There was, in the corner of the room, a soft green plant that was forgiven of all but its most secret leaves, and which withered against the gray windows and tried for light. It was coming apart endlessly, reforming endlessly and coming apart again. Again and again it slumped against itself, waiting for water. Again it tried the window for light and dropped its crisp yellow leaves, which floated slowly away from it. I never saw it watered. I did not want it to be watered. I wanted to watch it pull itself back into the ground and die.
There was something dying in the corner of every room. I could hear the rushed, hushed voices pulling people from the safety of sleep to questions and light and to the want for sleep again. I realized the sudden ping of beeps and loose clattering metallic rustle of something being wheeled away and back again. The edge of the room was enveloped in the blurring haste of others. And I could feel the slow exhale of wind against the windows. And so I heaved myself from the dented sheets of sleep and into the stiff air of the busy room. I looked at my wife’s bed. Two young men with large hands washed her naked body. The door was open to the hallway and I thought I could smell the hard light that came through it. It smelled like singed hair.
“Your wife has passed away, Mr. Neathery.”
“Passed away into what?”
“Into the earth. Into God.”
“From our praying hands to His waiting hands, Mr. Neathery.”
Our children came into our lives, fully grown, before we had noticed our lives at all. We wrapped ourselves in the cool shadow of a house and settled like dust on everything around us. Before we understood ourselves, we had children to try and understand that we could never imagine. We crawled into our children’s beds and broke their fevers. We lifted our children from tubs of water and laid them down to dry in sheets and pillows. We saw ourselves in our children, in the movement of a hand and the sound of laughter. As long as they are alive we will be alive, confined to our secret canthus and brought out again in the palm of an opening hand. We recognized immortality in our children.
The children formed themselves into a single ball in our stomachs and minds. For years when I was alone, I would think I saw something moving from the corner of my eye, a small white glint like the edge of a glass, and when I would go to it with my hands out it would be one of our children again, jumping into my arms. It would be one of our children laughing, filling our house again. But, I knew that our children had moved through us; had moved through our house and were gone and I’d close my hand around a toy and push it back into a shadow. Our children were like dreams we had once. They were like stories we told each other. We watched as one feature dissolved into another until there was nothing left but an empty house.
“We’re going to change you real quick, Mr. Neathery.”
“Your wet, Mr. Neathery. We’ll change you.”
“Well, we. I’ve. Now wait a minute. Hold on.”
She kept everything. She was not wasteful. She filled our house with everything she could remember. There was nothing she had forgotten. “Our things are our memories,” she would say. “Without our things we would have no memory.” Sometimes at night I could feel the whole house bowing toward the earth; sagging like a mattress. But with our memories so much and everywhere, we slept standing up, against each other’s backs. Each new memory pressed another forgotten memory further away, into a window that cracked slowly against the settling light of evening or caused forgotten memories to roll from a thousand shadows into our hands again to be remembered and replaced.
“He looks like he is sinking into the bed.”
“We’ll have to peal him off.”
“Someone else does that.”
“O God, what is that?”
“A skin tear. We are just bursting at the seams, aren’t we Mr. Neathery?”
We were bunched up against the windows of our emptied house and grouping the panes. We dragged our long hands through the blank space between us, trying to drag each other into the past, into ourselves. We devoured each other an hour at a time. We pulled each other through time and space and into our mouths. We lived together gathered around each other like warm embers. We were going on. We were like our house, emptied of its children, emptied of laughter and movement. We were motionless. We remained still, settled within each other, a part of each other, each other.
I remember that I did not know if I was in front of the mirror or if she was in front of me. If it was my hand or hers that touched my face, I couldn’t tell; but, I felt the sharp little bones there like the fragile bones of a frog through its thin skin.
“Good morning. How are we today?”
“Our feet are the color of plums.”
“You should tell the Doctor if your feet are plum colored.”
“They are beautiful.”
“Would you like to sit at the window Mr. Neathery?”
The morning sun had just throttled and thrown its huge head back against the long evening. And there was nothing left of the sky. I remember a soft throw of reddest tipped trees leaning against the bone colored walls of further buildings that grayed with dusk and the dust colored curtains before me lit with flame as the curled notes of darker night settled like soot against the fine air. We are all going to die. Let me again and again breathe the thick angled smoke of memories. Let me turn them over in my hand. Let me see them.
If we are coming apart now, let it be because we are dissolving into the rich light of other rooms and not because we are covered by the hard hands of strangers and pulled backwards from ourselves. I am going to tell you that our house is filling up with cats. And that while I was asleep, you were being forgotten. Your hands and feet were being forgotten. Your white thigh and long neck were being forgotten, until there was nothing left but an empty room. And I was not with you. I want to reach through those who were, into the light of the hall and retrieve you from the darkness. I want you to reach through the darkness and retrieve me from the light. We are alone, Melina. You have pulled yourself back into the earth, back away from me.
“Look at him.”
“All dressed up.”
“And nowhere to go, but up.”
“Are we ready for dinner then, Mr. Neathery?”
“Who dressed him today? He looks like he’s going to a funeral.”
“Come along now. The feast is waiting.”
“The Priest is waiting.”