She felt dark and empty, her world a box in sepia, dark hammering sounds zipping around her leaving arced tails of blue light the taste of blood the low moans of hardedged flying things, wings clacking like a heron’s cry. Maybe she was dead. Maybe after all she was dead and in transition, maybe so — but if she was dead where is Lily? Lily Joy? Little Lily Joy? Where is she?
You mean to say that even in death she can’t feel Lily Joy? Even in death?
And how about the others, the two lost early and the one not named stillborn, how about them. She shook her head, turned it, the room was still dimly lit, the old woman still sat reading in a cheap reclining chair, what was she doing here Jasmine wondered, then she knew, she’s here to make sure the failed suicide doesn’t get up and jump out that black window across the room, she wished she could but the things around her ankles held her fast to the bed and the woman’s presence and her own wish to jump out the window proved she wasn’t dead and so she resigned hgerself and tightened her lips and wondered if Jared had been called. Down in Tucson. Getting more training. Always getting trained. When do you learn enough about massage therapy.
Jasmine Barber closes her eyes, feels her losses, she swims in them, sometimes like a fish she doesn’t think of them, isn’t cognizant of them, but also like a fish she exists in them without recourse, her heart pumps in them and she breathes in them and maneuvers, sustained by her amber and clear liquid narcotics and her occasional powders and her incessant interior cursing, her vile selfdisparagement — after all it was she who lost them all, Lily Joy and the others, and now she’s losing her man too, she’s been losing him, Jared, down in Tucson getting more training, a thousand miles away, and what’ll he say when he gets here.
Jared. always such a good man . . . Jared’s touches are warm and his sympathies fueled by his own suffering, he tries to be gentle but he’s growing more and more silent. Distant. Sometimes his words to her seem to come grudgingly — yes I still love you Jazzy, sure we can go out to eat tonight, I guess we’ve got to go now don’t we. Still his touches can never equal Lily Joy’s, called Lily and Joy and Liljy as in Li’ljoy, his bare arms and his bellyflesh fall far short of her fat little thighs, his ears not as sweet as her perfect little sculpted cartilage, and what she used to call his prowling animal, his mean old huntingdog, not as satisfying as her little toes. No longer. Jasmine hears her laughter, her whines and gurgling cries through the whispers and smut of his lovemaking monologues, tastes her salty tears as her tongue plies through his body hair, the tufts on his chest, the flow down the valley of his abdomen, it used to be so screamingly sensual, so pantingly electric, not obligatory, never that, she’s tried so hard to keep going, to stay normal, to fill his own relentless emptiness. But that old hunger, that wild compulsion, that churning passion that more slowly crested and then more precipitously dropped with each extinction of her flesh and blood, that was another thing that had to go now, another mere pretense that was supposed to join her body in obliteration, her body and her fury and her sorrow and her hatred of everything, of herself, the house she lived in, of the backforty and the pond and the birds that flew over and swarmed in it, the mallards and the geese and the strange lost coot that occasionally showed up, laughable when it lifted its huge scalloped toes to plod along the midmorning shore, the coot, sad and alone and maybe wondering at its purpose. In the absence of Lily Joy and the others and now in the physical and emotional distance of Jared she had become increasingly lost in that coot when it showed up, she’d stare at it and fantasize it as a pet filling her day, offering her unspoken solace and a few laughs, filling her hollowness, addressing her secret prayers for a quick and painless death, absorbing her barrage of silent curses. But it never stayed around for long, she never saw it fly away and each time it was gone she worried for a moment that it had fallen prey to some local dog or fox, she’d smoke a cigar and that would be it. And then it was there again. Was that the paraclete that Jared referred to back there in the hills of Marin County, some holyspirit in disguise, all gray ovoid body and funny bill with the white marking and the hilarious scaled toes, mocking the ducks and geese that normally called the pond their home. . . …………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
You asked earlier if your husband is coming the chaplain said, he’s been notified and will take the earliest flight he can get. Jasmine half smiled, she searched herself for feelings. She’d rather see the coot, hear its shrill little beep, its uproarious disproportionate feet, it seemed the most important thing to her now. But it was gone. She was up on her arms now, she looked distracted, faintly her head nodded three times then she lowered herself onto her back and stared at a small brown spot on the ceiling.
Can you tell me about it asked the chaplain. She had not yet revealed her name. She saw thin lines of liquid trickle from Jasmine Barber’s darkening eyes down the sides of her face. Do you want to talk she said and waited. Then in a soft monotone, can you talk about it Jasmine she said. Jasmine shook her head slightly, she wiped the sides of her face, smearing the trickles, her brow wrinkled, she turned her head sotened her face and said I’m sorry, she hesitated, then you don’t deserve to know. She gazed at that compassionate face for a moment more then returned to the spot on the ceiling. How do you talk about such a thing?
No it’s not that she doesn’t deserve to know — no no no that’s not it at all, how do you begin to find words, how do you describe without seeing without hearing, when you don’t want to see or hear or feel either, you don’t want to live again, live it for somebody else, you’ve already lived it too often yourself way too often mm mm mm way too often hm hm hm . . . dum dum dum ragdollragdollragdoll hm hmp backyard dmdmdm bones cracking crackling khkhkh birds scattering sparrows and ravens and crows cardinals peacocks magpies ducks ibises wildgeese and doves the noise the noise of them all flopping and the flapping and the screaming the growling and snarling the dog only the coot, only the coot, out in the pond, Jasmine and the coot and the dog and the ragdoll Lilylilylilyjoy no how do you say it how do you let go . . .
You say I don’t deserve to know Jasmine. Why do you say that?
Silence. The ceiling seems to move, the plastic sheltering the dim recessed flourescent bulbs. She thinks she heard birdwings. A cloud rising above San Francisco like the paraclete ascending. Why is she alive?
Jasmine? Do you know why you said that I don’t deserve to know what happened? Jasmine blinked, turned to see that face, gentle as a cloud, those gray eyes peering at her, beyond the chaplain an old heavy woman in a chair reading, she looked for anyone else, no one, who’s going to wash her face? She shook her head almost imperceptibly, once for each child she lost.
The chaplain leaned close to her face, a handsbreadth from thos bloodencrusted nostrils. Does anyone deserve to know Jasmine?
She turned back to the ceiling, studied it, saw a thin crack running along it, forking, then ending. There was something piercing her between her legs, something around each ankle, but if she lay perfectly still those things’d go away, there would be no more voices asking innocuous questions, no pages turning, no more sounds at all, just flowing silence, no more wings flapping dogs barking bones crackling, no disembodied shrieks, no screeching circumambience, she’d float like a coot on a pond and be gone. For an instant she tried to conjure the coot, that lonely goofy bird behind her house, it was there for a flash and then it was gone too.
What did you say Jasmine? The chaplain’s eyes jerked up, relaxed, say it again please Jasmine? Then, he’ll be here in a few hours.
Jasmine turned her face toward the window, the lingering darkness out there, he’ll be home in a few hours. She sighed yeah yeah, closed her eyes.