You Tell Me
Posted on March 17th, 2014
The first week I hid in the long grass until my body became vapor and when it reassembled and the light fell down into the water I got up and walked back to the house.
The first week, I catalogued the silences, and their names. The time before the bird takes off and leaves the branch trembling. The time of white steam from the brown bowl. The space between saying the word and the word reaching you. Hands behind glass, waving.
The first week opened the land and gave me new sentences. I took the old ones out, and assembled their meanings: our bodies, moving through the kitchen. Our bodies spelling one kind of truth. Our bodies breaking eggs into a dark pan, the yolk staring back. Your body, and its capable hands. Your mouth.
The second week, I began to lose things. One: a handful of minutes, misplaced in a drawer. Two: Three syllables. And so on.
The second week I stood in the far field where the red deer go and had white wrists that hung below my coat sleeves and when the phone in my deep pocket began to ring I said no.
When the book came from the far library, I said yes. The second week, I learned all that I could about the hidden and how it creates the seen.
The third week, I set out to cross the wide country.
I will stop, when I reach you. I know this much is true.
I put down the manuscript and looked across the wooden table to where Ina sat, waiting for whatever it was that I would have to say. I kept probing the inside of my mouth, trying to fish a corn kernel out of a molar in a pause that I hoped passed for reflection because it was bad and I didn’t know how to say it, or, at least, it was something that I understood but was embarrassed to have read. Some prose is like catching your friend with her drawers down, and you want, instead of pointing it out, to silently pull them back up and keep walking on into some unfocused middle distance, as a courtesy to you both.
“It’s about Curtis.”
Curtis. Of course it was. Curtis was confused. Ina wanted the confusion to Mean Something. Maybe it did. Maybe it didn’t. The facts were that it created a lot of words, in the meantime, designed to fill the spaces where she thought Curtis should be, and he wasn’t. I wanted a fried egg. I had Ina, instead, waiting.
“It’s….interesting.” She’d know what I meant, but, there are words you push across tables because they are what you have, rather than what you really mean.
Ina got up, gathering the papers in front of me, and walked out of the room. “Cigarette” was the thing she tossed over her shoulder, and the screen door echoed it, clanging in the cold. We’d never taken it down. You figure it will be spring, eventually.
The thing was, I wasn’t without sympathy. There’s no surer hell than to be bent out of shape about someone who doesn’t have the sense to see that they’re in love with you. The entire back fence was dedicated to that situation, because every post was named ‘He’ and every wire said ‘is stupid’ and I’d put them all in, one hot week in August, and decided that enough was enough. I had the fence. Ina had the words. Between the two of us, frustration had fattened, like so many melons in a deep dark place, in the way that sweetness, given time, turns over into something sharp. February goes straggling through all of your soft places with indiscriminate hands. It doesn’t care where the bruises are. Or how many.
What I wanted to tell her, while splitting wood, because nothing stops cold from happening, was that it wasn’t worth it. That people are so routinely stupid, it shouldn’t surprise her any more, the way we’ve all ceased to be startled by the earth’s roundness, the passage of light through space, gravity working on objects. The instant someone begins to know something about himself is the instant he will make a grand mistake. On principle. As an objection. As an illustration. As something he almost can’t help, the way a dog will pee on a rug.
Leave all of it.
Pile the wood higher, instead.
The fourth week, I counted shells. Every shell in the house, taken from the reservoir, taken from the sea, the whole ones, the half broken ones. Seventy-eight. The fourth week. I wrote the tally, and put it in the mailbox by the side of the road, and waited. On the fifth day, it was gone, and I thought oh, thank you. The fourth week I began three different letters and their contents were rocks, bones, and feathers but their last line was I love you and I sent none of them. The fourth week had many things that I wouldn’t say.
The fifth week the wind came.
The sixth week, the snow.
The point is the letting go, Ina.
No, the point is the giving in, that is the point.
I’m shoveling and she’s smoking, the long fingers of it sketching in space. They seem like the same thing, and Ina says that in one, you fall backwards, and in the other you fall forwards, and there’s a sense to that. We’ve cleared a path down to the chickens. I am stacking the last heavy pile where the others have been, and there is something final and neat about it, even though it’s not true. It can be true for now. For the next hour.
I found the shells arranged according to some formula I couldn’t quite work out, on the dining room table. The paper with the number. When I came back from hauling wood, the entire assembly was gone.
I’m not sure what she’s writing, now, when she goes upstairs, only, I hear pen and paper, and it goes on for some time. I want to caution her against giving the right things to the wrong people, but, it’s too late, for all that. The stove unrolls its red tongue in the dimming living room, and I sit there, tired in the growing dark.
The seventh week, the pond disappeared or became a meadow, singing at night in a low long moan. It was another thing that I would give you. If I could. If you wanted.
The eighth week I slowly scraped the hair from my legs in the bath and there was a cut and nothing to be done about it except waiting. The water went cold. I left with fingers and toes that had turned bloodless in the hour.
The ninth week I knew: you had never read them. Never was where I had wandered into.
It snowed all through the night, and into the next day. The stove went out, and my breath stayed in the air, clouding around the still rooms. When no one came down for tea, I pulled the boots on in a crack of frozen hides, and set out, for the far wood pile, for the feather of birds, sleeping in the deep snow, in the dark hold of their murmuring coop.
I found her down in the yard, a whiteness in a whiteness.
The first month was a story, and you were in it.