Thump

Our car passes over the seams joining concrete slab to concrete slab. An infinite number of cold, hard squares patch together the highway as it grows between me and the husband I just buried.

Thum-thump thum-thump.

The steady drumbeat of the road thrums through my body as I stare without seeing through the window.

Thum-thump thum-thump.

My heart syncs with the new and foreign rhythm. Seventy years of knowing one man’s heartbeat and it feels wrong for mine to beat on its own.

Thum-thump thum-thump thum-thump.

I try to think of the life I will have now that Jacob is gone, but it stretches out in front of me like this highway, grey and plain and unknown. I lived a life before him, but it was long ago swallowed by the tall gregarious man with hazel eyes.

Thum-thump thum-thump.

A car behind us switches lanes and picks up speed. As it passes, I see my son, pedal to the metal and eyes intent on the road.

Thum-thump thum-thump thum-thump.

We’re headed for the same destination; no doubt he hopes to beat us there and case the joint like the carrion bird he is.

Don’t touch a thing, sonny boy. Every single piece of that house belongs to me and your father. Every tchotchke, a treasured memory. They’re mine; without them, your father is gone.

Thum-thump thum-thump.

Mine–the picture he drew of us on our first date, walking between cars at a drive-in burger joint. He’d just taken my hand, under the guise of helping me navigate the dark parking lot. When he touched me, I knew. With blind certainty, I knew. My life had just skipped beats, skipped town, skipped tracks for another destination. I would never be the same. In the picture, my face is turned up to look at him, seeking him out like chlorophyll does the sun.

Will you think that valuable enough to pilfer, little vulture?

Thum-thump thum-thump.

Mine–letters written while your father served in World War II. Letters full of promises and love and fantasies sufficiently bawdy to make even you blush. We lavished it all on each other and on the army intermediaries censoring soldiers’ mail.

Mine–the letter announcing that you were born, the one he read and re-read while hunkered in the mud, fighting foreign enemies. Letters written when he fought in the Korean War–stories of you and life at home, stories of war, stories that laid bare Jacob’s darkest thoughts, born from killing enemies and watching friends die.

Page after page documented our separate lives until they were separate no more.

How much would those fetch you, son?

Thum-thump thum-thump.

Maybe they’re not what you’re after. Would you prefer his knife collection? Guns he polished at night while we all sat together in the living room? The tools he tinkered with, standing at the workbench in the garage? The pipes he smoked after dinner, always carefully cleaned and polished?

Go ahead. Take them. What do they matter? They don’t anchor me to your father; he was my anchor. Without him, I could float away into this cloudless sky—up, up, up, until there is nothing and nothing matters. All that stuff, the clunky baggage of our lives together only weighs me down, keeping me behind when I could just let go.

After all those years spent living and loving, creating and fighting, making up, making do, making out–maybe there is no letting go. Just the relentless thrumming of the highway.

Thum-thump.

What If?

I look down at you in the bed with all that hardware—tubes and wires running around you, over you, through you. The machines have assimilated you, like the Borg—an entire species that now exists as a metaphor for how we’ve turned you over to the machines as caretakers, task makers (eat this, drink this, breathe now). Resistance is futile.I want to crawl in the bed with you, to comfort you and reassure myself, but machines can be delicate. I won’t disturb the precise bend of a tube or the embedded point of a needle. Instead, I pull up a chair and reach for your hand. You open your eyes.

I wish we had known each other longer, you croak.

Shush.

You shush. We should have met sooner.

You weren’t ready for me then.

Bullshit.

Maybe you’re right. Maybe we’ve known each other our whole lives.

Tell me.

We were eight and your family moved in up the street. I was never lonely or bullied on the bus; you were there. At recess we’d huddle in the large tunnel, sequestering ourselves from the rest of the kids.

‘Cause they were big mean stupid-heads.

Exactly. And we made a fort in my basement, with sheets and blankets and pillows. No one allowed but you and I. When my mom died, we snuck away from the adults to hide in our fort. When I cried, you cried.Tears brim on your eyelashes, so I move on.

Remember when I spent the night at Sean’s house when his parents were out of town?

Sean, what a tool. You smile.

That’s not what you called him the next day, after he ignored me at school. You remember?

What did I call him?

Fucking dickwad.

You chuckle. Sounds like me. What next?

Surely you don’t think it was my idea to cover his car in shaving cream? Or syphon gas out of his tank?

No, but you were the one to suck the gas out of the tube.

Seemed only fair. It was my revenge…I spent days getting the taste out of my mouth.

The taste of gas or the taste of Sean?

I wiggle my eyebrows.

What next? What next?

We graduated high school. We went to college. You learned key lessons about tequila. I learned about men named Keith.

You were at my wedding, you whisper.

Maid of honor, baby. Your bachelorette party remains legend. We still can’t go back to the Bellagio.

I time-travel through our stories, sewing them together, knowing you before you were tied down by husband and children and family. Before you were you. I run over the seam between our tales until I reach the place where they are one, where you marched into my life all tubas and twirling flags and sparklers.Children were born, a couple divorced, and a husband got sick. These stories need no thread.

How does it end? you ask.

I don’t know.

Yes you do.

I look down and begin to cry. You squeeze my hand until I look up. With a nod, I move to the closet of your private room and grab the spare sheets from the top shelf, along with some extra blankets and pillows. I turn around to see the question on your face.We’re going to need a bigger fort.

               

Lost and Found

I walk through the park in the center of town as a fine rain begins to fall. There’s no umbrella in my hand, but I don’t mind getting wet. As the drops grow in size, I turn my face upwards to greet them. Lamp posts throw light behind the rain, illuminating it in turns and degrees.
Out of sheer contentment with the rain and this beautiful night, I open the door to that otherinside me and push it out to my surroundings. It expands around me in a sphere that grows out, out, out. Gradually, like coming out of a satisfying nap, I gather awareness to me. I am the blades of grass experiencing the percussive landing of a million drops; I am the parched soil greedily soaking water into myself. I am the rain drops, tracing the path I traveled from the heavens.
I rotate in a circle on my patch of land, basking in a rare moment of peace. Suddenly, I sense a presence. I drop my eyes to the horizon and scan. There, on the opposite edge of the park. I feel her. I see her, silhouetted in shadow. I can’t see the face, but I know who she is.
Is it possible?
Anything’s possible. I long since learned that lesson.
But what does it mean?
She turns and starts to walk away from me. I can’t let her leave me again. I’m still opened up to the air, the water, the earth. I close my eyes and reach into myself to that space within, resonating with the frequency and beauty that I can and cannot see. My power whispers to it, shapes it, molds it.
I open my eyes. The rain in the air has slowed almost to a stop. The drops are falling so slowly now that only I can perceive their movement. I peer past the rain; a couple hurrying through the park to find shelter are seemingly frozen in place; a dog running past is suspended, mid-leap, above the ground. I focus on my target; she’s frozen in her retreat.
My heart races, pushing blood through every cell of my body. I forge a slow and steady path through the suspended rain. Gingerly, I run my fingers down the frozen prisms, parting them in front of me like a beaded curtain. They crowd together, pear-shaped diamonds shimmering against the night sky.
Four. Four years since my sister died. She was only fifteen, overwhelmed by her own power. I watched as it consumed her, forever taking her from us.
Or did it? Though we held a funeral for her, there she is. I keep walking.
My sister. The light of living and loving in stark contrast to my own brooding presence in our family. With her, only ever with her, did I fit.
Now I can see hair falling over her shoulders, divided into a series of canyons and ridges by tiny rivers of water. Any doubts immediately disappear. I walk around to face her.
Where have you been? Are you really here now? 
What happened to you?
Finally, I see her face—at peace, a small, knowing smile cocked at the side of her lips. I reach up and brush lethargic, plump drops of water off her cheek. Like a flipped switch, the features of her face catch up with me suddenly; I see recognition dawn in her eyes.
The water begins to fall again.

Just Keep Driving

I drive away from you.

As the distance between us grows, I expect to feel calmer, safer. But adrenaline still pumps through my heart, pushing through my veins. My body sings with the luxury of a new emotion: anger. It takes all worry about what the future brings and pushes it into the backseat. For now, I’m free from you. From your judgment, your rules, your temper.
Your fucking rules. At first, they felt random and haphazard, but you carefully crafted them to stack the deck against me. The house always wins, so you became the house.
You are worthless. Selfish. Inconsiderate bitch. You can’t do anything right.
Just like building a snowflake out of a piece of paper, you started with something whole, then cut away the excess. A snip here, a cut there, the unwanted parts of me sloughed off, falling to the cutting floor. Self esteem, feelings of love and hope, a sense of fairness—you punched your holes, snipped your corners, and I unfurled, exactly in the shape you wanted. How pretty.
A snowflake doesn’t know it was ever anything else.
I keep driving, saying aloud the things I never could say to your face. Like how you never did a goddamn thing for me. I did your laundry, washed your dishes, cleaned your floors, mowed your lawn. When I got my license, I ran your errands. Everything you ever did for me served you in the end. Over the years, I got skilled at looking behind the curtain to find your true motivation.
Even “favors” that wouldn’t cost you a thing, like a night at a friend’s house, you’d make me pay. “What are you going to do for me?” My whole life, I’ve been paying. Paying back, paying with time, paying with favors.
Paying out of my own hide.
You called it discipline, but I was onto you. There was nowhere to put the misery of your forty-year-old, dead-end life, besides your own fists.
I learned when to hide. Like a mouse hiding from an owl, I hunkered down, flattened my ears, breathed shallowly. I’m not here. I’m invisible. Fueled by alcohol and god-knows-what, your nocturnal hunt never ended well for me. You screamed and raged and punched and slapped your anger into my skin.
You never were sorry.
I keep driving, turning over the pieces of my anger like stones in a pocket. I revisit each time you hurt me, replaying the scene in my head.
Like the time I decided you would never hurt me again. I begged you to stop and you wouldn’t. Please stop. Please, Mom. Please. Please.I felt blood coming out of my nose, out of my mouth. My tooth went flying through the air.
That night, I sat on my bed with my head bowed and my own tooth in my hand. This wasn’t life; it was a long, slow death.
Today, though, I wouldn’t let you hit me. I hit you, instead.
I hit you and fucking ran.
I start screaming at you, though I know you’re not here. Or, are you? These stones I carry around with me, they’re you. They’ll always be with me, a part of me that I can’t shake. I scream until I’m hoarse, until there’s nothing but the tears I would never let you see me shed.
I can’t stop driving. If you catch me, I’m dead. Maybe you’ll kill me; maybe you won’t. If you fail, I will succeed.
Maybe I’m already dead.
I just keep driving.

Shower Friends

Water sluices down on us,
ricocheting off black marble.
Soft gentle words speak in my ear,
sharing tales of those living in the wall.

Jaunty Pirate Bunny,
eternally in profile—see his nose?
His hat?
Pirate Bunny sails the water rivulets,
down the walls,
circling the drain,
searching for carrot loot.
(He won’t find any of that in here!)
Shh. Don’t tell him.

Austere Rat,
Not cavalier or chipper. Nobody
likes a cheerful rat.
(Everybody likes a cheerful rat.)
Not when he’s your dentist.

Moving on…

Eyes, horns, ears—
Upside-down floating cow.
(Maybe upside-down floating bison,
with the frizzy mane?)
No, upside-down floating cow!
So high.
Aliens zorped him up here,
that’s why.

Happy monkey
(You sure that’s not you?)
No, he is tricksy, so the confusion
is natural. Happy monkey,
(Smug Monkey)
sneaks up behind Pirate Bunny,
something clever up his sleeve.

Sad frog (Why is he sad?)
He’s a sprained hopper, flies
killed his mother.
Day and night he hops
and drinks (and drinks), out for
vengeance. For meaning.
For hope.

A gust of wind, a beak here,
windswept feathers there,
The Great Gun-Slinging Ostrich.
(You can only see his head. Where’s
his gun?) Look at him:
Grizzled, grim.
He’s packing heat.
Bringing order, keeping
peace, his great burden
to bear.

A small wet kiss, dropped
on the neck.
Don’t worry, Wife.
You’re safe with me.