For Marcum Jay Schneider
Early that April—after I’d learned of Delores’s affair, but before I knew the details—I took to waking at sunrise and tramping the streets. Most mornings I kept downtown where I could see the women in their business clothes, but when the rumors became too loud to ignore, I began gravitating toward the woods outside the city. Like most people, I’m better at giving than receiving judgment, and I was sick of looking at people, even women.
On that morning, I’d walked for an hour when I found the cat in the high grass, a fat orange tabby lying on its side. She could’ve passed for asleep except her legs shot out unnaturally, as stiff as icicles. I picked her up by the head, half-expecting her to wake up and take a swipe at my cheek, but then I saw the thin red slit in her stomach running up to the ribs. Kids must’ve done this.
Clearly, I couldn’t ignore it. God doesn’t smite otherwise healthy tabby cats and expect people to disregard their carcasses. That’d be cheating. I considered stapling her paws to my shoulder, and traipsing up and down Main Street like a pirate with my parrot. Or maybe I could grab her by the scruff of the neck, and use her like a hobo does a squeegee on the windshields of stopped cars. These were fun enough ideas, and they’d certainly stick in people’s minds, but they weren’t practical. Anyway, I’d wind up getting carted off, and that’s not how I want to be remembered. Maniacs are less dangerous, more easily dismissed from people’s memories, than sane men with vicious imaginations.
Then I remembered Eli LeMay, my desperate buddy, drinking himself to pieces while his wife runs around town with her librarian. Eli wasn’t a violent man, but he’d never been tested before. People who survive childhood with their amicable disposition intact are capable of great and stupid feats when they first get depressed. Fine then, I thought. The cat can be educational.
I found two big sticks, tied them together with kudzu, and stuck it in the ground, ten feet to the right of the cat. It wasn’t meant to be a grave marker; I just wanted to remember where I’d found it. I turned around one time to remember the section of the woods, and then walked home carefully, marking my steps.
I meant to enter the house quietly, but the screen door slammed behind me, giving me away.
“Monroe,” Delores called from the kitchen. She had to yell to be heard over the water running in the sink. “Where you been this morning?”
A pack of menthols lay under the piano bench. They were halfway hidden under the leg, like they’d fallen out of a pocket and been kicked by someone moving too quickly to notice. “Good Lord,” I said. “What’s this?”
She reached up and flipped off the radio above the sink. “I asked where you were. You don’t normally take this long.”
“Menthols?” I said. “Have you switched brands?”
“They were on sale,” she said, without turning around. “Two for one, I thought I’d try it.”
I put one in my mouth, lit it, and winced. “Jesus, who smokes these? They taste like something girl scouts sell.” I walked up behind her and dropped it in her dishwater. “What sort of man smokes these? Honestly, what sort of man?”
“They were on sale, I said.” She turned around to look at me, and wiped a loose strand of hair back from her forehead. “You going to tell me where you been, or do I got to guess?”
I pointed to the screen door. “Outside. A dog’s got loose in the woods back there. Probably rabid. I figure Eli and I should go take care of it.”
“How is Eli? He holding up all right?”
I went down into the basement, flipped on the light, and found the two revolvers my father had left me. The effect would’ve been better if I had a rifle, but revolvers would have to do. I made sure they were loaded, jammed them into my pockets, and went back up to the kitchen.
“Oh for Christ’s sakes,” Delores said when she saw me. “You never shot a thing in your life. How’re you so sure you can hit a dog?”
“I’ve shot at things before,” I said. “Besides, dogs get slower once they get rabies.”
“What?” she said. “Is that true?”
“It could be,” I said. “What do I know about dogs?”
“Great.” She took the pin out of her hair, and let it fall down her back. “This gets smarter and smarter.”
“Thank you, sweetheart. I was worried I’d have to nag myself.”
“How about I call animal control instead?” she said. “Honestly, I don’t want you coming home with nothing but your thumbs.”
“Can’t call animal control.” I walked past her to the hat rack, and snapped up my bowler. “You get two sets of people looking for the same dog, and he’ll play us against each other, make us jealous. He’s smart like that.”
“Christ, you’re not funny.” She sighed and walked away. “Where’s your jacket?” she called from the living room. “You still need it out there, even now.”
“This could take a while.” I walked into the living room to look at her. “So if you’re going someplace, I might not see you until tonight.”
She scratched her forehead with her thumbnail, leaving a thin strand of dish soap grazing her eyebrow. “How long you think you’ll be?”
I shrugged. “Most of the afternoon. Depends some on Eli.”
“Poor guy.” She walked past me into the kitchen and dunked her arms back into the soapy water. “Tell him I say hello. If he needs supper or anything, let him know he can stop by anytime.”
“Eli’s all right. He’s a good kid and that’s rare.” I grabbed her shoulders and squeezed. “Maybe not as rare as self-respecting men who smoke mint cigarettes, but rare.”
She raised her hand out of the dishwater, and waved me away with a flick of her wrist. Flecks of soap spattered on my cheek and lips. No one else could get her mad like this.
I walked out the door and across the street, looking for a tree or a truck to hide behind. Whoever it was knew me, so I couldn’t just stand a hundred yards down the sidewalk out of her vision-line, like I’d done before. He might walk right up on me and about-face.
I hoped it was someone suitable, so I could feel proud instead of jealous. If it was someone young—and it had to be someone young—I wanted her to pick someone uniquely young. Most of the high school kids who lined Main Street every Friday and Saturday, even the bare-faced ones, all looked old in the worst way. They grew so fast and so alike that I already saw exactly how they were going to age. I saw the wrinkles and the paunch just as clearly as if they were real. Most of all, I wanted to bless the union. There was power in my blessing that she couldn’t take from me.
Fifteen minutes passed. She probably made the call as soon as she heard the door slam, and it barely takes twenty minutes to go from one side of town to the other. Then, from across the street, I saw terrier-faced Glen Collier tiptoeing to our house. Tiptoeing, like being quiet made him invisible. I considered sneaking back into the shadows, but there was no point. I could hold the door for Glen Collier, take his jacket, and he wouldn’t notice. At least he was strong. Maybe he could open some jars in the kitchen that were too stuck for me to unscrew. Maybe that’s all a woman can hope for and a man can hope to be—stronger than the one before.
At first, I thought Eli was hiding, pretending not to be home. I’d already rung the bell twice, and it couldn’t have taken him more than half-a-minute to walk from end to end of his shotgun house. I went to the side of his porch and banged on the windows. “Come on, now, Eli, let me in. I hear you clomping around in there.”
He opened the door, and stared at me with no sign of emotion or recognition. A thin black beard covered his face and neck, and his shirt had faded to the color of a giant coffee stain.
“You not answering your doorbell?”
“It’s broke.” He leaned forward like he was waiting for me to push him upright again. Even though he stood a foot away, I smelled the sour mash on his breath. This was something special, even for a professional drinker like him. “You want some coffee or something?”
“No time for coffee,” I said. “We got work.” I looked over his shoulder and into his living room. Bottles and books lay scattered across the front room. I didn’t see any food containers, and I wondered if he’d eaten at all during the past week. “A rabid dog’s got loose back here in the woods. Delores’s scared it might get one of the kids, so I figure we should take care of it.” I pulled out a pistol and dangled it in front of him.
“We’re going to shoot it?” He rubbed his hand over his red-rimmed eyes. “I don’t want to shoot a dog.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “You get it looking down the barrel of one of these, and you put the fear of God into it. It won’t bother anyone after that.”
He shook his head. “You can’t scare a dog, man. No way.”
“Well then.” I laughed and clapped him on the back. “I guess we’ve got to shoot it. Now come on and get ready.”
“I’m ready, I guess.” He took one graceless step forward, but stopped. “No, Monroe.” He clicked his tongue and dropped his head. “I’m sorry, but I can’t do this. I’ve been drinking since breakfast. I couldn’t hit a cripple, much less a dog.”
“That’s all right, man.” I stepped around him and closed the door. “You’re supposed to go hunting when you drink. It keeps you away from your car. Besides, what else are you going to do? I bet you haven’t even set foot outside this dungeon in a week. Come on.”
He rubbed his palms together. “All right then. Let’s go.” He took the gun and followed me off the porch.
We walked into the woods together, careful not to speak. Once we got to the tall trees, Eli threw an arm around my shoulder, in part to show affection and in part to keep his balance. I enjoy being quiet in other men’s presence. I notice the silence, which then lets me notice the other, softer noises, like the wind sweeping over the long grass, or the crows cawing back forth. Still, we weren’t out here for me, and if he didn’t start talking soon, the whole trip would be a waste. “Why are you drinking like this anyway?” I said. “Did I forget your birthday?”
He swallowed, wiped his mouth, and took a big breath. The wind ruffled his shirt, and he lowered his eyes to look at it. “Things aren’t so hot with me right now. Maybe soon, but not now.”
He bit his lips and shot me a cold, lopsided smile. “Don’t ask.”
“It isn’t about Sheryl living in Walkertown with that librarian, is it?”
“Jesus Christ.” He threw down his gun. “How’d you know?”
“Everybody knows,” I said. “Not like she’s hiding it. I ran into her at the store, and she seemed happy enough. Didn’t look bad either.”
“Great. That’s great news.” He kneeled down to get the gun and stayed on one knee. “A librarian. Who leaves somebody for a librarian?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Other librarians?”
“I mean, smart guys are interesting, and good looking ones are handsome. But what’s a librarian good for? Guy alphabetizes for a living.” He shook his head and tried to laugh. “My self-esteem is shot.”
“In college, a girl left me for a grocer.” I saw he wasn’t going anywhere, so I sat down beside him. “This happens to the best of us. It was bound to happen to you eventually.”
He scratched his beard, and then gave me a sharp, sideways look. “The best of us? What do you mean, ‘us’?”
“Smarter than you appear, kid.” I cracked my knuckles. “Right as we talk, Delores is in full coital embrace with some mechanic. Like I say, it happens.”
“Now?” he said. “Right now this is happening? What’re we doing here?”
“Dog hunting. We already had this conversation.” I plucked up a handful of grass and threw it in the wind. “I don’t like it either, but it doesn’t help to pretend she’s doing something awful. If you’re lucky enough to love a woman with a decent amount of blood in her veins, this’ll happen. Some days the bear eats you.”
“Yeah,” he said. “And some days the bear fucks your wife.” He put a hand in front of his face to cover his grin, but I could still see it.
“You know Glen Collier, the mechanic?” I said.
“Him?” He burst out laughing. “Christ alive, man. He’s ugly as a shit-stain.”
I nodded my head. “But he’s young. Got a heart tattooed on his shoulder, so he can pass for sensitive. She just turned thirty-five last month, so she needs a boy to take the edge off. I don’t fault her for it.”
“But you, man.” His voice couldn’t quite keep pace with his words. “What’re you going to do about it?”
“I’ll burn his house down. Have him move into our attic and make an honest woman of her.” I sat up to one knee. “He’s a kid, Eli, probably ten years younger than you. He’d tear my head off, all for what? Nothing I can do, and nothing I care to do. It’s just how it is.”
Eli reached down and patted the barrel of his gun. “There’s something you can do.” He laughed silently, shaking his shoulders and bobbing his head. “Always something.”
“Come on, cowboy, let’s walk.” I stood up and stretched, trying to beat back the aches that came with the rainy season. “This dog’s not going to shoot itself.”
By the time we hit the clearing, he could barely stand. His eyes were nearly shut, and he took each step like he was yanking his feet out of quicksand. I was tempted just to let him lie down and leave him to his dreams. The woods are good for sleeping this time of year, and nobody would likely bother him. Still, it might storm, and if he slept now, he’d learn nothing.
“Eli,” I said. “Look at this.” I dropped to one knee, put a hand over my eyes, and fired two shots at the nearest poplar. A swarm of crows streaked out from the surrounding trees and sailed above us, darkening the sky like a squawking thundercloud. Before long, the sky looked to be more bird than air.
It startled Eli awake. “Goddamn maniac.” His mouth kept moving, but I couldn’t hear him over the bird noise.
“It was the dog,” I shouted. “I swear I saw that dog.”
He shoved his finger in my face. “You didn’t see the dog in a tree. Dogs can’t climb trees, so stop lying to me.”
“Come on now, don’t be like that. I just wanted to show you the birds.”
“Well, I’ve seen birds before.” He wiped the back of his hand across his fat, chapped lips. “I’ve also seen lunatics with guns, and guess which one I like better.”
I began walking. He ran after me, and soon he was ready to talk again.
“You know how Sheryl was setting up dates with this guy?” he asked. I liked that he wasn’t wasting time. “She said she’s studying. She had to be at the library, because she wanted to go back to school.”
We were coming to the high grass where I’d been that morning. It meant we were close.
“It makes me sick,” he said. “Honestly, thinking about it just makes me sick. Over the past week, I’ve left the house maybe three times because I’ve felt too rotten to move. For a while, I thought I was done for.”
“You really love her that much?” As soon as I asked it, I realized I couldn’t stomach an answer. “No you don’t. Let me tell you something that ought to ease your mind: you don’t love her enough to die for her. You don’t love anybody that much. Nobody loves anybody that much.”
He nodded his head in agreement, but I couldn’t let it go.
“Thing is, people die from time to time, and that’s a goddamn shame, but they’re not dying for love. No one’s died for love.”
“What about AIDS?”
“I’m serious. You’ve got a dramatic side, and it’ll bite you if you’re not careful.”
“Give me a break.” He showed me his corn-colored teeth through a fake smile and then turned his back on me. “Not everyone’s going to act like Jesus Junior just because you do. Sometimes you got to do something.”
“We got a regular Billy the Kid over here.” I ran my wrist under my nose, and wiped it off on the back of my pants. “Tell me, Billy, what’s this something you’re going to do? Walk around downtown with a librarian’s head on a pike? Tell me when because I want to see it.”
He chewed on his thumbnail.
“You’re mostly young, too,” I said. “You got to understand this stuff happens. It’s your bad luck that she got to it before you, but that’s all it is—bad luck. At least you don’t got kids.”
“You’re a boy scout, I forgot. Forgive me for not liking the thought of catching some other guy’s clap. I’m not going to do nothing stupid, but I don’t want to do nothing at all.” His voice was losing form. “And there’s nothing wrong with that either.”
My knees began to ache. “All right, do what you need.”
The sun cut through the trees, shining a pale rectangle of light over the grass. Eli kept walking, but I stayed still, not wanting to turn away from the light. It’d be gone forever if I stopped looking, even for a second. I wished I could draw it, paint it, or even shoot it—anything but ignore it and leave. But then, from the corner of my eye, I saw the cross I’d made that morning. I knew we were close, but I thought we had a couple hundred yards to go. I nodded to Eli and grabbed my gun. “I think I see it,” I whispered.
“What do you see, man? What do you see?”
“Quiet,” I snapped. “You’re going to scare it away.” I tiptoed past him and into a thin slice of sunlight.
“Is it the dog, man? What do you see?”
I walked up to the cross and turned right. It was still there. I’d worried some kids might come along and take it away, but as soon as I turned, I saw a rectangular dent in the grass where it looked like nothing grew.
I heard him coming behind me. There was a faint swish whenever he stomped down more grass, and I could guess his steps—plodding at first, then quick and clumsy. He’d become excited.
When we came to the dent, I cleared away more grass with my foot to give him a better view of the cat. She looked just as peaceful as she did that morning except for a line of black ants crawling from her stomach. It was a slight change, but it disgusted me to think how quickly it’d happened.
“We’re lucky,” I told Eli. “We got him when he’s sleeping.”
He laughed. “That’s not a dog, man.”
I stepped over the cat and fired. It was meant for the meat just above the back legs, but I shot too quickly and took off half her tail. The noise sent more birds scattering from their branches. I could hear them flapping and singing, but I didn’t want to look up at them yet. I couldn’t even look at Eli until I’d made a better hit.
“That’s not a dog, man. That’s not a dog.” He was yelling now, but slowly, like I couldn’t understand the language. “That is not a dog. I’m serious.”
I fired again, this time hitting the fur below her neck. “Who’s got rabies now?” I shot at her front paw but missed. “Answer me.”
Eli put his hand on my shoulder. It wasn’t to stop me, only to keep from falling. “That’s somebody’s pet,” he said. “It’s got a collar and everything.”
I turned and held up a finger. “Cover me.”
“Cover me,” I yelled. “Make sure he’s alone.”
He took a step to the right, then froze. “Goddamn, Monroe, what’re you doing to me?”
I lined up for another shot, but stopped. He’d seen enough, and, besides, there was nothing left to shoot but the head.
“That belongs to somebody,” he said. “What’d you shoot that thing for?”
I put the gun away. My shoes were covered with blood and clumps of fur, and I tried wiping them off on the grass. “You ever seen anything like that before?”
“No, tell me. Have you seen that before? Something get shot, I mean. A mammal.”
He took a step back and bent slightly at the knees. I couldn’t tell if it was his morning liquor or the smell of the cat that was getting to him, but I saw he wasn’t going to make it.
“It’s messy,” I said. “It’s easy to forget that if you’re just thinking about it, but it’s messy. I mean, look at it.”
He waved me away with his right arm and stared up at the trees.
“I’m serious, look at it.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “Because if you’re just thinking about it, you could get the wrong idea.” I pulled out my gun and fired again, hitting the cat in the mid-section where it’d already been hit. It bounced up like a wet basketball.
“Fucking maniac.” He knelt down on the grass slowly, careful not to topple over. Almost as an afterthought, he leaned to the side and threw up. Even this seemed cautious, almost pre-planned. He looked up at me, and wiped his mouth with the back of his wrist. “Shooting a cat that’s never done a thing to you.”
“What’s it going to do to me? Sell me bad stock? Knock up my sister? Tell me one thing it could’ve done to me to deserve what I just did to it. Just tell me one thing.” I sat down beside him, and cupped my hand on his knee. “The world’s enormous, Eli. Squint your eyes and drink a little, and one thing looks pretty much like anything else. It just takes imagination.”
He brushed my hand away.
“All I’m saying is you shouldn’t waste your time on the little stuff. Once you start thinking things are so special they can’t be replaced, you just get yourself in trouble. Especially if you don’t know what it looks like.”
“Jesus Christ,” he said. “You just shot an animal. For nothing.” He stood up, stumbled, and then righted himself.
“All right,” I said. “Let’s get on back.”
“I’m serious,” he said. “I don’t want to listen to you no more.” He threw his gun down and ran off deeper into the woods.
I started chasing after him, but there was no use. He’d stomp around the forest for a while, maybe even belly-flop in some shaded patch of honeysuckle and sleep it off, but he’d make it home all right. Anyway, he’d already seen what I had to show him. He’d wake up angry, maybe even embarrassed, but without all those rages and dramas pumping though his head.
I began looking for a sharp rock or stick to use as a spade to dig a hole for the tabby. The ground was soft here, but not soft enough for me to make like a mole and burrow down with my fingernails and teeth. I snapped a small limb off a low hanging pine tree, and got down on all fours, but all I could tear away with the branch was a small hole, not big enough for a golf ball. Finally, I gave up, and grabbed a big, mossy stone from under a willow tree. The cat probably came from a Christian home, but she’d have to settle for a Jewish burial. I dropped the rock on her stomach, said as much of the Lord’s Prayer as I could remember, and walked back into town.
I didn’t want to go home yet. Delores might not be done. Instead, I took the long route to the supermarket and filled up the cart with ready-made meals. Eli wouldn’t bother making anything more complicated than soup or tuna fish, but he might eat if the food was already cooked for him.
When I got to Eli’s house, I saw the door was unlocked, and nobody was home. I stepped over the mess in the living room and walked back to the kitchen. The floor around the sink was lined with empty beer bottles, and the drain was clogged with cigarette butts. I grabbed a piece of paper towel and scooped up the wet cigarettes. Then I fished out a trash bag and put the bottles inside. It took four trips to the backyard trashcan, but I eventually uncluttered the kitchen.
I walked into the living room and started grabbing up the trash. It was hard to tell the garbage from the keepsakes, as Eli apparently had taken out all the memorabilia and photographs from his attic. They were scattered on the floor, covered in muddy footprints. I tried sorting it out for a while, but wound up clearing it all away. Eli wouldn’t miss it, and, even if he did, he’d appreciate the cleanliness more than the memories.
After cleaning, I opened one of the cans of green beans I’d bought and ate them on his front porch. I ate slowly, careful to taste each bean before swallowing. It was nearly sunset before I finished, and Eli still wasn’t home. I thought about waiting for him, trying to explain, but realized I was just stalling. Delores was finished, and the man was gone. I closed my eyes, waited for dark, and then strolled home.
All the lights were out in the house. That meant she’d either gone upstairs to sleep or she was having a cigarette on the back porch, and since her last birthday, she didn’t mind smoking inside. I went over to the piano and began belting out chords.
“Delores Marie, Delores Marie,” I sang, “strong as bourbon, sweet as tea.”
“What’re you doing down there?” she yelled. “The neighbors will call you in for being a nuisance.”
“Look who’s among the living?” I walked up the stairs and back to our bedroom.
“You get that dog?”
I stood in our doorway and looked at her. She was sprawled out on the bedspread in her stringy, green bathrobe, one arm half-hanging off the bed. Her hair was bunched up behind her, looking like a black sponge with loose threads spread out all over her satin pillow.
She rubbed a finger under one eye and sat up. “How’s Eli doing?”
“What’ve you been up to today?” I stared at myself in the mirror and bit my lower lip. “You haven’t been smoking more menthols, have you? I don’t care how good a deal they are. I’ll buy you some real ones.”
“Lay off on that,” she said. “Is he holding up okay?”
“He’s a little down, but he’ll be all right.” I unbuttoned the top of my shirt, and scratched my chest hair. “Hey, you want to see something funny?” I burst into a run, and dove headfirst onto the bed beside her.
“God.” She sat up. “Are you diseased? What’s gotten into you tonight?”
“I don’t know, sugarplum,” I said. “What’s gotten into you?”
She propped herself up on her elbows and then lay back down. “You’re going to sleep like this? In your filthy clothes and shoes?”
I sat up, reached over her, and flipped off her table lamp.
“Great,” she said. “This is great. At least take your shoes off. They’re muddy.”
I rested my head back on the pillow and caressed the edge of the mattress with my right hand to see if I could feel Glenn Collier’s imprint.
“Stop squirming.” She turned her back to me and lay on her side. “Just try to sleep a little, will you?”
I reached under the covers and grabbed a handful of her stomach. “Jesus.” With my free hand, I grabbed a second one, closer to the hip. “Delores,” I whispered, “get a load of this. Two years ago, I couldn’t do this.”
“Nothing’s wrong with it. It’s just interesting to see how quick people get soft. When I was your age, it happened to me too.”
“You were always soft.”
I put my hands behind my head and looked down at her legs. “Where’d you get those veins at, anyway?”
She sat up half-way. “What do you mean?”
“Those ones.” I leaned forward and traced my thumb around the veins in her upper thigh. “I could see them for a while, but I couldn’t always feel them.”
“I don’t.” She lay back flat. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
“We’re getting old, babe,” I said. “Old and ugly and there’s not a thing to do about it.”
“I really don’t know what you’re saying tonight. You’re talking nothing but babble.”
“I’m saying, what can you do?” I shut my eyes. “Seriously, what can you do about getting old? Just lie back and wait, I guess.”
“Fine,” she said. “Lie back, wait, and stop fucking bothering me.”
She rolled over, and I rolled over with her. I pushed up tight against her and put my face on top of hers, cheek to ear. Her breath smelled like smoke covered with fluoride.
“Give me some space,” she said. “You’re pushing me off the bed.”
“Sorry.” I lay flat and waited. Soon, she rolled over with her face turned toward me. Her eyes were still open, but she was mostly asleep. I sat up.
“What’re you doing, babe?” Her voice was tired and shapeless, all strung together like a harmonica note. “Go to sleep already.”
I reached down and put my hand on her hip. The hipbone was sharp, but the skin felt rubbery below. I pushed just hard enough for her to feel, then ran my fingers down the veins in her legs. When I couldn’t reach any farther, I brought them back the same way and started again. “Look at these things,” I whispered. “Jesus, look at these things.”
“What’re you doing?”
They reminded me of the thinnest creeks in the mountains—just little cracks in the surface. I was pushing harder now, going back and forth. “Just look at these things. They’re everywhere.”
She sat up and swatted away my hand. “What’s wrong with you? Feeling me like I’m made of Braille.” She got out of bed and tightened her bathrobe. “I can’t be around you if you’re acting like this.”
She took three heavy steps toward the door, stopped to grab her cigarettes, and stormed out. The sound of her pounding down the stairs filled up the room, and she seemed to be moving faster with each step. I heard the front door open, but not close. She was moving too fast to slam it.
I shut my eyes and lay down. Maybe she was running to him. I thought about watching her from the window, but didn’t. Something might be off, and it would ruin how I wanted to see it.
I wanted to see her racing through the streets, one hand holding her robe shut, and the other one pumping back and forth, the way children run. She wouldn’t be crying, but she’d know if she slowed down, even for a second, the sadness would catch up to her. About halfway to his house, something would stop her. She’d step on a stone, or someone would catcall her from their porch, and she’d remember herself. A fading middle-aged woman at midnight, with her makeup mostly washed off and the soles of her feet as black as tar, wearing a frayed green bathrobe that won’t stay shut. All that flesh will start to feel heavy on her bones, and she’ll sit down. She’ll know she’s old now. Running into the night won’t cure that, and a new mechanic won’t avenge her of it. The sweat on her forehead will chill her, and she’ll move quickly, in one direction or another, anywhere to get out of the thick, sticky night. It might happen that way, and it might happen another way, and it seemed to matter less with each approaching thought.
I imagine God forgives us at least one sin that we refuse to repent for, and here’s mine: I can’t help showing people how old and small their imaginations have become. It’s easy to forget how generic thought patterns are, especially if you’ve been given a busy heart. Passions start collecting quicker than you can spend them or ignore them, and they muddle together in your mind. Soon, you stop noticing the details, and you’re stuck with the simple versions of jealousy or desire that everybody feels and everybody forgives themselves for.
I opened my eyes and put my hand over my chest. My heart rattled in my ribcage like a sparrow flapping out of a tin can, so I sat up. Delores’s perfume lingered in the sheets, and I could still make out the shape of her head in the pillow. I ran my hands over the folds and curves of the comforter and ducked my head, my mouth wide open.
My mind wasn’t compromised, at least not much, not yet. If Delores had built the walls around her own thoughts, she could still live on in mine. But my mind could go on past her, past what she’d forgotten and past what she still knows, until it circled her eight times around and became bigger than the both of us, together or apart.
I saw it clearly then, and I still do, but I know now that one of the few blessings God has given us is the inability to see when or why our imaginations end.