A Family

The Not-So Virgin Mary, Julia Broeker

[Trigger Warning: Depictions of animal death]


            Somewhere in the suburban-rural divide of New York, a family of four moved into a small house offset from the rest of town next to a set of train tracks. When a freight train came by in the first night, the entire house rattled and woke the father, who took his shotgun that he hid in the garage that morning and went with it outside. He fired a round at the train, and the bullets sparked against the dull, thick side of one of its cars. He loaded another shell, fired it in the same manner, and then watched the freight move on for another twenty or so minutes until it was out of view, passing over the horizon of dry prairie grass.

            The next night, he repeated the process, only firing at the metal once rather than twice, however. The next night he merely watched the train, and the following he did not even wake. Things continued in this way for a while, nearly three months.

            It was after these three months that, on the day of his brother’s birthday, the train, awoke him once more, and he took to his shotgun again. He stood there out in the night and focused the iron-sights of the gun on the passing side of the freighter, but then, catching it there out of the corner of his eye, he shifted the sights onto a rabbit in its hole near the tracks and blew its goddamn brains out. All in one fluid motion. He did not stay to watch the train pass this night.

            After that night, he stopped falling asleep before the arrival of the train and instead awaited its advent, firing a single shotgun round at the same spot on the first car each night, leaving the spot stripped of its paint, and then watching it pass by, exposing the tetanic metal beneath.


            Somewhere in the suburban-rural divide of New York, a family of four moved into a small house offset from the rest of town next to a set of train tracks. When a freight train came by in the first night, the entire house rattled and woke the daughter of the family. She lay there awake for half an hour, unable to fall back asleep, and eventually gave up and went outside and there she came upon a large dead branch in the backyard. She returned inside to steal a swiss-army knife from her brother’s still unpacked suitcase and then, returning to the backyard and sitting down cross-legged in the grass, began to carve at the branch, whose wood was soft and supple from being exposed to the damp air. It gave so easily to the blade.

            This began a taking to carving in the girl, this newfound hobby prompting her to stay around the playground some days after school and search the nearby bramble between the play-lot and actual forest for similarly soft wood. The area was populated with the stumps of trees that had been cut down in order to move the forest – where unaware children might get lost – further away from the schoolgrounds. By pressing her thumb into these stumps, she would test the resistance, and, if the wood dented at her touch, she would carve out a chunk to be her task for the next week or so.

            There wasn’t much variation in her woodwork. In fact, her tendency to carve whittled stakes was somewhat morbid, and her mother frequently asked why she didn’t carve little statuettes of birds or flowers or wood-elves, fairytale figurines. And sometimes the girl did carve these statuettes. She carved them quite well, actually. But she really liked carving stakes. She initially focused on making them smooth and removing all the black from the wood to create streamlined beige rods tapering to a fine point, but, as she went on, she began to follow the pattern of the wood’s bark, creating gnarled, warped spikes that would have lined the bottom of murder-ditches meant to impede impending Helvetians.

            This process of slowly carving more and more distorted spikes took about three months, until when the girl saw a dead rabbit upon walking out of her house on her way to school. Its entire head was missing and its neck was stained red, the only color calling out in the gray grass and fur that morning. She stopped carving stakes abruptly and returned the still-unnoticed knife to her brother’s dresser.

            When her mother noticed her daughter’s now unoccupied hands, she asked what had happened to the “snakes”, to which the daughter replied that they were stakes, and that she had lost her knife. A few days later, her mother went into town and bought a new knife from a somewhat insensitively Native-American themed store and gave this to her daughter, but the girl did not start carving again.

            Some days, however, after school, she would still go out to find stumps and feel that, cold, damp, giving press.


            Somewhere in the suburban-rural divide of New York, a family of four moved into a small house offset from the rest of town next to a set of train tracks. When a freight train came by in the first night, the entire house rattled, but the son of the family did not wake. He slept soundly.

            The next morning, he groggily made his way through his early hour routine until he found himself asleep again at his desk as school, his friendly 7th-grade teacher gently waking him and asking him to meet her after class in a hushed voice as to not draw “oooooooo!”s from his peers at desks within earshot. After a soft nod and a mental acknowledgement of the small glossy pond forming near his mouth on the glossy resin composite desk, a stream of which was waterfalling into the pencil-holding indent on the desk’s surface, he faded back into rapid-eye movement sleep and dreamt of a rabbit sitting in a hollow of grass.

            “Are you getting enough sleep?”


            “O.k., well, just, …”, she wasn’t very good at instigating conflict, even with 12-year olds, “just try to keep up in class, then, I suppose.”


            “Now, go on ahead. Mrs. Gardner will miss you at art.”

            Suddenly he wasn’t so sleepy. The unkempt boy, clothes wrinkled from being slept on and the shirt-tails of his collared shirt peeking out from underneath the hemline of his sweater, previously only knowing the expression of looking down at the ground as to avoid eye contact with his teacher, immediately became energetic and grabbed his backpack, running down the locker-lined hallway to the art classroom and upsetting the locks in their latches on his right by skimming them with an outstretched arm to hear the clashing sound they made.

            Three months later, after an encounter with a rabbit near the neighboring freight rail that looked not quite the same as how he envisioned it three months prior – although it was sitting there in a hollow of grass – he came to school that day not tired at all, all insomniac anticipation for art class, as the music teacher was on vacation in “Port Violeta”, or something, resulting in a double-period for painting with Mrs. Gardner.

            With the doubled time, he painted a wolf with a rabbit in its bloodied, snarled muzzle, staring at the viewer with Mona Lisan following eyes. Mrs. Gardner noted that the drawing was just entrancing enough to deserve intrigue and praise for the illustrator rather than fear and psychoanalysis.

            In social studies, the class just after art, the boy took a nap.


            Somewhere in the suburban-rural divide of New York, a family of four moved into a small house offset from the rest of town next to a set of train tracks. When a freight train came by in the first night, the entire house rattled and woke the mother of the family. Her sleep, however, was light, so she quickly slipped back into it, despite her husband also being woken up and going downstairs for some reason. He was a wandering person, so she came to expect it.

            That morning she took a shower for about half an hour and realized while teaching her ceramics class at the local rec center (which she was late to due to the bit of sleep she had lost, but it did not matter because all of the other mothers who attended the class were also late) that the only thing she thought about for that half-hour was him, so when she got home she took another shower for the express purpose of thinking about something else. She mostly drew abstract shapes in negative space by erasing the droplets that had clung to the glass door of the shower that would subconsciously come out as vase silhouettes sculpted by her guiding hand and pumping leg and spinning wheel, but occasionally he would jump into her mind despite her intentions and she would always think “Hello!” and be happy that he had wandered in.

            And she baked a loaf of bread that night and he wandered in and kissed her on the cheek, and at the dinner table he took a stick out of their daughter’s hands that she had been fidgeting with as he could be all manners and occasionally aristocratic silence. The daughter said through a mouthful of food that she was making a “snake”, which made the mother happy. And after a few nights of the train’s caterwauling, he became adjusted and stayed next to her in the night and she thought of making him a mug with the free time she had when the other mothers weren’t asking her about how long to wait before applying a second layer of glaze to their far inferior coil-pots as she watched him sleep.

            She made many mugs, but none of them seemed good enough until three months later she saw a dead rabbit in the hollow grass and it said to her, or at least she felt that the moment said to her: why are you holding this back? And on that same day he was woken up by the train again and every night after that. So night after night, she would come to him as he sat outside in a wooden folding chair with his dead father’s old shotgun waiting for the train to come, and every night she would bring a new mug for them to share coffee out of, and he liked the hint of raspberry that he would taste on the rim from her lip balm, purposefully sipping out of the same spot that she had.

            That first night they talked about their days, albeit with certain parts left out on his part. The second night they talked about the mugs and how their daughter had suddenly stopped carving even though she had bought her a new knife, which she was somewhat upset about as she thought that she might have a student in sculpting in her own daughter. She had always enjoyed the idea of an artists’ colony family, her son promising to be a gifted painter and her husband playing three instruments. The third night he admitted that he killed a rabbit in what his future therapist would later call a ‘paroxysm’ and felt like shit.

            One night they talked about how his brother had called his mother on the day before he (the husband) killed the rabbit asking for money so that he (the brother) could take a trip to Europe and meet some professor of art history whom he had just heard about a week before. He said that his brother’s was a vie boheme that consisted of no decisions and no profits, which he could maintain using his natural ability to be just excellent enough at anything and then drop it as long as the funding came through. She said that he needn’t worry about his brother; the whole family was a wealth-destroyed-in-fighting Irish one and wasn’t worth the hassle anymore.

            And that night he agreed with her.

            The next morning, they built a small grave for the rabbit together. They marked the burial mound in the sedge-grass with a smooth, round stone.

About the Author

Connor Fieweger · University of Chicago

Connor Fieweger is 19 years old and currently attends the University of Chicago, where he is double-majoring in Physics and Fundamentals: Issues and Texts. His work has appeared in Cleaver Magazine and Burningword Literary Journal. “A Family” first appeared in Cleaver Magazine

About the Artist

Julia Broeker · Grinnell College

Julia Broeker split their time at Grinnell College studying art and anthropology, with occasional breaks for food and friends. They currently reside in limbo and happily expect  to remain in between for the coming years. “The Not-So Virgin Mary” first appeared in The Grinnell Review.

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