#6 – The Leftovers

Where's grandpa in grandma's loft

Where’s grandpa in grandma’s loft

“She’s still here.”

My father was whining. Hunched over in a chair, his feet tapped a soft staccato against the floor. One hand continuously passed over the other—an effort at self-comforting. I could hear the susurrus of old skin; it sounded like a faucet was on in another room—a distant, muffled frequency.

“She’s not here, Dad. She’s gone.” I said the words, and they immediately sounded silly. We were surrounded by her—wicker baskets of yarn stacked to the ceiling, spools of thread on the floor, raw fleece billowing from plastic wrappings, spinning wheels, buckets of knitting needles, bags and bags of clothes. It smelled distinctly of her: wooden, warm, wooly, like a sweater in a cedar drawer.

“No no no. She’s still here.” He was pleading with me. He didn’t want me to empty the room. All those memories that I was planning to cart to the Goodwill. I might as well dissect her on the floor and remove her limb by limb.

“She’s always going to be here, Dad, even if all this stuff isn’t.” I turned away from him and walked to a stack of straw suitcases piled on a chair. In my mind I was already opening them to see what was inside.

NO.” The muffled faucet stopped, and two feet snapped resolutely to the floor. I turned to look at him, and saw it. Or maybe felt it.

“She’s still here.”

Fear. He was afraid. But it wasn’t her absence.

She was here. I could feel it. And he was right to be afraid.

#5 – The Darkness

Cutting a Sunbeam, by Adam Diston, 1886

It is a lengthy, exhaustive process, but a necessary one. The Sun is an infrequent visitor in our town, and we must be at the ready for his oft-abrupt and unannounced visits.

I keep a very sharp pair of scissors in the pocket of my dress. They were Grandmother’s scissors, and she housed them in a beautiful, engraved leather sheath. I carry them always.

Darkness is a scary thing. It does funny things to the mind. We spend so much of our time trapped indoors, the darkness outside  buffeting against our windows like a petulant wind, I don’t wonder why some go mad. We’ve lost a lot of people to madness, doors flung open and bodies running screaming into the black. They never come back.

The Sun is our only weapon, meager though it is. The scissors, our only tool. I am The Shear of our household. Charged with  carefully snipping away pieces of the Sun for safekeeping, I store the light in tall, glass jars with sides of white velvet—never in a dark box, for the shards would grow dull and extinguish.

It is with these pieces that we grow our food inside. A tiny snippet goes in the baby’s milk to ensure good health. And when someone falls ill, as Father did at last Lightening, it is with the Sun that they are cured.

Before she died, Grandmother said the Darkness was lengthening. Every Lightening, I fill fewer jars.

Outside the Darkness howls, his voice, triumphant.

#4 – The Gloves

too cold for gloves by ed ed
too cold for gloves, a photo by ed ed on Flickr.

Stolen! Taken from me when I wasn’t looking… the one time I wasn’t looking! When she walked by.

She refuses me. With her on stage beside me, the act would be complete. She is the final component. But now that I’ve lost them… it is no longer possible.

How adroitly they allow me to work the prestidigitations that awe and astound my scant audience. No ordinary gloves are these, fashioned from the green silk remnants of Solomon’s carpet and lightly embroidered with moon cotton, which only grows wild, deep in the White Caves of Gudvangen. The silly shop owner had no idea what she had carelessly placed next to common riding gloves in her storefront window, but I knew right away what they were. I won’t even tease with how little they cost me.

I remember taking them off and folding them, carefully, into the hidden pocket of my coat. But she walked by just at that moment. That singular, defining moment. When she turned her head, tipped her chin, and smiled at me. And I saw all of time unfold before me, like a rainbow of silk scarves flashing in infinite colors—the arenas we would grace, the love we would have to quiet onstage, the sleights I could conjure with a single glance from her eyes. It was all possible—no—it was happening, had happened already, and I looked back upon it as a dead man to this world.

And then I lost them. And her with them.

#3 – The Spirit

My dog by kletpotatis
My dog, a photo by kletpotatis on Flickr.

Take good care of him. Feed him twice a day, walk him frequently, and be sure to brush his teeth. He can get a cavity just as easily as you so pay as much attention to his mouth as you do your own. Don’t ever, ever put a leash on him, lest you care for a yoke around your own neck, and don’t let him get bored or do anything that might make him unhappy. It is very, very important that he is happy and loved, well-fed and exercised.

That’s what mother told me when I was just a little thing, and he was just a little thing—a writhing, wriggling mound of belly and ears and a thick tail thumping methodically against the ground. She told me always to be patient, but it was hard in the beginning, when he was all of life wound up into a little body, a tight coil of life vibrating against any and all restraints to confine it. I couldn’t imagine it being any easier then, as I looked at my mother patiently petting her cat whose fur was so wild, it stuck straight out like hedgehog spines. I remember when the cat died and my mother continued to pet it just the same, though the hair lay flat, finally, forever soothed. She died a week later.

Now his muzzle is grey. My bones ache. He’s ready, but I’m not.

That’s why they go first. It’s easier when they lead the way out.

#2 – The Birth

000068750037 by katya_alagich 000068750037, a photo by katya_alagich on Flickr.

First, they washed her hair.

After lifting her from the tiny cot on which she slept—quietly, so the others wouldn’t wake—and leading her down a narrow hallway usually lit with long, blinking flourescent bulbs, but tonight haunted with the pale, golden hum of small candles, they placed her in a dark, square room that opened at the end of the path, and left her there. The room shook and the air pushed in on the space around her. She felt a pressure on her body she’d never felt before, and laid an arm over her belly as if to protect the thing inside her from the same disorientation.

The space opened, and hands pulled her from the room and stripped her of the grey nightshirt worn by all the women. They slowly lowered her into a tub sunken into the floor, cupping her belly and holding her arms as they carefully placed her in the water. Something oily swirled on the surface, but it was comfortably warm and felt nice on her skin. Warmth passed over her hair and they ran their fingers through it, untangling it gentling. They dried her with heat and hot air, but the first moments out of the tub were bitterly cold. They seemed not to notice.

A soft sweater was pulled over her head, and she was left in a brightly lit room. Something was ticking; everything was beautiful. She didn’t have words for any of it. She sat, waiting.

#1 – The Dress

IMG_0592 - Version 4 by juliana-photography

It smelled.

It wasn’t a bad smell, but it was overpowering and made the bridge of her nose ache. A bit like cedar, but wetter, mustier, and with a slight lavender accent. The lavender was pleasant. She could smell it when they pulled the dress down over her head, the crinoline bunched in their hands. As the skirt fell it wafted up briefly, a small relief. But she couldn’t smell it now, even as she crunched the layers of crinoline between her fingers. It was a momentary gift; the something borrowed. A memory of the tall fence of lavender her mother grew behind their house to keep the canyon critters out. The something old.

She was the eighth. There was something reassuring about that. To be spared lucky seven, hidden away at eighth. Eight felt rounded and complete, and turned on its side was marked a never ending loop. At eighth she could forget how she got here, and not worry about where she ended up. She knew there would be a nine and a ten, and who knows, probably an eleven, but somehow, whether eight placed her in the middle or left her at the end, it didn’t feel like there would be much pressure. She wouldn’t have the weariness she saw pressed into the forehead of the first, or the worry that stiffened the neck of the fourth, or the jealousy that gave the second darting eyes. She could be lost at eighth. It was perfect.