“Break Down” is a text in which we are given access to a moment, a cross section of a day, and a small mishap becomes charged with meaning. It shows us the generative and intimate space where the political and personal meet. With an almost cinematic cadence and attention to detail, the author illuminates with extreme care the importance, difficulty, beauty, and power of relationships during times of resistance.”

—Claudia Rankine

Break Down

by Eleanor Lane

Having the conversation we were having, of course we break down. The silence fell, itchy and tight like a bad sunburn, some minutes before, and each of us was trying to open our mouths against it when the loud pop rattled us, and the car shimmied alarmingly.

I pull onto the dirt shoulder, line up as neatly as I can against the low rambling stone wall that separates us and the road from the field and the woods. She already has her phone out, calling her new assistant to come with the old tow truck, the one they don’t use as much now that they have a better one. Her assistant, a wiry boy who was still going to high school part time while he learned his trade, asks her for a landmark, and she looks at me first. Like she could use me as a landmark, say “I’m next to my wife,” and have him come find us. I look down along the road and notice a small cemetery penned in by a wrought iron fence.

Apparently her assistant recognizes our description because he promises to be there just as soon as Mel comes back from lunch.

I roll my window down. The air is damp and softened by last night’s rain, and we can hear that quiet ticking that pervades the countryside. As a city girl, I never quite know what’s making that sound. Cicadas? Katydids? Grasshoppers? Are those even different creatures? Which one ticks and which one rattles? I know crickets hoot, and sometimes so do frogs, because she once drove us to this nature preserve to listen to the frog song, to help me differentiate between them and the crickets. That was back when everything we did together was a way of revealing a little more of ourselves to each other, even things like late night runs to 7-11, where she revealed a nostalgia for ring pops and I waxed poetic about bodegas. Now we do things together just to be together, to entertain ourselves as a unit, now that we are a unit.

This was supposed to be one such outing: a trip to a small town with a junk store in an old textile mill. I wanted to find some embroidered tablecloths to make curtains, and she loves looking at old tools, broken pieces of farm equipment.

But we woke up to an editorial about how long our marriage will be legal under the new administration, and the conversation spun out fast, the way it sometimes does when both people think they know what the other will say, and are wrong.

She reaches over and touches my hand where it rests on my thigh. I feel the calluses studding her fingers. Every day she reaches into the innards of machines, rearranges and replaces the broken bits, finds the source of the grinding sound, and mends whatever needs mending. I spend my days traipsing through gray areas, writing stories. Let’s just say we have different approaches.

She is the kind of person who once punched someone in the face, and I am the kind of person who once reduced someone I love to tears with only a few sentences. But now we fight better, with more care.

We will have the rest of the conversation after the tow truck, after we are back at the house, maybe while we feed the dogs and listen to their eager, breathless chewing, which is such a happy sound it sometimes makes us hold hands and watch them eat. For now we just sit together, waiting for help.

Eleanor Lane lives in Easthampton, Massachusetts, with her husband and two cats and is currently working on her first collection of poetry. She graduated from Smith College with a degree in English language and literature. She won the Mary Augusta Jordan Prize in 2011, and has poetry published in Meat For Tea: The Valley Review.