On Monday I don’t even go inside. I circle the house twice, looking for clues about what is expected of me, how I might help. Finally, the only thing I can think to do is drive down to the nursery, buy a bag of tulip bulbs and a shovel, and bury them all over your front yard. By the time I’m done, the sun is a rusty smudge low in the sky, and the lawn is pockmarked and ugly. As I drive home in the rain, getting mud all over the car seat, I try hard not to think of graves.
On Tuesday I take out the trash, and the place smells a little better. I open the windows and let the outside in, the inside out. Dust particles float away in the moving air, and I’m filled with a sudden, childish panic, a need to hold on to even these minuscule things, these almost-non-things that shared your space. This will be the last time I breathe the air you breathed. Soon the house fills with the smell of autumn rain, and you are a little more gone, a little further out of reach. I leave a window cracked when I leave.
On Wednesday I pick through your mail, hoping for a glimpse of you. I imagine seeing your crooked handwriting on an envelope returned to you due to insufficient postage, or a friend who had long moved away. How I would cherish such a letter. Would I leave it unopened, preserving this part of you that still holds a charge, that is not used up yet? Or would I rip into it, inhale it, rub the words on my face, press the paper into my closed eyelids, wanting to disappear into the world you wrote? I ponder as I tear credit card pre-approvals in half and make a small stack of bills to be paid.
On Thursday your cat sits on your doorstep when I arrive, ragged and ravenous. Mangy as he looks, I scoop him up and carry him into the house with me. He is wet and smells of grass and river water. Scowling, he holds on to my shoulder, claws hooked into the knit of my sweater, pricking my skin. Inside, we stand in the silent kitchen, and it feels like a hug. I dry him with paper towels. I wish I could remember his name. I know I won’t be back on Friday, or Saturday, or any day after. On the drive home, he cowers in the footwell of the passenger seat, not giving the changing landscape the time of day.
In the spring, I drive past your house. A couple of the tulips have come up, but their occasional burst of red and yellow is not enough to make up for the mess I made of your lawn. I tried, I think as I drive away. I might come back next year, when weeds will have taken over the yard and the tulips will be in the company of daisies, dandelions, and bindweed. I might not. I’ve already lost the key to your house.
Sometimes I catch the cat looking at me sideways, as if unsure whether to believe I am who I claim to be. I think he is your cat. Maybe yours was different, friendlier and smaller, but maybe he just grew and toughened up. Still, I catch myself wondering. Did he know you at all? Is somebody else looking for him, heartbroken? Is he a stranger living under my roof? And if he is, what fate met your cat, the small, friendly one?
Neither of us dwells on these questions for too long as we continue to mourn the loss of those who saw us through our youth.
Layla Al-Bedawi is a writer, poet, teacher, and bookbinder (among other things). English is her third language, but she’s been dreaming in it for years. Her work has been published in Fireside Fiction, Strange Horizons, Winter Tangerine, Bayou Magazine, Juked, and elsewhere. Born in Germany, she now lives in Houston, TX, where she co-founded Fuente Collective, an organization focused on experimentation, collaboration, and hybridity in writing and other arts. You can find her at laylaalbedawi.com and @frauleinlayla.
“Lingeage” was originally published in May 2017 by Bayou Magazine.