According to the newspaper, you placed your shoes and handbag neatly near the railing. Was that your final insistence on order in a chaotic world? They contorted your life into a shape they recognized: a thirty-second clip of surfaces.
In better times, you would have been a poet. In our time, you were a prophet. Exposed to the unkind, the heavy jowled, the pale talkers—you were compelled to utter words which excited contempt. Willing your body mighty, your quivering voice firm, you stood determined for our daughters, taunting an unacceptable present.
But, my tender warrior, to me you were even more resolute in your other state. Some uneasy nights, cocooned in my bed, that incarnation returns. That afternoon you came to call.
Maternal to the frailty of the moment, my mind has encased the scene in a box. A cardboard shoebox covered in coloured magazine illustrations. A child’s collage, transforming, as you did, the dispossessed into something wondrous.
The box has a flap. Open it, and move into a room, wherein is trapped a ghost from our past. In dreams I sometimes shrink and move inside to be with you again.
I was housed in that life in downtown Ottawa, on flat, uneventful Kent Street in a converted house next to a tailor shop. Three concrete steps up from the street to an awkward stoop, crack open the aluminium screen door, and enter.
The rooms wind one after another, revealing a maimed house bandaged into several living spaces. The furniture, a conglomerate of second hand acquisitions and left-behinds; the curtains faded and the meagre carpets worn.
A visitor to this collection of other lives, I passed a monochrome existence of corners and hesitations. Floating the surfaces of friends and relations, already suspicious, my inactivity was a symptom of incipient paralysis; I was waiting for something to happen. I was waiting for you.
The time: late afternoon. The season: summer. I, home from my forgettable job, ghost around the apartment. The doorbell rings. Before I can escape, it bites again.
I cautiously open and there you stand dressed in vibrant colours, blousy shapes, your arms laden with packages, golden hair a halo around your beaming face.
It is a moment of celebration. You have declared a cease-fire on all your struggles. Like sunshine you pour past me into the dark recesses of the room, flooding the space with music, balloons, streamers, then sinking unto the sofa you turn and pull me into your kaleidoscope of colours: gold, silver, red, blue, orange.
You are already unfolding packages from your magician’s bundles—small pattered boxes, tiny coloured parcels, and strange exotic containers.
I live again. My awkward curiosity moves me to you, sitting close, radiating in your warm joy, watching, enthralled, as you pull out your treasures like silk scarves from your sleeves, smiling for comments, sighing in delight. Old jewellery, incense, and then a small box, multi-coloured, tiny, closed in silver thread.
You lean to me conspiratorially, your breath feathers on my cheek. Together our Siamese heads watch as you unravel the thread, slip open the box and reveal a delicate phial of golden ointment. Your eyes widen. “Oil of life,” you whisper, your laughter crystal in the wind.
Tenderly, you withdraw the tiny cork and thrust the bottle at me. I tremble at the powerful fragrance—unnamed, repugnant and sweet. The scent courses through me, risk pursuing fear.
We melt into molten gold and pour onto the satin pillows, sinking into the seductive softness, sharing like harem women. You gently anoint my neck. You whisper softly of discoveries, moments you have lost, of joy. Around us, the scarves like filigree, the costume jewellery sparkles. We melt and drift together, open in laughter.
Caught in a bubble of rainbow colours our universe swells to fill the abyss. We spin like one through the cosmos. Then suddenly, before I can clutch your face, the glass disintegrates and only a ghost remains.
I grasp for you but you have vanished, leaving only the shoes and the handbag abandoned.
I, too, am abandoned: left in a monochrome of corners, shell-shocked from the continuing battle and fearful of the future.
Yet sometimes on snowflake winter afternoons or blackened nights when others sleep, I shrink and slip into our box to warm in the blood of your tender care.
~ Melodie Corrigall
Originally published at: http://www.othervoices.ca/monthlies/september-2010