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I used to write fiction. Artist: Unknown
I never liked the kitchen table. We got it from her mother when we were poor. It wasn’t even made of wood. It was imitation wood. Or particle wood. Or maybe even cheap plastic painted to look like wood. It bothered me every single day. It was an affront to all trees, in my opinion. Even worse, sometimes the sunlight came through the bright and clean window and I saw all that richness and gold rest on my wife’s strong shoulders before falling flat and dead on the imitation table. What God-awful material treats the sun that way? I couldn’t take it most days. I wouldn’t even set my coffee down. I preferred to just hold the mug and stand up while reading the newspaper.
Morning belonged to me. Old, silver dog at my feet. My back to the table. Within my sight, there were surfaces where the sun could lie gracefully down. The sound of industrious birds cleaning their beaks and managing their feathers. Children running for the bus with laced-up shoes and sack lunches, their backpacks bobbing up and almost over their heads. The smell of warm toast and cold fruit. Cinnamon and milk. Morning has the unique capacity to make a man believe, for an hour or so, that nothing in the world is too much or too little. That time has no haste with his life. That the dog grazing his nose on the ground is the most devoted and gracious dog that ever lived. And I would stand there taking it all in, ignoring the table, a sense of peace strapped against my chest, taking it all in, ignoring the table. That was before. That was when I had a choice about my mornings.
These days we sit across from one another, achingly early in the morning, with only that harrowing table between us. First, it began in bed. Miles already into my sleep, I would suddenly feel her fine spine uncurl straight and hear her legs swing over the edge of the mattress as she stretched her arm back to shake me awake. The first few days of this were confusing and then I got used to it. I would mumble something about time and work and then press my face back into the pillow, not yet ready to know what was going on. When I felt her weight lift from the bed I knew I would not be able to fall back to sleep. So now I get up and sit with her at the table. Very early. Before the sun.
When we first began to do this I would lay my hands palm down on the mock wood and wonder if I would get some sleep before work or if I should just make some coffee. I asked her what the hell we were doing. I mean, what is this all about? She said she thought she was dying. My cells, I can feel them, she said. I think they are moving in another direction. I think, maybe, they have no direction. Her mouth full of tremble. It feels like some of my limbs are missing, my arm, or maybe my hand. I’m reaching for something and I can’t find it. I can’t hold onto anything. There is only empty space.
She is 38 and has had two miscarriages and when she lays down her logic I follow it carefully because I love her. Because the deep color of her eyes presses so firmly to the surface that sometimes it looks like her eyes could become their own being, their own solid life separate from her face. Every morning I follow her because she is the woman I love and the pain in her body, phantom or not, is simply and completely my own. I hold her wrist in my hand and run my fingers up her arm. Can you feel this? Yes. How about this? My fingers ask, as they trace the length of her collarbone. Sort of, she says. An ocean of eyes. All that beauty even now. And this? I ask as I lay my palm flat over her left breast, my entire arm extended. She closes her eyes, eyelashes to cheeks. Has my heart stopped? She asks me. Is it stopping? Is this a life we are living? I dare not bow my head. I dare not answer. I’ve never eased into this morning ritual and I sure as hell never wanted so much to happen between us at this table.