the Sun, the Water
It’s just the children with me now, and the summer yawning into the house. The children are bored; there’s no way around that. Bored and hungry, they hover at the edge of the bed, take the quilt in their hands. Their hands are clean. They haven’t any candy, any juice. I pour them cups of milk, tear bread, cold chicken from the bone. It’s summer, and the days are long, glutted with heat and empty hours. We spend our days in the house. We have few visitors. The days bloat and fall apart, wet paper. I wash and wash my hands.
The heat requires nothing. I ask nothing of it. But the children grow hungry and I must feed them. Cold meat and cut fruit and bread torn from the loaf.
Some days the children’s father visits. He is no longer mine, but he is their father and I let him in without argument. Some nights he stays over, the bed somehow cooler with him in it, the sheets less suffocating. Beneath him I am lighter, set free. He leaves before the sun fills up the room. The children mustn’t know, mustn’t ask for him. He comes only briefly, brings gifts. Yarn they tangle in their fingers and dolls whose hands and hair they chew. I take them when the children go to sleep, put them in a cabinet, away.
There is love in the house, though much of it is gone. On my ankle is a star, a flower, hundreds of blue dots come together. On my belly is a scar. There is evidence of love, the little left. The children sip their milk, fatten. They do not cry. There is nothing that would hurt them.
The children follow their father blindly, blithely. He opens the fridge without care, rattles everything inside. He doesn’t know his own strength. He opens the cupboard, the cabinets. There is nothing for him. Still he looks. Fills a glass at the sink. His eyes linger on the dishes, follow a cockroach down the drain. It is summer and the insects flourish. There is no way around this. He won’t tell me to wash, to clean anything. We have stopped repeating ourselves, living in circles, winding up and unwinding again. We are uncoiled, languid. We say little.
I will not drink the water, and the children won’t. There are microbes, dust; there’s particulate matter, rust in the pipes. Detergent. Antibiotics. You can see the flecks, holding the glass up to the light. Their father won’t look, refuses to. He drinks thirstily, lips wet when he swallows. He fills a second glass, gives it to the children. They will not drink it, but carry it around until bed time, careful not to spill.
The children are so careful! They do not touch me. They do not open the oven, the fridge, the front door. They take the quilt edge gently in their hands. They are hungry. They are gentle. For them, I rise from the bed, walk the damp carpet in the hallway, the cold linoleum in the kitchen.
On my ankle is a star, a flower, hundreds of blue dots, faded. There was a time I drank. Weeks swallowed, months. Nights I drank and days that were nights and I drank them, swallowed the cold hours, the rushing hours, drank deeply, thirstily.
The children’s father is ugly: persistent nose, quick eyes, wettish hair pushed down his forehead. His body all bone. Always I’ve loved his hardness, his voice harsh in my ear, telling me to lie down, lie still. His hands hard, holding me.
Constricted, I am set free. His body lean as a snake, long and muscled. I am ugly, too: liquid, shapeless, waiting to merge, to fill. I fill my bed, limbs spread under the covers, opened up. My hair damp on the pillow. I am sick. I tell him I am sick.
There’s something in the water, the air. I will not drink it. Still it gets in. Washing the dishes, the clothes, my hair and hands.
There are nights still I drink, the children asleep on the foldout couch, bellies full. They’ll sleep until the heat wakes them, the sun loud in the windows, the carpet, their eyes. The night is hot but less so. The hours grow inside me, bloat and fall apart, wet paper.
There is love in the house. Some things persist. I chew cold chicken from the bone, bread left on the counter. Everything is waxen, yellow in the unstable night, the chaotic night, runny hours, fluid, meaningless.
If you look closely, there are marks all over my body. Pale lines, pink dots. Scars gone grey beneath the skin. There are scabs, tiny angry red. I am clumsy. Always I have been clumsy. Inside is much the same. Pain like heat like water rushes in. Finds its way in every weak place.
I am sick. I would like to explain how I am sick. There are microbes in the water, particulate matter. Antibiotics, paint, bleach. The water shimmers, froths. There is a sinister hue, held up to the light.
The children’s father comes over. He looks in my mouth, my throat. Everywhere there is pain. He touches my ankle, the marks there. A hundred blue dots come together.