Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Weight of Her Body

She smiles as she brushes her hair. She blinks strange and says, “A mirror is the slow motion film of dying.” And then she puts makeup on her future corpse, a hint of perfume, a nod to the embalmer. 

Shattered glass everywhere. 

Ever since the accident, so pensive, so enthralled by the minutia of the moment, the ephemera of memories, the silent hour every morning over coffee to sort the night’s dreams. When she finally came out of the coma she had said, “It’s not at all like they say you know?” But then she never did say, only that, “There was no flash of brilliant light compressing life into an instant. Only a dusty office, the low green haze of a banker’s lamp, and an ominous presence taking tally, running  the numbers, and the feeling of coming up in the debt of the universe.”

So much blood. 

“I had lunch with Amy today.” She is speaking loud to be heard from the next room and I am shaving because it is our anniversary. 

The staleness of the waiting room. 

 “Yeah? How was it?” The words come out squished, my face contorted for the razor sake. This is the small talk to break the tension, the apology without the apology for another day of being distant.

The dull murmur of conversations, like a stomach growling, like hunger pains.

“Our waitress was fun. She talked with her hands, like there were little marionettes dangling from her fingers acting out her strange stories. She went on and on and on about rehab and staying clean, her boyfriend and the dog fighting charge that he beat because his baby’s mamma knew the judge in the biblical sense.”

The dreadful purgatory of it all.

“Somewhere between her bootlegging grandma and her skydiving albino brothers I started imagining the invisible puppets pantomiming each new plot twist. Little moonshine makers at a copper still, now her drunk mother cussing baby Jesus and her at six years old crying in the corner begging please don’t cancel Christmas. You should have seen her apron it was gloriously disgusting. It was like a Rorschach test, I swear I saw an angel with one wing in grease and gravy and the face of Elvis, right by the pocket, in mustard I think.”

The sickle shaped scar above her left eye.

“You see Elvis in dryer lint and burnt toast.”

The headaches.

“And clouds, and clam chowder, I know, I know.” She laughs, the tension thaws, she takes my arm and we walk to the car.  

The blurred vision.

At the restaurant she smiles at the valet as he takes the keys. She whispers thank you. The maitre de, the waiter, they follow her with reverent eyes and why shouldn’t they, she is as sacred as starlight, and worthy of every wish, every prayer.  The sacrament of her little black dress, the miraculous teetering heels, and the two dozen little moons orbiting the altar of her perfect neck; they are all converted; the whole city seems born again.

She died on the operating table twice.

She pokes at her food, apologizes for her appetite, folds and refolds her linen napkin. I ask about her mom: cancer in remission, no news. I slide a thin velvet box across the table. She makes an attempt at mock consternation but she loves gifts. Her grandmother’s engagement ring reset into a pendant. She tears up a little and excuses herself but comes back wearing the new necklace instead of her pearls. She kisses the top of my head before she sits, she whispers thank you.

“She’s lucky to be alive.”

The museum is cold, she pulls her sweater up around her shoulders. We follow the tour for several rooms until she wants to rest. “It takes something away from it, to talk about it I mean. I can’t even look at Degas without remembering how he profaned women, objectified them.” She says as she takes off her heels, rubs her feet. Degas would have loved her dancer’s legs. 

“She may never walk again.”

She slides between the sheets. Says “good night” and sighs heavy with sleep. I turn out the light and walk to the window.  She is dreaming, she mumbles some unintelligible phrase.

“She may never wake up.”  

Sunrise waited at her hotel window, wary of the sorry scene inside but then all at once gathered its courage and thrust itself upon the room. Shadows swirled like wind-blown smoke, flickered and then fled the light, her eyes winced and then widened. She got up slowly and walked to the window. She pressed her palms against the warming pane and then her face. Fourteen stories below delivery men delivered, school children waited for school buses to swallow them sleepy-eyed and single file, and the hustle-bustle busy engine of morning shifted into a higher gear. She let the full weight of her body lean into the glass, the full weight of her desperation. The window whined against the strain, creaked and cried and pleaded against her weight but she ignored it. She closed her eyes and threw herself glass shattering headlong to the street below.

“She may not remember what happened.”

Lightening cascades across the sky west of the city. The power goes out, I light a candle. She is on the threshold of a nightmare. She wakes up screaming. Trembling. I put my arm around her and stroke her hair until she is calm. She asks, “Were we happy, before I mean? Were we in love?”

“She may not remember you at all.”


  1. Love it...will read it again many more times.

  2. I wish I was this good at the flow of language and the painting of these little images. I have trouble putting adjectives as adverbs, for instance, but stylistically, it's perfect in the first line. I am really in awe, Mr. Langham. I only wish I'd read it sooner.

    1. Do you write songs, by the way? The line about mirrors makes me think of a certain style of songwriting, the turn of phrase, the paradox.