The morning starts as a holiday. Our jobs call and cancel until further notice. Yawning, we drink coffee in the dark of the living-room, immersed in the sound of rain drumming all around us. The night was sleepless and turbulent because of thunderclaps that shook our apartment and triggered car alarms.
It rains in buckets, in rivulets, in streams.
I have never seen so much water in my life.
The streets are unfamiliar—everything vanishing under a churning river—and we watch, with bated breath, an ambitious car venture out of the apartment gates and drift to the middle of the road. We predict he’ll be swept downstream, into the backwaters of backroads.
The car struggles around the intersection and retreats back to the apartment.
We laugh. There is no danger yet.
Flashing lights in the gray swirling clouds.
And still it rains.
We watch the news on my phone—cars completely submerged, kayakers paddling down freeway rapids, the downtown area transformed into a swirling sea from which skyscrapers poke out the top of their heads.
We watch as a woman in a white vehicle steers around a security barrier and into a submerged underpass ocean. A construction worker runs after her car, his mouth open in a silent shout. The light of her cell phone waves frantically as the car sinks slowly into the dark waters.
The car disappears and so does the light.
Eight people drowned that day.
in the wake of our discussion,
we hurl insults like grenades,
like bomb vessels bursting, a
face-off at opposite corners
of the room, and rage rends
the air, lends the atmosphere
a note of storms clawing at
our beached bodies, a volley
of venomous spray, when you
tell me that everything i do is
mediocre and i retaliate with
the observation that nobody
likes you, you are friendless
and alone, always, then you
scream, you stupid cunt! and
the windows shudder with the
volume of our passing—please,
love, don't remember this, i
towards you now,
closer and closer
with my mouth hanging open,
my mouth is a black hole
a maelstrom that
shatters my face apart,
a hole from
coming up to
grind you, it rises
from the crouched ladder of
a furious noise
it swallows up
If you say “good morning,” he will look up
from his weeding, or whatever he is doing in
the fenced area of his front yard, look at you
as if he just caught you mid-squat in the dirt,
and turn his wrinkled nose away. If you knock
on his door to talk about his rusted Accord
blocking your driveway, you see his scowling
face in the window—his greeting, a middle finger.
He’s been known to throw things. The family next
door know not to say anything as they pass by
on the sidewalk; he will snarl at them, and nod
to Mr. Torkington, their pet Doberman.
His house smells like musty papers and
dog food. Scout troops are warned from
approaching his door, a girl fractured her
leg when he had chased her away from
his stoop with a rolled up newspaper.
Animal control makes annual inspections
of his house. One time a concerned neighbor,
startled by all the rabbits, called for a wellness
check. They came and took hundreds of
floppy-eared, snuffling rabbits away in crates,
while he hovered by the front door and sobbed.
Spring finds him kneeling in the fresh dirt of his yard
tilling the soil with a trowel, he spies a baby robin
gray and ugly, crying in loud braying cheeps
—sounds too loud for such a tiny body—he
uses the trowel to expose pink fleshy worms
in the muck and the baby bird hops closer,
dodging nimbly between each shower of dirt.
“You deserve better,” he says, clucking his tongue,
and scans the sky for more friends.
Dr. Heller never mentioned his problem, but everyone at the clinic knew about it. We were shocked by how normal he acted afterwards. He didn’t even take a sick leave or anything. A couple of days after his incident, Judy decides to bring in a vase of flowers for his office, some ugly artificial thing with a heavy cluster of lilies and roses and ferns. Dr. Heller thanks her and sticks his face in them and we all laugh because we think he's fucking with us. Turns out, he thought they were real.
Judy later discovers him in his office and we can hear her screams throughout the building.
The clinic is in a state of excitement, the staff milling around. Everyone keeps saying that he was fine all morning. We keep saying, how could this have happened. We keep talking about what we could have looked for, the warning signs. We repeat how much we miss him. A get-well card circulates around the clinic and everyone signs it from their hierarchical order of importance—the surgeons, anesthesiologists, RNs, the receptionists, even the fat, ugly custodian who only creeps in after everyone leaves for the day.
We draw lots to elect a person to go visit him. Our clinic’s been a family for more than ten years and is heavily involved in each other’s lives. We take care of our own. (Only the receptionists get recycled out every so often for newer, younger candidates. We take pride in appearances here.) Also, everyone is dying for more news about the late and great doctor.
No one volunteers to go, so we draw lots. I get chosen. They all clap my back and say, sucks to suck.
He is a beautiful man. His forehead is taut, his eyes etch upwards at the corners. The sides of his nose are perfectly symmetrical lines. With a ruler, you can measure the alignment of his eyes to his ears. Even now, hunched forward with his shoulders drawn up so he looks like a turtle receding into a shell, his flesh is smooth and hard like plastic. He adjusts his position over the edge of the bench as if uncomfortable, and his hands are spread claws digging into the wood.
Smile Dr. Heller, I say and lean closer to him. I take a picture of us on my phone, me with a huge smile and Dr. Heller looking lost.
The sun is out, but it’s cold. The sunshine deceives us. We sit on a bench on the lawn. His personal caregiver is in a chair a few yards away from us and glances at us over the cover of her book.
He is wealthy enough to have escaped the indignity of sanitariums, where they throw together the psychotic and the mentally ill indiscriminately. He has that small mercy for him. His wife is filing for divorce now, I hear, and will soon have sole custody of the kids and house, a substantial fortune built upon the splicing and reconstruction of flesh. Maybe this is his punishment for tampering with natures works, sullied as they are. Maybe this is punishment for playing God.
I take his face with my hands and kiss him. I feel his perfectly sculpted lips with my tongue.
It’s ok, Dr. Heller.
You’ll get over this.
Everyone at the clinic misses you.
Remember Mrs. Lebowitz? She threw a fit when we told her you went on vacation. She says no other doctor in the city does skin as good as you.
It’s dark when I leave. The neighborhood is unsettling in its quiet, undisturbed by traffic or people. I miss the dirty mess and the noise of the city. The stars are like dim, sad echoes of the city lights.
But, if I crane my head, I can see the city lights glow like a distant fire.
Staff Development Day
("Think Outside the Lines!")
By the time we get to the venue
our department table is filled
so we sit at an empty one
on the edge of the auditorium.
As our coworkers laugh
like the cool kids at school,
we fill up on stale bagels
and coffee that tastes like
charcoal and heartburn
and study the day’s agenda
(holy fuck, the ice breaker
is an hour long!)
and try not to look too desperate,
as seats fill around us.
Introductions are made,
the speaker thanks us for the
honor of being there and
…organizations work together to
demonstrate the creativity
and innovation happening in…
two members of the admin team,
late to the party, join us at
the rejects table. We stiffen,
straighten up unconsciously,
hide our game of hangman
and doodles, take copious notes
…only YOU get to define the
parameters of this game…
as the cool table laugh and talk
loudly among themselves
the admin women stir
and mutter to each other,
a storm is brewing
right in front of us,
and I nudge my coworker
…this is about how you present
yourselves to the community…
I could warn my friends, but
I don’t. One of the ladies,
the one with the severe gray bob,
cat-eye glasses, mouth twisted down,
marches over to them
and "whispers" loudly, so that
the entire auditorium can hear:
Y’all are being too loud
The table silences at once
and the speaker continues
as if nothing has happened
…we want to be active versus
passive—we want people
to come to us…
The real estate agent tells her to reconsider. She says she has some truly amazing houses to show before she makes a decision. But I’m watching Evelyn not listen to her, and I see how she looks at the place with that little half smile of hers, that twitch of the finest lines around her mouth, wrinkling and smoothing over in an instant, and I know that nothing is going to dissuade her from purchasing this shitty, dilapidated house.
Friends and family make their appeals. She tells them I know I’ve heard the rumors, that’s all they are, rumors raised from nothing, created for the sake of gossip and for scaring naive outsiders, do people talk of nothing else in this shitty little hick town.
I only want what Evelyn wants, it’s been so long since she's wanted anything. I think she'll finally be able to start over here, maybe this will make her forget and live. But people keep telling her things she doesn't want to hear and they all sounded like variations of a theme, so finally she stops answering calls altogether.
I’m worried about the amount of work needed to make this thing halfway livable and Evelyn looks so wan and lost all the time. Here she is alone with this monster derelict house and each day is spring cleaning and after that there is still more work to be done.
Evelyn works sunup until she collapses in bed at night.
I'm sick of these halfway places, she says to no one.
Evelyn, pretty Evelyn, I’ll never forget the day I ran after you in the rain, barefoot in the park, with Caleb just beginning to jut out of your stomach, and I was running after you yelling for you to stop, scared but laughing because you were laughing and you were beautiful in the rain with your hair dripping down your face, you were so goddamned beautiful, it hurt to look at you.
Now you walk around tired and quiet, with those sunken hungry eyes.
When was the last time you laughed?
Slowly the house becomes whole again. She polishes until every surface gleams, she puts in new windows, paints, organizes, reassembles. Her room upstairs overlooks the garden and pond in the back of the house.
There are things here, hidden in the silence, that I don’t like to think about. And the force that drives Evelyn to fix this place—that scares me even more.
Caleb was two years old. He was the perfect baby, quiet and uncomplaining. We worried that he was sleeping too much, too often and too deeply, and not eating enough. We were good at fretting—everything seemed like a potential disaster.
You brought us here with you, didn’t you, I wanted to scream at her. I wanted to shake her, grip her by the shoulder so hard that she could feel my nails digging in her skin. You disturbed our baby's rest, how could you do it, Caleb just two years old and a barely visible lump underneath the blankets. You dug us up, God knows how you did it, you had to work with my decomposing weight and Caleb like a limp doll tucked under your arm. (They told you to cremate and you said no). Caleb he loved the color blue, he loved entwining his tiny perfect hands in his mother’s hair and pulling, he loved to sleep. A deep sleep, almost impossible to wake up.
Sometimes at night after another exhausting day, I’ll keep watch over my wife’s sleeping form. She curls up in a fetal position with her hands protecting her stomach.
Evelyn, I heard a laugh I swear I heard it, last night it came from downstairs. I couldn’t tell where it could have come from, or if it were male or female or even human, but I know I’ve never heard it before, and you were asleep. And sometimes in that area she calls the living room, there’s voices and footfalls, the swish of clothing, things clattering to the floor.
Sometimes I hear her singing around the house. Once, I heard her laugh and that sound broke around the house, and all throughout it, and the silence was quieter afterwards.
She doesn't eat. Her sunken little face and the bruised sockets, the limp wrists, and sharp edges of her hip and ribs—I can't take it.
She is fading into the house. I'm helpless. She no longer has eyes I can recognize, those aren’t the hands I loved and held and promised to protect throughout life, death, world without end. She teeters up and down the halls, in and out of rooms. I hear her talk to things I can't see. She leaves me; she goes where I can’t follow. She’s so thin and translucent, sunlight streaming from the windows looks strong enough to hurt her, to melt her away. She floats on drafts throughout the house, and mirrors hide her passing.
The voices are so beautiful she says and I didn’t believe her but I see now. The whole house swells with their presence, with colors bursting and small ripples of light extending, and they are calling where are you and I say here I am here I am here—and they welcome me with voices raised and over the singing and the echoes of ringing colors I hear the voices of so many loved ones, I see Evelyn and she is holding in her arms our son and they are coming for me