He stood with a group of men wearing red union shirts. He drank from a brown bottle of beer and threw his head back with laughter. The jukebox played Jimmy Buffet and she couldn’t hear his laugh, but it tapped out a familiar rhythm on the soles of her shoes. His forehead was shining with sweat and his thin mouth split his face in two when he laughed. His short hair was pulled into greasy streaks. The shirt stretched across his middle. She drank her beer and watched him. Fear pulsed quietly but it was manageable and this surprised and disappointed her. She walked out of the bar without telling her friends. It was raining and the cobblestones were shining. She didn’t have a thing to say to him. None of it mattered anymore.
When the update scrolled along the bottom of the evening news, Aud’s breath tied a tight knot in the center of her chest. Her blood froze in her veins like ice water. Ice rocked at her elbows and her knees. It settled in her throat and jammed up in her knuckles. She sat on the molded plastic chair in the waiting room of the hospital as the orderlies moved around her like brooms, quietly moving the air into different piles. Nurses whispered to one another behind sculpted fingernails. Their eyelashes rested on their cheeks like heavy metal rakes. The smell of burnt coffee bounced off of sticky end tables. His face darkened the screen while the banner at the bottom scrolled: “DiPietro turns himself in after a 7 month long manhunt. Fate seems clear at this time.” Aud bit into the hook of skin between her thumb and forefinger. The warm taste of blood filled her nose and tears left wet marks where they fell on her blouse. The waiting room was too hot, and the snack machine glowed. Aud’s heavy stomach filled her lap. Her pelvis hummed with motion, one cheerful somersault after another.
A deep breath brings me together. My shoulders pull up my elbows, and the air goes down my throat in a cool burn. I don’t trip over breaths. My forearms don’t sweat. My eyebrows don’t itch, and my temples don’t throb. My body doesn’t tremble like a windchime, a thousand pieces clattering. The rubber bands pulling at my legs release, and I go like jelly for a minute.
Worry lifts me from a fitful sleep and lies me supline, floating an inch above the mattress. My arms are still, my legs motionless. I keep my eyes sealed and take shallow breaths. I pray, quiet repetitive prayers that are wide open to God’s interpretation and intended to cover everything that worries me. “Please, God. Please. Please, God. Please.” I don’t believe the prayers. I could be saying, “Cheeseburgers. With ketchup. Cheeseburgers. With ketchup.” The prayers are meaningless. The depth of their emptiness compounds my worry. I hover over my bed with no good spirit to push me down or pull me up. My eyes open and I look around the dark bedroom without moving my head. My heart jumps rope. The back of my neck flutters with an echo. My shoulders quietly tremble beside my neck. My limbs hover. I pray for sleep. I pray for a still heart, however it can come. I pray for belief in prayer, which used to sit beside me in a rocking chair, tapping its toe to fall back and forth quietly. It placed a warm hand against my cheek so I could sleep. Now it sits on top of the door in the corner of the room and laughs at me.
Relief shakes out the crumpled sheets in the morning. The sheets are soft and worn. The sun pushes through the horizontal blinds. Insistent. When I lift the blinds, sunshine pours across the unmade bed. Or it doesn’t. The sound of rain fills the room with small clapping hands. The air is clear and light and I’m tired but a stretch wakes me, and I can do the day. I am filled with gratitude that things are okay, that life isn’t knocking me to my knees on the floor. There is nothing in this world as good as a deep breath that isn’t dragging with worry. I believe that things are okay and nothing sits on the door in the corner. The rocking chair sways just a bit beside the bed.
- egg yolk
- candle flames
- not sunset
- toor dal
- children’s hair
- the walls in my ideal bedroom
- fresh ginger, kind of
- one of the school colors of my grade school and college
- dish soap
- buttercups held under children’s chins
She is relieved. She has been waiting for this day forever. She is so tired of resting on the shadowy shelf in the back of the cabinet, waiting to be chosen. She holds her breath each morning when the teapot begins to whistle and smoke and every morning, she’s pushed further back into the cabinet’s recesses. Red mugs are chosen. Witty, political mugs. Mugs from trendy coffee shops. And every single goddamned morning she’s rotated further out of rotation. One night Kate is unloading the dishwasher, and she’s shifted left to right and then front to back to make room for someone else. She’s knocked out of the cabinet. She bounces on the green laminate countertop before landing on the linoleum floor with a small but spectacular crash. She splinters into 127 pieces in the air. She yells and kicks the hell out of her feet for a glorious half second. When she is swept into a blue dustpan with a rubber lip, she is smiling. She doesn’t feel broken. She always knew she had exactly 127 pieces anyway, and now she can tend to the shards instead of holding her spine in a straight ladder every second of the day, waiting for something that was never coming in the first place.
- Thanksgiving dinner
- crepe paper turkeys
- clean bunny houses
- Kate’s staredown with Snow White
- train stations
- safe trips home
- remembering to leave on the porch light when you leave at noon so that it’s on when you return at 10:00 at night. it’s so friendly to come home to a porch light.
- good salads for the bunnies
- babies, always and especially at the holidays
- when bunnies extend their legs behind them
- decorating Sarah’s house while we cat sit
- Katie’s sense of humor
- Christmas trees for sale. Can’t wait to see the first one of the year on a car!
- dentist appt on Monday
- can sleep, sleep, sleep tomorrow
- lady gaga
- i love you texts from friends
- the Y
- hope. even when it feels like there’s none, there’s always a little. and a little is enough.
The house got dressed up in a corduroy jumper for Thanksgiving. Swatches of primary colors were sewn together to make for a jaunty little dress dropped over a turtleneck.
Pies smoked in the cold air on the back porch. They covered the picnic table and an ironing board. White plumes spun in the autumn air and fogged my glasses when I bent over the pies. Dry leaves cracked when they dropped from the trees.
The house smelled rich with roasted turkey, dusty pastry, and dark cherries in heavy syrup. Tables ran the length of the long kitchen. Tablecloths in different shades of cream overlapped one another. I laid paper napkins painted with portraits of serious turkeys by the china plates and dropped ice cubes into the cut glass goblets. I unfolded crepe paper turkeys, their torsos a web of of tissue paper diamonds, and roosted them beside pillars of salt and pepper.
Cranberries fell with a thump and quivered, their waists marked by the cans. I poured dusty mints and greasy peanuts into dishes and slipped butter knives into small bowls of shining mayonnaise. Sweet pickles rolled on a plate and a glass pitcher of water sweated under the bright lights of the oven’s hood.
The turkey sat in a rack on the stove, its skin brown and shining with grease. My mom pulled a thick layer of fat from the gravy before she poured it into the boat resting on a saucer. Sweet potatoes were given a last whip, mashed potatoes a final mash. Heavy spoonfuls of butter were dropped on bowls of peas and succotash.
Aunts and uncles pulled our cousins through the front door by the hoods buttoned to their coats. Cold air hung onto our family while they shook coats from their long arms. Our Polish aunts were made up like drag queens. Their eyebrows stood in high arches, and their cheeks were painted with red circles. They looked like marionettes. I thought they were beautiful. Our uncles stood like mafia agents with pockmarked skin and hair greased into rows. Our cousins were wild. They ducked under their parents’ arms and snatched food from the tables. They were gypsy children, crawling under chairs and over sofas. They were unafraid of their parents, who were reaching across the tables for heavy plastic cups of beer. Our aunts wiggled their long fingers in the air before pulling the beers to their thin lips, and their heads fell back when they laughed. Everything was so funny, and the windows steamed. The laughter in the house was loud and overwhelming. It pulled my hair into a ponytail, and I shivered in my jumper. My knees bent when I carried heavy piles of scratchy coats up the stairs and dumped them on our parents’ bed.
The kitchen was a pressure cooker. The heat colored my mom and grandmom pink. The day was shot through with cold outside, and it felt grownup and special to throw open all the windows so the kitchen could shake out the heat. Our aunts and uncles lit cigarettes over their children’s heads and tapped off gray ashes into heavy glass ashtrays. Embers glowed red in the daylight of the kitchen.
There was a swath of dirt packed like limestone beneath the swing. A veil of loose dust blew over it. The dirt was the color of thirst. No water darkened it. It was a forgotten pair of tan khakis hanging in the back of the closet. The black rubber seat was thick and heavy. It smelled of warm chemicals and stuck to my legs like an internal organ or a tumor. It hung from chains crumbling with wet rust. The rust colored my palms red, and it made them smell like blood. I swung the way a child in a fairytale swings. The fairytale would begin, “And the little girl swung alone in her backyard for hours and hours on long summer days. Her family whispered about her from the kitchen window, and the neighbors looked at her with a quick flicker of worry in their eyes. She couldn’t be bothered. She kicked her legs wildly in the air to pull herself up, and she swung with such force that her bottom lifted out of the seat when the swing dropped her in between back and forth. She was airborne for a second before her bottom dropped back into the seat with a sharp bounce. The little girl swung and swung, her toes tapping the shingles on the roof of the house and lifting green leaves from the tops of the trees. One day, she swung so hard and for so long that she lifted right out of the swing and began to fly. She flew over the shuddering roof of her house, waving to her sisters who stood yowling like cats at the bedroom window. She tossed down a sweaty handful of quarters to the children looped around a tinkling ice cream truck, and she felt lighter so she flew a little faster. She circled trees and blew on their trunks to loosen the monkey balls. She flew over the cats and dogs roaming the neighborhood and sang lullabies to them. Her singing sounded clear and grownup in the wide blue sky. She skimmed the telephone wires with her fingertips, plucking out simple songs, and…”
That’s how the fairytale would begin. The real story just has me swinging alone for hours and hours. Someone should have taken the chains in both hands, stilled the twisting swing, and pulled my small body into a lap. They left me to swing alone in a wild sweat, and I suppose this was the kindness that life allowed them to show me. I passed hours swinging myself into a rhythm so that I couldn’t hear anything but chains clanking and wind building careful tunnels through my brain.
I spend each day on the same dream. An oyster in a shell hard with wrinkles happens upon me as I lie splayed on a rock, desperately trying to buckle in my knees and suck in my belly. I’m a pile of wet drowning in the ocean. I’m an open sore rubbed raw by the ocean’s salt. As the years pass, my colors wash away and I leech into the water. Fish swim by me and I’m not an oyster anymore. Without my shell, I’m just another slice of the ocean, floating without definition. Gray against gray. I hang out in the sea, and the sea hangs me on a hook to drip. I dream of an oyster with an impressive shell sidling up to me and smoothing his long membrane. He’d say, “Listen, lady. I’ve watched you hanging out with the ocean, losing yourself. I’m going to take you away. I’m going to take you to a place where no sun shines. No motes float. No algae grows. It’s just plain old black, baby. And no one will know that you don’t have a shell, that you’re losing your outline. No one will know that you don’t know what to hang on to, because baby, you’ll be hanging on to me. You can slip into my shell and gel right up against me. You can bleed into me, and I’ll carry you through life.”
This is what I’d dream about. An end to my formless floating with nowhere to attach myself, no way to move inside my outline. My whisper has a whisper, and I can’t be heard over the ocean’s roar.
Or maybe I’d just dream of seawater lapping over me. And the sun rising and setting. And light sweeping dust from the rocks.