Co-winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize

[2016 update: visit the author page for Dana Green and the book page for Sometimes the Air in the Room Goes Missing]


Sheep tango

They exploded bombs at Dugway before, after I got married but before Peter was born. Dates are difficult, they didn’t really tell us. “Sky dance fire. Tango,” they said. “Why?” we said. “Sometimes you need to focus the moment,” they said. “Stop?” we said. Mr. Nibbs thinks the army talks like a bunch of girly poets. “In my day,” he said. Paul said that the lights are love, that they will keep us safe. I liked to believe him. “Peter seems to like them, makes him giggle and cough,” I said.

The bombs became neighbors; exploded as soon as we said they will not. They hear things. Sometimes bombs ten in a week, sometimes empty skies for a month. We got used to them, forgot them. We knew them. One day it was too much for the army to keep to themselves, so all exploded during a windstorm. The air carried the dust and light like they were sisters. The wind coughed onto our fields, our water, and windshields. The town became strange under the cover.

Mr. Nibbs started reciting Gertrude Stein, or he said he was reciting Stein. There was no way for Paul or I to know. Everything was like mud.

The sheep turned the colors that fell into the fields. Red like Geryon. Green oceans. Lightening purple. We gathered around them, watched them herded, making watercolor. We stopped going to work and watched the sheep paint.

Peter yelled something about stars, and saw stars. The sheep took requests. Our favorite was the seaside, something from Martha’s Vineyard. Something we could never know to be accurate. Something like salty breeze and fiddler crabs.

Slowly but eventually, the sheep became dull then blank. They started balding. Their fur, patchy, lay in clumps at their sheep feet. The sheep cried. Peter cried. We decided to pull out our own hair, had to pull it out. We gave it to the sheep: auburn and grey and blond. The sheep did not notice. Their crying became too much for the town to handle. Last night someone lit the field on fire.



Sheep tango

After the bombs, the skies cloud with color. We name them weather. The sky became constant sun rises. All week or dry spells. Bombs are counted and reported on the news, they are not something to be predicted, only retroactive reports.

Dugway keeps its voices quiet, Dugway is a lover of the unexpectives. Dugway talks in alpha-tango. Mr. Nibbs says he is too rusty to translate. We guess answers. The words of explosions.

On bomb-sky days we stay home. Lounge chairs on lawns, eyes in the air. When the color drifts down the sheep absorb the rainbow with their thick dull fur. We bring our eyes away from the up and make requests to the sheep, interact, call in sick to work. The effort is too much, or confusing, or aging for the sheep. One day they will become naked, like self shaving fur. It will be too much, or confusing, or death for us too. Something to end this.



Iron county

They say that the bombs are twins with the salt. It carries with the blast and marries the air. Retrieving the morning paper is a salt walk. Downwinders say bomb-salt-air tastes metallic. Kosher salt does not, it comes from a different family.

Downwinders say that Dugway knew what they were doing. They are not fools. Dust carries the same way detonations do, paints an air map. Wind was once a thing of desert magic. A life worthy of poets, and paintings, but the blessing soured, over seasoned.

The goats live all day in the salt air, so they must absorb it faster, forced to let it seep in their skin. They say their blood is salty if you taste it, hits like the Dead Sea. They say that downwinders will turn the same, but the goats are first. After the first batch of salt-goat-death we started tasting each other’s blood. A routine requirement, like taxes. Some remember the subtle change, feel it in their guts. I do not. I write salt sensitivity in a black notebook. I make a graph, it has a slope. We do not have slug babies yet. Our salt still diluted.



Iron county

They were called downwinders. People in deserts grow secret strangeness. Hidden lungs. Points suffocated. They say it was a time of passivity, that the downwinders didn’t mind the lights and thunder that lived in the desert. They say it was a time of trust, “bombs were for good, to keep good.” The downwinders lived life like farmers – eat from fields and trade. Some grew goats on the land, too much grass for just the sheep to eat.

They were called downwinders. One day the wind carried the bright and sound and bomb across the desert. Secrets blended with air. The goats’ eyes popped and their bodies fell with skin volcanoes. Goat feet epileptic.

They say goats are different than people, that they are full of salt blood. They say that the extra salt magnetizes the floating radiation, brings the red. The red salt says, “come here wind, sleep in my body.” So it does.

The strong goats lived on anxious legs, waited for the next coming. The downwinders gave the goats sick-goat-treatment, but it was not a cure. So, downwinders delivered legless goat babies. Slug monkeys. Crying fur lumps that breathed the same salty blood. Later the downwinders’ strangeness became something like the goats before them.



Every night security guards let out hundreds of feral cats in Disneyland to help control the mouse population

It is a city of cats. Tufts of fur roll down streets like tumbleweeds. Hair stumbled, clumped, mixed, moving. The sign says, “Feral ghost town.”

We abandon our need for time, we structure our lives on the cats. We became a function of felines, say-when-jump-when kind of thing.

Our labor is structured similar, divided by function and need. Claw clippings are lumber, fur cotton, scratch irrigation, litter landfills. We are driven out at night with the cats, the laughter of the day echoes. They say we are secret, that we do not exist, but I hear the their rumble when the stars peek out.

It is a city of murder. We have seen them hunt by moonlight. Eyes become glows of hunger.

The cats are corralled at dawn. We mop the streets of blood, clear the leftover tails. We are hidden decorations by day, I crouch in towers and castles and shops. A life undercover in magic.



Every night security guards let out hundreds of feral cats in Disneyland to help control the mouse population

It is a land of felines. Bumps of hair blow down alleys like western movies. Bunched, tangled, and rolling. It is a haunted cat town.

We quit using watches, rearranged for the needs of the cats. Batting brought Zen, litter boxes disrupted nicotine, screams say cry. Work mirrored our relationship with the cats, divided by requirement and want. Discarded cat nails were our bricks, shedding our clothing, claw marks irrigated our fields, shared places for waste.

We leave when the cats do, forget the children and enter the night. They say we are a rumor, that we only exist in the corners of eyes, but we hear the paws hit the pavement when the sun hides.

It is a town of homicide. We have seen mice throats cut at dusk. Eyes shine like kills.

Cats are round up once their work is done, and we bring the streets back to magic and happiness. We hide the entrails. We are kept behind closed doors by day, peaking though cracks in the wood. We live a secret life behind the veil of fairytales.



dana-green-photoABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dana Green received her MFA from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Denver. She has a cat.


Sometimes the Air in the Room Goes Missing travels the gaps in experimental translation by exploring how storytelling changes with each iteration. Dana Green’s debut collection of stories, each told through multiple versions, discover mutated sheep that can herd themselves into watercolors, a pregnant woman whose water breaks every day for nine months, and children with teeth that grow uncontrollably. The unexpected syntax and sense of déjà vu encourages the loosening of bookbindings – a presentation of narrative as echo.