By Joel Gunderson
After she left he emptied her closets and stacked her clothes into moving boxes he had purchased that morning. She had left the night before, but it was not until morning that he could hear the door slam finally shut and work backwards to the words she said, her mouth a moving thing to break his heart with. It was not until morning that he rose from the chair from which he had implored her, not implored her the abundance of his love an empty syllable, never spoken, broken on his tongue.
He showered that morning before he drove eight blocks to the grocer where he purchased six moving boxes.
Enough room to fit your life, he thought, enough to start with. She might need her things soon, he said to nobody, as if in remedying one thing he might heal his life, his mind landing on one idea then hoping against his better knowledge that it might lead somewhere else. Not here.
He emptied her closets and packed ten years of clothing into the boxes. One item at a time, each article of clothing a diary. Buttoning a blue blouse he works backward against his desire, to unbutton, to uncover the half-lit moon of her shoulder, then a sloping breast–love matched by flesh. Now, a weeping man centered in a room, now a man returning to his task. He remembered how ill prepared she was to leave, how ill prepared he was as he sat through the night until the moon sank into the oil-spill light of pre-dawn.
Now the boxes ready, not ready, their weight at home in his house, not his home–a wall to rest his eyes against, a floor to stand on. His certainty in packing had turned to an uncertainty of sending. The boxes would travel ten miles across town to be unpacked in a cramped one bedroom flat. Hardly enough room for one. Not enough for two. No room for these boxes, he thought. She would unpack her former self, the ghost of her years in undergarments, a blouse, a blue camisole. Blue, the color of her eyes.
He thought, she will need to store a few things for the time being. For the time being, he thought.
Then the hesitancy. A glance at the phone. Then the weeping. Bile at the back of the mouth and pain though the chest, a blindness and the floor coming to greet him. A man on his hands and knees trying to recall the past to the present like a child might mend a broken toy by sticking the pieces together.
Now the phone rings. An explosion, sound against intolerable silence. He wipes his nose on his sleeve and tries to stand. As he tries to stand, the phone moves farther into the distance of his mind. He could not, he knows, reach forward and grasp it. He knows that it is not ringing, that he has falsified the sound of ringing with desire. He knows now the tail end of ten years he did not know.
She knew them better, he knew, waiting against his silence, time interminable, for one lame word that would have kept her. To have kept her. Had he known the secret he could have kept his love intact. She knew them, a stuttering phrase against his lips while he pined to find that secret thing, that grail that wasn’t, that abracadabra of the heart. He, wandering through the years in the back reaches, while she remained in the front alone and without him.
She now, at work, waking from another place to return to another man to make it work, although she knows it will not. She, fearing now, loving and fearing, an inconstant woman, but she knows that she must move or die. She knows now the possibility of not dying. She picks up the phone to call her home that is not home, a tomb built from the inside. She listens to the rings and lights a cigarette to calm herself, her rage and love and hope of not dying and yet and she knows and yet. And yet there is only the empty ringing into the distance. Love a gone thing, not picked up–a phone to be answered.
And he, testing the weight of the boxes as he hefts them into the car, he carries his life in his hands, his wife’s necessaries: he, no longer one of them. His life no longer necessary to another after this final task. Those years of searching without the right words to bring light to his way, no transubstantiated chalice to hold for mercy. Worn to the bone with a swollen tongue. Now shoving the boxes further in to make room for more, to drive two miles to the post office. Unready as he was, he knew the address, knowing it forever now as the thing to write his life away with. Ten dollars to mail across town, that love was so cheap. Evening now, and he knows he must eat. Maybe tomorrow. Sorrow a fire to live off of.
The door to his house in front of him again, the house that much emptier. Inside and the blinking light of the answering machine. Five messages. Erase. And then. Too late. Her voice a soothing thing to burn his mind with, a song to break his eyes with tears. And to think of it, to think of her. He could hear her across town talking in another kitchen, a glass of white wine in her right hand. He could feel the minutes ticking against his control as they lead to the hour of inevitability, when she and the other would lie down together. Coupling. Soon he could hear them; they were opening the doors of his mind to bed down in his thoughts. He could feel her skin being touched by another, her inside yearning to be touched inside again and again and again.
And then the rage, impotent rage as useless as his life and attempts at love. Rage, a confusion of senses, fight and flight, flight and then, nowhere to go. A ringing again. Picking up the phone and smashing it through its cradle. The phone breaking through the window and the sound of glass falling on kitchen tiles. Then a fist through another window and blood on the floor, on the counter. The images fading now, and he could feel himself sinking into the tar pit of his won night. Face in his hands. Blood on his face. Then he stands, feeling the sense of his standing a teleology. He walks to the sliding door at the back of the kitchen and leans forward against it, bracing himself with his hands. He throws his head through and feels the weight of glass falling him, cutting into him and no pain from it cutting. Then he is falling. Darkness is close. It will come soon.
She is near to him now. In her rage. In her pity. She stands beside his bed, while he, finally absolved of his silence is caught between dreams and the shadow of life. He sees that now. He, himself, and his other self entering him and leaving him like a stream pays into a river.