I've been beating my head up against this peice for almost six years - off and on - and I could really use some feedback. I have about 30 pages or so that I've cut and added back in and cut again. I've also given up on this story many times. What I'd like is some feedback on what to fix or if I should tuck it away some where to work on in another 6 years. There is something here though that I can't seem to let go of and I come back again and again to this peice. I truly would appreciate any feedback you can give. Please be brutal I need to either get on with it or get rid of it! Thanks in advance, I look forward to participating more here.
I remember the night the fire died in the stove before dawn, strength stolen by sunrise and warmth abandoned to the chill of the day. Daytime is when we face what we’ve avoided with our heads beneath the covers all night. With the rising of the sun nightmares are revealed and they are truth. The sun only lifts the curtain.
You Ana were tall and grew smiles on your face. At home in laughter, settled in and comfortable. I remember how you would invite me in to sit for a while.
Then one day we found you beneath the shattered, sharp like picture glass lake. Your body was gone three days to the water and the smallest of smiles graced your lips. Or maybe that was my imagination.
In those days I didn’t remember what it was like to breathe, I still don’t. I can remember what it is not like but not what it is like. Sound got stuck in my throat with every simple intake of air and I got lost in the maze of my own words. I found that nothing is ever the same one moment to the next. No promises, no guarantees. The change overwhelmed me and I began to break down. I think much like you did Ana. I saw how living over time became too real to be withstood. I can see you clearly in my mind’s eye the way you stood with you hands on your hips and threw your head back laughing. The sound shook you all the way through your toes. You were standing there before me as yourself and nothing else, no apologies, no qualifications.
God I thought that things would be different for us Ana.
I can still see you running through the backfield the grasses tall to your hips. The glory of the fir trees rise in the distance and a clear blue sky sings overhead.
I don’t remember things I’ve never known about you, though I’m learning now, your writing still draws me in Ana and I am finding that there was so much I never knew.
And I remember the clots of people so tight in our house after the service that I couldn’t breathe. The kind words with hands outstretched and warm voices sucked the breath from my lungs and I found myself gasping and crying. No surprise I guess to the people who surrounded me. No one noticed. That’s what a widow is supposed to do right? Fall to pieces. I cry and scream in my silence about how unfair it is the water has you instead of me, that you are free and I am still here tethered. So no one was surprised to see me decompose before them. And I grew to suspect they had seen it all before. My breakdown was one more entry in a litany of grief.
And I don’t remember you Annie. I don’t remember you anymore. I remember your body pale in death. I remember your stiff face and that smile.
I hate you for that smile.
I hate you for the way your smile taunts me, follows me through this life I am not living. I refuse. I refuse to go on.
I refuse to talk and eat and breathe as though I were a person in this world instead of a shadow. Those first few months our friends called me at night when the darkness huddled in close and I was shut up in our house. When the cat had finally settled in my lap after years of preferring yours. It has always been the days though that reach inside of me and un-tether the confusion that ties me to this moment.
One night the month after you died Ana I was sitting in the living room having the usual conversation with you in my head, telling you I’d taken time off from work and perhaps I’d not go back, when I remembered I’d left the lights on.
Shit. I thought. Janna is here with Sally and they are knocking hard on the door. They knew that I was home and I couldn’t hide, I knew they were on their way to music and probably dancing.
I opened the door that night and there they were, the lamplight making a circle out of the darkness and me standing with a blanket trailing behind me.
Standing in the cold the yellow of the light brought out the lines of life, worry and too little sleep on all the faces framed by the door. I couldn’t meet their eyes. I looked down at the ground and said, “Hey.”
Janna replies trying to catch my eye wit the gentleness of hers, reaching her hand out to grasp my shoulder, “Hey you,” she says softly. Sally pulls me into a billowy hug, her down jacket like a pillow surrounding her and then me. I can feel her strength somewhere beneath the comfort of softness.
I crumpled to the ground and the cold of the cement step reached up through the thin cloth of my pajamas. Sally and Janna followed me to the ground, their arms still around me though I couldn’t feel much other that the cold of the porch. I knew their arms were around me, I could almost feel them and I know Sally and Janna.
I’ve known them longer that you Ana and will still I suppose. I hate you for that. I hate you for being gone. I hate you for the way you left.
Between the two of them that night on the porch they gathered me up and I found myself on the couch by the fire instead of the cold porch step. I wished I could still feel the cold. The cold is what keeps me separate from you and connected Ana. You don’t feel the cold, you have become the cold, but you don’t feel it.
The smooth heat of a mug was thrust into my hands and somehow I managed to hold on.
I realized finally seeing the worry toss about long enough in the stormy pools of Janna’s eyes that I must have been speaking aloud. Talking to you Ana. She must have truly thought me crazy. The fog had come in thick like spring when there is only room for a hint of warmth in the air. Exhaustion covered me as if I’d been wandering for a decade or more and haven’t found my way through. And in the fog I kept reaching for what I thought was a sound, an echo, some hint of how to pull up to the surface. The problem was that I had become the fog. Not that I needed to escape somehow, but rather that I had become fog, which is as you know hardly anything at all. Fog holds no substance and neither did I. Each time I tried to gather myself together I slipped and fell through like sand and fingers. As fog my only hope was holding on tight to the ground. And so the cold becomes my salvation.
I knew the way you know things when you can’t think, breathe, feel, hear, see, that I would not be free unless the cold could reach in and turn me to frost. Frost, solid and secure to the earth. Frost seemed so much more tangible that fog. Fog is nothing. Fog was the feeling that I didn’t exist, if I could become frost I could manage to exist.
I sat back inside watching the effort working to look ‘fine’. Sally and Janna weren’t fooled easily. They sat and waited with me. I could hear them in the kitchen ‘discussing’ what was to be done about me. My mouth couldn’t no matter how hard I tried make the words dance, play echo in the way they needed to in order to convince these friends that, ‘really I was going to be okay.’
Time passed at least according to the clock on the mantel and finally Sally and Janna slept. I crept from room to room then, my slippers abandoned at the foot of my chair my feet didn’t feel the cold. The cold of the ground didn’t seem to anchor me anymore. And I was floating away.
I felt my robe flying behind me as I ran through the backfield and the moonlight streamed from above. In my mind the robe wasn’t a robe but a great tail of fog.
This was the same field, the same field that held the grasses high as your waist Ana. And even in the darkness I could almost see the line of firs like sentries guarding the drive.
No one was guarding the lake. No well-meaning friends. No stand of tall firs. No Ana.
I remember stepping barefooted onto the edge of the frozen shore where the water and the land met in ice. I felt nothing, I didn’t exist. That feeling of heavy fog was the feeling that nothing mattered anymore, that I never existed anyway. You tore through my world Annie. You with that smile that is all you left me. I realized then that I was screaming and pounding the ice in protest with my feet.
I needed the cold. I needed the ice. That is all I really had left of you Ana.
The tears that were flowing down my cheeks, turned icy as they fell. As I slipped to the ice all I remember is how smooth the lake was in winter. Covered over with what I needed most. Why wouldn’t the lake give me what I needed, what it held in such abundance? Frozen realness.
I even dreamed that night as I cried myself to delirious sleep on the ice. I dreamed I was walking through the desert on my knees. The heat bore through me, every ray of sun a nail driven hard and fast. I lay in the sand, which radiated wave after wave of heat I felt every cell in my body screaming in protest. Each cell protesting it’s own existence. Each petitioning for freedom to become pieces of sand intermingled with sand. And I lay dying. The wind began to blow and the mountains of sand took mere seconds to overtake me. As I moved forward my hand touched something smooth and cool through the grit. A strong surge like the turning of the tide ripped through me and with aching heavy limbs I dug through the sand until my fingers grazed again the coolness. I pulled a tiny metal box out of the sand and knew the way one does in dreams what I would find inside. The lid creaked and inside was a folded piece of paper from one of those yellow legal pads Ana used the take notes. I didn’t want to then open the note even though I could see Ana’s writing through the wrong side.
In Ana’s scrawl I read squinting against the blowing sand:
‘Dear Grace, Hate me, but live. You have all of my love. Ana’
I screamed then with an ache that reached past everything and I threw the note sweat soaked and crumpled to the wind.
My eyes were open then and I was on the ice where we found Ana. Looking toward the house I could see Sally and Janna running across the field that field again, an odd assortment of clothes flapping about their limbs.
The ache stayed put at a point of no return in my gut and I retched with the force of a torrent of held back tears. Sally and Janna reached the lake and held me close to them.
The cold beneath me became an unbearable burning and the air frozen in my chest like knives. I could see the sky again though the fog clung to the edges of my vision the rest became the frost that covered the ground. I felt the smallest of all smiles twist at my lips, Ana’s smile. All I had left.
And now Ana, Jann she still thinks I’m drowning, sinking so fast that there’s nothing she can do. I’ve frightened and worried her for so long I think she doesn’t know what to do next. She thinks I need to somehow scrape off the mud and pull myself up out of the mire and keep walking. It’s funny isn’t it I always used to tell you that didn’t I. Annie please just keep walking, promise me no matter what keep walking. I can see now so clearly the impossibility of that promise. I can see now, you couldn’t promise, I asked for the one thing you couldn’t give. I know now how the world can lose all color, shape and form, when the numbness begins to extend through everything coming from within you. A deep and desperate cold growing from the knowing panic that runs through and through. Ice that builds up in layers, night after night. And just as the cold reaches past the point of return the barriers drop and what has always been becomes evident. That the rain will wash out the rest.
I remember the nightmare time. I remember the days after you died, Ana. The way the rain pulled itself down from the sky. I remember, I remember, I remember and I chant the phrase over and over again and lose myself in the confusion of over and over again words that stumble and trip on one another. And there is never enough, like the covers on the bed in winter, which you’ve pulled up over your frozen nose leaving your toes to fend for themselves.
And tonight the pattern of the plaster and the memory of her warmth and her skin isn’t enough. My leg itches and my backaches, my throat is dry and my stomach rumbles. I toss and turn trying to forget the ceiling forget Ana.
Damn it. Wally yips at the door begging to g out. I plug my ears to his whines and plead for sleep, dreamless sleep. Out of the darkness he keeps whining, more urgently and paws at the door.
Rolling over I throw off the covers and lay for a moment before jumping up and walking heavily over to the door. Damn it. He looks up at me with big eyes, unsure if he can trust me. Freed by the opening of the door he takes off like a shot towards the back door and waits to be released again.
I stand shivering, nearly naked in the moonlight and see that frost has glazed the back yard. Wally finally scoots back in just as I get set to stomp and yell. He shakes off the cold with the clatter of his collar and tags and prances off to the couch where he makes himself comfortable.
Colder than cold I dig out sweatpants and shirt from the dryer and turn on the teapot. I look over at Wally now asleep, knowing that sleep is far from me now.
The hot tea steams my face, thaws my hands and I remember raggedly somehow to breathe. And in the moment when I think that everything is going to be all right, my heart explodes and I want to throw the mug, splatter the heat across the floor.
I sink to the floor holding tight waiting for the storm to pass. I remember an old song Ana sang once, a sailors prayer. And I hum along with memory ‘I will not lay me down with rain a’ raging, I will not lay me down in such a storm…’
The phone is on the floor at my feet, so it’s easy to pick it up and dial the number I’ve called too often.
“Janna?” My voice cracks, when I speak aloud. I speak so clearly in my head, these conversations we have Ana, are so clear.
Her voice throwing off echoes of sleep and dreams, Sally says, “Hold on honey, I’ll get her”.
If I listen closely I can hear her nudging Janna awake, all she says is “Grace” and Janna is on the phone, breathing lightly as she kisses Sally back to sleep and pads over to the chair by the window.
“Hey,” she says her voice heavy with sleep. My stomach drops down low and I am sorry I called. “Why.” I say, knowing well the full question played readily enough without being spoken.
“Sweetie,” she says her voice soft still with sleep, “Sweetie, sometimes no reason is enough.” I can hear her shedding sleep and dreams. “Sometime no matter how much reason, how many reasons we discover they don’t add up to making sense.”
I breathe, slowly but still breathing.
She says “I can hear you Gracie, did you make some tea already?”
“Yeah I can’t sleep, Wally got me up to let him out.”
“Go on back up stairs sweetie,” she says, “take the tea.”
And already I am up and going, I know she can hear me as I walk. The dull thud of carpeted stairs betrays my obedience.
“Good,” She says to the creak of the bed as I climb in. “You’ve got your quilt?”
“Yeah,” my answer muffled as I cover myself with the quilt.
“I’ll go now, you go on and get some sleep.” She stifles a yawn. “You give me a call in the morning ok? I love you Gracie.”
I can hear her now climbing back into bed and I hear Sally roll over.
I whisper, “goodbye” and “love you” just as she disconnects. I wish I could stay connected and hear them breathing somewhere near by.
Thank you for reading this far, I look forward to hearing what you think.