After taking the phone apart to check for bugs again
the father had an epiphany: cut down all the trees
on the property, burn them, and spread the ashes
in a circle measuring 2640 feet around the house–
2640 feet are in half a mile, the internet told him,
and a mile seemed big enough for the time being.
Though no one said so, everyone in the family envisioned
the circle of ashes as perfect—knew it had to be perfect,
especially along the edge. The grown son imagined
there might such a thing as a combination riding mower/
shop vac he could trim the edge with all day and all night
until it was perfect. He would do that. So they did that—
each ancient tree’s groan muffled by the high whine
of a sputtering, rented chainsaw. Every 500 feet
they hooked up a stadium-sized floodlight. The poles
emanated from the house in straight lines like a spider web.
Spreading the ashes and getting them perfect was impossible—
what with the wind and chipmunks. But hours of ashes
melted into days of ashes, and ashes, and they got it almost
perfect. They couldn’t get back into the house without
disturbing the circle, so they had to tip-toe through the ashes
to the door backwards, erasing their footprints as they went
like backtracking rabbits. Finally they were all inside.
The sunset went zip. Their ears pricked up like dogs
when a truck’s horn on the highway tripped the floods,
and filled the entire house with blinding, white light.
With no trees to hide behind, for miles in all directions—
from the top of the hill to the sheriff’s station—you
could see each of their stunned gray shapes so perfectly
clear through the windows, the whole damned town
could smell the metal in their fillings melting down.

Photo by Stuart Rankin