In Kit Haggard’s “According to Their Kinds,” a man travels to his childhood home in South Carolina following the death of his estranged father, who was an ornithologist. This story is most remarkable for its carefully wrought descriptions, which take on an emotional weight. Please welcome this latest addition to our New Voices library.
“On the way out, he looked again into his father’s room, already beginning to collect dust in its hollows. . . . Every time he stopped at the open doorway, he expected—perhaps out of a kind of habit, a kind of muscle memory—to find his father engaged in one of his strange little projects: wiring together the bones of a thrush or making tracings from an open book.”
It was the year the floods carried off the woodshed and the woodpile, when the electricity went out for several days and the basements of neighboring houses turned black with standing water—the surface broken only by a floating bucket, a half empty bottle of engine coolant like a rudderless craft—everything wet and seeping—and so, of course, it was also the year his father died. The ground had only just absorbed the last of the snowmelt, in the first sweet, euphoric days of spring; the forsythia had come up golden around the mailbox. He received the call on the hall telephone, packed the car, and drove south through the Frost Belt and out into the summertime states of his childhood. Massachusetts Welcomes You, Connecticut Welcomes You, Maryland Welcomes You, and underneath, a bunch of black-eyed Susans.
The house—what had been his house, and was now his house again—stood behind a row of oaks, where the gravel popped off the road and into the undercarriage of the car. The trees dripped with Spanish moss, fanciful. He had shed his winter coat outside Richmond and it sat heavy on the passenger seat. He brought the car to a stop and got out with his shirt sticking to the small of his back. The screen door creaked; his key fit the lock.
His father’s boots still sat beside the back door, caked to the ankle in black mud, the heels crushed where the toe of one had been used to remove its mate, the soles worn along the outside by his crooked walk. Bloated oats floated in an inch of dirty dishwater in the sink. Mail slumped on the kitchen table. The smell of stale cigarettes and dust—soft, fat in the empty house—was cut by rot: two bags of trash in the mudroom, wire ties holding the white tops shut, and on the counter, a fruit bowl furred with flies.
He went up to the second floor. The door to his father’s room was open: the print of Albrecht Dürer’s Wing of a Blue Roller hung above the bed, and the desk overflowed with pieces of loose paper, some of them covered in neat handwriting, and others, in sketches of birds broken into their constituent parts. The sheets trailed to the floor. The little paned window was thick with grime. Beneath were stacks of cardboard boxes, numbered in an unintelligible system known only to one man, and that man now dead. Their corners were darkened with wear, water stained.