Something Historic

Eleven and alone, he navigates a red rowboat on a placid lake, just a quiet kid set adrift on summer break. Ashore he sees his mother in a gingham dress, busy with domesticity. His father in worn jeans, work boots, heads in her direction. Then confrontation. Both becoming heated, animated. The boy has felt this tension, their intention, before.

This is the study of biology, of human living organisms, which gets divided into many specialized fields. Learn through dissection, observation. Make inferences.

Nervous, he pick-peels flecks of paint from the rowboat’s weathered hull until it resembles a chewed pencil of distress. Out of earshot, he cannot interpret the dispute as recited, just the actions. Frantic is the word to describe the exchange. Frantic and exchange: words to label life’s future currency.

Cellular division occurs when parent cells divide into two or more cells. These are called daughter cells. There is no mention of son cells. Is this an oversight?

His father moves toward the car. She does not follow. Her gingham dress appears as a crumpled mess on the ground. Tires struggle-spin, then find traction on the dirt-gravel lot. After his acceleration, there is nothing but quiet. A hazy dust cloud frames all that remains.

Division is natural, occurring in stages and not all at once. Name this stage.

Tethered to fear of the unknown, he cannot force himself to row, he erases the moment. He wants to rewind to the instant before he knows that he knows he is a witness to something historic, a thing life-changing.

Cellular division is a countdown to the end. Eventually the cells stop reproducing and self-destruct. No cells are infinite.

Throughout his small-number years he learned to clutch tight to her words as irrefutable truth. But there is science. And biology. And thoughts he inferred it all wrong: we are a family, a unit, a cell. We are one. I won’t let anything divide us. 

THAD DEVASSIE is a lifelong Ohioan who writes and paints from the outskirts of Columbus. His recent work has appeared in Unbroken, Spelk, Lunate, and Ghost City Review, among others. He was awarded the 2020 James Tate International Poetry Prize for his manuscript SPLENDID IRRATIONALITIES. His chapbook, THIS SIDE OF UTOPIA, will arrive in 2021 from Cervena Barva Press.