EMPTIED

by David Antrobus

Is this at all ghostable? Let’s see.

We came here after fighting through a swarm of mouths.

I met you in the parking lot of a Walmart. Saw you struggling and offered to help and of course you were suspicious and declined.

“I just have to do two things and get home,” you said.

“Let me help you,” I said.

Here is where our edges fray.

Here, in this time and in this place, you are a mother, and you are good at mothering. Your Ozark eyes are always tired, your lashes worn, your oily hair tied in whorls. You think you are ordinary, but I know you’re special. I also know I won’t ever convince you of that, so I don’t try. You rarely blink. Our lives are bracketed by the opening and closing of a blink. Who ever tells us these things?

“A’right.” You almost growl this, but dispassionately. “But then you leave us alone, yes?”

“Of course.” I’m not even sure you see me, sticklike, streaming beams of amber and amethyst light against the evening, a distant star lensing light still farther out in space.

I helped you and then you told me an awful tale. This is what you told…

“So back then, when I was just a wain—my gramps and his gramps was Scots-Irish—I used to cry each morning, knowing I had to endure school and hear the taunts and feel the sudden shoves and the pinching fingers of the other children. Every day was another torment. They called me godawful names and hurt me bad and I kept going back ’cause I had to. One day I left school and walked the long miles home, all my bruises both inside and out a reminder I was alive and alone, and I saw my house, where I lived, and it always looked so mean, far meaner than the kids who tortured me, and I opened the unoiled gate, heard its tiny rodent shriek, limped up the short path to the door. They never even gave me keys, so I had to knock, so I knocked. And knocked. And no one came. I went around back and knocked there too. And nobody came. I sat for an hour or more on the front step, wondering why everything was so silent. Then the pale mountain light began to fade and I got scared, so I found a rock and broke a pane in the door and scrambled my way into the house. It was empty. Cleared out. Like no one had lived there for years. I sat on the cracked linoleum floor and cried into my skinny arms for days till someone from the school or a neighbor or some duty-bound local alerted the relevant authority and they took me to a foster home and that was that.”

Hate is not the opposite of love; abandonment is. Indifference is.

I wake molded to your body from behind with your upper arm clamping my forearm tightly. You are still dreaming, so I lie immobile and allow my arm to be held in your hot, moist armpit. All that day I bring my forearm to my face to inhale your sleep musk.

Each house has its weather. This place, whose weedy, mossy lawn is more rural than suburban, more pasture than posture, also has its weather. This morning’s kitchen and dining area is mostly mist lit with a pale apricot glow from a low sun. This is our place.

You, your arachnid fingers, their tips searching my unshaven face, barely touching. You, the warm light to my dust. You, my oxygen.

For you I fashioned and baked home-kilned pizza, piled with artichokes and sundried tomato and feta and spinach, also baked garlic and molten mozzarella, just to watch your jaw cantilever, a tireless gracile thing hinged and vulpine and completely unselfconscious. Sometimes, aghast, I dreamed of you eating the world.

“How’d this happen?” you ask. We’re listening to Ray Charles and watching some Olympics with the sound off.

“How did what happen?”

“Us,” you say, and your surprised face is comical, and I smile.

“Just be glad,” I say, but I catch the redrawn woe on your face the moment you avert it. The first cloud in endless blue. The silent drawback of a tide before the cataclysm.

What is love, you ask? We all ask. Last week I saw you at the farmers’ market, and you handed me a huge yellow tomato. Organic, you said. Smell it, you said. And I smelled it and it was alive in my hand, reeking and brimming with the spoor of life. You told me to wait a couple days, and I did, and the tomato slowly blushed to a deep orange, a tight amber, a shimmering bittersweet heart. I sliced it and ate it, and it was the best tomato I’d ever seen or smelled or tasted in my life. I cried for two whole days. Is this love?

See that candle? Pour its wax into your cupped palm, let it settle, let it cool. Now peel it from the well of your hand. You have made a coin in our only currency. Now pay me.

An hourglass is two versions of sand. You watch through the window as the blown rain hits it in pulsating gusts of flung grain, the pane a flattened hourglass, transparent sand—salt-tears inside; sky tears without—measuring the pace of our gradual uncoupling.

The moon averts her gaze, prays for clouds.

Things come apart. Leaves don’t grow back in spring. Rooms are emptied. I’ve forgotten the sound of your voice. Even the ghosts become silent.

About the author:

71CC18p6cCL._US230_David Antrobus is a freelance writer and editor whose origins lie in northern England and who currently lives in the Vancouver area. As if in tribute to the abused and neglected children he spent two decades working with, his writing in all its forms bristles with outrage, sorrow, dark humour, and resilience.

As a writer, David is far from prolific, which he justifies by assuring anyone who cares to listen that he much prefers quality over quantity. The fact that he has one perfect daughter lends support to this approach. However, his steady intake of wine, caffeine, and deeply questionable movies just as easily undermines it.

As an editor, he created Be Write There in 2009, a one-stop service that provides proofreading, copyediting, substantive editing, developmental editing, and manuscript evaluation.

He has published two books, both nonfiction, and has written numerous dark yet lyrical tales scattered among various anthologies and websites.

© Copyright by David Antrobus at The Migrant Type. All rights reserved.

Feature photo source: David Antrobus

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