Monday, May 24, 2010

Aftermath, by Steven Harris

Today's post is by fiction writer Steven Harris. I first met Steven at a conference in San Francisco some years ago. A woman Steven had loved for years, and who was then only recently divorced and living in LA, flew out to the San Francisco area to see Steven. Steven and his sister Angie stayed a day later than most. Steven is here recalling details from that day -- the morning after.


I rearrange the pillows again and you're still not here. This is the surgical kind of hurt. Clean and sterile. No mess. I just open my eyes in the same place, in the same bed and you're gone. I rearrange the pillows again, I roll over--this is the empty part of me, the part they cut out. It's the empty part of me that aches--that space, that coffin, that death rattle where once I held you close to me and thought I would never feel pain again.

I smiled and missed you terribly.

Before that the hotel room is dark and still. The curtains are drawn. The sliver of light between them, the only sign of life, gleams off the glass of rum and Coke. My Cary Grant nightcap you joked about the night before. On any other night I would have drained that glass four or five times over just to claim a few hours of clumsy desperate half-sleep. But instead the phone rings and I look up and the ice has melted and the glass is full. Across the room, half my pill bottles, more poisons, more toxins, more promises of forced unconsciousness left unopened, forgotten.

This is the third time someone has called. Before that you were standing on the sidewalk smoking and I kissed you good-bye. Angie lets the phone ring out, but she listens to the message all the same. I won't sleep again after this.

She listens then hangs up. "That was her," she says. "She's going to post something on the board later."

And you're really gone.

Angie's buried herself in the blankets again, but I don't even bother to try. That kind of peace is as far away as the smoky kiss on the sidewalk.

Off the elevator and the lobby is emptied out and full of whispers. The bold din of the crowd is lost, and all I notice of the people who remain are their coats. Brown and gray and black. Real fur or fake fur. Outside it's raining hard and everyone is scrambling for cover, dashing across streets, jumping puddles, holding newspapers and briefcases over their heads. Umbrellas fester. More and more swell up like a rash with every step. More black and gray and brown.

Right now. This place. It's like everything here, this whole town, only existed for the two of us, and now that you're gone it's closing down. People are packing up and leaving, people are being washed away. And I wonder what it means that I'm still here.

Call it post apocalyptic. Here I am at the end of the world again. I'm splashing through the rain water, my pant legs are soaked, I can barely see with the water streaming down my glasses, and I think, most things aren't worth the aftermath. Most things are fatigue or a bitter aftertaste, repetition and memories you don't bother to keep past Tuesday.

And then I think of the girl who took a drag on her cigarette and kissed me and tore the sky down. And I smile. The kind of hurt that makes you realize there's still something out there worth loving. And I'm walking. And pretty soon I'm just another black coat in the rain.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great description of a certain degree of desolation and the way that can piggyback on the delight you can't help but still feel remembering a person, especially if you genuinely love them. I've been in this situation for about 4 months now. It's amazing how despair and emptiness can become meta-feelings that parasite on genuinely sublime memories like, for instance, times you and 'that person' may have made each other laugh through some implicit understanding you'd developed in your camaraderie over the years just by a shared look at some point. What was once a source of such joy and reassurance becomes, by it's very joyful nature, painful because it's lost when you know you'll never speak to this person again. Or if you see them at conferences you'll have to try to make small talk till you can find a way to exit gracefully.