at the Fine Arts Work Center, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and The Studios of Key West. Originally from New Orleans, Louisiana, she now lives in Columbus, Ohio.
From “Rock Salt and Rabbit” by Karin Cecile Davidson - excerpt from the novel Sybelia Drive
There it is again. The sound of the mortars, fired overhead, hitting the target, this time a nearby village, sending red earth, fire, and smoke into the air. We are too far away to hear the cries. vc meet there at night, though intel is not always exact on these things. Especially when most of our information comes from the children—surveillance in return for sweets. I wake to the sounds, small-weapons fire marking the silence between blasts. A tracer sighs and I breathe in red dust and I’m up and out of my bunk and through the door, and only then do I realize where I am. In the backyard of the Florida lake house that once belonged to my grandfather, and now to me.
The air is not as heavy here. The scent is not thick with the nascent trace of powder that lies everywhere in Nam. And there are no cries, except my own. I wake myself now. There’s no one else to wake me.
I stand in the dark and the lake water shines like black oil. There is reflection and no reflection. The moon is out, but its light is dull, meaningless. August has become a month lidded with clouds, as if the world were canopied by MEDCAP gauze, gray white and used up.
Over at the edge of the yard, the rabbits scuff about inside their hutches, the ones my daughter LuLu helped build. There are three hutches and three kinds of rabbits. I watch them from a distance. The brown lop ears lie like lumps, sleeping, while the dwarf rabbits are hunched together at a corner of their cage. The male rex is mottled with dark spots, but mostly white; his eyes burn an empty space into the darkness.
The rising moon seems to warm the still air. I take up a canoe paddle that rests against the corner of the screened porch. Between the paddle’s handle and a length of support beam, a spider has sewn a long web, which falls like sticky thread to the ground. Beyond the porch, flat green grass leads out to the lake. The rabbits clatter about, their white-gray-brown movements doing nothing to disturb the night—at that moment, there is only the lake, like glass. I anticipate setting the aluminum canoe onto its surface and breaking its quiet.
Across the water, a figure stands under a bright dock light. Lillian Walbright. She wears her white bathing suit and swims nearly every night. I will pass her in the canoe, and she will ignore me, the one-armed man who marks his passage with wide, one-armed strokes.
The canoe is facedown on the sand beach; nearby, a rock for ballast. I lift the canoe by the center yoke. Its sandy keel line meets the water, and I set the wooden paddle next to the bow seat and the rock in the forward-facing stern, step in with one foot, and push away from the shallows. I sit backward in the bow seat so that the boat works with me, not against me. There is a new definition of balance in paddling solo, left-armed, sweep stroke, J stroke. I appreciate the lack of wind and spare black skies and pass the cypresses that edge the shore.
At the center of the lake, Lillian is swimming. Breaststroke. Her white bathing cap shines, and she creates a line through the water. I lean into the paddle, concentrate on moving forward, and Lillian disappears, first her shoulders and then her head. Closer to me, she surfaces. The lake is wide, but she is a strong swimmer and I am making good progress.
“Royal,” she says, not out of breath, not ignoring me.
“Lil,” I say, holding up my paddle, letting the canoe glide and slow, while the druggist’s wife reaches up and touches the gunwale.
Her fingernails are dark with polish, and her fingers are long, her hands large.
“It’s late,” she says, then lets go of the canoe and treads water.
“Yes, it is.”
Lillian looks past the floating dock, where daytime swimmers rest and sun themselves, in the direction of my house, one of the only ones on that side of the lake. “Things we do in the dark.” She laughs a quick, breathless laugh and then sighs. “You are something, though. I have to say. Cutting straight across the lake on your own.”
“I could say the same about you.”
“Well, I guess we have something in common.” She leans onto her back and raises her arms, one after the other, in a beautiful backstroke.
I smile and remember what it felt like: the unparalleled backward sweep across the water while watching the sky. Another thing that the doctors and therapists say I’ll never do again. I hope to prove them wrong.
“Rock Salt and Rabbit” by Karin Cecile Davidson was originally published in the Autumn 2016 issue of Colorado Review and an excerpt is reprinted here with author's permission. On the CR website, above the story, is a link to the CR Podcast which features two editors in conversation about the story followed by a truly amazing reading and then an interview with the author. To read the entire story and hear the podcast, follow the “Rock Salt and Rabbit” link here.