When He’s Gone

She doesn’t know how to explain it, what comes over her when he’s gone. It’s as if, when he’s around, all the energy she has goes his way, feeds him and the life they have in common. It’s not that she doesn’t have a life of her own; more like the energy powering her life comes from an auxiliary source, the main station reserved for him, him and her in tandem.

When he’s gone the charge piles in on itself, heaping like oily rags that in the end spontaneously combust. It goes on all day, the buildup: while she makes the bed, does the laundry, the dishes, rakes leaves in the yard, watches TV; when she goes to the store, the post office, the gas station, to and from her job. As the car idles at every red light, she engages other gears. It goes on all night while she sleeps: when dreaming, in between dreaming, at levels of consciousness that don’t show up in psychology texts because the mind can’t study itself that completely. Whatever it is unleashes the double, the alter ego; not exactly Jekyll and Hyde: not hideous, not raging or demented, no thirst for blood or taste for flesh. No one imperiled but herself, if you can call it peril. More like stalking the one rare plant that blooms only at midnight under a full harvest moon.

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Saturday morning begins ordinary. She puts on music. She thinks, as she lies in bed carrying on their ritual of drinking coffee and reading the paper, maybe she’ll go to the library, stock in some novels for the long evenings of reading she plans to fill the time when he’s gone. She could stop in to see the show at the art center (something she always means to do but never quite gets around to). She makes a foray from bed to desk for the lists, the endless lists, to see which one she in her arrogance believes she could decimate in one afternoon. Lists of this and that: a bigger bathroom rug, some new CDs, a thermos, ginseng capsules at the health food store. Nothing terribly important to have or, for that matter, to do without but, like the phone ringing, like a child crying to get a mother’s attention, insistent as hell. She puts them off, the lists, till she has time, as if time — precious commodity in endless supply — could be had. The cold gets her out of bed (again) to turn up the heat that he’s always turning down as if, when he’s there, he should supply the heat.

Tonight, she decides, she’ll go out. Better call one of the group to find out what’s happening. She knows the drill: they’ll tank up and stay out late just so that, Sunday morning when they habitually meet for croissants and lattés, they can indulge themselves in dragging ass and feeling sorry they’re no longer young and indestructible.

She proceeds with further rituals: showering with no soap (morning only); examining her body for signs of decay (but not too closely; she already doesn’t like the way the light falls where thigh meets buttock); avoiding the fact that her left breast is noticeably larger than her right. Slightly darkening the eyebrows, a skiff of mascara, for the natural look. Pondering which jeans, what level of fade; how many layers of shirts and sweaters and in what order, the colors, the patterns. But the closer she is to being ready to emerge, the less inclined she is to leave this house where she already spends too much time. It’s really not a matter of inclination: more like the less able she is to leave. The plan for the day receding, she nevertheless continues the ritual of dressing. One earring or two? Matching or not? Watch strapped on even though she doesn’t need to know the time, not on Saturday.

It is important that the ritual not be rushed.

It is important that the ritual be completed.

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When it’s done, all of it, every last detail, she empties the garbage in the house to the outside can, feeds the cat, has another half cup of coffee, shuts off the music, puts in a load of wash (not necessarily in that order except for the wash, which is always last). As the water fills the tub, the hard jets foaming the detergent, she flares, life in tandem charred to ash: makes with the ash a sign on the door so the angel of death knows to pass over.

copyright 2011 Carol Rosenblum Perry

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