ESCAPES FROM PARADISE by Anne B Kelly
It was the summer of Jack's death. Summer of Jack's death. Summer of. I kept repeating it out loud to make it real, to make it sound historical. I was never any good at remembering birthdays but death dates would be permanent. When Nathan offered to marry me afterwards I just said ok. I was thinking at this point what difference did it make which way the wind blew me. Even though it was a cliché to unify our grief, it seemed easier to give in.
It's no ones fault, he said pulling me in, he had something vast inside of him.
The finality of it was as opaque and as permanent as the rocks folding in and out like a heavy cloak before us. My invisibility cloak.
All the things;
There would be no more trips cross country with the rusted old Ford (renamed the Ark after one particular rainy night huddled with the dogs, the heavy drops clanking on the metal roof like scattering bullets), no more whiskey bonfires, no more of Jack's particular brand of black humor, his raspy laugh, the shape of his fingers along my spine, inside of me. All of those meticulously thought out tattoos were now just grey dust. The skeletal birch tree limbs crisscrossing across his shoulder; birch for the first sign of life to pierce barren icy landscapes, birch the pioneer, birch for purification.
It was then that I realized that I no longer wanted any possessions. There were too many things: old shirts, his father's military flag, dog-eared books, chipped coffee mugs, wooden frames, all shadow material left for the broken hearted to sort through eventually. I wanted to be free, new, stay clear of sentiment. In the end there was only an empty space punctuated by stacks of wilted cardboard boxes and bags. I kept the keys to the Ark on a long ball-bearing chain, some pictures, and my stacks of journals. Always the same brand of wine and indulgently tear-stained ruled paper.
There was a time the three of us were inseparable, running through abandoned buildings, experimenting with vintage cameras, drugs, finishing each others plates and sentences. Magic threes.
The road is a backdrop to the sound of the sisters' chatter, which stretches on for miles, --both the road and the talk, overlapping staccato operas set to the repeat beat of rolling wheels and the drone of the smooth engine of the rental. Meredith, Madeleine, Montana. Alliteration, they chirped in unison. The heat of the recycled air made my thoughts sluggish and heavy like cough syrup.
I lean my head against the window. Although my dry hand is in his, I feel far away. He knows when my mind drifts and closes his fingers tighter, a gentle squeeze to keep me from flying away.
I wonder if I should have packed the right things to wear, and in a moment of panic, if have I remembered to slip my journal in my bag at the last moment, yes, it is safe.
They say that it is magic where we are going, the rocks heal your soul and whisper their secrets to you in shades of red at night. Vortex, third eye, turquoise, crystals. When the rocks finally rise over the horizon they do move me and even the sisters slow down for a minute, as we drive into the spilling winter sun.
The family home: smooth dry walls of white, angular shadows rotating in the light like graphic squares of cut paper. Wooden fireplaces, western patterned rugs, horns, a fan of palms. I am a captive bird in paradise.
I slip outside barefoot, well past midnight, when the house is quiet.
The sky is a big slab of navy. I picture Cinderella's slipper, thrown against a dark plaster wall, shattered shards of glass in freeze frame. The air is clear, clearer than any air I have ever breathed and cold like it is about to snow but still holding its breath and everywhere cacti protrude from the dirt as giant phallic mushroom men reaching out to embrace me in the stillness. And I appreciate the way they are so protective of their insides. I pretend I have that kind of armor. Perhaps this was happening now, my evolution, the first thrust of the needles from my soft exterior in order to adapt to everything new. Perhaps only in the middle of the night, when I am standing here alone in a thin shirt, feeling my skin and seeing my smoke breath and it feels like no one but me and the coyotes off in the distance are paying any attention.
I think of the time my childhood dog ran through a cactus patch in a frenzy, it wasn't until later that we discovered the long spines embedded deep throughout his body, it took four of us to hold him down as we pinched out the hidden crown of thorns to his whimpers.
And so I stood there alone for some time knowing they were all asleep and warm in their rustic beds and that I could breathe at last out in the dust where the wild things lived. Out in the vastness.
Could I make a getaway tomorrow?