Dispatch from Moscow, Idaho

By AFTON MONTGOMERY

A snowy field in Moscow, Idaho
Moscow, ID

The neighbor children are in the Evangelical cult that Vice and The Guardian wrote about last year. They’re not allowed to speak to us, which is a thing no one has ever said aloud but is true, nonetheless. This town is full of true things that no one says aloud because we can’t or wouldn’t dare or because no one would believe us anyway. 

Marilynne Robinson, I think, or maybe Ruth Ozeki, wrote something about how the wheat here is green before it’s yellow and everyone from elsewhere gets to selectively forget that and picture us golden and glowing year-round. 

I sometimes forget it. It’s probably half of the year that the little hills are neither gold nor green, but brown with glitter at their tips when they wake up in the morning and are still icy enough to reflect the light, or when it rains and then rains. 

The neighbor children are not allowed to speak to us, but the reasons are probably different for the one eldest boy than for the little girls, who physically hide themselves whenever we come around. The neighbor man-of-the-house has never spoken to us or even looked at us—allowed would be the wrong word to use for what he does and does not do because he does the allowing. The neighbor woman-of-the-house talks to me sometimes—she’s jealous of my tulips, which is the beginning and end of it, but she does not talk to my partner, a woman who moves her body sometimes more like a man. 

“It is raining” is a fair thing to say from October to April or May, at any time, without looking outside. It’s not fair because you’d be right, necessarily, but fair because you’d always be close enough. 

The landlord wears a pistol like it’s a curved butt plug, hooked into his crack and popping out the top of sagging jeans. I watch it wiggle while he’s down on his knees, cursing the god that is our washing machine to stop spitting water at the floor. He’s a different kind of Christian than the cult Christians, as far as we can tell. I think he’s the kind of man that a lot of women want, which makes me feel mostly fine that the neighbor kids fear me and my partner and the Hell we’re going to. 

When I see the neighbor woman-of-the-house, who maybe thinks I’m still redeemable because I’m pretty, I make a point of clenching my vagina dentata into a grin that she can’t see. 

The cult owns half the real estate in town and keeps making things new and nice. But God here is in the moss that just up and grows on things. 

I watch roofs, all the time. I want to take the ones with moss out for a coffee and ask them to tell me stories from their roof childhoods. I lament that someday the roof I rent will be replaced—someday after we’re gone from here. I toggle my body into the creaks of the porch swing, and whisper to the moss, over the birds. I whisper in the gibberish languages of childhood, knowing somehow that it will understand I’m sorry I can’t come back for it. Living here would be so much easier if I could love something enough it would make me sit still. 

Sit still is a stand in for something else. I’m positive it’s the wrong phrase. 

The newer roofs sparkle like sandpaper, moss-less. Every roof will be moss-less when the town is fully realized as the neighbor people’s Promised Land. 

The bird feeder is always empty. 

We feed the birds. We’re, every week, out on each other’s shoulders—my partner and me—clutching the branch to feed the birds, and yet the feeder is always empty. The squirrels are well fed, and still they’re never anything but skinny. Squirrels never learn to beg for bread here. All the people are out treading and not, not ever, being tread upon. 

Up by your bootstraps, squirrels!

I take out Doris Grumbach to read. What else can I do. 

The neighbor girls are on their scooters, scooting down their newly paved driveway as usual. The older goes down and then runs to the top to explain to the younger why she’s doing it all wrong. The younger rarely gets to scoot. She doesn’t seem to notice. Our dog stands, two feet on my stomach, two on the arm of the couch, to express her disdain for the wheeled gadgets by barking at the window. 

The neighbor boy does not play with his sisters. The neighbor boy plays with a stick, alone. He brings his stick to the yard and tries to balance it on his palm for hours, chasing its whims in circles.

 

Afton Montgomery is an MFA candidate in nonfiction at the University of Idaho, where she is the editor in chief of Fugue Journal. She was selected by Vi Khi Nao as the prose winner of the 2021 Mountain West Writers’ Contest at Western Humanities Review. The recipient of a Centrum Fellowship in 2022, Afton has recent or forthcoming work in New South, Pleiades, and Fence. She was formerly the frontlist buyer at Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver and calls Colorado home.

Dispatch from Moscow, Idaho

Related Posts

vertical image of an ocean with a sunset

Ship Happens

ELLIOT RAPPAPORT
Each summer the cadets of Maine Maritime Academy put to sea with a crew of instructors aboard their eponymous training ship, State of Maine. Here, like medical students at a teaching hospital, they set about practicing the skills of their aspirational careers.

Coconut Tree

Some Syllables, Slurred

ROSSANEE NURFARIDA 
Seven years ago… / My grandmother was ninety, / but didn’t know what a coup d'etat was / on that night the people had / their voices stolen from them. / She said only, “If there’s nothing else to watch, / just turn the television off.”

box with art on the inside

The Most-Read Pieces of 2023

As our new year of publishing and programming picks up speed, we at The Common wanted to reflect on the pieces that made last year such a great one! We published over 200 pieces online and in print in 2023. Below, you can browse a list of the six most-read pieces of 2023 to see which stories, essays, and poems left an impact on readers.