Princess

Blade my grass

and stalk my flower.

Cut the vines

that climb my tower.

 

Skin to breathe

and lines to trace,

read my lips

but not my face.

 

Bare my cross,

oh won’t you, dear?

Scatter the splinters

far from here.

 

Bones beneath

a road mapped skin,

I’m far too gone

to let you in.

 

 

Loose

Let me drift down

into this sea of discontent

wearing the jeans I used

to pay the last months rent.

 

 

The True Story of an Event That Never Happened

I don’t often attend the funerals of people I have never met. And by that I mean I don’t ever, as a rule of being a decent human being, crash the funeral of someone I have never laid eyes on. Laid eyes on while they still had a pulse, that is. I don’t make exceptions to this rule and I generally don’t find that I have to. It is not an itch I need to scratch or an urge to swallow down unfulfilled. I suppose there are people wandering around who struggle with this very thing and I shouldn’t be so quick to judge but really, it is profoundly strange and tacky.

And today I have decided to be profoundly strange and tacky.

Not tacky in appearance or mannerisms, I look and act quite normal. If you were to see me on the street you would think “My. What an incredibly ordinary girl in an incredibly ordinary dress on her way to an incredibly ordinary place.” That ordinary place being the funeral home, wherein lies the body of a woman whom I have never layed eyes on. I have never heard her voice or smelled her perfume. I have never seen the way her eyes crinkle up mid laugh. I don’t know her favorite color or how she took her coffee. Or if she even drank coffee. She may have been a life long tea drinker. Earl Gray with one sugar and a slice of lemon. She was most definitely a tea drinker, I decide as I hover in the back of the parlor, trying desperately to make myself invisible.

I watch as the people in the front rows weave a box of tissues in and out of the fold up chairs. I don’t know these people, just like I don’t know the guest of honor. I don’t know their morning beverage preferences. I don’t know their names and I don’t recognize their faces. Maybe I do. I think I may know the plump woman with the black hair. Her bright pink lipstick makes her teeth look too large for her mouth, framed by curly hair allowed to fall on her shoulders and around her face in a way that evokes images of Fran Drescher. It’s been years but I remember her now, the too-young mother of a friend who taught me how to smoke and smuggle thong underwear out of Sears. It all falls into place, who she is and who the ones clutching the tissues are, who the woman lying in contrition at the front is. I stare at the looped slideshow again, hoping to feel less intrusive now that I can name at least 2 out of the dozens of smiling faces.

My mother sniffles. It’s the sort of sound that should bring you back down to earth. Snap you out of whatever day dream trance you have caught yourself in. It’s the sound one makes when they need a kind word or an arm around the shoulders. I know I should do at least one of these things but I have found myself innately numb to that particular sniffle. numb when I heard it on the phone this morning (“I need you to come with me”), in the car (“She just meant so much to me”), and again when my emotional speedometer landed on ‘Appalled’ instead of ‘Contrite’ as I heard the words tumbling from my mother’s mouth (“You owe your LIFE to her”). I could never tell which one of us was at fault when my mother cried. Perhaps I had been too harsh in the car. Maybe I could have listened more. Maybe I could try better to understand the illness that has infiltrated her brain. But even if all of my maybes aren’t really maybes at all but real, true facts I still don’t think I am in the wrong on this one. I don’t think tricking someone into attending a funeral is ever the right thing to do.

I continued to ignore the pleading sniffles coming from my right. The slide show had me in it’s grips, anyway. Her name was Kathy, I had learned. She was someone’s mother and grandmother. Wife, sister, aunt, friend. All of the words we hoped to have engraved after the word ‘Beloved’ on our tombstones. I could see a little of her in Fran when she spoke, her pink lipstick clearly inspired by her mothers (which was neatly applied even as she lay in the silk lined casket). An entire life’s story ricocheted off the walls, much of it being sacrificed to the poor acoustics. I gathered pieces of her life in the basket of my mind, cruises and lawn parties, tours of submarines and wax museums. I revisited my Coffee Vs Tea conundrum once more. Ditching the Earl Gray for Folgers and the occasional cigarette now felt natural. Sitting at her kitchen table in the morning, cream and sugared coffee and an ashtray full of lipstick covered newports was how she started her day, newspaper or paperback Danielle Steel in hand.

I heard the sniffles once more, but above me this time. Everyone was standing now, their heads bowed and hands clasped. They begged God and Jesus and the angels to accept Kathy into whatever Holy Kingdom the sign out front had specified (to be honest I can’t remember what it said but there was a definite Methodist vibe. Maybe a dash of Episcopalian.). I stayed where I was as it seemed rude to stand mid prayer. Especially when you were trying your best not to be profoundly strange and tacky. I did, however, stand for Amazing Grace, the obligatory closing hymn of any respectable funeral.

The tissue clutchers filed out first, past the 6 or 7 rows of red-eyed onlookers. Some offered a pat on the shoulder or a close-lipped smile. I hid behind my mother, having nothing to offer but my intense shame and desire to slip back into my yoga pants. They moved single file, dragging their feet against the green carpet and out the double doors. A sea of black followed them out, black cardigans and navy sport coats inhabited by sympathetic faces. It took forever. My legs itched inside my pantyhose as I rapidly lost patience with the invisible illness that had dragged me here. It wasn’t even my illness, rather, one that had parented me and defined all my lines and edges for the rest of my forever. It was ruthless, dragging me here and there, each place less relevant than the last. Our turn to join the black sea came in the form of a bald, overweight man motioning for us to step in front of him. A kindness usually reserved for congested Walmart parking lots, I instinctivly searched for an impatient blinker or pair of flashing headlights.

We had filtered out to the parking lot seconds after leaving our seats. There hadn’t been much time for thought in that short space but still I brooded. I brooded over my current situation and my past situations and the situations that had yet to happen. Circumstances out of my control that would inevitably lead to more of the same awkward encounters. More fake tears. More tense car rides. More contrived conflicts and heart aches. A hearse sat idling in the loop in front of the church, anxiously waiting for it’s cargo to be loaded. It’s purpose clear and defined; to cart away this woman that I just met, or didn’t meet, and bury her on a hill somewhere under a mound of dirt. A life was over and there I stood; a stranger at a funeral in the middle of a random Wednesday, pissed off at my running hosiery and sobbing mother.

“So was that the last time you talked to her, then?”

My mother blinked, her suffering suddenly assaulted by my question.

“Of course not,” she began. “We kept in touch through the years. She would have been very proud of you.”

“Proud of me or proud of you?” I said this with too much of a kick. Too brash and salty than was appropriate for a funeral.

She blinked again, unable to understand the relevance of my question. Who is the dead woman proud of? It seemed both tasteless and irrelevant, and yet I yearned for the answer the way Kathy yearned for her morning cigarette.

“It wasn’t an easy decision. You know how alone I was” she paused, catching me with a well placed side-eye “how alone I am.” I held steady, deftly side stepping the verbal punch.

“She told me how much I would love you. How much you would love me. When everyone left I would always have you. She told me that. She told me to keep you. To keep you even after I had you. Keep you safe. Keep you warm. Keep you close.” She looked at the ground, her eyes now dry and contemplative, mulling over the decades-old advice once more as if it hadn’t done her any favors.

‘Keep her’. That’s what the dead woman had told her. I imagined her then, a raspy voice floating through too-big teeth. ‘Keep her’, the voice whispered once more.

IV

He wasn’t certain when he had begun walking. He hadn’t made the decision to move his legs, hadn’t decided on any direction in particular. He had simply began to move and it had happened organically, like turning the deadbolt after shutting a door, or washing your hands after taking a piss. It had just seemed like the thing to do after this sort of thing. One fluid motion of events, all connected and consequential had ended in his heels moving against the ground one in front of the other.

Click. Click. Click.

An assurance of his trajectory, the sound preceded him, it’s echo lost to the hills and carpet of decaying leaves. Roots sprang up beneath him, coaxing a side step or stumble from scuffed leather as his skin worked itself into blisters. Walking shoes they were not, and still they were carrying him from this place to the next. Into the brush his body traveled, ¬†too-long slacks gathering seedlings and stick tights off the ground and shoving them under the shoe tongues like a Eucharist.

But it was too late now for absolution. He paused to remove the forest’s offering from under his tight laces. Prickers, he had called them when he was a boy. Tangled in his hair and lodged between the fibers of his hand-me-down socks, they gently milked the blood pooling just under the surface of his skin. To pull them out would only mean more blood, more pinpricks for it to seep from. And seep it did, oozing out of his pores and down his heel, finally congealing just before staining the bathroom floor. The pain didn’t bother him then. Childhood had seemed the perfect time to bleed and ache. Something to propel you into adulthood perfectly calloused and impervious.

And here he was, alone and bleeding yet again.

He could still smell her. The wind sought her out relentlessly, escaping the leaves and branches and lifting her scent from his collar up to his nose like a sacred offering. Each time he had been in the middle of a breath, just after he had begun to inhale and trap the air in the pockets of his lungs. The scent of unwashed hair against clean bedsheets seeped into his body and screamed at him from the inside, begging him to exhale. She would stay with him, he decided. She would live in his organs and under his skin. Freckled shoulders and stretch marked thighs rehomed within his own dubious and flawed self. They could burrow inside of him, beside the twitching soles of his feet and at the temples of his graying scalp. Unable to carry her body he would carry her soul.

Bereft

It wasn’t the sirens that woke her, or the frantic voices and hands sifting through broken glass. It wasn’t the strobe of blue and red lights against her eyelids that caused them to lift open, the dull glow of the TV screen as hot as the sun against her retinas. Her sleep hadn’t been cut short by the icy air that drifted in from a crack in the window pane, the breeze forming fingers that pressed frost against the glass, although her bare legs were cold and goose pimpled when she reached down to adjust the yellow afghan, the weight of which had forced it off the couch and into a puddle on the floor. No, not the sirens, the lights or the cold had roused her. She had woken of her own volition, sleepy eyed and sedate, as she always did this time of night. It was, simply put, time to wake up.

Uniformed medics were fast at work stabilizing a mangled limb nearly severed during a car accident as she let her feet find the floor. It wasn’t so much mangled as it was irreparably broken, she decided. Splinters of white bone surfaced from just above the elbow, a well placed tourniquet holding burgeoning blood vessels at bay. The victim was middle aged, athletic and being loaded onto a gurney and rolled into the back of an ambulance. The death of life as he knew it being well documented as he lay stoic and silent under a white blanket, aware and powerless. The sirens once again sprang to life and off they went, speeding towards whatever place promised to make him whole again. Maybe that’s why she found these shows so appealing, the true stories of the broken and the wounded being scooped up and whisked away to some promised land of miracles and panacea. It was a nice thought to drift to sleep to. Even when there was no cure and the end was imminent, there was still comfort. There was always comfort.

Her slippered feet padded away from the haze of the television, it’s already low volume muffled by the thin walls. Bony fingers reached for light switches and doorknobs more out of hsbit than conscious thought. She didn’t need the light to know where she was going, the creaks and groans of the floorboards beneath her led the way, sighing and aching with her every step. Unlike the sirens that blared from the TV, the boards were tired and without the promise of restoration. This journey would not end in a cure and they would offer her no comfort. They were a means to an end, or at least she hoped.

However bleak the night may be, her mind was always as awake as the floor was weary. Thoughts and ideas bounced from one place to the next like wasps caught in a sea of static. They droned about her brain searching for a place to land, a place to linger, a place to nest. Sometimes they were so loud she expected to find a wing or a leg tumbling out of her nose as she bent over the sink in a fit of delirium, certain there were insects living inside of her gray matter. This had yet to happen, of course, but she couldn’t help but glance down expectantly as she filled a dozen empty butter dishes with discount cat food. She shook them gently as she filled, luring brown tabbies and mottled calicos from stacks of books and rotting newspapers. The floor didn’t protest against the weight of their slight bodies, opting to let them pass without protest. The Clowder rubbed against her bare ankles, ignoring the raw and flea bitten skin just as she did. She payed no mind to things like skin or breath or chills from a damaged window. Her purpose surpassed anything with a pulse.

She ran the tap, placing a palm on the dirty spigot waiting for it to get warm. She doesn’t look at the woman in the window. The sunken eyes and hollow cheeks try in vain to call her attention, reaching out with an unrequited longing. The image present for an amount of time that seemed vague yet defined by an unseen catalyst. It could have started around the time the floor started creaking, or when the window was chipped by an errant rock thrown by a passing car. It could have happened while she was watching that chip spread out from one side to the other, fueled by the heat of the sun. It could have been when the night started speaking back to her. Hushed whispers and fractured conversations filling her head with all that static. Her skin started to warm against the metal, signalling it was time to fill the pot and get to work. She took in the woman standing before her, eyes wide and hair dreadlocked. She wasn’t the kind of woman who clutched her pearls against the vulgar and impure any longer. She was the kind of woman who clutched her robe against her chest in the dark of the night, trying to keep out the cold she no longer could feel.

Muscle memory took the lead against the gas range and askew cupboards. She would hear them soon, their voices drifting down the hallway and through the closed doors. The words seemed to slip effortlessly through the hinges and locked latches. Squeezing through the cracks, they would float down and stay suspended above her, watching and waiting for their nightly offering. They listened as meat sizzled and broth simmered, going up a decibel or two to be heard above the cooking flesh. Their words were not unkind, their tone not unpleasant. Unlike the frantic voices of the car crash victims that played out in front of the sofa every night these voices were calm, soothing almost. A cacophony of need and want tempered by melodic pentameter. They would get theirs, the woman in the window told them so.

Minutes or hours or days passed by as she cooked. Cast iron wiped clean and reused, the flavors of one dish bleeding into the next. Tired eyes and shaky hands paused only to listen to the cloud of dialogue above her, praying it would cease when met with gristle and bone.

The things we leave to ruin

An incredible thing, time. A collective consciousness born from the harnessing of light and shadows, eventually giving way to pendulums and hour hands. Instilling invisible perimeters over our days and nights and defining them as two halves of a whole. If it weren’t for such constraints our lives would be shapeless obscurities, chaos would reign over our collective existence and all purpose of mankind would be lost. That’s what we tell ourselves, anyway, when the second hand is moving faster than our hearts can travel.

Without years to count or sunsets to tally would the seasons still shift? Would we still shake with cold from the grip of a late November breeze, the smell of snow and frost trailing the floating leaves? Would we worry over wool blankets and secondhand cardigans if it weren’t for the thinning calendar hung on the inside of a seldom used dish cupboard? The possibility of a thoughtless autumn spent traversing balding landscapes and sinking horizons is one reserved for the vagrants, wanderers and ill prepared. The ones whose lives were left to form without tangible lines or plotted courses. The ones who don’t posses a kitchen with cupboards to tack gifted calendars.

And what of those tidy homes with their warm kitchens filled with chipped bowls and bargain cutlery? The homes tucked away to sleep at the end of cracked cement streets in grid lined communities. Where do they go when time leaves them empty and abandoned? Surely, without someone to sweep away the cobwebs or trap wayward rodents they, too, will succumb to the shadows and light that decide the fate of all existing things. Or perhaps, left vacant and alone they simply fold in on themselves. Their gables and peaks giving way under the weight of an early snow, sticks and leaves finally allowed to drift down to a space once reserved for Sunday dinner.

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