Remember You Are Dead

December 25, 2012
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Mary and Franklin
Franklin was making fresh coffee. He knew that Mary would’ve just microwaved the coffee from this morning, which had curled at the bottom of the pot like a soggy brown fetus, but microwaves were too robust, and the coffeepot was quiet, bubbling to a climax against the cold. Evening had arrived tonight like a blanket on a bed, and their midnight was damp and somber.
Mary sat at their kitchen table, her legs curled beneath her on the plastic folding chair. The chair made a noise like a rat being killed every time she moved, but she didn’t care. These chairs were light and could be folded and tucked away in a closet; she liked their impermanence. Their whole kitchen was portable, other than the counters and the stove. Just this morning she’d put old milk bottles on the windowsills and had filled them with pennies so that coppery light was strewn across the room, but soon those milk bottles would be stashed away, wrapped firmly in newspaper and dusty around the rims.
Mary and Franklin had gone antiquing the other day, like they had when they were younger and rust hadn’t began to settle over their eyes yet. It had been exciting back then, like a museum. To go to an antique store these days felt different. Although there were objects that dated back as far as the twenties, Mary had found herself holding a deck of cards that looked like it was not much older than she was, thirty years old at the most. The edges had been torn and yellowed; the red of the Queen’s splendid robes was fading. Mary had then picked up an old compact mirror. She’d splayed her fingers over her cheeks, examining every blemish, every tiny wrinkle and crease, and had licked her lips in the mirror. She’d looked over at her husband, who was shuffling through a pile of magazines from the fifties. Was this how it started? Were the two of them getting old?
Franklin had bought an old golden men’s razor, which was stouter and thicker than the ones he used on his own chin. In their kitchen, he’d stuck the razor in a jar like a bladed flower amongst strands of dried lavender. Mary had bought an old perfume bottle, which, though it was empty, still smelled vaguely like velvet evenings. Mary and Franklin both know that they would soon tire of these ornaments and would move them elsewhere; everything eventually found its way to a box in the corner of their linen closet, to be dug up one day in years to come and to be marveled over once again. Franklin and Mary got tired of everything, one way or another, but Mary felt as permanent as an ink stain spreading its spiked limbs over the cloth of a white dress, and this boy was permanent too, the boy who was making them fresh coffee at midnight.
“Tina called,” Mary said quietly, shifting; the chair yelped.
“Mm?” Franklin emptied a cup of water into the back of the machine and snorted. “She never calls. Who died?”
There was a thick pause like lukewarm milk and dust.
“I think Cole did,” said Mary quietly, twisting an extra hairband on her wrist.
Franklin gently wiped the bottom of the cup with his sleeve. “Cole?”
“I think he’s dead.”
“Cole. Our Cole.”
“I think he’s dead.”
“That’s not funny.” Goosebumps were forming like the Himalayas on Franklin’s forearms. He put the cup down.
“I know it’s not. It’s awful.”
“What do you mean, you think he’s dead?” Franklin demanded. “You’re not sure?”
“No, I’m sure. It’s just . . . hard to say it.”
There was a thick pause like nausea and the writhing city.
“When?” Franklin asked, leaning heavily against the counter. His palms were slick, his eyes unfocused.
“I think this evening.” Mary said. “They got him to the hospital, but it was too late. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier . . . I didn’t know how. I’m sorry, I’m really . . .”
“Oh, God,” said Franklin. The apartment suddenly felt clammy and vile. “Is there going to be a . . .?”
“I assume so,” said Mary. “His family must know by now. I don’t know how those things work. I don’t know how you plan a . . . one of those for your child. His parents have got to be devastated. How do you buy a coffin for your kid?”
Franklin looked at her. She was very small, her lips drawn tightly into her mouth, her curls bunched into a ponytail like a bouquet. “Don’t do that,” he said. “Can we just . . . not speak, right now?”
She held out her hands to him, childlike, her face taut yet quivering.
They didn’t talk as the night pressed its barbed fingers against their windows. They sat together on the rickety chair, the high parts of their thighs pressed together through layers of denim and cotton, feeling forlorn yet quite fortunate indeed.

My roommate France cries a lot when she thinks I’m not listening, and I think she might drown us all. I’ve noticed a spot on the varnished wood of her bedroom floor. Most of the wood is buffed and smooth beneath my feet, but there is a patch that is splintered and waterlogged. She lets her tears fall there, all onto the same spot, damaging and weakening the wood, and I wonder if one day she’ll step on that spot and fall through the floor into apartment below.
I wonder if she wants attention when she cries or if she just can’t hold it in any longer. I’ll be in the bathroom, waiting for the water to warm up, and I’ll hear tidal waves start to roll over her body from across the apartment. I’ll take a last look at myself in the mirror – long body, long face, why the long face? – and I’ll step into the shower, drawing the curtain tightly. I don’t know what I would do if I were to comfort her. I suppose I could put a warm hand on her shoulder. “This too shall pass.” I could whisper. I think I’ve seen that in a movie, this too shall pass; I don’t think I came up with that myself. I could give her a hug, an encouraging smile. I could stay up with her one night to listen to her cry. I should do all of that. But I can’t. I won’t.
I’m sorry Cole’s dead because it makes me uncomfortable. France cries, and I feel immobilized and jittery all at the same time. But I’m not outright sorry because Cole is dead. I should be sorry; I knew him. He was nice. Even if he hadn’t been nice, the fact remains that he was alive, and now he is dead, and that should be enough to make me sorry. But I’m not. I think that probably makes me a bad person, but I do not feel like a bad person. I do not feel like anything.
I think there’s something wrong with me.

I think I had slivers of Cole caught in the lining of my stomach. When I heard he’d died, I hung up the phone without bothering to say good-bye (I could hear Mary crying on the other end, and I couldn’t deal with that. I couldn’t). I put the phone onto its cradle and turned to myself in the mirror.
I looked fine. Pale, but otherwise fine. I remembered that Franklin, who was a beautiful shade of raw umber, once said that I was the color of buffed leather. That was usually true, but it wasn’t then. I was the color of an eggshell. I was as pale as linen.
I reached up and smoothed my hair into a ponytail by the nape of my neck. My face was tense, my mouth scrunched like a shrunken leaf. I wore an uncut diamond around my neck on a thin gold chain, chilly against my chest. Cole had given me the necklace to me after showing me his collection of raw gems – an unusual collection for a boy only twenty-seven years old, but Cole’s family has money. He’d taken out the diamond and had let it settle in the hollow at the base of my neck. Then, not long after, he’d given me the diamond on a necklace, saying he was a self-proclaimed hedonist. That’s why he liked the diamond. That’s why he loved me. I hadn’t taken the diamond off since then, not even at night. I’d feel its leaden weight on the fruit of my throat, and the inability to breathe would become a delight.
I watched the diamond for a moment longer in that mirror. Then I sprinted to the bathroom – cerulean tiles blurring with the white sink until the room was just a frost-strewn periwinkle miasma – and proceeded to vomit for the next several hours.
At first it was normal. I saw the cereal I’d had for breakfast, I saw traces of the garlic bread from last night, all swamped up in lakes of chunky, yellow sludge. But then I felt something in my esophagus, something incredibly sharp and rough around the edges, like a bit of a broken plate. I felt it briefly block my windpipe at the back of my throat, caught between my molars; I bent over my cupped hands and coughed, my eyes closed and watering, until I felt it graze over my tongue and slide through my lips. It dropped into my palm, heavier than I’d expected, strung with saliva.
I had a raw diamond in my hands, so similar to the one that I wore around my neck that it might’ve been the same.
It did not have the same calculated sparkle of a cut diamond, but it tossed trembling fragments of light skidding across the room. I held it up to my eyes between my index finger and thumb, watching as it caught the sunlight in its pitted belly and held it there.
I let the diamond slide from my fingers into the lakes of sick that were bubbling slowly out of the toilet, and the scratching in my esophagus started up again as something forced its way up my throat.
Emeralds. Bits of quartz. I recognized onyx and an opal. A lusterless piece of jet absorbed the midday light.
I am not going to his funeral.
An amethyst, brimming with richness, deep eggplant, dense maroon.
I can’t. France will be there.
A piece of lapis lazuli, matte and opaque.
He said he was going to break up with France and stay with me.
Ruby, more mulberry than I’d expected, with layers upon layers of pink and white strands wrapping themselves around it like the rings of debris surrounding planets.
But now he is dead.
I wrapped my arms around the bleached white toilet bowl as if it were my most precious jewel.

France stepped into her boyfriend’s apartment, shedding her faux-fur coat over a chair at the kitchen table and kicking off her pumps. The room was quiet and silvery; it had rained all day, and the city outside was melting into a puddle of grey concrete, mixed with a pale sunset the color of Caucasian flesh.1
“Cole?” she called, her voice echoing around the deep sink, flowing into the pipes like tap water. “You there?”
She heard him shuffling around in the other room. “I’m finding myself something to eat,” she said. “I’m starved. And it’s freezing.” She went to his fridge and pulled it open. As usual, there was little food; Cole liked to eat out. France grabbed a half-eaten strawberry yogurt and headed to Cole’s drawers for a spoon.
There was a thud from the other room.
France straightened from where she was leaning over the cutlery drawer. “Cole?” she said loudly. “You okay?”
There was no reply.
France put the yogurt down on the counter and walked carefully into the other room. Cole’s bed was empty and unmade. His desk was a mess, as usual, and the rolling chair was halfway across the room as if it had been shoved there. The shades, beige and wrinkled, had been drawn tightly across the windows. France took a step forward tentatively. At the same moment that she realized she’d stepped in a puddle of corn-yellow sick,2 she noticed the body lying halfway underneath Cole’s bed.
She found herself kneeling over him, her hands on his face, peeling back his eyelids, touching his soft skin. She could feel herself speaking, but she could hear nothing over the bottomless drumbeat of her blood through her body.
Cole’s dirty-blonde hair was matted with sweat. Vomit was running in thin rivers down the sides of his cheeks, pooling next to his head on the floor, even dripping into his ears.
“Cole,” France couldn’t hear herself, but she knew she’d said it. She was slapping him, over and over, his face, his chest, she was nudging him, trying to push him to a sitting position, but he would just collapse, his head on his shoulder, his hair drooping into his eyes. “Cole!4” Her fingers trembled as she held them over his lips.
He wasn’t breathing.5
She fumbled with her phone, dragging it from the pocket of her pencil skirt, and dialed. She didn’t quite know what she was saying to the person on the other end, but it didn’t matter.6
She hung up, promises of quick help ringing in her ears, and she pounded Cole’s chest with the soft side of her fist.
He didn’t move.
She pushed back her hair, which had become stringy with sweat. Somehow Cole’s sick had gotten on her; dully she realized that it was dripping down her front, that it was smeared in her hair and across her face.
She placed the heel of her hands in the cavity of his chest and pushed, again and again and again.
“Please,” she said.7
She looked to his bedside table. There was an open bottle, a little white one, one for pills.8 The light was too dim to tell for sure, but it looked empty.9
“Please,” she said again.10
She left him lying there, still as a mausoleum, and she curled up on the alcove by the window to wait for someone who could do more than beg him back to life.

That last night they’d been together, he’d kissed her so hard. He always kissed her goodnight, but he’d dug his body into hers, his arms like rough ropes around her, and he’d crushed her like a tin can to his chest.
She’d remembered how she’d hated boys when she was younger. Not all boys, not all men, just the good-looking ones. The man with the big white teeth like buttered pieces of toast at the library terrified her. She never checked her books out if he was the only one at the desk. Remember you will die.11 This was not how she wanted to die, not at the mercy of a good-looking man, not in front of big blue eyes and light stubble on a chin, not just feet from her apartment, no, she would not be dead like this, and Cole was so handsome with a drawbridge face and desperate indigo eyes,12 and Cole’s hands were like shards of glass on her arms-
But he was only kissing her, his thumbs rubbing eddies into the undersides of her wrists. “I love you,” he was forcing the words down her throat, murmuring them into her instead of two her, as if he’d wanted to trap them within her until they beat like constant avalanches against her ribcage. “Oh, god, I love you.”
“Stop,” she’d wanted to say, but she knew only the remnants of his words would bubble up if she tried to speak.13
She’d broken away from him, resting her knuckles against his chest. “Is everything okay?”14 she’d asked, focusing not on his lips but on the wrinkles around his eyes and the creases in his frown.
“No,” he’d said15, and he’d buried himself in her once more. But then he’d pulled backward, letting his fingers get tangled one last time in her short blonde hair, and turned to leave with his usual smile. But as she reentered her apartment – they’d been standing on the doormat, yet no one had passed them – she heard him whispering, “Please forgive me. Oh, god, you have to forgive me.”

France expected to dream of Cole for the rest of her life, but she did not. One night she was sinking into an ocean of sticky, tarlike sleep, and she’d heard him say, “Do not forgive me.16 No one and forever, amen.17”
She had woken up, hearing someone breathe, “Amen,” over and over, and she was terrified until she realized it was herself.18
She had nothing else to say to him, and apparently he had nothing else to say to her, save for that.19

1. Lemon chiffon, the color of dirty sheets
2. Lemon chiffon, “the color of Caucasian flesh . . .”
3. “stop please stop . . .”
4. But he is static, he is blithe, he is everything Cole is not
5. You don’t have to breathe; I don’t want to breathe: breathe; just breathe; breathe before you know it; breathe before you breathe; it is the only thing you have always known to do, since you were stringing Christmas lights like twine across your womb; even then, you breathed
6. It didn’t matter and neither do you
7. Look what you’ve done oh look what you’ve done
8. Pillderness wilderness, ashes twashes, sugar and spite and everyone’s sad tonight
9. Like looking inside of an eggshell that’s been sucked dry on Easter when you are nine years old, when you turn it carefully in the light
10. I am here if you are here, yet you are not here, yet I cannot fathom this; why have you left me here?
11. Tell Calvin he was right; you were predestined to be dead, and to be dead like this
12. Good-looking men, they are called lady killers for a reason, and eventually they will drain you dry
13. I love you. Oh, god, I love you.
14. I don’t want to breathe in your ashes anymore
15. With a wistful lavender smile
16. “I am sorry”, but not so violently as you are. We are in God’s eyes, and he has closed them
17. The Lord’s Prayer is as malleable as an infant’s bones
18. And she shut her dusty lips; it was seismic when she did, she could’ve sworn the world was rumbling with her mouth at the epicenter
19. Save for “Amen” and “Please” and “You are forgiven,” no, “You will never be forgiven, and in so, I will never forget you.”

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