Winter Hours

Nudging your shoulder reaching for the clock. I had a bad dream.

Hon, it’s cold, go back to sleep.

Picking up the newspaper near our ice-covered mailbox—headlines soaked, pages frozen, obituaries lost to the late-night storm—our driveway smothered in a silvery crush of brown pine needles and crinkly black leaves. Looking at tire tracks like tongues on the wintery street. Maybe it’s time to dig out. No, shovel.

Fingering through your purse before you leave: putting a fistful of pennies into my pocket, stealing all of your quarters, picking up and studying your work ID, you look younger, not so sad, trashing your used tissues, leaving untouched, as you’ve told me over and over, your yellow sticky notes stuck to the torn white envelopes from the medical center.

Scrolling through my contacts, forgetting whom it is I am to call this morning—what I’m supposed to say, who to schedule. My teeth? A doctor’s? Wait a minute, our light socket. Where’s their number?  Say, wait, here’s our old pet sitter. I buried our pets in the backyard. I remember, I was the gravedigger, you were the minister, our daughter the congregation, every time you said a beautiful prayer, we cried.

Grocery shopping with your made-up list—your note: Honey, find out (ask this time!) if they sell large cans of crushed tomatoes. When it’s my turn at the checkout register, remembering to say something. The woman scanning my groceries has white hair. Her name tag says Cheryl. Do you sell tomatoes, wait, crushed—yes, can you crush me some tomatoes?

Sitting in the car in front of the unemployment office, confused as to what it is I want to do there, what it is I need, wait, do well. Peaceful. Warm. Driving away, not sure why I was running the car in a downtown parking lot, cars like caskets of silver, black and brown parked in their reserved spots.

Rereading the overhead lunch menu next in line at the Chinese takeout counter. What is it I like that we always order? What did we have last night? Remembering not to forget to buy two, yes Hon, two egg rolls next time.

Eating Chinese in our driveway. Wait, why are there two egg rolls in my bag? Looking through the rearview mirror, the mail carrier is stopping at our mailbox. Her jeep is blue and white, like a Christmas box. Getting out of the car to see what she brought—electricity bill has gone up—or is it down—should I be happy? Shouldn’t I fix the light? You said I scared you at Thanksgiving. Some of the bulbs were out. Oh, the News and Observer is threatening to cancel; wait, handguns at Bass Pro are on sale. I should get one so you won’t be frightened.

Dusting family pictures in the living room with my gray sweatshirt sleeve: in one, we are happier, smiling in a selfie, touring the architecture along the Chicago River. Boy, was it cold. I recall being cold. We look cold. Maybe I should cut out that picture for something warmer. I could have killed myself, you said, sweeping up the fragile glass as I put the dining room chair back in place at the table. All the wonderful place settings. The arrangement of autumn flowers you bought for the center of the table. Who’s coming?

Spotting a UPS truck driving down the cul de sac, the dark brown truck turns around at the circle and drives back—the driver doesn’t slow down or stop. I watch for him behind our curtains. Our curtains are white. I can see through them. They feel so shear against the cold window. Wait, what if he comes back? A knife! I need something—what if he wants to get in our house? He turned left at that red stop sign at the end of our street. I should call the police.

Scissors—searching in between the couch cushions for your sewing scissors. Isn’t that where you left them to cut the price tag off of my new sweater back when the doorbell rang shortly after I slipped on the chair in the foyer and yanked down the small crystal chandelier—you yelled at me before our friends came over for dinner. Our daughter and her boyfriend. I don’t know any of them. Where’s our daughter? She lived here when she was young. Her prom dress hangs in a black dry cleaning veil left behind in her closet. 

Oh, dry cleaning! Didn’t I promise you yesterday I’d stop by for your meeting tomorrow? This morning you asked me to be doubly sure this time. Wait, didn’t you put a list on the kitchen counter? I remember. What good luck: plenty of quarters and pennies in my pockets.

—Wait, the bulbs burst like glass flowers. I stood up with the petals sparkly and shiny all around me, tingling my palms and knees, tiny stars in my old sweater. You said, I could have been cut really badly! You cried when you rushed in from the kitchen. I saw beautiful tears blossom in your eyes. 

You said, Honey, what were you thinking? You must think, think, think now, especially now, before doing anything. Please tell me, Hon, you must tell me. 

Standing inside the entrance of the branch library: children running around the colorful stacks, stories I learned years ago—who’s that guy in the hoodie and heavy jacket studying at the computer—wait, he’s scrolling through links by the hundreds—am I listed? Tell me, will I go to heaven, am I an electrician?

Looking for you on a white computer terminal where the librarian sat me. She is nice. Her name is Audrey. Googling our daughter and my father. Wait, I remember my wife our wedding night, a shimmering angel in the bedroom light. Oh, Sweetheart, I am so sorry for the nightmare. No, no, no, I never had nightmares.

Yes, yes, tiny and shiny, a revolver like the one on the screen—it will be a present but I mustn’t tell anyone just yet. A new recipe for after Christmas. Wait, what should I make for dinner?—Maybe I should text.  

Hi dear it’s me I am your will you be home for don’t be mad at I can fix this it I have two egg rolls in the think smarter what to buy it’s time Chinese? 

****



Categories: Poetry, Selection: 2018

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