The festival’s fireworks are beating at the sky. Down in the dining room, the dog paces and pants. I know now that the report is the second and larger explosion of the two. The shooter lit the slow fuse before sending the case skyward. At just the right moment, the flame ignites the calcium, the sodium, the copper. All this knowledge does not propel me out to watch. I have decided that to know is better than to feel, and so I remain, curled in the safe cocoon of my bedroom.
One slight click to the left, and we are there on the curb in the parking lot, letting light shower down on us through trees purpled with night. Between blasts, I hear the fat tears always at swelling at the edge of his throat when he sings “Sweet Savannah.” His voice slides over the lip of the distance to fill my hungry ears.
I still remember exactly what you said
That you had demons that you couldn’t put to bed.
On nights like these, some women buy shoes. Others call up girlfriends for pink drinks in a loud bar. Some fill the tank and hit the open road. I do none of these things, at least not at first. I dig out the last of the blank books and fill page after page with nothing but him. He gives way eventually and I find my way through the rubble to myself.
I made promises I could not keep. I wonder if everyone does this, or just those of us burdened with the belief in more. “I’ve done everything I can,” he said.
This claim intrigued me. “Everything? Did you really do everything?”
Oh, my impetuous tongue! I am so often accused of callousness, one would think I could remember the importance of timing. Not everyone pauses to marvel at each fragment of insight. Even those who do have no appreciation for inquisitiveness when they are standing with a lit fuse in their hands.
On nights like these, some will find another one in whom to stash the remains. Here, take the bones. I do not do this, either. Instead, I unfurl the turquoise sweater that had been left in his drawer since winter. His scent blooms from it, an explosion of molecules I cannot quite place except between the folds of his sheets and skin. A chemist could identify them, but only as long as the unique microorganisms last, which, as we all know, is not very long. I hang the sweater back in its native habitat. No one would guess anything here has been gone. Time and homeostasis are the secret of oblivion. All extremes return to a steady, predictable state. Soon, I will smell only my own sweat and dander unadulterated by the leavings of any man.
“Did you really do everything?”
We were well past the play of the idea. He contracted and pawed the earth , refusing to defend even as he did exactly that. He folded and re-folded the corner of the comforter as he stood next to the bed, breathing like a bull.
Lithium makes red. Strontium makes an even brighter red.
Like so many times before, we were the north and the south, two nations divided by a common tongue. My question was one of philosophy, not history. Have any of us really tried everything? Have we, in our tumultuous affair, made ice cream from scratch? Built a weather-vane? Learned pick-up lines in Russian? As best as I can recall, we did not read Rumi aloud every night for a month. We neither carried bowls of fire out to the forest at dusk nor fell down on our knees before the wide open sky to beg for a sign about how to proceed.
We worked hard as workers are known to do. We walked at a dogged pace around a known perimeter, time and again, and then anguished at the absence of mango trees and open sea. My own imagination grew weary of scoping the narrow sphere around us for signs of wolves. I forgot how to lift my gaze. So, it seems, did he.
On nights like these, some shred the old letters. Some march back into the world, shoulders squared and jaws tight. Some set themselves to re-writing the to-do lists that love’s windstorm left in disarray. I do none of these things. They are just more noise, as deafening as the blasts still clanging against the sky. Always, the dead weight of the silence that follows presses on the chest. Always, the only guidance that matters is found in the nothing.
After the grand finale that I refuse to witness, I close my eyes. The older self with loose gray hair and a hard-earned smile takes my own young body into my arms. She does this without effort. After all, she knows I survive this. She knows it won’t be long before I rearrange my constituent parts to bloom in full-spectrum color when the slow fuse finally makes its way down into the rare elements that comprise me.
I set the book aside and go find the dog. We step outside. It is quiet now except for the echo of him.
Sweet Savannah, you shine so bright
May the evening be your favorite night.
I let his voice out to rise and then splinter against the high branches of the white pine.
I walk with slow steps and follow the loop that brings me back home, every time. In bed, the silence is a tungsten shard against my throat. No reason to fight. I get up again and feel in the closet for thick knit. The bag I found under his kitchen counter when I was carrying my things away is still crumpled on the floor. I fold the sweater into it then stash the bundle in the furthest corner. Maybe there I will forget about it until one of those nights like these, when I most need to remember.
The Shooter Jennings website: http://www.blackcountryrock.org/shooterjennings/
“Sweet Savannah” on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u9e85XEWoM