I pulled up to the cabin in my Jeep and cut off the engine, heaving a sigh of relief and just sitting a moment, taking in the familiar view of the log walls and blue lake and sky. Finally I got out and set to work hiding my tracks. I didn’t need any nosy parkers following my trail to the lake and interrupting my peaceful grief here.
I pulled a few things out of the boathouse before parking the Jeep inside and covering its shiny redness with a moldy blue tarp I’d found in a corner. Then I spent the next couple hours scuffing out my tire tracks for at least three hundred yards from the cabin. By the time I was done, I was covered in loose forest dirt and pine needles up to mid-thigh, and I’d wiped my hands and arms across my face so many times my skin felt tight with grime and cracked when I grimaced.
I wanted nothing more than to collapse into bed and sleep for a couple days, but once I got inside the cabin, leaving my crusty boots at the door outside and my crusty jeans at the door inside, the memories came flooding back to me, and I was wide awake and somehow refreshed.
The last painting my family owned done by my grandfather still hung on the wall in the living area, and his ashes still rested in an urn on the rough-hewn mantel above the fireplace. Even though he’d been gone since I was a child, and I’d spent more years here without him than with him, this was still his place, and stepping inside was like stepping into his warm embrace one last time.
The couch was covered in a sheet of clear plastic, but I could see the same old heavy blue-jean quilt lying over the back, waiting to warm me when it got cold again. Next to it, my dad’s worn armchair, wooden arms dark and shiny with decades of body oils. The rug my mom found in a thrift store and declared “just perfect” for our vacation getaway, our home away from home.
It was all perfect, and exactly how I remembered it. I walked further in, stripping my shirt over my head, careful to keep the dust and twigs inside the cloth, and froze when I reached the kitchen.
There was the yellowing Amana fridge, and held onto its face with alphabet magnets, a crayoned landscape made by yours truly at nine years old. The years had given me fresh eyes although the picture felt deeply familiar, and I saw my own potential as a stranger might have. Pride swelled briefly in my chest before I remembered that part of my life was put forever behind me with the loss of my wife.
I crumpled into a chair at the dining room table and cried for what felt like forever. I came here because she never had, because this was the one place that I thought I could live for a while without seeing her face every time I blinked, but I was wrong. I couldn’t breathe without seeing her face. She was my whole world, and now she was gone.
I cried myself to sleep at that table, and when I woke up I was in so much pain I could hardly stand. My joints creaked audibly, and my shoulders protested my efforts to put my arms down at my sides from where they had pillowed my head throughout the night. My back screamed in agony at my hours of poor, stiff posture.
I refused to turn the generator on, so I knew the water would be ice cold, but I stepped into the shower still in my bra and panties. I turned the knob, and the water was so cold I tried to scream and couldn’t. I knew hot would have been better for my sore muscles, but the massage of the pounding drops was better than nothing, and my skin grew numb after a few moments.
I got out when my teeth started to chatter, and, unable to face the bedroom alone, unable to face any bedroom alone just yet, I pulled the plastic from the couch and wrapped myself in the blue-jean quilt before collapsing onto the worn cushions. I shivered for a long time before dropping off into a slightly more restful sleep than I’d gotten at the table.
When I woke I was warmer, even though my short hair and the underwear I’d slept and showered in was still damp. I realized that I hadn’t brought my bag in from the Jeep, and so had no fresh clothing to put on. I slipped on a pair of the clogs that we’d always kept by the front door for running out to fetch more firewood and went to the boathouse in my undies. My family owned this land for miles, so I knew I didn’t have any neighbors across the lake to ogle my nakedness.
I flipped the tarp out of the way and pulled my duffel from the backseat. The tears threatened again, and I quickly covered her Jeep back up. God, I missed her so much. The pain in my chest felt like nothing could ever make it go away, like it was something I would live with for the rest of my lonely life. I smoothed the tarp over the back windshield and headed for the cabin, my right hand fisted against my chest to keep the pain from bursting out of my body.
I dropped my bag on the table just inside the door and considered how lucky I was that the bathroom was the first door down the hall, that I wouldn’t even have to pass my or my parents’ bedrooms just yet. I kicked the clogs off, nudging them back into their rightful place to the other side of the door, grabbed my bag, and returned to the couch.
I let my wet underthings slap the carpet beneath my feet as I stripped down, and I dressed myself in the first full set of clothes I pulled from my bag. Luckily enough, it was a tshirt and a pair of sweatpants. My hand rested on a pair of wool socks, but I decided against them, shoving them back, deep into my duffel. I slid the bag to the floor and curled up on the couch again, beneath the heavy comforting weight of the quilt. My mother would never know that I left wet clothes on her precious thrifted rug.
I knew it wasn’t good for me to sleep so much, but right then, I didn’t have anything but sleep to help my state of mind. I succumbed again, a willing victim of sleep.
This time I didn’t dream of her.
When the servant knocks upon the door of every single room
And the nightshade blossom does appear to you
Your scent lingers in the air like an aftertaste of guilt
From the day we beat upon the bucket made of tin
And its approximation of a drum began.
The knot of sadness rose up my body from my stomach
And I choked the fierce repulsive bitterness back down.
The rhino stayed by my side the whole night through
And I felt the carnal rattle of no future in my chest
As I learned loss makes a cynic of each and every one.
I hear echoes in the dimness where the colors disconnect
And the bluntness of your words cuts like a knife.
Now follow me on the long and winding road
Where your polar divinity is clearest crystal
And use death’s eraser on us all.
He sailed onward, onward, ever on,
Knowing ahead she waited, waited alone.
The wind in his sails
And the salt in his nose
And the anchor never unstowed.
The breeze fell calmer, calmer, and it stopped,
He frowned, and frowned in deep concern.
She checked her watch
And checked again
He was always prompt before.
Three days and nights and nights and days
He drifted, drifted aimlessly.
The sun stared down
And burned his skin
He lay awake in pain.
The wind picked up and blew some more
He cheered and cheered aloud.
She was gone from the dock
When he made shore
And so he left again.
Silvia stood outside the warehouse door, a thin ribbon of smoke trailing upwards from the business end of her cigarette. She lifted the butt to her mouth and inhaled, squinting her left eye against the sudden breeze that carried the smoke straight into her face. Her vision remained fixed on the small boy playing in the yard across the street.
The chain link fence protected him from stray dogs and strangers with candy, but it was unable to stop the chill wind from reddening his cheeks and pudgy little fingers as he dug determinedly in the large sand pile that dominated the yard. A small patch of red fabric covered the wear hole on the elbow of his hand-me-down jacket.
The boy was out in the yard most days that Silvia took her cigarette break, and she watched him build his sand castles every chance she got. He dug and dumped, dug and dumped, happily busy in his world that didn’t include her, even though she was thirty yards from him.
Silvia took a last drag, then turned the cigarette in her hand to make sure none was left. She flipped it around with practiced fingers and tossed it halfway across the street as she took one last hissing inhale of the cold winter air through her front teeth. Her eyes darted from the path of the cigarette back to the small boy, narrowing as she noted that he had disappeared from her view.
The breath she hadn’t realized that she was holding escaped her chest as he tottered back into sight from the far side of the small mountain of sand, and the tightness in her throat relaxed. She rubbed her right eye, trying to convince herself that a speck of dust had flown into it, but knowing in her heart of hearts that she had yet to be done grieving.
It’s Mother’s Day here in the US; for the first time in ten years, it hasn’t been a day of grieving my infertility.
It feels good and it feels bad. Bittersweet, and I hate that word. It’s my husband’s first Mother’s Day without his mother, and I hurt for him. I’m sorry, Ian.
But it hasn’t hurt me not being a mother today like it has in years past. I don’t know how to explain; I can’t put words to it. Can I?
I’ve let it go. Today is a day, just as yesterday and tomorrow. What happens, happens.
It isn’t throwing in the towel. It’s being present and being able to appreciate what I do have, rather than shed tears of longing for what I have not.
I know everybody’s story is more interesting than mine, but it’s been so long, I feel like I have to get this off my chest. I miss her so much now, and some nights, she’s the only thing I can think about when I’m lying in bed awake. So you can listen, or you can not, it don’t bother me either way. I just have to tell it, is all. Here goes.
I first saw her on the midway, one Saturday night probably twenty-four, twenty-five years ago. I’d been working with the carnival for just about two years then, and while it hadn’t gotten old yet, I could see that coming round the corner, not too far off now. I’ve always been one to need new experiences, and while some of you think that carnies have it made, it’s still the same thing, day in and day out, same people, same job, and same marks, just with little bit different faces.
But I’m trying to tell you about her, about what she meant to me that one precious day. I know I get off track, but I just miss her so damn much, still. I was working the milk bottle game, trying to scam some marks out of their money because that was my job, not because I’m that kind of person. I always hated that part of the job, but I loved it at the same time. It’s power, you know? I couldn’t lie to her, though.
She walked up with a couple friends and I knew she was alone, because the other two were holding hands and sucking face every chance they got. She was tall, and tan, and beautiful. And when she smiled at me she blew away every overcast day I could remember, her smile was that bright. Ponytail and no makeup and cutoff blue jean shorts, but not so short that people would judge her on sight.
I remember the one lonely brown curl stuck to her neck with sweat from the heat of the day. Laid against her skin like that’s where it belonged, and the sweat not taking anything away from how beautiful she was. I couldn’t imagine her sweat having any kind of bad smell, but I remember I got so aware of my dirty carny clothes and my own sweaty stink. I don’t think she noticed, though.
She came right up and laid her five down for her three balls. I fumbled setting them on the rail for her, and that earned me another half a smile, which was worth more to me than any amount of green paper. I stepped back to let her take her shots, and she missed, all three. Didn’t even touch a bottle. She laughed, and the music in that laugh made me smile like I haven’t since. Not once since then.
Nothing measured up to her.
Somehow I was able to talk to her, and I told her to give it one more shot, on the house. I handed her the ball, and when her finger brushed against mine I knew she was the one for me. She thanked me, and gave it her best, and I’ll be damned if she didn’t knock ’em all down with that shot, something that should have been damn near impossible. It wasn’t my first go-round, and I knew how to set those bottles up right, but she did it. I think she loved my confusion more than she was excited about the prize she won, because she took that giant green bear and held it against her hip without another glance at it. She kept her eyes on me. Lord knows I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
“What’s your name?” she asked me, still smiling.
When I told her it was Roger, she made a face like she was filing that name away somewhere special in her head, and she caught the bear in the crook of her arm as she reached into her pocket and pulled out a pen. She took my hand off the rail and flipped it over to write her number on my palm. I caught my breath as she leaned in to to put her lips right next to my ear.
“Call me tonight,” she whispered. “I know you; you’re everything that I am. Call me.”
She winked at me as she squeezed my hand before setting it back where it was on the rail, and interrupted her face-sucking friends to drag them off to the Gravitron.
I tried to call her that night; I tried over and over, but I never got anything more than a busy signal. I was for sure that she had to know her phone was off the hook, that she’d come back to see me again, that she’d send her friend back, something, anything. Nothing, that whole next day. I was in misery.
And the very next morning, she made the front page of the paper. Those face-sucking friends of hers had driven the three of them off a bad curve, rolled the car, and lost all of their lives. That was it for me; I walked off the midway that minute and never looked back. I caught the next train I saw rolling down the tracks and lived the hobo lifestyle for a few months before I found a place that almost didn’t remind me of her.
And ever since then it’s been the same. I can’t stay anywhere for too long without starting to hear the tune of her laughter, without glimpsing that bright shining glow of her smile. She was the one for me, and I lost her before I even had her. I know there’s nothing that I could have done, but I still blame myself for losing her.