Quondam

January 2013
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The rest of me

Fiction

“Alright, I want to ask you a question.”

“Hold on.” I hesitatingly pour a thick dollop of slightly-outdated whipping cream into my coffee, stirring quickly and furiously to break up what I imagine are sunken lumps of congealed dairy chub. There is an unsettling greasy sheen to the surface that refuses to be dispelled with agitation. With my spoon, I ladle out the iridescence, only to watch it be refueled from below. Resigned, I make a mental note to stop by the grocery store for regular creamer, and I take a sip. It tastes oily and malevolent; I drink through tightly pursed lips, fearful a lump of cream-chub might slide up from the bottom and urge itself forward.

Jane stares, “You know, you could drink it black.”

I take another sip, cringe against the oleaginous slide of curdled threat, “No, this is fine.”

Jane stares at me for a few more seconds, and I wave a hand of dismissal, wrap my hands around the warmth of the mug, “I’m fine. What was that you said about wanting to ask me a question?”

Jane gathers her legs up and beneath her, makes herself small within the couch on which she sits, “You’re going to think I’m crazy.”

“Probably. Ask anyway.”

Reaching to tuck her gray-blonde hair behind her ear, Jane considers, “It’s not so much a question as a thought.”

“Alright.”

“I just can’t seem to stop thinking about it.”

“Spit it out, woman.”

“OK, but I have to explain. You promise to listen?”

“Fine.” I take another cautious pursed-lip drink of my coffee, “I will sit quietly.”

Jane runs her hands along her thighs, tucks her bare feet more tightly alongside her body, “I’ve been getting up early to walk.”

“I know. Is this about how I won’t walk with you? I hate getting up early and I hate being cold and I hate . . .”

Jane waves her hand, “No, it’s not about that, although I would like your company. No, I’ve been walking by myself and I’ve been using the time to think.”

“What about?”

“Life. Choices.” Her laugh is rueful, “I’ve been thinking about what comes next and the spaces left by what went before.”

I sit in silence as she continues, “The kids are getting older. Robert’s off at college and Isabel will be a senior in high school next year. They don’t need me as much as they once did, and as proud as I am that they are growing into strong independent people, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with all that is . . . left. You know? There is a rest of my life and a rest of my marriage and a rest of . . . me.” Jane’s eyes are beseeching, “I feel like what is left of me has been carved to fit around the emptiness. Do you know what I mean?”

I nod slowly, “My kids are younger, but yes, I think I understand. If I close my eyes and sway, I can still feel the weight of each of my daughters against my hip. When I lie in bed at night, I sometimes rest my hands on the softness of the flesh that once held them within and I just . . . mourn. I’m not heartbroken, but I won’t deny there is sadness at the loss of what once was. It’s like I carry within me the memory of all the spaces they have ever filled, and even though they continue to exist . . . continue to fill spaces . . . larger and brighter spaces every day . . . the smaller closer spaces that they have outgrown still live . . . and ache . . . within me.”

Jane’s eyes fill, but she smiles, “Yes. Exactly like that. I knew you would understand.”

Reaching for my coffee, I stare into its refracted surface as I fight for composure, “Probably just as well I don’t go on these walks with you. We would just cry.”

Jane presses the backs of her index fingers below her eyes, brushing away dampness, and sighs, “So I have been walking, and the other day, this glint of shimmering bluish-green caught my eye from the unkempt wilderness that is Jack Cortin’s yard.”

“Which one is he again?”

“If you came on these walks with me, you would get to know the people in your neighborhood.”

“Eh. I know you. That’s enough. Is Cortin the guy who set up a lemonade stand last summer?”

She giggles, “No, that was Peter Borfette . . . I still don’t know what that was about. Grown man selling lemonade out in front of his house – I heard Peter’s wife came home early from work that day to shut him down.”

“It was good lemonade, though.”

She looks at me curiously but continues, “Anyway, Jack Cortin is the guy who lives by himself. He travels a lot, works with computers or something. I don’t know. Oh wait! He’s the guy you thought ate a squirrel that one time.”

“He so ate that squirrel . . . that’s Jack Cortin?”

“Yes. He must be out of town, because the newspapers have been piling up in his driveway. I walked past his house several mornings in a row, surprised he hadn’t made arrangements to stop the paper or have someone pick them up. After a few days, I just couldn’t stand it — the papers were littering his driveway and announcing his absence. I decided to gather them up and put them on his front porch.”

“That was nice of you.”

“Anyway, I was standing on his porch and this glint of color caught my eye. I was curious to know what it was, so I went to look, and buried back in the mossy slope toward the side of his yard . . . you know, behind the ivy and under those fruit trees?”

“Jane, I don’t pay attention to people’s yards unless the people who own the yards are doing something interesting in them . . . like opening a lemonade stand or eating a squirrel.”

She laughs, “OK, well it’s all overgrown. I made my way over to the glint of bluish-green, and I found this big ball.”

“Like a children’s ball? Jack doesn’t have any kids, does he?”

“No, it’s made out of glass.” Jane holds her hands up and caresses an invisible sphere as she speaks, “It’s this really spectacular shade of milky bluish green, like . . . ,” she thinks for a minute, “like thick algae beneath the surface of a shadowed pond on a sunny day. Yes, just like that. The color has fluidity to it, a sense of movement and pliability as the sun and shadow play over its curves. The impression I had was that the globe would yield to the touch,” and here she pauses for a moment, “as though you could dent it with your finger, like the surface of an eyeball.”

“Like the surface of an eyeball?”

Jane considers, “Yes. You know what I mean.”

“Yes. I do.”

“It’s large, this globe, a bit bigger than a bowling ball, obviously purchased as a lawn ornament. It’s settled into the moss beneath its weight, though, and it looks as though it has been there forever.”

She stops talking for a moment, and I ask, “So why are you telling me about this blue-green globe hidden in the unruly yard of an out-of-town neighbor?”

Jane stares into her lap, “Because I have been sitting with it.”

“What, you just sit in Jack’s yard?”

“Yes.”

“More than once?”

“Several times.”

“Huh.”

“I know it sounds weird. I know. But I just feel this incredible sense of well-being and peace. I just sit there on the mossy ground with my hands on the globe, and I shut my eyes, and it is as though the empty spaces within me are filled.”

“Seriously?”

“And if I sit very quietly and let my hands rest very lightly, I sometimes get this sense that my hands slip through the globe’s surface. Like boundaries bend and slip for me . . . like I am connected to something. Something bigger than my existence or maybe something smaller, I don’t know. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like the empty spaces of me are filled.” She laughs, “That sounds insane, right? I know that sounds insane.”

I pause before answering, “I think there is room in the world for the unexpected. An unexpected solidity of self is not a bad thing.”

Jane nods, “Yes. That’s what I think. I know it’s out of the ordinary, this feeling, but it’s mine and I want to feel it.”

“So what do you want from me, permission? You have my permission. Jack Cortin may want some explanations when he returns from wherever he has gone and finds you sitting in his yard, but you have my permission.”

“No, that’s not it.”

“Ooooh . . . you want me to help you steal the ball? Is it heavy?”

“No, no, no . . . whatever magic it has is confined to the place it rests, I am certain of that. No, what I want from you is a photo.”

“Is that all? Done.”

“It doesn’t have to be a perfect photo.” Jane’s voice slips into dreaminess, “I just want proof of the moment.”

“I’m a decent photographer, babe. We’ll get a good photo.” I glance at her, “Wait . . . what moment?”

She averts her eyes, “I want to be nude in the photo.”

“Trespassing, insanity, unexpected solidity, and now public nudity as well? I’m your girl.”

Jane breathes a sigh of relief, “Thank you.”

“So what sort of image did you have in mind?”

“Promise not to laugh?”

“Just tell me.”

“That feeling I told you about, that feeling of boundaries slipped and bent and made permeable? That feeling of connection across realities?”

“Yes?”

“I want to curl my body to the orb’s curves, I want to lie on the moss and make myself of the globe. I want to make the globe of me. I want to feel the give of boundaries. I want an old emptiness filled. I want the ache soothed. I want to feel whole.”

My voice startles in revelation, “You’re talking about the emptiness left by birth.”

“Yes.”

“I can’t promise I can capture magic.”

“I don’t need you to do anything but photograph a moment. The magic is mine.”

I reach to sip again at my coffee, which has gone horrific and cold, “Can we stop for coffee afterward?”

Jane stands, “Yes. Yes, we can do that.”

I stand as well, “Alright, then . . . let’s go get the rest of you.”

Carved around the empty.

    40 comments to The rest of me

    • Hello, Sunday evening.

      Me

    • Karen

      Sounds like you two are lucky to be neighbors. No way I could ask that of anyone around here. And I’ve lived here way longer than you have lived there.

      • I would perhaps direct you to the title and then the very first word of my post, babe.

        Halves of me in this post.

        Carved around the empty.

    • What could go possibly wrong? While nude-cuddling the green ball of zen? In the squirrel-eater’s front yard? Boy, did this turn out differently than I expected.

    • You’ve done it Kris…you’ve filled the space between the and the noise of the furnace with nothing but my complete loss of time and space. I have nothing to say because I was right there beyond interpretation.

      I believe in defining moments in life…and in writing. You have me now. You are a writer…in case there was any doubt.

      Now about that picture… :)

    • …meant to say, the space between the words… you know I can’t type. ;)

      • You are lovely with your compliments, babe. Thank you.

        I’ve made you paranoid about typos now, haven’t I?

        Sorry about that.

        As for the photo? There are a couple of photos to which you could be referring, but I prefer to think that you mean the photo I took last summer of a small pond underfilled with algae, whose color and movement beneath sun and shadow mesmerized me.

        Pretty sure you mean that photo.

        Me

    • No…meant the naked character wrapped around the glass ball I expected to see her there as only I could. But yes, as well.

      #inspired

    • I think all women go through this, don’t they?

      It’s just we all deal with it in different ways.

      I’m carving myself around the empty right now…

    • Okay.

      More.

      I want more to eavesdrop on this conversation from these two. Because i see myself in them, and that brings me closer, to feeling known.

      Thank you.

    • Jacqui

      I like to ignore that empty feeling, and when it can’t be ignored any longer, I console myself with the thought that I will probably have another child. But maybe I can just sit with the globe. Do you actually have one that you are hiring out?!

    • Hoping the neighbor stays gone long enough.
      And that the magic comes through.

    • Robin K

      I love the way you give colour a place in this story and the description is to be lost in…

      I sometimes hear people commenting about how they wish someone had told them this or that about motherhood or wishes for some sort of book. Reading this would be an invaluable piece for those contemplating motherhood.

      Love the friendship here. I’d be taking lots of walks in this ‘hood.

      • Like so many other things in life, however, there is telling and there is knowing.

        I read so many parenting books before I had the girls, and not one prepared me for the knowing of the experience.

        So there is that.

        And I also love the friendship here . . . thank you for that.

        Me

        And also . . . me.

    • Martha

      Lovely.

      Thank you for this beautiful way to start the work week.

    • Jessica

      I need a piece of this magic globe action. Because- my uterus? It wants to know if it will ever carry a child. It has this deep, deep need to be pregnant, give birth, and raise a child.

      But myself? My brain and my heart? They wonder on a daily basis if it’s better if we don’t ever have kids. If we’re “not supposed to”.

      So. What kind of a store do you think sells these kinds of things? Maybe I could take a peek…

      • I have written several times of the woman I was before I had the girls.

        I have written of how I thought I would just stop all the fucked-up-ness with me.

        But then . . .

        There was Maj.

        And Kallan.

        I wouldn’t trade the woman I am for the woman I was for anything.

        Anything.

        Just so you know.

        Me

    • Sue B

      I know you SAID this was fiction… But I would love to think that this was a real conversation. Or even better, a real photo as the outcome. Someone said that Fiction is truth that is greater than facts. Or something like that. I hope it goes without saying that I love this piece. And it should be a star in your next novel.

      • Well, it is SORT OF a real conversation, except for the fact that all the speaking goes on in my head alone.

        Although I would like that photo.

        Hee hee.

        I’m glad you liked this piece, Sue.

        Thank you.

        Me

    • Mishelle

      You know, it’s taken 2 days to read this post… I start it and one of the kids called to me so I walk away to answer questions and when I come back the other child is on my ‘puter.

      At one point I honestly thought they were doing it on purpose!

      The last couple years I have been mourning the fact that I won’t – newly divorced after a crazy long separation, so many trust issues and my age (*sigh*) I know I won’t. And still, in the middle of a long night I want.

      So I took on a 3 month old (I take care of children), he keeps those feelings at bay for a while… the clean baby smell and feeding him works for a bit. Still… that globe sounds like something I could use…

      M

      • Sigh.

        For me, it’s not at all about wanting another baby. Not even a little bit. It’s just about the spaces left behind by my daughters as they find their way apart from me.

        Sigh.

        Love to you.

        Me

        • Mishelle

          See, I try very hard not to think about that.

          It’s in my face a lot now that the kids spend a week at their Dad’s place… with Allie at 13 and Jamie at 9- I look around realizing that having children means helping them grow and go away and it’s a killer. So – I do what I do with stuff I do NOT want to think about because it’ll make me cry, I stuff it away and try hard not to think about it.

          I see how little I’m needed now and I realize all the space inside that used to be taken up by them and wonder what to do with it… I mean, I had to make that space when I had them now it’s empty but it’s still there! Now what?

          I’m pretty good at running from it – which isn’t always good. I take it out when I can deal with it and try to think of things to do but it always feels like a sore spot.

          M