between strangers on a train: fairy tale (first draft)

Once upon a time…
There lived long ago…
Now. I live now. The breath that fills my lungs is mine, but once was a part of someone else.
Once was a part of you.
A small consolation…when you are gone, when your eyes slide over me forgetting,
(Because we are strangers)
When there exists no happily ever after for those who have never met,
I hold the breath tight in my lungs until they ache.
I release it in a sigh.
An unspoken prayer.
I hope it reaches you again.

Tomorrow. We will have the train again. We will have tomorrow.

Once upon a time you had not met me yet.

The End.
That’s all there is.

the marrow in my bones

I searched for Him for an age.
Past the point of my mind breaking.
On bleeding knees and blistered hands.
In darkened halls and locked memories.
Behind the bars of guided cages.
In the hallowed empty halls.
Through the minds of hallowed empty men.
I searched.

Deprived of Him, bereft, driven mad
In his silence, his constant stillness
I unhinged myself. Dismantled me,
All the pieces askew. The sinews, the coldness,
The marrow in my bones–
That is what He is after.

Stripped down to nothing
Vulnerable and bare
I waited for Him to want me
To help me
To fix me.
Naked and flawed I searched.

I found Him nowhere and everywhere.
In the crevices between my broken mind and
The void–is He there?
Purifying Himself in the bloodstains and the overflow–there?

He is not what they said.
He is me.
Uncertain.
Fluid.
Partial.
In another mind he is something new.
In another age he will be new again.
I search for something new.

The Photograph

Her face–the bottom half, the only part those after us will ever see–a thin sliver of a crescent moon. Behind the cloud that shields her it dims, but I will not let it out.
Smile,” I plead. She does not see the fear, the slowing of my heart–a train forced to stop in the undergrowth of a forgotten track–the beads of sweat forming above my brow.
My jack-o-lantern smile is meant to mimic but it only scares her.
“Not like that,” I plead. “Fewer teeth.” The hot luminescence of the angry sun creates diamonds of her crown and I try to capture it.
The chocolate brown ringlets spun with warm honey? It should be preserved.
But she moves, and her smile shifts and ruins.
Anger boils over and escapes me and I frown at her, my monstrous frown. I will apologize, but I must get it out first.
Fine. I don’t even care. Don’t smile. Not like that. That’s a terrible smile. It looks fake.
A hollow pain that I ignore urges me–just take that one. The not smiling. It is real.
It is truth.
“Please,” I plead. “Just once. I’ll give you candy!”
She tries. It quivers and she is cold but she tries.
Perfect.
Later we gaze at it. In the album without us it says that she is happy.
One day she will feel a soft wind and the blistering heat of a Spring sun and she will remember pretending to be happy and she will remember how I pretended.
Later still the photograph–faded and bruised, the smile obscured by age–will lie. But those that come after will wonder about us about our perfection about our eternal happiness captured in a perfect smile.
When I am gone it will say that we were here once.
It will tell the lies that we cannot.

Fault

Fault.
A scratch, not enough to turn my head. Unremarkable, insignificant, unnoticed by you. Certainly not enough to slow us down. A shallow mark right underneath the foundation, its origination the small corner in which we would never think to look.
There. It began there. Unknowingly we trod on it until the scratch deepened.
A crack, then.
“What is this?” I wondered, but not aloud. I pondered showing you. I decided against.
Perhaps you saw it yourself. You would notice and decide. I would leave those decisions to you.
It was a trench before you mentioned it.
“Perhaps we should call someone,” I suggested absently.
Did I form the words aloud? Perhaps I used a post-it note.
“I’ve seen these before,” was your response. Perhaps not for that, not for the trench, but something like it. Your reply was unwavering and unvaried. “It’ll work itself out. The house will settle around it.”
“Still,” I insisted, not because I was right but because you were wrong. “It wouldn’t hurt to call.”
We never met in the middle. The pieces of the foundation crumbled under our weight.
We walked over it until we could not.
Fault.
Deeper and wider than we can comprehend.
I am here.

You are there.

We cannot cross.

I don’t understand the purpose of a wake

I don’t understand the purpose of a wake, so I allow for us to be guided into it. Food is pressed into my hands and I think I eat it.
Before I leave for my mother’s house he grips my shoulders and presses a kiss to the place behind my ear. He asks if he should go. I tell him it’s his choice.
He chooses not to.
My mother would smile and her eyes would say I told you so.
I am not sure if words should be spoken, if we should thank everyone for their support during this difficult time. So I say nothing. My uncle hangs back as we stand around my mother’s house after the noise of the mourners has left us. He hangs around for awhile, but sensing our exhaustion, excuses himself. He says he will return tomorrow to help us go through her things. I have no intention of going through anything. I say nothing.
I nod, granting him a reassuring smile. He, like everyone else, will want to report on the authenticity of our grief, so I opt for a small, tight smile. That way he can do with it what he wants.
After he exits I stand in the hall facing the kitchen, my back to the door. This is not my house. It isn’t home. It is my mother’s house. It was her house.
My siblings and I separate, leaving for different parts of the edifice, each to be alone in our grief. My brother heads swiftly to the room that used to be his room, slamming the door. The ring is gone again.
As his room flanks it the air from the door causes the window in the kitchen to rattle. My sister retreats to the guest room down the stairs. When she opens the door to the basement a blast of cool air rushes to greet us; I am momentarily frightened at the idea of visitations from my mothers ghost. But she hasn’t been dead long enough.
I move down the hall, pausing to look at family photos. All of us, separately. The last family photo taken when my sister was still in pull-ups. My mother and I similar with our hair pulled tightly from our faces. My step-father’s grimace that he sincerely believed passed for a smile. My sister looks at something off camera—in the general direction, but the photographer not quite catching her in time. My oldest brother’s teeth are bared, his lips drawn up like the cheshire cat. It is a creepy not-smile. What a smile looks like on the inside. I gaze next at a photo of my mother, thirty years younger. She is squinting in the sunlight her smile large enough to reveal her imperfections; one of her eye teeth overlapping the other ever so slightly. The wrinkle of her nose, the severe arch of her then-dangerously thin brows.
I study the photo, and wonder what she may have been thinking. Before any of us existed, I wonder who she might have been. I wonder, as she wondered, what she might have become without us. Perhaps she would have been great for Broadway. I take the photo from its place on the wall, marvel at the film of dust coating the glass, swiping at the lingering dust on the pale empty space it has made on the ivory wall. It makes no difference; this photo has remained in this space for decades—its absence will not go unnoticed.
The photo travels with me into the kitchen, and I place it gingerly on the counter. Grief, heavy and fierce, strikes me and I place the photo face down. This is not my house.
This house, through husbands, children, graduations, death, has always been my mother’s. Purchased by her father at 17 (her age, not his), she created her life in this house. The things she collected, the important memories—they are all tied to this house. This kitchen is hers. She renovated it a few years ago, and I wonder now why. The wall between the kitchen and dining room was torn down, replaced by a marble topped island. The Dining-Room-That-No-One-Eats-In features a large distressed oak table surrounded by pillowy white chairs. They have never been touched. The kitchen itself is bright, with three hanging lights over the island, and recessed lighting reflecting off of the stone backsplash and tiles.
Unceremoniously I pull the pale tablecloth from the wood, frantically searching. My heart speeds up as my eyes scan the table, searching for it.
There.
In the far corner, hidden from the untrained eye, a chunk of burnt wood. Tiny scrapes from the hot teeth of the comb are all that remain.
Save for the memory. The memory remains.

Rain drips through the weak spot in the ceiling; it can’t be seen from the kitchen, but we can hear the pangs from the cool metal pan as it collects the water. My mother is angry and I wonder if she can hear the water.
Drip.
The grip on my hair tightens enough to hurt, but I know enough to not cry out.
Drip drip.
“Be still,” she commands angrily, and my body tenses. I can smell the heat, feel it before it touches my hair.
I hear my grandmother’s voice before I see her, and I shift to peer down the hall. The scrape of the comb touches my scalp and I cry out in pain.
My mother grips my scalp, the pain of her grip canceling the pain of the burn. She blows firmly on the scrape and tears escape, spilling over my cheeks. My cousin eyes me curiously, and my grandmother hovers with her lips pursed.
Her eyes are stern and she holds my cousin’s hand loosely.
Their hands blur beneath the familiar warmth of tears.

It is my cousins idea to eat the cake. I am aware of Grandmothers demand—after dinner, but my cousin says we should.
And so I do.
Grandmother in her way said nothing and everything.
“You cannot go to dinner with us. You aren’t mature enough.”
My head aches where the comb scratched it, but Grandmother’s words are worse.
When Grandmother drops me off—engine running, I struggle to open the door myself—Mom meets me at the porch. She pulls the barrettes from my hair gingerly.
Presses a kiss to my scalp.
It is an apology of sorts.
We have our own cake for dinner. In my memory it was chocolate. It was stuck under my nails the next morning.
“Happy Birthday,” Mom whispers.
I slept and held that in my memory, the feel of the comb, the weight of the disappointment—and the warmth of her words.

I never laugh when it rains (draft three)

I never laugh when it rains. A family trait; rain has never crept into the laugh lines of my face. I’ve never stood in a rain that I thought was warm and comforting.
I stand in the rain now, missing her.
She would yell now. Something about paying for me to go to the salon only to mess up my hair.
Then it would move into selfishness. We were always selfish. She could have gone to Broadway. But we were selfish.
Was she thinking about that when she died?
She was alone. She knew she would be.
But she made an appointment to meet with friends. I don’t know them. She never kept friends for very long.
She knew they would worry. She wanted them to.
Did she mean to leave this behind?
She didn’t leave a note. That makes it worse. I have composed the note for her.
It is short.
“Finally. I can be someone.”
It sounds like her. Something she would write. Something she would want written.
I search the house before it is cold. There is no note. No words of goodbye. No accusations.
Through the cloud of death, the grey-white pallor of her void I feel her disappointment.
That’s what no note feels like. Asking for it—thinking about it at all—I can feel her. The heaviness of her disappointment.
Even in death we let her down, wishing to pull words from her. She left us with none.
Mid-sentence she signed and ended the conversation without us.
My best friend stands beside me, close enough so that I can feel her heat, but far enough so that I don’t think she’s touching me.
There is no sensation that burns like that of a grief touch.
The pity will drown you far faster than the tears.
“She was brave,” she mumbles. Her words come out so softly that I wonder if I’ve imagined them.
They sound like my best friend’s words, but it feels like my mother would say it.
I want to ask, “what part? What was brave?” but I don’t want an answer.
What if she says leaving. Making the choice.
Taking death into her hands.
Embracing it.
I don’t want to hear her answers, what she feels was brave, so I don’t respond.
We choose the gravestone together. I remember one that we saw years ago, when Grandmother passed away.
Grandmother was old. Older than Mom. It wasn’t as much of a surprise.
When we saw, “how terrible it is to love something that death can touch,” Mom drew in a breath, held it for longer than I thought was possible. When she let it out it was cold as it swept across my cheek.
She was calmer after. Somehow those words made her calmer.
I choose them for her stone. It won’t be ready in time. But she will be there where I can find her for when it’s ready.
The rain begins as I stand in front of her space. The space that she will occupy. I lay on the ground next to it and the director stands looking away without judgement. As if he’s seen it before.
That death can touch.
It grips me.
Death grips me.
I wonder if she’s here. Or anywhere. And then my mind empties and I can only think about the rain. Wondering if it can do what Grandmother’s lake could not.
Later when I leave I search myself.
Am I like my mother?
No.
The rain did not finish the work of the lake.
I find myself relieved. I take a breath, let it pass over my lips when it has cooled in my lungs.
I am glad that the rain did not.

on meeting myself & visiting nyc for the first time

Does the air not flow within you
Does it not fill you up and create you,
And make you
More beautiful
More beautiful than you’ve ever been?

Do the faces that face but do not meet you,
Do they not mirror you?
And make you
More visible,
More visible than you’ve ever been?

Does the place you’re from not eat you
Does it not chew your marrow
Until it
Breaks you,
Breaks you more than you’ve ever been?

Does the place you’re from not hide you
Does it not whittle your body to
Ash and excess,
Unmake you
More unmade than you’ve ever been?

Does the world around not become you?
Does it not unfurl
And make you
More perfect,
More perfect than you’ve ever been?

Does your existence not astonish you?
Does it not fill you up,
Thrill you
And complete you
More complete than you’ve ever been?

Does the face not gaze upon you
Does it not reveal you
Unmask you
And make you
More you than you’ve ever been?

Visible.
Perfect.
Here.
For a moment, here, I am.
More.
More than I’ve ever been.

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