I Learn to Read

By Brady Achterberg

I climb into the hammock and the ropes slip all around me and snatch me sagging like a cartoon snare. I’m trying to read The Odyssey which Sean’s recommended to me but I can’t get in a way that makes me comfortable. Sean comes out in a tie-dye shirt and a big black backpack and holding a walking stick with a bluebird on top and tells me he doesn’t love me and he hasn’t loved me for a while now and he needs to go find himself. I close The Odyssey. It’s too bright to read out here anyway. Sean leaves, doubling my rent for the month.

I go inside. I can read The Odyssey in here but of course my mind keeps spiraling back to questions like: Why did he stop loving me? Where will I find four hundred dollars? I’ll rent the couch to pay the rent. Or else I’ll rent the hammock. In the winter I’ll take the hammock down. But in the summer, I’ll put it back up. I tear The Odyssey out of its cover and flake the wax binding till my fingers go red. I rip it into little pieces, smaller ones from near the beginning, bigger hickory locks by the end. I set it on fire on the kitchen floor. The smoke stains my eyes and rolls up the ceiling and the alarm goes off. I give the fire cushions, baskets, legs of a chair, and soon the whole kitchen is inside it. I lead it through the house and out to the yard. My trees crumble like popped cocoons and the hammock lights up like a fuse. I sit and wail on the sidewalk until the fire truck comes, its sirens drowning me out for everyone but myself. A fireman leaps off the side.

“What seems to be the problem?” he asks.

“My house is on fire,” I say.

“Nonsense,” he says. “There’s no such thing as fire, or smoke. Only sirens, and travelers foolish enough to listen to them.”


Brady Achterberg is a senior studying creative writing and computer science. He was published previously in RiverCraft and Spilled Milk Press. He lives in Shrewsbury, PA with a few dogs and chickens.