By Curtis VanDonkelaar
I am welcome to keep every bit of what we owned between us, but everything else is hers. To her new apartment, I am to send what she’s left behind: two shoeboxes of old pictures and a stuffed toy banana. Never mind the wedding album. Trash it, toss it, paint its shiny pages over with fantastic shades of ochre and yellow—what colors, she doesn’t care—just be sure to send all of her old clothes, even the ones at the rear of the hall closet, and her three cases of cheap wines from the basement. Do not forget her luggage in the attic, under the Christmas tree, and a deflated river raft.
Also to send, to stuff into manila envelopes, to lick and to pinch closed their straightforward, metal butterfly clips, to couch in shipping boxes: four second-hand volumes on learning Spanish, bound with library plastic and Dewey-decimalled spines. A zippered bag of her best CDs, especially the few of them—only a few—that are straight-up Kentucky bluegrass. Her high school ring—it’s in the medicine cabinet—though I can keep the other, she says, for whoever is next in line.
She says that I am a fool. That I grab hold of and fasten onto many misbegotten things to keep forever in forever places. I keep rude moments in the kitchen and insults in the yard. False ideas about a morning front-porch coffee with the neighbor. I wander through bedroom cobwebs of deceit. All her foibles I’ve favorited in memory; and then there’s my omnipresent sense of never being more wrong than Jesus.
So I send dreams:
She runs, down a cobblestone road, European and dusty. Houses on her left tease the border of a river, their windows opened to wet breeze. Laid out to dry, checkered towels skirt windowsills, and also rugs seeking fresh scent, a cloud’s breath. Down an alley, a babushka bakes black bread, the bread you drink with vodka, smelling it by ritual before you drink and bite.
She runs, and chasing her are the Just Married streamers of our lives, sewn into loops on the fabric of her clean gown. A set of silverware skips behind her bare heels, and then a blue clay teapot—kilned in Prague on our honeymoon—clatters after our knives. Three vases bouncing, hand-blown glass: tear drop, doughnut, figure eight. They ballet to the rhythm of her steps.
She runs and runs, and I watch her shrink as I float the river, empty fists in my small boat. I have no paddle to slow, no legs to run, should I make for shore. I know, as though prescient, that in America, my shelves are deserts. In legless balance, I float, study summer cotton’s muscle so much it orbits.
Awake, I do not believe enough in this thing, gravity; cannot imagine moons hounding planet, planets hounding sun.
Curtis VanDonkelaar‘s fiction has recently appeared in Hobart, Western Humanities Review, and The Tusculum Review, among others. He teaches writing at Michigan State University.