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"The Choice to Stay or Go" by Molly Andrea-Ryan

The dragonflies were out in hundreds, flying erratically along invisible paths of sharp and surprising angles. She sat and watched them and the catbirds that swooped into the frenzy to eat. It had been over four years since she’d moved north and tried to a assume a new attitude, a new identity, tried to slip into a new culture as if it had always fit. It was only here, alone, perched on the uppermost step of her grandmother’s front porch that she could quietly and gracefully accept that she, and her parents, and her grandparents, and their ancestors, they were all from right here.

She’d left because she was tired of men who drove barefoot and of having no choice but to see doctors who dined with her parents after Sunday service and of the summertime scream of locusts hidden in trees. She’d left to be anonymous and sophisticated, to try to put her degree to use, only she was tiring of all of that, too.

The choice to stay here in her grandmother’s house was wide open to her, like the choice to peel her socks off or let her hair down. She could stay or she could sell, allowing her grandmother’s sitting room to fill with unfamiliar rocking chairs and the bathroom to clear, after decades, of the lilac smell of Everly soap. Both choices were unthinkable. She sat suspended, jerking between them like the dragonflies that pelted against the screen door before floating into the current of brackish wind.

She imagined her life in her grandmother’s house. She would remember how to grow things. She would fill the birdfeeders year-round and put the crab traps away for good. She would make the guest room perfect for her niece, Norah. She would make everything perfect for Norah and for Norah’s mother and she would ask them to move in with her. She would work at the library like she did as a teenager, stretching the meager budget to fill the shelves with new books.

She pretended that Norah wasn’t already enrolled in a dreamy, elite school for smart kids, that her mother wouldn’t mind throwing away two years on the waiting list to come out here and send Norah to the public school that didn’t have enough teachers or books or desks, for that matter.

It was strange, seeing problems that had always been problems and not knowing how to solve them. Or rather, knowing how, but being cut off at the knees and the wrists and, if you tried too hard to push against those things that were meant to appear unsolvable, the neck.

The afternoon saw her stay where she was, her elbows rested against warped plywood painted, years ago, red. The air shifted, its moisture getting dragged back out to the bay. The dragonflies followed suit. It was like sharing a secret language, like peeling her socks off, like letting her hair down. It was like closing her eyes and knowing the way.

Molly Andrea-Ryan is a poet and prose writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work can be found in Idle Ink, trampset, and elsewhere.

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