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August 23, 2018 Fiction

The Patron Saint of Loneliness

Sarah Shotland

The Patron Saint of Loneliness photo

My husband had a lot of hobbies. He was a ceramist and a DJ and a carpenter and a mason and a cyclist and a gardener. He liked to cook. Jerome could tell you about the process of making porcelain and why certain decorative plates have a Willow print and others are adorned in gold-leaf. He was a putterer.

I have no hobbies. 

Otherwise stated: My hobbies are dope and lying, and I gave up dope twenty years ago. I did dope before there was a term called the opioid epidemic; no one pretended that my friends and I were anything except fuck ups, though it turns out several of us have done quite well for ourselves, and the others died quickly, mercifully, and painlessly, which all things considered, isn’t a bad way to go.

I’m interested in all the different kinds of lying. The kind that people do for themselves, and the kind they give to each other. There are lies of compassion and duplicitous lies; there are slipping into anonymity lies. There are protecting your mom lies, and there are lies that are meant to stir up trouble or cause a killing. Lies to launch a war and lies to avoid a parking ticket.

* * *

When I say I gave up dope twenty years ago, I mean I haven’t had a dope habit in twenty years. That’s an important distinction. In the taxonomy of lies, lies of distinction are somewhere near the top, in that they’re some of the most sophisticated and elegant.

I gave up dope twenty years ago, I might say, thumb burn still stinging a bit from the spoon fire. Lies of distinction carry such elegance because they are also true. 

* * *

If Jerome could see me now, parked with the engine still running at the tennis court parking lot, he’d tell me to shit or get off the pot, Rita, you’re wasting daylight. The trouble is, I don’t know exactly what it is I’m doing here or why this is where I drove after I left Michelle’s house. I’m not sure what pot it is I’m shitting in, or getting off of. 

* * *

I met Michelle in my Post-Colonial literature course, which was usually a slog. I haven’t updated the syllabus since I made tenure, and the students these days are mostly business majors and engineers. They register because it fits in their schedule and satisfies the humanities requirement. Everyone knows I’m an easy A. But Michelle showed up in August, two years ago, the semester Jerome died, and she was different. She’s what the school terms a “non-traditional” student; returning; gateway. Over the years, the labels have shifted. Michelle had a little asphalt in her throat, there was a tattoo she unsuccessfully tried to cover up for the first few weeks of class. She had a kind of brazen beauty that she flung around like it would last forever even though it was already slightly past its expiration date. But she had ideas—real ones, zany ones, ones that made me hope she’d come distract me during office hours. In her first paper, she made the argument that addiction and recovery were linked to colonialism and post-colonialism.

I remember I read part of that paper aloud to Jerome while he was repainting something—a wicker chair? A frame? I can’t remember, but those are the details that suddenly seem important now that he’s gone.

The paper had a logic that didn’t quite hold, but it didn’t matter. It was the kind of paper that makes you remember that at some point, the class material held relevance for you. You could relate it to your life, imperfectly but with sincerity. That’s what Michelle was doing as she plowed through her paper, making colonialism about her body. That’s my girl, I thought. Not a perfect paper, but that’s my kind of a girl.

Thinking about it in retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have probed that paper; suggested office hours so strongly; dug and dug. But I couldn’t have known. Near the end of that semester is when Jerome died, when I had a stack of term papers to read. Michelle came by my office to talk about her final, but she caught me on a jagged day and I started crying somewhere between her request for an extension and her story about her mother.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. She hugged me. She came behind my desk and put her tattooed sleeves around my slumped shoulders and hugged me. I’m not a hugger. “I’m so sorry,” I kept repeating. “My husband is dead and I don’t know what I’m going to do with his garden.”

“You’ll keep it alive, Professor Gregg. Don’t worry.”

I gave her the extension, of course, and I don’t think I ever read her final paper. She matriculated away, as all students do, meeting new professors, discovering new disciplines, forgetting where your office is, until I saw her at a campus TGIF three weeks ago. Talking Gender Issues Fridays. It’s a weekly chat-session where students come to look at the week’s current events through a gender lens. The campus used to be single-sex, but now we call it gender inclusive. We were going out of business; there are only so many radical lesbian 17 year olds, and most of them already get into Smith. 

For a while the administration tried to float the school on the pricey, full-freight tuition from a group of Saudi wives whose husbands were studying engineering at a different, more well-known school down the road. The wives weren’t allowed to be taught by men; each semester the women in the English department drew straws for who would take the Saudi English Language Learning class. The Fall that I drew short, I learned from the ladies that their favorite store at the mall was Victoria’s Secret. From then on, when I’d see them floating around campus in their long black fabric, eyes peeking through the windows of niqabs, I could think of nothing but the delicate lace underneath—tangerine and emerald, powder pink and topaz. Matching sets. Peekaboo panties and lace up balconettes. There were times when I wanted to fuck them, but it was always fleeting. Those kinds of lies interest me, too: the lies of secrecy, the ones that are slowly revealed to be more complicated truths like a thong underneath a burka.

TGIFs were instated after we let the boys come. Something to make sure we were still holding on to the vestiges of our second-wave pride. I started going this year, trying to fill the time, especially on Friday afternoons, when my open weekend without Jerome’s little projects seemed to loom larger and larger. I liked walking across campus at 3pm on Fridays, when my productivity was at the week’s low and hear students chit chat about new laws and the latest celebrity scandals; the week’s most egregiously sexist moments, and the fresh hopes they had about their own lives. Sometimes, once the chapel bells rang their four chimes and the discussion hour was over, the girls would linger, mostly talking about their fears. Most of them were afraid of rape, a fear I’d never quite understood and was taught to think of as the fear of arrogant and uppity women who believed themselves to be pretty. 

Michelle wasn’t afraid of rape, but she was afraid of being found out. She didn’t know that universities are universally and unanimously full of people with imposter syndrome; she thought she was terminally unique in this fear. “Don’t worry about that,” I said to her, “it’ll happen. Everyone will find out all about you.” This was only three weeks ago, which seems stunning now.

She stared blankly, as though she couldn’t imagine how a woman with a face as round and soft as mine could be so cruel. I was her first favorite professor, and now I was telling her that her worst fear was sure to come true. “Own it,” I said, immediately cringing at the thought that I might sound like one of the Real Housewives of Orange County who were constantly deriding each other’s character with jabs of “own it!” and “she doesn’t own anything!” 

Here’s a hobby I have: trash TV. Especially the kind where the women fight. I don’t think my husband would have counted that.

“What I mean, Michelle, is that you must proceed with the understanding that at some point you’re going to be unmasked, honey. And that’s when you can actually start the process of growing.” She nodded and I nodded, and I smiled sadly at her. 

An hour and a half after that, Michelle and I were shooting up her boyfriend’s dope in her off-campus apartment. Michelle had recently gained a lot of weight and hadn’t bought clothes that fit her yet. Her jeans were always too tight and too low, or too tight and too high, which meant her underwear were always either poking out or through; and her tits were always spilling out of her tank-tops. The anti-Saudi, Michelle was on an almost full-tuition scholarship she was feverishly anxious about keeping. When she nodded out, her stomach spilled to one side, her ashy black tank top rising above the roll, letting her whole body finally breathe. Maybe it wasn’t the paper and the office hours that were my mistake. Maybe those weren’t mistakes at all, maybe the real mistake was the way I looked on in a stuttering awe instead of walking away when the slim needle entered the crook of her elbow.

She gave me a new, sharp needle. When I heard the small pop of air releasing when I removed the cap, I almost vomited with anticipation. 

* * *

On Saturdays, Jerome and I played tennis. I wouldn’t call this so much a hobby, as it was a conscious decision to work on our marriage. We started two years before he died, when I went on a very strict version of Weight Watchers that was requiring me to do an unbelievably large amount of physical activity. I lost forty-three pounds. Most of it has stayed off, even though I don’t have anyone to play tennis with anymore. Without Jerome to cook for me, I don’t mind having a Slim-Fast for dinner.

Jerome wouldn’t ever say so, but he wanted me to lose the weight. Rather than propose it, he just bought the rackets and drove us to a set of courts across town where he was sure no one else would ever be playing. He was right. For the two years that we went every Saturday, never another soul.

When your spouse dies, one of the things you regret are the fights you never got to have. I never confronted the idea that I’d always known he wanted me to lose weight, that I could sense his dismay as I grew a halo around my belly, when most of the closet was filled with clothes we both knew I hadn’t been able to wear in years. I wish we’d had that fight. It’s a fight I’m not sure if I would rather win or lose, but I wish I’d said it; I wish now that I’d been able to see his face when confronted with that accusation—I would have known in an instant if it was true or not. Jerome was always a terrible liar.

Today, after I left Michelle, I drove to the tennis courts, not really intending to, but now I find myself here, at first slowly circling the abandoned parking lot, and now idling, wasting gas. These courts are actually made of clay, Jerome told me once, rubbing his toe into the out-of-bounds line, that’s a rare choice for a city parks department to make. He paused. They must have had someone over there with a lot of integrity for a while. He winked at me, like we were dating instead of married for twenty-two years, and swatted my butt with his racket. I think I’m going to beat you this morning, Rita.

In two years, I won one game of tennis, something we celebrated with Bloody Marys on the way home. Moments like those were the ones when we’d remind ourselves how much we stood by our decision not to have children. Here we were, almost fifty, playing tennis, drinking Bloody Marys, about to go home for afternoon sex. Jerome had written “Victorious!” on the cocktail napkin, and I insisted on sticking it to the fridge, my trophy.

I guess I half-expected a new couple to be here—a younger, more updated version of us. A version of us that was in high school in the 90s rather than in grad school, a version of us that had spent their whole relationship with the instant gratification of text message arguments, who thought it was ironic to play tennis, but secretly loved it as sincerely and unabashedly as Jerome and I did. No one is here, though.

* * *

I hadn’t intended on copping dope from Michelle. It’s not like the craving had been at the top of my mind. I wasn’t scratching an itch, as much as creating a self-inflicted rash. Once you’ve had a heroin habit, it would be difficult to say that the craving ever disappears completely. Sure, weeks go by; months. There are years when it seems like a distant shadow hanging out in a bad play—someone hasn’t hung the lights correctly and there’s always a slight darkness on the supporting actor upstage left. But its presence makes itself known in small ways. Like when you drive past the self-service car washes—I can’t go past one without spotting a lingering car near the vacuum tubes. I know that car is waiting for a drug dealer. Or when someone asks if you can put a sign on their door to cancel class because they have the flu: weak, you think. Dope sick is twenty times worse than the flu, and I worked literally hundreds of double-shifts pouring buckets of ice into urinals while it waved over me like the plague. There are times when you notice someone has extraordinary veins, and for a moment you lust. A song comes on the radio, or a friend puts on an old album while you’re staying up late drinking expensive whiskey—Bikini Kill or Portishead—and you remember what it felt like when you first heard the song, kicked back into the moment when your eyelids were the only thing that gravity seemed to have an effect on.

So, sure, in those lingering moments, I would have fleeting waves of longing, but other things happened too. There were books. Degrees. I was asked to join boards of directors and volunteer at silent auctions; for god’s sake, I got married. For a year, I did nothing but maniacally update my CV and try to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I deserved my job forever. When I officially earned tenure, I spent $3600 at Eileen Fisher on asymmetrical tunics and an incredibly subtle slate gray mohair coat. I was a woman wearing clogs—I wasn’t exactly hanging out in the crack house. I certainly didn’t expect that my foray back into dope would be with an undergrad who probably didn’t even know who Kathleen Hanna was.

* * *

The first time it happened with Michelle, I’d offered her a ride home because she was upset after TGIF, after I told her that there was no avoiding being found out. And I felt bad that I’d shown her tough love after she’d given me that hug two years ago. Plus, I hadn’t even read her final paper. She at least deserved a ride home.

I knew it wasn’t safe, but I went anyway. I knew it wasn’t safe as we were making small-talk, navigating the labyrinthine campus parking lot; I knew it wasn’t safe as we stop-and-go’d our way into the not-quite-ready-for-gentrification side of town, Michelle missing turns, forgetting that she was directing me; I knew it wasn’t safe as I followed her into the left side of the duplex. Every hair on my body was pulsing: Lady! This is not safe!

When she invited me up for a cigarette and a brownie, I thought show her you’re the cool professor. She’d been babbling the whole way about how good these brownies were, how she made them with applesauce instead of refined sugar.

When we got into her apartment, I remembered how desperately I wanted to be grown when I was in college and how desperately I want to be a child now that I’m unequivocally grown. It was something about the empty wine bottles as home décor and the exposed power cords that Jerome couldn’t abide and called “spaghetti madness.” They reminded me how profound my apathy for adulthood is, how much I long to leave my trash on the table and call it an aesthetic.

That’s when I met Jackson, Michelle’s boyfriend. He walked into the living room with his shirt off, wearing those fitted sweatpants that young men wear now that look like baby clothes.

“Yo,” he announced, less a salutation, more an announcement of arrival.

“Hey babe,” Michelle said, looking at him and immediately sucking in her stomach.

“I just got back from Mac’s, gonna get right. She cool?” The way he looked through me was a profoundly unnerving experience. There are a lot of men whose lack of sexual interest in a woman deems her body invisible, but this was more than that. I’m used to being invisible when I walk past construction sites and basketball courts, but most of my time spent around young men is in the classroom, where I’m the most visible person in the room.

“Of course I’m cool,” I offered, a little too quick and a little too loud, exactly the opposite of cool, and I could see that this instantly made Michelle nervous.

Jackson pursed his lips and raised his eyebrows, said nothing, but pumped his bicep a few times, hot and young. Jerome had been dead 26 months and it occurred to me this was the first time since then that I’d seen a man’s bare skin. I still didn’t realize what he was doing or what I was being cool with, but then he slid open a drawer of the coffee table and out came the spoon and the rig and the lighter and a thick stack of wax paper, bundled together with a rubber band, each bag with a stamped imprint of a book.

“War and Peace is what they’re calling this shit,” he smirked.

Michelle made a sound that was some combination of a panicked laugh, a cough, and a moan to be saved.

He cooked it; he shot it into the popped vein he’d prepped on his ripped bicep; he closed his eyes, sighed, and sunk into the hand-me-down floral chair that I imagined was Michelle’s grandmother’s. Michelle wouldn’t look at me the whole time, and I know my mind was blank as the ritual played out in front of us. I actually noticed how blank it was, hoped that I might preserve the sensation to recall during yoga class, when my mind never calms down, even with all that soothing shavasana music. He left after a few minutes of sinking, back into the bedroom or the bathroom, or whatever room he’d come from, and a few minutes after that he returned with his shirt on, kissed Michelle on the forehead and said simply, “be back in a few hours, gotta do deliveries.”

I stood to leave as he left, and he turned around.

“Where are you going? Following me?” He turned to Michelle. “Get these chicks in check when they come over to our place.”

I looked down at my Danskos, embarrassed that I hadn’t managed to stay cool for even twenty minutes, but also proud that even with my nursey clogs on I was still considered “a chick.”

We heard a screen door slam, and then I looked at Michelle.

“Told you that you’d be found out eventually.” We laughed, and Michelle looked relieved that I wasn’t mad at her. “How about one of those brownies?” Michelle went into the kitchen.

I slid my hand to the drawer that Jackson had slid open for his supplies, and tried to count the number of wax bags inside. Forty-three, forty-four, forty-five, and Michelle was back with the brownies on mismatched plates, paper napkins tucked into her bra strap. She cleared her throat and I slammed the drawer shut.

“I guess I was just curious about how they were representing War and Peace on such a tiny baggie,” I tried.

“If you want some, all you have to do is ask,” Michelle said like a matter-of-fact parent, cutting cake. “You’re welcome to anything you’d like. We have some beer too, if you want. Sorry, that’s all there is in the fridge. Or water.”

“I’m fine,” I said. “Thanks.”

We sat in silence, eating her very good brownies.

“I’m going to get high,” she said. “Do you want to get high with me?”

“Sure,” I said. And we did.

* * *

I was surprised at how ill the first dose made me. On the way home from the duplex, I pulled over twice to stick my head out and vomit. But by the time I got back home, car safely in the garage, phone turned off, I was feeling exuberant and chatty. The chattiness subsided into a syrupy heaviness that couldn’t choose between heartache or flight, that seemed to keep half my body buoyant and transform half of my body into one of those hot rocks they give you at Japanese restaurants to cook Wagyu beef. I did not have to choose: I was a hot rock and an aerodynamic wing, and the not choosing, that was the best part.

* * *

I went back two more times, both after TGIFs, and both times under the same weak guise of baked goods.

The second time, Michelle told me to sit in the living room while she disappeared immediately into the back bedroom, where I could hear her conversation with Jackson rising and falling, his voice a ripple of anger and condescension cut through their cheap apartment walls.

“You know the fucking rules, Michelle. No custies do product in our house. I’m not calling the ambulance for some college bitch I don’t even know. Get the fuck out with that.”

She scooted through the living room on the way to the kitchen and settled in with a stack of lumpy cookies on a paper towel. “Ranger cookies,” she said. “Supposably it’s a Texas thing. Jackson’s mom sent me the recipe, but I must have done something wrong because he says they don’t taste anything like hers.” I cringed when she said supposably, thinking that at least my class could have broken a habit like that.

I chewed greedy.

“Excellent cookies,” I said, through a full mouth.

She transitioned quickly, as though it was the most natural next step in the world.

“It’s called Fire Water this week. I haven’t tried it, but he says it’s supposed to be good, so—” she looked at me suddenly grave and low, “so be fucking careful.”

“The cookies are delicious,” I said.

“I’ll give you some to take home.”

I carry cash, which is something Jerome always insisted upon. He never quite trusted the electronic transfer of money, as though it could vanish at any moment, whereas cash was material and held some degree of actual weight.

I had $500, and no idea how much something like five bags of heroin would cost. I folded two, one-hundred dollar bills around each other and placed them on the coffee table next to the stack of misshapen cookies.

“We’re not trying to rob you,” she said, unfolding the bills and shaking her head as she handed me one of the hundreds back. “This is more than enough.”

She sauntered back into the kitchen, her jeans exposing the very top of her ass crack as she walked away. She came back with a brown paper lunch sack.

“Here’s some more cookies, Professor Gregg.”

I almost told her to call me Rita, but then I understood. This meant please leave my house, my boyfriend is pissed that you’re here in the first place, please don’t get me in trouble, please just leave now, and so I did. I left.

Jackson didn’t even have the chance to see my very carefully chosen outfit for the day, which I’d imagined might offer some evidence that I was, in fact, cooler than I’d appeared the week before.

The paper bag, a school lunch from a bad mother, went into my glove box, and then I second guessed that choice. If I were to be pulled over, it would be the first place I’d need to open.

I popped the trunk and placed the bag above the spare tire compartment, smooshed between the gallon of windshield washer fluid and the first aid kit. Then I thought again—admittedly, I was overthinking at this point—and stuffed the bag into the first aid kit. It wouldn’t quite close, so I pulled out several of the cookies and shoved the rest of the package into the blue plastic kit, now anxious to get out of Michelle’s neighborhood.

As I drove home, I shoved the Ranger cookies in my face unconsciously, turned up the soothing voices of NPR and focused on the day’s international news.

* * *

Here is the problem with me: I am scared without Jerome. I don’t want to get out of this car without him; I don’t want to walk onto the clay courts without his steady bouncing of the ball against the racket behind me.

I’m scared of my presentation, my way of moving through the world. I’m scared of the word widow because it seems so much more permanent than wife ever did. There is divorce to free oneself from wife, but there is no returning from widow. I’ve kept my ring on, of course. I couldn’t bear the embarrassment of being a middle-aged woman wearing tunics with no wedding ring.

When Jerome died, the nurse at the Emergency Room asked if I wanted his ring, and later the funeral director asked if I had a preference about it.

“Some people like to be buried with it and others like to keep it. There are also some very beautiful and meaningful ways you can transform it into a new piece of keepsake jewelry.”

I felt like he knew a guy who melted dead wedding rings into commemorative coins or golden origami cranes. Like maybe he made referrals.

“I’ll keep it.”

“A wise choice.” He handed me the ring in a small Ziploc bag, about the size of the wax paper envelopes.

* * *

At home, I acted as though I had things to do. I ran the dishwasher. I stared into the fridge absent-mindedly and drank a Fresca, trying not to fixate on the Ranger cookies and the school lunch I had tucked into my purse after I parked in the garage.

You never forget how to find a vein, how to hold the needle in your delicate grip and pull your skin taut. I have more muscle now than I ever did in the 90s, I am vainer and more scared of dying, so I do my pushups now.

It happens quickly, the return to pleasure.

I wanted my outsides to match my insides, and I drew a bath in Jerome’s re-furbished tub. The one that he spent so many hours hobbying. I poured in capfuls of argon and eucalyptus oil and squirted a large spray of my ungodly expensive shampoo underneath the pouring faucet for the sake of bubbles. I dipped my toe in the water; my foot; calf; all the way up to the hip bone and sunk into the deep porcelain bowl. I closed my eyes. Rather, my eyes closed on me. And I could feel the brilliance of perfect symmetry: outside, inside; same temperature, same emptiness, before I drifted into that immaculate liminal sleep of dope.

* * *

When I look back on it, now, from the empty tennis courts and the dead grass surrounding them, I imagine maybe I should have taken up a different hobby after Jerome died. Maybe I should have learned a trade in his honor, learned to throw pots or something else vaguely therapeutic. Michelle was wrong, I didn’t keep the garden alive. Last spring, despite my neglect, there were volunteer chives sprouting from the corner of the backyard—stubborn and flimsy.

Maybe I should sell the house, downsize, have his wedding band made into a crane, maybe I should make an online dating profile.

I didn’t think Michelle was going to die, because I never died, and think of all the dope I’ve done, with and without a dope habit. Twenty years of it, lying about doing dope, and never have I died yet.

* * *

Jackson wasn’t home today, and so we dispensed with the baked goods cover and got right to it.

She said it was called Chrysalis, which sounded like a bad band from about the time when I actually went to shows and bought t-shirts. I imagined what we might call guys who wore a Chrysalis t-shirt: posers, we’d say.

“Do you need another paper bag?” she asked, but I produced the original, the few sharp, clean syringes in it, along with a cotton ball from the oversized jar in my bathroom and a pretty spoon.

Here is the truth: there is nothing I could have done.

And here is another truth: I could have called the police before I got to the intersection of Broadmoor and Lyceum. And here’s another: I could have at least made sure that her tank top was pulled down and that her belly wasn’t the first thing the paramedics saw. I know she would have appreciated that.

The brown paper bag rode shotgun all the way here, its week-long wear showing every wrinkle and crease, every thumbprint and fold. I don’t know if Jackson will think to find me, but I took the whole stack of wax paper squares from the drawer in the coffee table. I thought that would be better for everyone. Slip, right into my lunch sack.

Here is the truth: there is no cure for the loneliness. Jerome was not a cure either. Look where we came to play tennis. Crosstown clay courts, dead grass, empty parking lot. We felt comfortable here, lobbing the fuzzy balls lazy over the net.

There’s probably no reason for me to get out of the car, but I want to. And I also want to stay buckled in my seatbelt, near my lunch bag. I could do it right here, in the car, no one would come by. I have a mini Bic at the bottom of my make-up bag. There’s a spoon in the paper sack. A whole kit. I could do it right here, shoot up in this empty tennis parking lot.

It was a bird feeder, that’s what he was painting that day I was reading Michelle’s paper. A bird feeder.

I know what people will say, but this is not a mid-life crisis. This is not boredom. This is a loneliness somewhere between the wilderness of grief and the suffocation of routine, and it might kill me.

I should be scared, I suppose, because maybe this is cut with fentanyl, which I keep hearing about on NPR and in the Times, but it would be a lie to say that I’m actually scared. There. That’s honest.

Shit or get off the pot, Rita.

Here I am: a peach, a plum, here I am, a cherry tree grabbed at by the neighbor children. Here I am: a planet, rock hard mantle, made of a mineral no one has yet named. The atmosphere swollen with gas, pneumatic tunnels hollowed through my core in secret patterns to be discovered centuries from now. Soft, fruit flesh // rock mantle planet, both. The not choosing, that is the best part. 

* * *

What will happen is this:

I will not die today in the parking lot, which will be for the best. If we both died on the same day, the dots would quickly connect.

There will be a campus memorial service, and an off-campus memorial service. There will be community meetings with speakers from various rehab centers and the narcotics unit of the police department, and they will invite a woman to speak whose son died from a heroin overdose, even though, hey, we’ll have our own dead girl’s mom—why not invite Michelle’s mother to talk?

Meetings will be called. Faculty members interviewed. Before I go to my meeting with the Dean, the Provost, and Kathy, my department chair, I will wander the house as though I might never see it again—full of the invisible-familiar suddenly made bright again—the stack of newspapers underneath the old Sanger; the empty dry-cleaning bag hung like an impotent ghost on the coat rack; the expired yogurt coupons on the fridge; the half-broken stack of tea strainers, the hollow tin of Danish butter cookies from last Christmas—suddenly I will worry that an outsider looking in on my home might find it dusty and lonesome. I will make sure to tuck away the brown paper bag, contents shrinking each day; each day taunting me to try harder at disappearing the loneliness. Each day a new guarantee that Jackson has written off the stack of wax paper squares, that they all belong to me and my blood.

On the drive to campus, I will remember a painting Jerome made during one of the evening classes he’d signed up for. The painting was two big heads floating lopsided on toothpick legs—hands and eyes the same exaggerated size—we look, we look, and we touch, grab, claw—there was a thick, blue swath at the top—a sky, presumably. But there was no corresponding green swath, no ground. Two figures occupied different corners of the page—each favoring their own personal wall—neither looking at the other, no oversized hands touched, no ground for their feet—just that skinny strip of sky they floated toward—us, orbiting a big, open middle.

 

image: Aubrey Hirsch


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