Before and After
Posted on January 18th, 2014
On the day that Anson died we went down to the water in the flat grey light and I found a rock with a split white band across it like a web of heat and put it in my pocket. Lorna has a jar of these that sits on a shelf in the kitchen, filled with water, so that she can see them as they had been when she found them, and I wondered if she’d prefer to fill Anson’s coffin with water too, for this same reason. But, we didn’t. His body was burnt up and then it was parceled out and it left our hands and went into the wind one shake at a time. The shape of it rising was like some echo of the smoke that came out of that car that caught fire in the parking lot last winter. The dishwasher came and got me and I put the knife down and we stood at the window, watching the glass pop and the darkness come out of the back of the truck and he said well, damn, and I agreed. They thought it was electrical. Antonio, the other dishwasher who wasn’t Kyle who was young and nineteen and loved speed metal and women with large rear ends, had parked his car next to the one that met its demise and said that he couldn’t get the smell out for love or money. Which is a strange phrase, ‘love or money’, like someone is going to keep offering you that choice, or, offer it to you ever. Anyway. Anson left my hand and then I thought that some part of him might’ve stayed, and that night, I both did and did not want to wash my hands because of this. I’ve been historically bad at making choices. This one was no different.
There was the question of what to do with his boat and while it was still a question the boat sat under a loose tarp in the yard, facing seaward, the way a dog will wait by a door for someone. I kept thinking that I should give it some word of encouragement when I passed it on my way to work, but then I’d get there, and I’d start cutting up vegetables and chickens and whatever else they passed my way and I’d forget. Lorna asked if I was still thinking about graduate school, and I looked down at my cracked dry knuckles and their tendency towards blood and said I guess not. You wonder if your hands will always recall certain things, or if they’ll forget. Anson’s hands knew all of the knots, and now those things are some part of the atoms that make up the bay, but I haven’t woken up knowing any of the hitches in the line yet. Lorna tells me that I’m young, and I don’t know how to explain to her the sense that I have, nightly, of running out of time. Time for what, she’d say, and I would have to say I don’t know, time for everything. For doing the right things. For saying the right words.
I’m in love and I don’t know how much time there is for that, for instance. It takes up some back otherwise unoccupied room in the house that I imagine is my brain, and that entire room is this one name, and I turn it over and over again in my palm, smoothing it like a stone. I haven’t done anything about it, and I don’t know that I will, because I’m uncertain of its reception which Anson always said was a Human Problem. You could see the capital letters. His hands would be cleaning fish, and his mouth would form those words with a great solemnity and I would want to ask him what the solution was because his hands formed answers out of things that seemed like impossible messes. And then he died. And I’d run out of time for another thing. And so now I just have this room with its one name instead, and the sense that, if my private feelings were reciprocated, surely there’d have been some sign by now, some motion. The problem might be that my efforts have mostly been in the realm of trying to outrun the room and the name at night, and you can’t say to someone I spent this lone hour on the sidewalks trying to outrun love, like it’s a gift that you can give them and they’ll understand it. In the film that I see while my feet run down the streets past the lit windows of other people’s dinners and arguments and silences and once, kisses, I don’t have to say anything at all. It just happens. There is a Before and then there is an After and also an Ongoing and we take ourselves up with the rhythm of the words and days and the feeling of that is that there’s suddenly enough time for everything. Anson said that expectations were the source of all misery. But they seem tied to hope, somehow, and I haven’t figured out how to have one without running it into the other.
Maybe it’s this problem that makes me stop on the way home and step over the sidewalk and into the yard to where the boat is. Lorna is still calling out orders and filling mugs with black coffee and therefore doesn’t see that second when I decide to take it, which I am sure was written on my face the way that everything else has ever been. I take the key to the truck. I hitch the whole business together. I don’t know why I’m doing it, only, it seems to have something to do with that back room.
It’s late in the afternoon and winter which means that the light is grey but also blushing faintly. I do this when I’m talking to the Object of My Affection in an uncontrolled way that has nothing to do with the subject matter of our sentences, and is all the more galling for it. But. Here over the ocean it makes the air rounder, softer than its normal self, and I get fanciful and believe that Anson is somehow fine with my current boat business. It slides back into the water over the concrete slabs. No one’s out. I lower the motor. The sound of its start is loud but then swallowed up and then I’m cutting across the glassy mouth of the bay. The liquid pulls away from the prow in a white line of lace. I’m not sure, yet, what the point is. I just figure at some point, my hand will remember.