gravemen

You didn’t want to go to the party.

You weren’t just saying that, either.

You wanted to wrap your hair and

Take a bubble bath.

Maybe light some candles.

Put on your music.

Close your eyes

And just “be.”

 

 

But you didn’t have a choice. If you stayed

In your small bathroom, the space

That was yours, there would still

Be no room for you.

The party would (as it was prone to do)

Encroach on your space.

In your space you would be hyper visible

And invisible.

Questions would be tossed your way

But they wouldn’t be for you—

And besides, who asks a question

Without already having the answer anymore?

 

 

The party, you reason, could have been in

The Other Space. The Other Space isn’t called that, of course.

The Other Space simply is. It is the space that you occupy that is Other.

Still. It could have been there, in that space.

The one reserved for such

Events and such people—they who are

Not You.

Now that they decided parts of you are welcome

(But only if you are silent)

You have to come.

If you don’t you’re deplorable and you’re causing tension.

You are the reason the tension exists, if you don’t come.

You are making them uncomfortable, they can’t even

Align with you you make them so angry,

And how dare you not smile wider and thank them for inviting you?

It doesn’t matter that last week you weren’t welcome

And next week you’ll be called on to prove

Your humanity. They want you now, so you’ll come now.

 

 

So the party is at your place. It doesn’t look like

Your place. There’s furniture that you don’t recognize

And though you work hard you can’t afford what they’ve replaced your things with.

There’s food that you do recognize,

But when the party is here the food gets a different name

And a higher price.

You want your space.

They suggest that it’s wrong to call any place yours,

That you are creating tension.

They say this through the glass; you were invited, but you are

In another room. The room you are in is cold

And damp

And stuffed with a thousand other people who are

Nothing like you

And yet, you are all alike.

 

 

You are called upon en masse.

There is only room for one, the hosts say apologetically,

Except they aren’t sorry.

In fact, they wonder why there must be more than one of you there.

Why can’t you just enjoy watching the party?

They wonder.

Why don’t you have your own party?

They ask.

You point out that you did have your own party.

And you stocked your house with your own things.

And you made your own beauty.

And they came, uninvited.

They moved you from your place and blamed you.

They took your things—those they thought they could use—

And because they no longer belonged to you, they had value.

They renamed what made you beautiful

And they flaunted their new pieces for the world to see

And they made certain that you knew

What is ugly on you is made beautiful by them.

 

 

You aren’t allowed to want. You cannot feel.

You have to be in this space. Your shoulders are necessary

For them to climb on, you are useful

For when a soul needs trodding.

You are the bar below which

They cannot fall.

You move from their space—the space that used to belong to you—

And you breathe, but only for a little while.

They argue amongst themselves right now, but you understand

Their favorite argument is you.

Speaking for you and over you, but never to you.

Never with you, or after you, never silent enough

For you to speak for yourself.

The conditions of their hatred of each other always seem to be met

On the battlefield of you.

You wonder idly if there is a place or time that you might go

To find peace.

They are angry with you for suggesting this.

They reminisce about better times.

They would like for you to know that your place is nowhere

With nothing

And that you are no one.

And that this party that they keep throwing around you

Is meant to bind you

And eventually destroy you.

You lower your eyes and speak softly

And they cover your mouth

And muffle your words

And they smother you

And watch the life flee from you

And they never consider your life at all

For they are human

And you are other

And there is no place for you

Save for the grave that they have built.

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Death and Mr. White: William Jamar

He startled awake from a dream, his heart hammering hard in his chest. It was a dream, he was certain, but the reality drenched his shirt.

He was afraid.

He turned to the body next to him, a dim moon cascading over her full body. She slept on, unknowing.

William rubbed the sleep from his eyes and tried to cast away the dream, but it clung to him.

In the dream he stood at a crack at the edge of the world. The edge of the world in his dream was dark and ragged, shredded skin and spent blood. It was cold at the edge, and the deep beyond it was certain. Behind him fingers like the digits of a sun-brittle skeleton scratched at his back, tearing at his skin. He was there at the end of the world wearing only his skin, and the beings behind him wanted even that. He stretched out his arms, desperate to reach over. He lost his balance and fell into the nothing

and righted himself in bed. It was so real, the dream. He would not call it a nightmare. It was a dream that he did not think he wanted, but then he did not dream much these days.

William’s sleep—when he could sleep—was haunted. He felt more than heard the comings and goings of those just beyond his reach, and his heart rate was always slightly elevated. If he happened to fall into a deep sleep his body would betray him and he would awaken, hands clawing at steel comfort.

Now he glanced at the woman sprawled out unknowing next to him, wondering if he could wake her. He could, but she would be angry. Her temper was volatile, but he was accustomed to it. Now he wished he could talk about his dream. What did it mean?

He would go to Grammy. The answer came to him as though spoken aloud. He crept from the bed and made his way across the cramped house to the lone bathroom. He checked in on the boys, the youngest with his mouth ajar, drool covering his brother’s arm. He wished they were awake so he wasn’t quite so alone.

In the dark of the bathroom he ran cool water over his eyes. He stared at himself in the mirror for long moments before startling.

His mirror was not his reflection at all. William was bone-tired, the kind of tired that hangs over the body like a pallor. He was covered in ink and his hair could use tidying.

His mirror bespoke youth. His eyes were clear with mischief, his mouth drawn up into a pleasant smirk. His mirror had not lived the same life.

William recoiled in horror, but the mirror spoke.

“Stay,” It commanded. William obeyed.

“What do you want,” his mirror asked him. William shook his head. This must be a dream. He thought he had awakened, but he was still trapped in the dream.

“You are not sleeping, but you are not awake,” the mirror revealed. “What do you want?” The mirror repeated. William swallowed hard.

“I want to rest,” he responded without thinking. The mirror nodded slowly.

“Who are you?” William demanded of his mirror shakily. “Are you an angel?” The mirror smirked at him.

“Are you death?” William whispered. The mirror did not reply. In the mirror’s silence William knew that he faced Death, but he was not afraid.

“Not yet, though, right?” William asked hopefully. Again the mirror said nothing.

“You will receive your rest soon,” Death revealed. He spoke the words as a promise of something grand, and William took the words with ease.

When William awakened again his bed partner was gone, the house empty. He made his way to Grammy’s house, formulating the question in his mind.

He couldn’t come out and ask her—she wouldn’t appreciate that. She would roll her eyes and brush him off if he didn’t warm her up first. He dragged out the lawnmower, pushing it across her tall lawn, still moving his mind over the question.

He would not ask, of course. He opened his mouth to ask her through the screen, but her words—I don’t like William at my house. He steals.—clawed his skin so thoroughly that he jumped. He mumbled words of goodbye and left before she could see the tears stinging his eyes.

He couldn’t be angry with her. That was her way.

He imagined his time as in an hour glass, running out. He could not imagine himself not here, but he could not imagine himself old, either.

The stories he and his sisters would tell about becoming old were always one-sided. It would not be his journey, he had always known.

He considered this as he spoke with the women in his life. His mom would always be first.

Her eyes were tired and she could not hide her disappointment. She did not express disappointment in him, but in his choices, she would say. He wanted so badly to tell her about Death, but she would not understand. She would want him to hide from it, she would not understand why he wouldn’t hide.

He would go to church with her so that she would see him enveloped in Christ. This would be a salve, he was certain. In the dark and the gloom of his absence she would hold the image to her like a portrait, something hopeful.

He wasn’t sure about Asia. She was so difficult to read, she would probably laugh because she was confused. Angie would ask him if he was ready, and she would bear the weight like a warrior.

Whitney would have a hole ripped in her universe. This he felt guilty about. She would lose her right lung when he was gone, and he could not think of a way to mend her.

They trying to take me out, is all he could muster, to prepare her for the inevitable, but it wasn’t enough. It would not nearly be enough.

William thought of the things that he did not do, and he felt immense sadness. At the park he gripped his sons to him, told him that he loved them. He watched his youngest—so much like William—with worry in his heart. Someone would need to watch him. He would have to remember to say that. He did not tell his children goodbye—he could not.

“See ya later,” he said.

The reality never meets the expectation. Though he knew his time drew short, he was surprised. One moment he was alive, and the next moment the veil was drawn.

He thought he would be alone in the end. He was not. Death brought to William the giants upon whose shoulders William stood. He lowered his head remorsefully, feeling guilt for what he did not do.

“Hold your head up,” Grace commanded. “We’re here because of who you were, not who you pretended to be.”

Death held out Death’s arms to William, and William stood. He sloughed off his worry and his tired like a coat too small for wear. He left them behind; they would not fit in his new world.

“What’s next,” William asked, but Death shook Death’s head.

“The journey is long. Rest William, and be at peace.”

William lay cradled in Death’s arms surrounded by those that loved him, and he rested and had peace.

Sin Eating

 

William

8.24.1988-6.25.2016

for William

The bread is burned and the spirits are flat.

He is The Body—unidentified—misremembered,

and someone asks, “what happened?” and the locusts descend.

 

Someone saw him just yesterday.

Someone talked to him a few hours ago.

Someone wants this to be a lie.

Someone needs to know what to tell their children.

Someone claims he was “Joe’s cousin.”

Someone knows where The Body fell.

The bread is misshapen and too salty, and bits fall to nothing before their time.

The spirits are little more than water, and they slosh too heavy over their container.

 

He is identified—27withnarcotics—misremembered,

and someone says, “I’m not surprised” and the worms away with his tongue.

 

Amidst the photos used in his lineup, the last place he will be witnessed—

Shot A, middle finger up, smoke slinking around his neck

Shot B, long fingernails and sunburnt fingers, cradling a rounded herb

Shot C, in the middle of a group of men, the beautiful one—

He stands facing the camera, his face brilliant, his soul leaking out.

A spatula is in his hand, his face unmarked by tattoos and his

Small

Amount

Of Time.

He is smiling and it is tugged to the top, collapsing under the weight of

misremembrances and

misnaming.

It is a meek offering and it does not go down easy.

 

The bread is not enough. It tastes of tears.

The spirits are not enough. They taste of blood.

He is Names He Was Not Given—everyone has taken a piece of him, now—misremembered

And someone shouts, “his name was William” and for a moment, they are silent.

 

Someone counts their own breaths—in and out. in and out.

Someone cannot see through their tear-strained eyes.

Someone began shaking hours ago and cannot seem to stop shaking.

Someone needs to hear him and dials him over and over and over and over and over.

Someone counts every movement as one he will not know.

Someone feels guilty for thinking about him in the past tense.

The bread is burned and the spirits are flat.

His memory is tugged from the clutches of thieves

And he is not The Body and he is not Names He Was Not Given

 

He was William.

He was beautiful.

He was human.

 

*I give easement

And rest now

To thee, dear William.

Come not down the lanes

Or in our meadows.

And for thy peace

I pawn my own soul.

 

 

 

 

___________________________________

*from The Sin-Eaters Prayer

sisyphus.

The missive arrives at 1:03 in the afternoon.
Wednesday.
It begins by misnaming, but eagerly, I read ahead.
It is not a promise, but it is promising.
Don’t tell him, not yet, I beg myself.
I tell him.
His face cracks into a smile, the first for months.
My heart leaps in my chest, a dull ache.
I ignore it.
It’s not a big deal, I warn myself.
Don’t get worked up.
But by 1:04
Wednesday
I was past this moment and into the after.
I smiled at myself in the mirror, a gracious smile.
This would be the one I would give in interviews.
My smirk would be reserved for the carpet.
The full smile, the one that made my eyes
Glint like dying embers in fading sun
That would be reserved for candid shots.
I did not save a smile for me
I would not be alone again
And I would not need it.

 

In my greeting I correct my name, graciously.

 

At 2:04 I send it.
Wednesday.
I check my inbox and spam
And I refresh a million times.
At 2:15 I tell him about my plans
And his smile falters. He remembers
The last.
Don’t get your hopes too high, he warns gently.
But he feels so far beyond me now,
His words cannot reach.

 

The rejection comes swiftly, and like
A guillotine, I almost miss the pain of it.
I read it twice without seeing the words
And then it is remanded to the box labeled
Styx.
They all go there, but the words that preceded them
Are flawed somewhere, and their killing blow
Reaches into the underworld and plucks
Again and again
At my ragged smile reserved
For when I am alone
Which (when he is not here,
And the words are there, waiting to be sent
To the box labeled
Styx)
Is always.
The missive arrives at 4:48.
Friday.
I am (again) misnamed
But the last seems so far away
And this is different, I can feel it.
I go to the mirror and practice the smile again
And I do not see the mirror’s hesitation
Its slow recovery.
The fading, cautious smile, with the pain
Behind the eyes.
That is the one I’ll use in this moment
And all moments hereafter.
Nothing, of course,
For the moments alone.
I will not be alone again
And I will not need it.

rain

The whole of the affair started and ended with rain.

She was a cautious driver. Her paternal grandmother was killed on a deserted road five miles from the house; she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and swerved (everyone said to avoid an animal because she was caring in that way) and she careened into a ditch. The coroner’s report said that she fractured her neck and she suffered blunt force trauma to the chest. The report preceded the internet, and so she did not know what blunt force trauma was at the time. The diagram accompanying the report was wholly useless, but she understood that it was painful.

It killed those her grandmother left behind.

The death for the left behind was temporary, though, for her father was always an erratic driver. He drove as though demons were on his tail and he was chasing the devil, weaving in and out of traffic. He himself survived many accidents, and when last she saw him, he had survived another wife. Her mother counted herself lucky as she left before his string of tragic affairs.

But she herself was a cautious driver. She did not text while driving, though she found herself daydreaming a great deal. In the car on the road she imagined herself in a film—always a tragic film, and her imaginings always took place at the climax. Her music—droll and forgettable—served as the soundtrack.

In her driving recitations she was dying or leaving or in some way irreparably injured. On this day she was revealing to her husband (in her post driving life she was single, painfully so) that she did not love him.

She stood, she imagined, in the rain. She was leaving him and he was crying and she was crying, too. She held out her hands to the rain and she laughed. “Rain,” she imagined herself crying. “It makes all things clean.”

Remarkably, as tears welled in her eyes, it began to rain. She was not religious, but she thought it poignant that rain fell as her tears.

In the corner of her eye she discerned it.

A solitary drop fell from a cloudless sky and landed smoothly on the passenger window. It slid down slowly, leaving a trail of itself in its wake. She was transfixed by this drop, which, to her, resembled a face. Crystalline and otherworldly, the rain’s formation on the glass held her. The face itself was not unique, and could she look back, she would not know why she stared at the drop for so long.

She would not look back. She would careen into the back of the tractor trailer and, unlike her grandmother, she would not suffer blunt force trauma. She would fracture her neck and that would be enough. She would not hear that her organs would be harvested and she would save countless lives and she would not feel the shaking hands pressed lightly against her and she would not hear the voice that beckoned her back.

**

They spoke of him in whispers. He was old enough to know his own prognosis (he even knew the word prognosis), but they were cautious around him. His mother tried to smile at him at awkward moments, which was the absolute worst. Nothing felt like the speedy flight of death the way a mom’s pursed, doe-eyed smile in the middle of a lame cartoon. Sometimes he thought that she felt like “reminding” him that he would die before he left the donor’s list was cruel. She didn’t seem to understand that talking as though there would be a next year was even more cruel.

He hated the pictures on the walls of the hospital. He was sick, that he knew. He had always been some type of sick. He had never drawn one of the framed pictures, though. He was terminal and it didn’t get worse than that, but he had never been given the chance to say no. He would have said no, of course. The drawings with the tiny card giving the name and age of the artist made his heart leap painfully in his chest. Emily Frank, age 6. Joshua Turner, age 4. Evelyn Landry, age 14. He wondered—and he was certain others did the same—if the artists were still alive. He supposed you had to be a hospital lifer to have enough time to decorate.

His heart was failing even at birth, and he had made it to thirteen. It didn’t seem like enough time, but he figured that ninety wouldn’t seem like enough either. When he was admitted last year and they told him The News, he wanted to be mature. He didn’t want his mom to see him cry. He was supposed to be strong. She called him her rock so often he’d began to believe it. He made it, at first. He didn’t cry at all.

But then he saw those damned pictures. His mom called him those damned pictures, and he didn’t think she’d mind that he thought of them that way. He saw those damned pictures and he thought, “I’m not going to have time to draw one,” and he couldn’t help it. He didn’t cry. He wept.

His breath came in rattled, drawn out gasps now. There wasn’t much they could do. His mom left the room frequently, claiming sneezes and needed a breath of air. He knew she wanted to dry her eyes without him seeing.

The storm came upon the hospital quickly. He liked the rain. It was comforting and quiet, and it made him tired. He could see the green beyond the hospital—the campus (he wasn’t sure why it was called a campus) was surrounded by hills and trees and the vivacity of nature. He could see his mom return but he stared out the window. When the rain began the two images for a moment joined, and it looked as though he and his mom were crying the same thin, streaking tears. They stared out the window so long they did not hear the urgency in the doctor’s voice. The borrowed tears drew him and he couldn’t focus.

Donor.

Heart.

Now.

He heard the words through a vacuum, and the wet from the rain dripped from his chin and onto the gown. He commented on the rain in the room before laughing lightly at his mistake. He turned to meet his mom’s eyes, and saw that she had rain on her face, too. She kissed the rain from his cheeks before backing away. He would have a long day. He hoped it would still be raining when he got out.

He had been in the room for so long, he didn’t think he would leave. He didn’t want the sun and blues. He wanted rain to wash him and make him clean.

**

When he awoke his eyes were drawn again to the window. He was, according to his mom, in “recovery.” She gripped his hand so hard it hurt. The rain still soaked her cheek. He turned to gaze out of the window. The pane was still dripping, and in the drops he imagined a face. An immense sadness threatened to overwhelm him, and he gasped for air, deep heaving gasps that were nothing to do with his new heart and sore lungs. Panicked, his mother offered him a cup of water.

He refused.

“Rain,” he insisted. “I want to taste the rain.”

She left the room, and might have been gone for thirty seconds or thirty minutes. She returned with a cup, rainwater barely clearing the bottom.

“This isn’t clean,” his mother whispered, but he smiled softly. It was his smile, but older. A lived smile.

“It’s rain, Mama,” he replied. “And it makes all things clean.”

vernon

 

Death and Mr. White: Vernon

Sweat would bead hot on his brow; it would skirt through the deep crevices of his leather face. The ropy veins of his once firm arms would rise and his unused muscles would burn awake, tearing through him as lightening. His eyes would water and burn, but he would not lose the light. When his knees finally buckled and his heart rapped quickly to its halt, he would tear a lasting piece from his accuser; he would not move forward easily and without sound.
The soundlessness and quiet traveled easy with him, but he would not end this way. When he rose again his voice would pierce the veil and his accuser would kneel; he would meet Death as an equal.
Vernon harbored no illusions. Death had come for stronger men. Death would assuredly come for him.
He preferred The Others on their knees. He would grip them and they would tear at the wall and he would pull their faces gently towards him at his moment–theirs always came first–he would whisper to Them “open your eyes” and They would, wildly, and he would gaze into Them, Their faces broken open and Their souls exposed for him, and a piece of him would break away.
Vernon did not kiss The Others. This was before the film that made Barbara uncomfortable; he did not kiss The Others because he did not want to see their longing for more. He was comprised of pieces, and he could not offer them more than this. He did not wish to.
He would not kiss them, but he would hold them after, for a brief moment. When he first began seeing The Others he would shower. He would scrub his golden brown skin until pink shone. Barbara was fascinated with the paleness of his skin, how close to White he might have been had he only avoided sun. He would consider this, her fascination, as he scrubbed the traces of Them from his body; he removed the scent of them from everywhere but his mouth. It was vulgar, he understood. He kept that souvenir cruelly for her, Barbara. She would not kiss him, Barbara, even before. She did not like the way mouths moved against each other, she did not want that caress. She did not want his eyes to meet hers. She did not want him rooted in her soul.
After, he would return home to find Barbara in the kitchen. She was always in the kitchen, fretting. She would meet him at the top of the stairs and her eyes would meet his for a moment before darting away. She would smooth down her apron self-consciously. When the boys came she would gaze at him over their heads in a way that she believed was loving. He would capture her eyes then and he would remember The Others and his breath would catch. Not guiltily, of course. He needed something and he could not remember what, and in the moment that he captured her eyes all thought of that need vanished.
He would move close enough to touch her, Barbara, but he would not. She would not think it proper, and he was uncertain their bodies would still complement. He would be close enough to touch her, to ghost his fingers along her dress, but he would not. He would allow his breath to dance along her neck, and for a moment he would remember and she would remember.

Barbara was poor and dark skinned and unpopular. She was cute enough, but Vernon was handsome. His skin was a light golden brown, his eyes hazel. Barbara sat at the front of the room and to the left, and when he was bored Vernon watched the way the sunlight glinted from her long, pressed hair. She was prim and shy even then, and when he finally spoke to her she would not look at him.
Barbara walked home with her sisters; Vernon drove his car. He drove slowly beside her, yelling out of the window, his friends crying with laughter. Barbara tucked her head down and did not respond to him, only pressed her mouth into a firm line. Vernon sucked his teeth at her and sped off; in his rear view mirror he saw her wipe her cheek.
Vernon heard from her cousin that Barbara’s family hated him. He bristled at this; how could he be hated? He was wealthy. Handsome. He had a future. Barbara was poor and homely. He was better than she. He began to watch her. She held her head at an angle because she was shy, but even then she expressed defiance. There was a fire suppressed within her, and Vernon wanted to root it out. Barbara did not keep her head down because she believed him better than she. She was uncomfortable with their eyes meeting. She did not want to want him more than he wanted her.
Vernon chased Barbara because he could, at first. He could have any girl he wanted; they all wanted him. He wanted Barbara to want him.
She did not. She was studious but she was not brilliant. She was sweet and she did not want to be seen with him. He obliged her and met her in secret. When he had her she made him turn down the lights so that he could barely make her out. Her eyes captured his and held them the entire time. There was still a fire there, just below the surface. He wanted to out it. He would out it.
Barbara’s uncle begged her not to marry him. Vernon was not present for the conversation, and Barbara never shared this. Rather a cousin spilled it over a cocktail and a Persian rug.
“He offered her a car if she said she wouldn’t marry you.” the cousin revealed snidely. Vernon’s vision dimmed then and he swallowed past a deep lump in his throat. He wondered–he should not–how long it took Barbara to turn the uncle’s offer away.
“She thought about it for a week,” the cousin continued. Later, as Barbara slept next to him, her fingers lightly grazing his, he burned.
“Do you love me?” Vernon demanded. Barbara jumped at his sound–he spoke rarely, but authoritatively.
“I do love you, Vernon.” She offered her love as a plea and he accepted it without knowing why. Had she loved him? He was certain she did, but he did not believe she was in love with him. She loved him as one loves a savior–obligatory love. A self-sacrificing love. A love that placed Vernon above and Barbara beneath.
Their years were measured by a dance that both understood, but never at the same time. Vernon began searching for Others as anyone does–because he was bored. He could find Others easily. In his early forties he was still trim and desirable. Barbara desired him as she always had–silently, and in the dark. On her back she would peer up at him and she would bite her lip and he only saw her fully here, she only offered her soul, and only then in pieces, here.
He engaged the attention of Others because he wanted her, Barbara, to feel desperate; he wanted her to consider how lucky she was. It was this luck that drew his attention when he met Death for the first time.
He was engaged in an affair with an Other when he received the call. His father was dead. The body must be identified. He must do it.
It did not occur to Vernon to call Barbara. She would be home, in the kitchen. She would be devastated; she liked his father. She would not weep, though. Her tears would move softly, and she would look to Vernon for direction.
The face presented on the cold steel was indeed Vernon’s father. Vernon shared his father’s nose. It was strange to see his father there, unmoving. His father was a strong ,statuesque man. He exuded life and power; his shadow covered the world entire. Vernon crumbled into himself on the bench outside of the morgue. He felt the presence before he saw it, and when his eyes moved he only met a blur, first.
“He went easy,” the voice offered. The voice was cold and wet, but not unkind. Not kind either.
It simply was.
“What was easy?” Vernon demanded, his voice gravelly and not his own. He blinked firmly, wanting to be strong even before this stranger.
His father was never as clear as the face before him. Vernon started, gasping. The eyes pierced him, deep green with flecks of gold.
“Your father,” the man with his father’s face stated. Vernon’s heart throbbed in his chest.
“You killed my father?” The man did not answer, only stared at Vernon. Vernon’s throat constricted with knowledge.
This was Death. He wondered, faintly, if Death had come for him.
“Not yet,” Death offered Vernon.
“I wasn’t considering it, yet,” Vernon lied. Death nodded knowingly. Vernon ached with the knowledge that his father moved into the next easily. Why did he not fight?
“I’ll fight you,” Vernon stated. “When you come, I’ll fight you.”
Death stared into Vernon. He grazed Vernon lightly as he passed; when Death looked upon Vernon, Vernon felt the weight of himself lifted for a moment.
The moment passed, and Vernon was alone. Vernon wept.
Barbara responded to the news as Vernon knew she would, and he hated her for it. He wanted her to cry, to scream at him. He wanted her to mourn his father, to cry for him, to beg him to stay. Why would she not fight?
She collapsed into herself and he could not reach her.
When she finally asked about The Others, Vernon was unprepared. Barbara poured his coffee as she always did, offered him two cubes of sugar. She folded her apron neatly and sat at the table across from Vernon. Jonathan was still sleeping, and the gray at Barbara’s temples was pinned back. Barbara, as always, seemed self-conscious. From the corner of his eye Vernon saw her playing with her ring. The light glinted from the silver in her hair and he thought her beautiful.
He wondered if he should tell her. He had not said the words aloud before, and he wanted to, desperately, but they solidified like cement on his tongue. He swallowed his coffee without tasting it and he heard her words, whispered into her lap.
“How many women have you gone to bed with since we married? Vern? How many?” Startled he dropped the cup. His ears burned and he rose from the table angrily.
He had wanted her to ask all the while. He wanted her to notice. He wanted her to lash out, to feel, to defy him.
Instead she mumbled the words into her lap.
“Shut the hell up,” he shouted. He didn’t know those were the words he would cast at her, but they were out and he did not want to reclaim them. Her eyes darted up and met his then, and he saw her fully. She was proud but still fragile; in her eyes he saw the poor girl from the other side of the tracks. The fire that once was was dim, but it was not out.
Barbara did not leave him then. Even when The Other called at dinner she did not leave. Her eyes met his again, and he saw the light again dim, but it did not fade.
Barbara left quietly. She packed her things and moved to the room across the hall. A thousand times he called her back, he responded to her shouts in the dark.
But she did not shout, and his lips did not move.
Their years passed slowly and without sound; days crashed into each other, and Vernon found himself missing time. He forgot her birthday, first. Then their vacation.
Then the girl. Not one of his. Jon’s. He’d forgotten that she was supposed to be hidden. He asked about her, would have sworn that she was ten; just the day before he’d told Cheryl to keep her.
“She’s a blessing,” he revealed, his voice shaking. He did not see the blessing for many years, and they pretended the blessing did not exist.
But then he forgot. “Where is Jherine? Is she coming?” Barbara’s eyes narrowed and heat flared from them.
“She’s gone,” Barbara’s mouth formed the words and they dripped like venom. The fire that he had long desired whipped forth and burned him; Vernon recoiled.
“Where?” Vernon asked. He could remember, vaguely, something about her, the child.
“Just gone,” Barbara stated.
When next Vernon saw Barbara the heat was present again. Jon’s mouth was moving, but Vernon could not quite make out the words.
Barbara’s fire had made it to the surface. She would not accept this.
She would die if she did not, but the fire could not be contained. There was something that he wanted to tell her, he was sure, but he could not remember the words.
Vernon thought Death would come for him first. But it swept Barbara softly, and the fire in her dimmed and then outed.
Vernon remembered. “You are beautiful,” he wanted to say. He searched for her but he could not find her.
“Jon,” Vernon gripped the boy close to him. “Tell your mother she’s beautiful.”
Jon swallowed. “She’s gone, Dad,” Jon sighed.
“When she gets back. Just tell her.”
“Alright. I’ll tell her.”

Death came while Vernon was sleeping. He could feel the presence looming over him. When his eyes opened he saw Barbara. She gazed at him fully, her eyes dancing. He wondered. . .
“Did you know that I thought you were beautiful?” He begged. She nodded, silent. He wondered, with his leathery skin and his weakened arms what she thought of him. If she still thought him handsome. If she loved him.
For a moment he considered fighting. But Barbara was here, staring into him. She allowed him to see her, in the light.
“I–” he wanted to offer her an apology, to give her the last piece of himself, but she shook her head.
She held out her hand for him to take, and he did. He gasped at the familiarity.
“I said that I would fight,” Vernon stated. Death nodded.
Vernon leaned into Death as a lover, and they moved from life easily, and without sound.

Tabula Rasa

I have been so easy
Always so easy
To leave behind.

Tabula Rasa:
In creation
small useless thing
To love you.

You carried me,
A picture of him that you hated.
You could not reach him
You broke me.

On bleeding bones
And torn sinews
I carried you
And you drank

Every bit of me
Dried me out
And left me parched and dying–
Little more than dust.

I loved you
Like a festering wound
I petted and winced and healed you
And you burst open and seeped out

And you smelled of death and absence
And I cleaned what you left
And I wept over what little remained

Out of dust you are created
And from dust you are more than me
Swept over, picked clean–carcass

Ignorant. The shadow that sun’s heat
Will never reach, parched for life
Loving hands will not nurture nor
Caress me.

Once, when I was full of dreams and hope
And stardust, I felt that grip
Siphoning the essence of me
Leaving me with nothing, as no one.

Wilting and dirty
Deformed into what you needed
Useless now that I am empty.

You are gone.
You left nothing of you
And yet I remain in your shadow.

I am so easy.
Always so easy
To leave behind.