What I Am Paying For Now Is What I Lost Then
She bows her head at the memorial wall, trying not to cry and crying. A pale yellow handkerchief in hand. She still sort of expects him home. Her man. I miss you more than you know, she whispers. This is her first time at the memorial, and it crushes me like it does her under the terrible weight of time and love, and everything feels broken and witnessed.
Days later back at home she’s putting on coffee. Out the kitchen window it’s field and blizzard all the way to Alberta. Out there in the nothing there, a small Indian crew works the pipeline. She can just barely make them out. In time they will bring oil through here and pay her more. An old company man named Johnny shows up at the door, his long hair perfect silver and black, pulled back.
I know she hates she wants him. As he says hello some snow shoots in and he watches it melt
on the floor. Then looks at her and frowns, an unsaid apology. The envelopes have been light, he knows, but winter in Saskatchewan has slowed work. It’ll be longer still now that the politicians are involved. For her lease on the land and minerals, he wants her full bounty to come. Apologizes, out loud this time.
He drives out to where the Indians are digging, wrenching, and digging more. They see him and take a break, all huddled against the wind and smoking. He shouts something then his ponytail breaks loose and his hair goes up into the wind like horsetail on fire. He’s no oil man, mother says. He only runs the line. She goes to the sink, empties the coffee and rinses her mug. Outside the storm blows bigger, growing the windrows, striking north where there is no work to be done, nothing at all to be improved on. Johnnie and his Indians disappear in it. I’ve been here since he died, she says. What’s changed?
About stupid things—health, eating, money. Worry forever when you’re young, she says. You don’t want it lingering when you’re old. She stands at the window and searches the dark spot in the snow where the Indians were.
There’s nothing to bring him back, poor soul, I know that! she promises. Then silence for a moment. You’re a fine woman, she says and doesn’t explain. A fine girl. He’ll come back to you soon. For a long time, I sit there and wonder about after I lost Scottie, before I told mother he was lost, before I told anyone, when I was pretending he was gone off with his father for the weekend, before we searched for three weeks, three days and two and a half hours, finding nothing but quick-burning prairie, and above us, floating, embers and ash pushed by some unclear, stewarded pressure, maybe from above.
I wonder about how, after all the time I missed, I could ever be something other than a daughter for her. I know the answer because I know my heart is the laziest thing about me, and I know she will love me like this until the earth at last has her. And I’ll always, in some way, be saying goodbye.
We should be helping each other out, you know? No more of this my father’s a drunk, and yours hasn’t touched you in a meaningful way in years. Our mothers are coincidentally blind, and we are siblingless. And all the lousy family stuff. We can ask perverse questions on end and shoot nonmetaphorical holes entirely through each other. Can try, like our first year, to bring a child, yet the cosmos presses on, unpermitting.
So like cabbies on Halstead at night hustling under the rain, or any of our tit-surgeon friends throwing dark parties up in the room where Farley died, we are no different, no better. Trying and failing to help ourselves. And this is the problem: the Hideout is open in Chicago, quiet, but we don’t like hearing each other talk.
But there is still love here. When I stumble into you, the understood other, and you inch a toe forward, nudging your way, I am solid, sold by your movement and stung to death with fear. Fear of what the burnt white carpet or broken travertine in the bathroom might provoke in the mind. Of how neither of us is guilty, so no one can blame us. We can’t even blame ourselves.
On another night we go back to Pilsen, melt our cellphones stovetop, TIG the doors, and paint shut windows forever, have the whole apartment done up in white, because it’s the color of silence. Though black might be more appropriate, denying sight and suggesting the absence of things like it does.
And we really try reading for a change, smart books making you talk (brag) about your knowledge of the human heart as a place full of courage, where the strange and the most singular
And oh how we both love aeronautics! Enough to watch the 8911 British Airways from Manchester to O’Hare explode all over the Near West Side. It’ll be on TV, stunning all the Brooklyn young made such easy talc by spectacle, when a passenger, not an official one, a baby, falls on a bit of gas tank and goes right through the top four floors of your building, landing in the living room, in your already cradled arms.
And of course we keep it! And he, the baby, being ours, is a quick learner and toys for hours on end with our gunshot knees and hearts. Little tyke gets blood and bits of denim everywhere, under his fingernails, inside ears, on the soft curve of his eyelid, deep in his ass crack, and it will not go away until we put him on the counter like a man and put a bullet through his head.
Because we love this baby. Because we teach him this carnival time and pillowy humanity we have only just begun to revel in ourselves. And because he’s not even a real baby, only a cheap way to get inside each other.
It could have been in this bar that Dylan’s whole heart fell under his best friend’s hammer, all called out as he was, his enemy stilted and with their heads stout in the same cloud as us a hundred years on, reciting everything we know about juniper berries and indie rock and roll. Nothing about us, nothing beyond us, only your accidental hair in the sun like gossamer bunting, the heart inside of you hidden in the sand between the Mumbles and the Bay. You, you there with the sterling eyes and the Cullian Diamond for breasts, entire enough to fill fine china platters. It’s hard to imagine a baby girl suckling them, or under a Florida moon, my red-mouthed boy having them. Drinking you in is like wading out deep with the cod hopping in the laverbread, the current cloudy green and feathered warm, the stroke of diesel and sex in the water, the old fishermen watching with zazen plaintiveness and hard won winter money. Like the Ibis, you’re out there, moving surely in and out of the illusion of light, down and out of the dark waters, certain that no harm can come up on you. Next morning as you clean the jets in the tub, I go through your phone, some letters, the condoms and hairpins in your drawer, all the time thinking how easy it is, after a decade spent losing, to make you love me, how easy it’s become to say every word just right. To call you an Ibis. You went outside to play with your little black cat, which I’d forgotten on the way back to the killing yards. By this time (and we should really try this again sometime) you’re talking but still not speaking to me, so I go out for you, bold with some great, Western truths to tell you. Listen and remember how awful it was before I came to you, nearly as fucked as it is with me now. We, as if this is the first time, shoot up on your doorstep, two in the morning and your father holding the needle and the flame. All is forever present and forever known. Even my cancer eating you, if it has to be, is perfectly in place. And all day I will weep because I can’t help from laughing. We have such bad coins in our sockets, making it easy to say you don’t want children until you think about (remember) not having them.