The Fourth River

Tributaries: “A Cottage”

By on August 2, 2017

By nv baker


Her house is what could be called a cottage, but that’s not a regional term, not a colloquialism. Her home is an old adobe. Old, corrugated roof casting blindness in the sun, roof tin peeling backwards up from black-tarred seams and frisky, half-loose nails jumping and banging music out with the wind or precipitation, bleeding lovely patina streaks around the spike holes like a golem crucified to its skin. Eaves of the roof low-hang with shade, sagging eaves built from rough-cut 2×6’s that won’t miss for your head, and the wall coating of adobe plaster is the same red color as the dirt around it. And there are rainfall ruts below the overhang, deep and trenching the further from the cottage they move, until they become the ditches that trammel the long dirt drive. It’s a dirt drive what stitches into the sallow grassland and bare horizon line. A cottage, but not really. There’s a hand-built windmill behind the structure, built from desiccated hands and the flat, calm smile made of them.

Abuelita: she is short, close to the ground. Rolled up sleeves and flour-white blossoms on her ankle-length dress from pounding tortillas. Every door and window are open wide, but the air is bothered sediment and difficult to inhale due to the Majestic wood stove’s radiation. The adobe mudbrick walls are beautifully insular, and vulnerable, three feet thick to ward the winters out, the same three feet to thwart the summertide. There’s a fire in that Majestic that doesn’t recall the last time it was fully gone. Outside: rags of chickens in the yard, sheets of honking geese that might have clean feathers. Abuelita kicks at the fowl when they try for the threshold.

There is also letter today, a missive, an open envelope with dirty edges and a frayed tear. “Oy,” Abuelita says, “Oy.” And she lets out short, short cries. And she kicks chickens. And she beats dough with knuckles that are tough and shined like the cheeks of a turkey. But today the chickens pass through, the dough is too dry, and the tortillas harden even before they burn brown. Maybe this will not be tomorrow, but soon again anyway. The letter sits larger than anything in the world. The letter sits on top of a smattering of white flour. A cottage, but not regionally, not colloquially. She’s an adobe, and her skin is rich with the colors and topographic wrinkles that are everywhere there.



nv baker writes short stories, essays, and poetry. An avid scribbler, he is inspired by the resulting confusion of existing as a stymie tethered between the imagined and the rendered. nv baker is a proud graduate of CU Denver in the summa cum laude tradition. You can find his work in Weber: The Contemporary West, The Crab Creek Review, Fence, J Journal, and many others.