ISABEL AND I
I was in bed when my wife died. I wasn't sleeping, however.
I was mad at her for not being home yet. I tossed in bed several times beat our red blanket with the back of my hand. Then the knock came on the door (I've never had a phone). It was her mother. Her face was red. She was crying. A thin thread of slobber hung from her thick bottom lip there was a clear ball of snot ready to explode dangling from her left nostril her hair was matted down on the left side.
"Isabel is dead," she said (hey I rhymed). "She's dead. . . .she's dead. . . .she's dead. . . .she's dead. . . . she's dead. . . .she's dead. . . ." (she said)
She tried to put her meaty round arms across my shoulders around my neck I pushed her away we've never gotten along. More to the point I've never gotten along. Her bobbed red hair makes me sick at my stomach. My wife's little sister, Andrea, was there too. She was white... crying. She was like melting snow. It came to me that my daughter had been in the car too. She was dead. Is dead. (she said)
"Get out of here." I told them both.
"Whaaa?" the fat lady asked. Her grotesque lips puckered from her face in two liver pink heaps.
"Whaaa?" she said again I could have retched she couldn't believe that I had told her to get out. She stood there frozen like a fat dumb Buddha.
"Out," I said I laughed. It was the first time I had ever had the guts to kick her out of my own house. It felt pretty damn good. I made sharp little growling noises deep within my throat it's a natural reflex of mine when I'm angry.
My wife was (is) dead (she said) I couldn't sleep. I was mad I threw the blankets off of me in a mangled heap I opened the window the cold air blanketed me still I couldn't sleep. I didn't sleep the next night. I didn't sleep the next night. The next night I left town I moved to Relva I was supposed to finish my college education. Here I am now. Here ( ) is now.
I've had this apartment for two weeks. I pay one hundred fifty dollars a month for it. I pay for it out of the insurance money I had left over after the double funeral. I dropped out of school got a little money for that, too. Some scholarship money. I guess I screwed the system good.
This apartment is small it's box-like the ceiling is a low white lid the floor is a sticky pink tile the walls are dark brown plastic fake pine wood paneling. I have a shower but no water heater the kitchen is downstairs everyone in the building shares the same one I buy bologna by the slab. You can see the entire apartment from anywhere you stand pictures of my wife daughter scattered like buckshot.
I have one of those small brown college dorm refrigerators full of beer in the corner. It keeps everything cold. Besides that all I have is a bed and a television. I sit here I watch wrestling I watch Springer I drink. God, I drink I think I'm going fucking crazy. This room is a box. You are my only friend but there is no you. You are just a cold blank computer screen. Vast in your blankness I'm sorry I shouldn't be writing stuff like that.
Christmas is coming soon I'm not sure I can take it. I broke out the tiny repressed fake tree that we (blank and blank) used the first couple of years of our marriage from its box I even put some colored lights on it nothing helps it just flashes red white red white I stare a long time the flashes make me sick at my stomach.
I can't sit in this apartment alone to drink on Christmas I mean it's the birthday of Jesus last week I wrote Andrea.
Here's a copy of the letter:
What's up? I bet you never thought you'd hear from me again. How is everyone? How's your mom doing? I hope everyone is coping all right. Well, Christmas is coming soon. It's going to be tough dealing with everything I guess. Maybe you possibly your boyfriend (Jake is that his name?) would like to come up here to visit me over Christmas? Maybe Sandra [Sandra is her other sister at 13 a year younger] can come too? I don't know though here isn't much room here. I mean there is room on the floor for about one person and that's it. I don't have a phone but my address is on the envelope (unless you tore it so bad you can't see it). Anyway write me. Let me know. Since you can't drive yet I could come get you just let me know the time.
I was sick at my stomach as soon as I wrote it.
Today I got a letter back from Andrea. She is going to come here the day of the twenty-fourth I have to have her back by noon on Christmas to open presents. She needs to eat. I don't know who else is coming. The more the merrier I guess after all they won't be staying long.
It was early in the morning when I left to get Andrea the snow was already falling. The first snow of an exceptionally cold year. The snow came in heaps the wide flat flakes spun sideways to the ground like falling Chinese throwing stars—falling heavy like steel. All roads were already gone the pine trees the landscape lost all color even the gray of the sky lost in the confusing zigzag pattern of the lacy flakes.
What should have been an hour drive became three hours. I thought of the snow to pass the time don't eat yellow snow my father used to tell me later I told my own daughter don't eat the snow period I should have said. My car cut its way slowly through the blank. (You blankety blank blank!). I shivered the car's heater doesn't do its job I pulled up along side Andrea's house a short squat modest thing of off-white. She ran out to greet me a great pink bundle in her arms. The passenger door was frozen shut so she slid over me through the door on my side.
"What's the hurry?" I asked her of course I did who else would have?
"Mom don't know I'm coming she wouldn't want me to let's go."
I didn't know what her mother's problem would be Andrea had stayed with us many times but I'd long since given up on trying to figure that wo-man out. Andrea uncrumpled the dusty pink bundle in her arms until it folded out into a blanket.
"It's cold in here," she said.
She spread the blanket out over her small legs onto her stomach bunched it up underneath her chin holding it tightly wound into her small white fist she looked like a baby being brought home newly from the hospital.
"Put on your seat belt," I warned, "this snow is slick."
“It's cold in here," she said, "would you like some of this blanket?"
"Yes, yes, yes I would."
The funeral was cold the man was having trouble with his heater it was cute in a way with one big coffin next to one little bitty toy coffin like you would find if doll house people had coffins people came from Texas just to be there drinking coffee smoking outside saying hey how's that business of yours going where's the little lady people in the front row crying not stopping crying my wife's family talking to me a few times stopping after I wouldn't talk move I became the only one there finally paying attention to anything but crying moving talking smoking cold in there I stopped to exist so much they stopped to exist the plants in there green so real unnatural for the time of year stank until my stomach was sick.
I find myself trying to explain things I do not want to explain actually I do not want to explain anything my purpose in this is nothing but passing time paying attention though pay no attention to me.
Andrea came alone. She said nobody else had the guts to come afraid they would get in trouble but she was sick of being around that house anyway which was repressed. (she said)
don't have much to do here said of course said it who else would have said it but there is television if can get anybody to deliver can get us a pizza there is some beer in the ice-box know that you don't drink but got some cheap wine which is pretty good if you feel like trying it. haven't drank with anyone but these people in a long time what people oh these walls Mr. Desk Ms. Picture Ms. Bed until she started laughing she said yeah she thought she would try a glass of wine.
The snow continued to fall outside like dead doves shot from the sky in flight. The snow fell until there was so much of it it became nothing.
"They say this is gonna be the worst snow in ten years." said, "You must not even be able to remember the last one we had. How old were ya, five?"
"How old were you?"
" was sixteen and just getting my driver's license. didn't get to drive for a month after got it."
"I might be snowed in here."
"Then why'd you come? You're going to miss Christmas."
"You can't miss Christmas... no matter where you're at it's still Christmas...."
" don't think it's Christmas here."
"Bah-humbug why'd you put up a tree then?"
"It's not real."
"Can I have some more wine?"
took the bottle of Strawberry Hill from the icebox it cried a little when untwisted the gold cap little bubbles fled to escape the new opening poured them into Andrea's white coffee mug she started to laugh when they hit her nose.
"What movie do you have?"
" got It's A Wonderful Life."
"What's that about?"
“A lot of snow and George Bailey's Blues."
She laughed as ;das;;lhjtwekj gohlghlrgho Goddamnit is this thing still working? You're not supposed to know
had gone through six beers felt good looked around at all the things through force of will pulled them closer to me until they smothered me like a thick blanket. Seven beers the movie played on in black and white watched it on Andrea's face she laughed when she should laugh cried when she should cry it was like was watching the movie for the first time it snapped off in a fit of snow and bees didn't turn it off but laid back on the bed watched the white ceiling spiral down onto me my stomach’s sick she said she said it's awful cold in here it's cold on the floor pulled her up to the bed with me things started to spin again not making excuses was going to hold her like a baby she was so small rock her in my arms her arms melted into me her throat from her lungs burnt air into me like a furnace everywhere on her snow screamed in a fit of salt on pepper bees on her narrow white back slick hands clawing mapped back her clothes off naked as the day she was born black white pink fire on top of me slight hips swerving dark spot burnt slowly dying wet slush rocks rocking melting rocking rocking a grand-mother’s chair passed through generations heat melting snow milk skin hand trembling fingers hidden found her shapes changing wood nymph earth goddess she was things to me at different times it was over I cried I cried (died died).
She laid her body over mine like a heated electric blanket and wiped my tears with her hair. The clock had ticked over in the night sometime before, "Merry Christmas," she said. It was the exact same kind of thing my wife would have said for me had I ever cried for her.
Daniel Crocker is the author of Do Not Look Directly Into me, a collection of short stories, and The Cornstalk Man, a novel. In his youth, he was a renowned thief and gambler.