Beloved Wife of the Late Gust

This story originally appeared in Northwest Review, 1998.

 

Down the hall to the living room, where the light is best, she carries herself arranged on her bones, this is how it feels to her, to the sofa, where she sits, beloved wife. Pregnant seven months and Gust is at sea. Past the window she hears a bicycle racheting its gears. Seventeen steps to the bedroom. The television, its blank indifferent screen, faces the room.

 =

As a girl too tall for her age she dreams of falling into a well. It is, she thinks, her shape, a long cool cylinder of air. When she wakes in her attic room there is rain on the roof. The flailing trees make shadows on the lawn. She watches for a while, then falls asleep again. The dream of the well returns, the stones mossy in her hand.

 =

The beloved wife of the late Gust is polishing her white shoes. A rag in hand, she hears the doorbell ring. Carrying the rag, she goes to the door. A package, says the postman, and she takes it, sets it on the table in the dining room. Brown paper wrapper, square, not terribly large. It’s from her daughter, in Sacramento. She uses a knife. Inside are two white shoes, much like her own upstairs, but brand new. No note. Through the curtains she sees the postman on the other side of the street. Later, she cannot find her rag.

 =

She hides the shells of the brown eggs deep in the trash: Gust has a theory about brown eggs. But they’re cheaper now. Guess why, he says. Deep, under a pile of clam shells, her sleeve rolled above her elbow. She cooks. He eats, reading the paper. He sighs once, turns the page. She drops a glass in the kitchen.

 =

A wire must go through the wall, from one socket to the next, it is a thick black wire. She is crouched at one hole with a coat hanger, he is at the other, threading the wire into the hole at his end. Is it coming? he says. Not yet, she says. She scrapes around with the coat hanger. Bits of plaster fall from the backs of the studs. The long arm of her husband has vanished into the wall. Anything? he says. No, she says. Then she feels it. I’ve got it, she says, and pulls.

 =

When the mantle clock stops she wraps it in a box and takes the bus downtown. She is halfway downtown when the box on her lap begins ticking. She opens the box and unwraps the tissue. The clock is running, now two hours slow. She wraps the clock again, closes the box. There’s nothing wrong with this clock, says the jeweler. No, she says. She crosses the street and waits for the return bus. On every side, tall buildings block the sun. She stands and looks up at the patches of sky.

 =

The late Gust is in the cherry tree. The tree shivers around him, a sudden heart. Goddamn bees, he says. Branches fall to the lawn. Bees, goddammit, shit, he says. His beloved wife gathers the branches and saws them into pieces. She is sweating. She can feel the long muscles in her arm gather, stretch, regather. Upstairs she has left the television on.

 =

The beloved wife of the late Gust watches the light through the curtains. There are new sheets on the bed. The open window admits a breeze. The house sits empty. She is not quite awake. Beneath the blanket, she is massive. In her dream, the field of her body lies over two hillsides. It rains. Already it is afternoon, and there was something she meant to do today.