In The Dark
Nothing grew. Every tree we planted, every seed pushed into the ground, every blade of grass we coaxed to the surface with water and sweat and torn skin withered when it touched the sun; it was as if we’d purchased death.
We saw the house the day we buried your mother. Afterwards you said you needed to drive, and so we drove to the beach and stood on rocks with salt water spraying our feet and when you told me you could’t have gone through this alone, I knew alone meant: without me. We drove back that night and first saw the house in the dark. The “for sale” sign hanging from the lamp post creaked in the quiet wind, while we walked on the porch peering into empty rooms, seeing our furniture and record collections in those spaces. We held hands and imagined our bare feet under blankets in bed, finding each other.
We took a mortgage from the bank, and our stereo and record collection to the living room and put our bed in a downstairs room instead of up, because you said you wanted to be closer to the sand. Every morning you opened the outer doors to our room and stood in the sun, the cool air growing bumps on your skin as I pulled the blankets to my chin and watched you. The floorboards creaked and I always knew when you woke in the night to find the bathroom, or water, or to smoke. I watched as your cigarette floated up and down like a red firefly, lighting your face as you inhaled and then as you exhaled, I watched as you slowly faded away.
We scrubbed old wooden door frames and polished tarnished brass fixtures and planted the garden. When it didn’t grow we said the soil needed work and we’d try again next year. We made shelves for our books, and put hooks under the cupboards next to the sink for our cups, and we bought a new blender. On Sundays in summer we played music and sat on chairs under the umbrella, its’ ruffled edge hiding us from the sun. We chose books from the shelves to read and you paused every few pages to put your head back on your chair and quietly look at me, and after a while I stopped asking why.
When I was sick in September you made me your mother’s soup. You rubbed my back and brought me tea and blankets to ease my chill. Too sick to sleep and too tired to see you read to me stories by Hempel and Carver and asked: wouldn’t I like something a little more upbeat? I fell asleep to the harshness of your voice, and the sound of living.
When the weather turned cold we folded away the umbrella. You wrapped it in an old sheet to keep the dust away and put it in the shed until next year. In winter you shoveled prairies of snow from the roof and paths to our chairs and then shoveled those too. On Sunday mornings we wrapped robes and blankets around our shoulders, and sat on frozen chairs eating toast with jelly and drinking coffee cooled too quickly by the cold air, while waves crashed against the break.
In March you went to bed and I rubbed your back. I made your mother’s chicken soup and wrote the recipe down to have for later; when you were gone. I shoveled wet, sun-warmed snow from soggy walks and scraped the ice from the windows of our car. I mixed our records together and crossed out names. No longer mine and yours, now ours.
In June I took the summer things back out alone. Brushing away cobwebs gathered over winter, I unwrapped your work. I set it on the patio where for a day it stood folded in the sun, it’s wooden arms tucked safely into it’s sides, until I could see enough to open.