Hush up old man, he says to himself, quieting his imaginings. His thick fingers rubbing a jar of wine, fingernails painted pink, his thumb black. Watching her across the living room, the way she sways in the light, thrumming and rocking her hips against the air in a way only he can see, nobody knows. She only feels a glimmer of the pulse of light he sees edging up her thigh, encircling her hips and hanging like a thick belt around her midriff. He presses the jar to his tight lips to keep from saying anything and watches her mouth move. Fluttering with a hum. With a thought that has her chewing on her cheek, an old habit from her thirties, soon to be broken. He doesn’t know when she laughs, wonders about her laugh as her mouth works, always working. In his thumbing through his memories of her, he can’t recall that particular sound, he imagines it as a deep murmuring. What he does remember is a wide smile, a headache in the morning when they drive to work together, the un-furrowing when it begins to fade around break time as she’s eating her bowl of oranges, rinds and bananas, something to calm her stomach. What he remembers in place of her laugh in this moment is the understanding they shared when, on occasion she went with him to his house (it was never well known what they did together). They would drink until he had to drive her home, wasted. Always driving drunk, the two of them. Drinking and driving. A saying her daughter misunderstood, couldn’t fathom the urgency. Always, even after one day they sat in his truck outside of her house and she looked into the window where her babies were dancing, and told him they shouldn’t do that anymore, wouldn’t do that anymore. She’s a momma, has to be good for her girls. Said they would walk the few blocks instead. But they didn’t. Kept up with anything to hustle her back home. Hurrying.
He looks down at his jar, engulfed in his hand. The remnants of shitty wine looking like coffee grounds at the bottom. He throws his head back, swallowing it all and the light around her with it. He’s slumped nearly horizontal on her couch, his knees rising in crossed peaks above him as he throws one leg over the other. The heaviness of his broad black boot, dangling in thick air creates a slowness in his leg. His entire body made to look as if it was resisting the temptation of dropping down to the floor. Always pulling him down with the weight, big and clunky, those boots. Even his head drops toward the ground as he walks. Till it looks like his spine will break at the nape. Eyes searching as he walks, scavenging for treasure left behind- abandoned in the joy of a moment fleeting. It’s never fleeting for him. Everything accumulating, catching up to him in his gut and gumming up the place. Treasure like a broken toy, a marble, ribbon, small plastic soldiers picked up and stored in jars labeled by year, kept on a shelf that wraps around his living room. Really just a hobby to reason himself out of looking up, to see the leaves dance, the clouds shift and fumble in their beauty, the air slip in and out of shadow in its shyness but resilience, in the way it’s there every morning, doing the work that needs to be done, holding the sky. The things she saw. What she sought and ate hungrily. He glances out the window, away from her. Her daughters play around him on the couch, rubbing his head, bald, prickly, pulling his rings made of rubber, made to keep something together. One on his thumb, one on each forefinger, one on his ring finger. She wore the rings later, after he was gone, nestled them behind her wedding ring to hold them in place, for his hands were big. Much thicker and bigger than hers. But they weren’t ever the same on her fingers, too much time had passed between. Meaning that he wanted, that was never there.
These were the worries- whether his red door would stay on his blue truck. Whether his garden in the back yard would take over and the vines would tangle him in their desires. Whether he would find the will to bake another loaf of bread- who would eat it, who would eat it. His daughter had become an accordion playing lesbian up in Portland, just like his wife. Ex-wife he thought, closing his eyes a moment in the memory of the passing of a lifetime shared with a woman who bore three babies, who time-stamped his art with her woes and distractions. His daughter was fierce and wild though, gentle and strange and she looked out at the world with the same wonder in her eyes as the woman he loved, the one with the light undulating her hips.
These were the worries- whether he would mend the tear above the pocket of his flannel or let it flap open as it had for years. Whether his oil paints would ever wash out of the only pair of jeans he wore, slipping out of his work uniform and into denim that locked his whole life in memory. And if they did wash out, how he would possibly remember the landscapes he’d captured, the ideas of vastness he’d held once. Once. And if it even mattered. These were the worries- whether his records would collect dust sitting on the wood floor of his kitchen or if someone would play them, in his house, in theirs. Whether people would wear his pins when he didn’t. Whether the woman would be loved, well, by the man she had married, the man with the gentle voice that answered the phone when he called her house at night.
Shifting his weight onto his elbow and lumbering up he imagined his force sent her kids scattering as if falling, shimmering off of him back to the couch. Likened himself a giant in their eyes, a sturdy man well over six foot who was too wounded to attend to their pawing hands, their questioning eyes. He moved laboriously toward the kitchen, setting down his jar on the counter. Another glass? she asked. Ah, he said, moving around the counter toward the door, looking down at his boots before turning back. Suppose so. He sat down on a stool, stuck his hands between his thighs, shoulders arched inward while she uncorked the bottle, her eyes soft, her lips still moving, focused.
Responding lightly to a question he couldn’t hear, called to her from the living room she turned her head the other way while reaching across the counter toward him with the jar. He followed the movement of skin drawing towards him, rippling down from her broad shoulders, warm and wide upper arms, loose elbows with skin to spare and tight muscular forearms. Her hands were veiny, soft skin on top from washing too many dishes in scalding water. But so coarse on her palms, on her fingertips from working: the dirt, the job, the house. She had disappeared around the corner before he could finish trailing in his mind all of the different places her hands had been needed in her lifetime. His fingertips held the jar with a sluggishness. His wrist wilting into a mirrored curve of his belly. Someone was creaking the floor in the upstairs bedroom, he could hear a drawer opening. The sun was dropping by now and he could feel her house was getting ready to slow down, ease up a bit and let the dreamers be.
The last time he called their home she wouldn’t come to the phone. He knew through the phone line, through the tension in her husband’s voice she was shifting uneasy under the stare of her daughter. He preferred to imagine her shifting under a circle of light in the living room, rocking all alone where no one could see her, dancing for the scents, for the nothingness that rose up from a bottle, rose up from the sidewalk, rose up from the bed and sheets they never shared. Or anyway, wouldn’t share. He never waited to hear back from her that night. It didn’t matter now. He knew and she knew and there was really no other way about it. He hung up the phone after talking a while to the man she’d married. He felt like pleading but didn’t particularly know what for. Ended up just mumbling about very little. Nothing was changing. He didn’t know why he called. She wouldn’t have given him closure anyway, changed his mind anyway, softened his brow anyway, the way her mouth slung words back and forth across her tongue, hitting her cheeks but never emerging, silently chewing.
When she found him in his garage, hanging among all of his paintings she slipped her hand into his, already swollen hanging down, but still rough, as worked over as hers. She peered up at him slumped, with his chin to his chest, looking down. She stood with her hand in the air for awhile, holding his, then vomited. She wanted to tug on his sleeve like a child would. But didn’t. She wanted to clasp her arms around his thighs hanging at her shoulders. But didn’t. Afraid the body would swing.