The Coil
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The Coil

Dead Dad Letter Office

Creative Nonfiction by Lee Anne Gallaway-Mitchell

Dad: Were you using the static — the birth sounds of the universe — to tell my daughter about the little boy who made her cry, cry harder than she ever did for you? Were you trying to tell her to mindherown, to payhimnomind?

The crackle of electricity has no space bar.

Something hissed at her in her own damn room. She sat up screaming, and I thought it was you, a part of you, a remnant of mind. I wonder: Have you gathered all that energy into a still-fixed point, one that can no longer conduct a current?


The psychic said our house wasn’t ready for us yet.

I gave you a tour of our new home with my phone. I knew you would never make it here. You could see the kids grow there in your mind, I reckon. You imagined the eggs from our chickens, could taste them in your mouth.

The psychic she gave me a warning — all warning — that our daughter’s room would resist us the most. She asked me if our girl rearranged her toys, pondered over dollhouse arrangements like chess pieces.

I nodded.

The psychic instructed: Scatter salt in the doorways, on the windowsills, too.


Dad: You and Aunt Josie used to sneak whiskey in jelly jars while making Sunday morning gravy. Josie had a saying: “shit a circle of salt,” as in “Georgia gonna shit a circle of salt she catches us drinking over her stove.”

I hear her say it. I remember her voice in that moment that I am told to watch for spirits in my little girl’s room. Josie died when I was six, the age of my daughter — my first death, too, not a kitten eaten by coyote nor a dog run over or drowned.


In last night’s dream you insisted on working in the yard, pulling weeds, dragging around that green garden hose, cutting your thin skin on rose bushes, dripping blood in the dirt. You promised that work would be its own crucifixion.

(It is almost Easter: the weekend we plant our tomatoes, let our kids shoot wax-tasting chocolate bunnies with BB guns.)

You said this labor of land would bring you the death you wanted, the one you planned.

There is another dream. You are dead and you know it. Your hands are like canoe paddles, the fingers fused. You walk around touching things, marveling at your corporeality, that goddammit, you are still here even though you are forever gone. You break everything you touch.

In dreams you die facedown in a ditch. You drown in dirt.

This is not the way I reckoned to keep you.

LEE ANNE GALLAWAY-MITCHELL’s essays and poems can be found or are forthcoming in Bat City Review, The Florida Review, The Greensboro Review, Storm Cellar, and, among other outlets. Her essay “Debridement” was a notable essay in Best American Essays 2019. Her essay, “The Tax of Quick Alarm,” won the 2020 Susan Atefat Prize in Creative Nonfiction from Arts & Letters. She is at work on an essay collection titled Campfollowers. She has a PhD in English from the University of Texas and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona.



Literature to change your lightbulb.

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The Coil

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