Tristitia

Everything she wrote to me was in a stray language: the things she lost, the moments she stopped reaching for. I knew she held her breath when she described how the light scattered in the summer kitchen and lit up the morning dust, the dim aromas of a particular breakfast of eggs and boiled potatoes and fresh cream, the dread of the bedroom walls that were closing in, too close, too soon.

A husband, once, or so she cited. Her tales were unreliable, but she told them with such vigor, such conviction! He was thrown from a horse named Tristitia, a tall beast of 18-hands. There were no photographs of either horse or man, no wedding portraits, no markers of his passing. And how she mourned him. For all those years, she mourned a man she would not name, a man no one else could remember.

Her poetry was slight but longing: delicate lines written in pencil, sometimes scrawled so softly that they were impossible to read. She knew them by heart, could recite them, days and years after having written them. Hundreds of pages, locked away, and hidden. She remembered the words, but not where she had buried them. Or burned them. She knew them well, and, over time, I could almost recite them with her.

Everything she wrote to me was in a stray language: the things she suffered, the moments she ached for. And I, alone, continue to look for them, on her behalf and my own.

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The storm

We sit cross-legged on the scatter rug and listen to the rain peck at the windows. The water fractures itself against the screen and it draws patterns I want to trace with my fingers. We have a box of candles on the kitchen table, for when the dark comes back inside. She leans into me whenever the rain turns loud, and her face is solemn and so still. Outside, the wind carves itself into the hickory trees. She can’t hear me offer up comfort, so I lean back into her. We listen. We wait.

The man on the other side of the door

This is a place of unremarkable geometry, of hand hewn beams and reclaimed cabinets, of cotton curtains and poplin tablecloths.There are stout lines built around her silly feminine froth. You might savvy her girlish moods: the bright New Orleans yellow in the hallway, or maybe the baby doll figurines on the bookcase. But don’t forget, this is my home, and it is a place of unremarkable cruelties. 

There are stains in my study that look like ketchup, but are not. There are sudden movements that turn on all the security lights.There is a smell that is barely masked by the nine dollar dirt that feeds her windowsill herbs.

I’ve heard all these sounds before, but this one is closer, and I know why. There is a man on the other side of the door, limping, wet from the chase. He beats on the glass with the heel of his hand. I turn on the porch light because I know. I’ve been expecting him for twenty years, back from a time when my life was fraying. He took the left road and I took the right. I don’t want to see him now — for us to see each other, really — but his t-shirt is torn from armpit to belly, and I swore to him. He is older now, of course he is, but his eyes still show his fury, and mine have turned soft and careless. 

Richard,” was the only word he had to say, and I knew it was time.