Feeding You What’s Left
The trash is rank with the smell of decay; full of fluid-soaked chicken wrappers, moldy burger buns, rainbow-colored slick flecks of pungent tuna. My stomach growls, but I’ve lost my appetite. I made a list, fifteen pages long, trying to remember our last meal together. Tuna casserole? Burgers? Moroccan chicken? Winter Lentil Soup? I tried cooking each one on the list, hoping that the taste in my mouth would jar some memory. Remember when we were first married, and you would take each one of my fingertips into your mouth and nibble on them in a teasing and tantalizing way? Now, I eat alone.
You’re somewhere other, drained and preserved with formaldehyde. I know it is ridiculous, but I find the smell of rot from the kitchen trash comforting, a hope you are still nearby. If only I could keep you and feed you like a stray spirit in this world.
I’ve spent hours alone in the house, with the curtains pulled, moving from shadow to shadow searching for you. My memories are starving for one more drop, one more taste, a sound, a look, but it’s my longing that brings you to the table. What can I offer you now that nothing I have will change what you have become? I offer the sounds of the kitchen clock tick, tick, ticking, after hours of sitting lifeless in the wake of your absence. There it is—a momentary flash of movement seen out of my peripheral vision.
There is a closed-door in the hallway, just one. I leave the others open so the nicotine-colored light filters through dirty sheers. Most days, I walk by the temptation of the closed door. I try not to give in; I try to resist opening. Today I open the door, and there is a jacket dangling haphazardly on the back of a chair in the corner. I don’t remember leaving the jacket behind when I last closed the door.
The children are worried. When they visit, they talk about the future. They talk about me—not to me. They shuffle all the old photographs into shoeboxes as if feeding something so hungry is a sin. They ask if I have slept. They insist I get out of the house.
I forgot to turn off the gas burner in the kitchen when I was making a cup of tea. One time—I forgot one time, and they talk as if no one has ever failed to turn off the stove. As I drifted off to sleep, I could hear your voice in the next room; it was reassuring. I didn’t feel alone. I woke to the sound of the neighbors pounding on the windows.
There was something under the covers with me, something edging ever closer. I hoped it was you. When I lifted the edge Henry leaped out, clawing at my face. You remember Henry, the black cat we had to put down after Janis backed over it in the Civic? After they dragged me out and turned off the gas, I spent hours looking for Henry. The children whisper that I may be suicidal, and still, I don’t tell them about how these things feed the void you left.
I leave the kitchen radio on. I wait for that song, the one that speaks directly to the thoughts in my head, and I feel pulled into the embrace of one last dance, one last hold, and one last moment like when we would drive down the highway at night laughing uncontrollably. I wait for the one that makes me lay the memories out before me like the photographs they took away.
I saw you yesterday—in a cluster of people at the grocery store. In just a second, there was the smell of your shampoo. I followed the scent, and you turned and smiled at me. I would know your smile anywhere. You’ve started turning my longing into complete strangers. Another crowd, another day, I glimpsed that t-shirt, the one I always hated, the one with the hole in the armpit and the stain on the left shoulder. It’s just a glimpse, and then you disappeared, leaving me searching. The children ask why I don’t go out more.
Months of trying to keep you here with me, and I can’t feel the passage of time anymore. Time is tenuous, just like you. I realized that time had passed when I finally listened to that old voicemail from weeks ago:
I think you should come for a visit, maybe stay for a few months. Chris and the kids would love to have you.
And another, even older:
Would you like to grab a coffee? Um, some of us are going out after work on Thursday for drinks. It’s been a while. We miss seeing your face.
I’ve been existing on a mix of sleeping pills, depression meds, and too much red wine before bed. Last night, I woke at 3 AM, gasping, disoriented, and the moment was delicious; one fraction of a second flavored with forgetting we’re forever apart. I snuggled close to your pillowcase, the one I haven’t washed since before the accident, believing in my heart you’re here, hanging on because you’re grateful for the morsels of longing I provide.
Chloie Piveral’s work has appeared in Apparition Lit, Kaleidotrope, the Flame Tree Press anthology, Robots & Artificial Intelligence, and more. She’s a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the USM Stonecoast MFA program. A transplant from the American Midwest, she now lives near the mountains of Colorado with her family and her dog, Ziggy. For more on her work, visit her website at www.cpiveral.com.