Reaching Ground

Zeeva Bukai 

We met on an endless day in the park the summer I turned thirteen. Fleabane and dandelion masquerading as flowers broke through the concrete. Me and Kay drifted on the swings, smoking  Tareyton’s  filched out of her mom’s Pink Ladies bowling bag. The air like burnt paper. Heat made our eyeballs throb. You entered and the park shrank to a stump.

Me and Kay were like sisters. We crooned to Laura Nyro’s Eli’s Comin’. We thought love was imminent. Our voices bells and cymbals. We dressed in Hanes ribbed tanks and homemade cutoffs with a fringe soft as baby-fingers. We liked that our bra straps showed. We used the same razor. Our hair was long and streaked with lemon-juice highlights. We worked hard on our tans. Every day in the sun was an opportunity.

I liked standing on the swing with Kay squeezed between my feet. My body heaving upward, chains shuddering. You watched us take flight. Your eyes peeled me down till I was wound-wet and swollen. You never let on I wasn’t beautiful. We kissed in your mother’s bedroom where the sheets smelled of cats. I daubed patchouli on the backs of my knees. Your hands traced the places my father wanted to go. You mapped my body with your tongue. I was turned earth, fertile and fresh for you.

When I talked about my mother I sounded muffled. Her place was on the sofa. In her hand, an embroidery needle. In her lap, a tapestry of a fox hunt. She tried her best to keep me stitched up but embroidery thread isn’t like catgut. Her face was a foreign painting. Her body was a painting of a woman sitting on a sofa. She played the recorder and the phonograph. She played the 1812 Overture while my father was at work. She loved how it opened with heartbreak and ended with canons. War on the taiga, a symphony for the dead. Music that sealed her in frost. She hated when I came home late tracking in your scent.

Snow begins pure until it reaches ground, she said.

I told her we were in love, like Bonny and Clyde.

Gangsters, she said, resigned to my fate.

I didn’t talk about my father. His hands were ravenous. He buried longing in flowerpots; it grew like strangling weeds. I was his terra firma. I was where he planted his heels. He was a secret agent who spoke in code. If I could, I’d send him back to where he came from. They’d hang him in the square after midnight like a spy. They’d bury him outside the gates of Damascus in the desert where wolves would eat him.

You and me, we stole Marlboros from John’s Deli while the counterman sliced bologna. We scored nickel bags from a redheaded guy named Glen. Rainy afternoons we sat cross-legged in your kitchen. Blind Faith’s, Cant Find My Way Home on the stereo. The fridge packed with beer and a lasagna for dinner. You said our days were like beads on a string of lost promise. I called you a poet. You called me a fucking princess. We drank coke with aspirin, hoping it would get us high. Every ashtray in your house was a pyre of stubs.

My mother couldn’t catch her breath. Shit for lungs, the tattered remnants of war. Her hands opened and floss unspooled. My father took her to the hospital. He kept me home for a week. Someone had to cook and clean. Someone had to take her place on the sofa. I filled in the blank spaces of the hunt. No one in that tapestry escaped. I tried to barricade the door. It worked for a night, maybe two but he found his way in, or I let him. I’m not sure.

The doctor hand-fed my mother pills that made her face swell. She looked in the mirror and wept. That day I jogged to the park in my cutoffs and tank. Kay was on the swing in a miniskirt I’d never seen.

Hey, I said and sat beside her.

Hey, she said and wouldn’t look me in the eye.

I turned to you and said, what did you do to Kay?

It didn’t mean anything, you said and stroked my hair without letting on that she was beautiful. You folded like a shirt for her.

I’m sorry, Kay said. Friends forever? And held out her pinky.

We broke into your mom’s liquor cabinet. I hid in her catty bedroom, cradling the bottle. You followed me there, playing with the bowie knife you got last Christmas from your uncle Bill in Tennessee.

Bitch, don’t leave me, you said and pushed me to my knees. The rug soaked in Dewars.


I thought it was romantic how you held the knife to my throat and said the world had a way of overturning everything you thought you’d be.

Late summer it was you and Kay, and me alone on the swings. My scorched body touched the sky. I whispered your name to my father in the dark. Mom stitched my face where concrete glittered like jewels in my cheeks. There was no stopping the fall. Love like that could kill a girl.


Zeeva Bukai was born in Israel and raised in NYC. Her work has appeared in Quartet Journal, the Master’s Review, Mcsweeny’s Quarterly Concern, Image,, and Lilith, among others. Her honors include fellowships at the New York Center for Fiction and Hedgebrook. She lives in Brooklyn and teaches writing at SUNY Empire State College. You can reach her at