Dreams of Decadent Grief
by Alexandra Stanislaw
You imagine your suicide – the faux porcelain bathtub brimming with sudsy water, milky swirls kissing your breasts, the bulge of your middle over the top line of the water, the reddening skin of your child-sized wrists. Your body will bloat if left there, but you’ve been bloated your whole life. You realize this is an impractical way to die. But in the bathroom, you’ll be less likely to leave behind inescapable rot. If you fill up the tub with clean water and leave the fifteen-pound container of dry food ajar, your cat will survive for at least a month after your last breath. You can sit on the tiled floor and fall asleep. You hope they find your body before then.
They don’t tell you when you move in the into a new apartment the frequency of people who perish unnoticed in the building every year. They’re usually old, but sometimes they are just unhealthy – the man who dies of a heart attack at 45 while sitting on his couch watching television. They need hazmat suits after the initial discovery. He’s been dead about 27 days. The air conditioning decelerated decay.
Your first apartment sees an aggressive fly infestation. It’s worse when they discover the corpse of the elderly woman next door – dead for nearly two weeks. They only know something is wrong because the mailman alerts the landlord of the gathering piles of mail in Apartment 50’s box. She was alone, only considered by a dutiful stranger who waited so long the smell began to seep into the halls. You ignored it, you and your love, attribute it to bad housekeeping. You all ignored it. Had you cared enough to notice, you would have seen the flies crawling through the cracks of the neighbor’s door. You would have noticed her silence, the lack of tapping on the wall as you and your love have your rows. But you were busy plotting your own escape, so you never noticed
Your silverware set is incomplete, missing most of its long forks, some of its spoons, but somehow none of its butter knives. These and the larger serving spoons lie four hundred miles away in a sink that hasn’t seen soap in over a month. They rust away underneath the excuse that the dishes aren’t his, your ex’s, and will stay there until he “feels” like doing them.
A new microwave lights up against six o’clock darkness – a jarring reality compared to the span of long summer days where it feels more natural that sunlight extends to at least eight. You dig through IKEA supplements until you get your fingers around your favorite spoon. Dinner spins slowly like a twisted carousel, and you consider if there’s anything you should be doing while you observe its sad attempt at entertainment. Two minutes is really thirty minutes in microwave time. Maybe that’s the secret to the space-time continuum: the cosmic microwave background folds over time until it reaches a moment of solidarity. It’s really been occurring in our kitchens since the seventies. How long would it would take you to shovel out your refrigerator in the event of nuclear war? Modern fridges are capable of shielding you from nuclear blasts, right? And can you even fit in its small space? Can you take your cat with you? Your cat can certainly fit inside the fridge. She’s done it before.
“Mow,” she’d chirped followed by an equally soft but more urgent wail. “Myow.”
And you found her situated on the empty bottom shelf where she’d slipped in just before you let the fridge door swing closed.
You’re going to be late. You always are. Today it will be your poor concept of time. Yesterday it was forgetting to turn off the oven, remembering, doubling back to turn it off, and missing your bus just as it rolled away from the stop. Tomorrow you will probably forget to feed the cat, and the subconscious thought of what you’re forgetting to do will trap you dead center in the space of your four hundred square foot apartment, unable to leave until you remember.
Today you shove your feet into shoes half a size too small. Once upon a time your father told you he had shoe stretchers to give you, but he never looked for them. So most of your clearance priced shoes fit improperly, feet consequently too wide. On every occasion you’ve considered throwing them out – since you never wear most of them anyway – but then what would you wear if you wanted something different?
Your fat pants don’t fit anymore either. They vacuum pack your thighs and refuse to come together at your belly button. You know immediately as you try to yank them over your calves that it’s going to end this way, but you still tug.
There it is, the makings of fatness, the belly that hangs indelicately over your unusually thick mons pubis. There it is, the end of your attractiveness, of your viability as a potential partner. You’ll never be as thin as you were through college. Soon, the rest of your body will fatten proportionately, and you’ll appear less four months pregnant and far more cat-owning spinster. Or maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll just take on the ungodly visage of a toad, standing tall with slim legs, a nonexistent ass, and a top that might wobble off balance at any moment. People have already begun to assume you own a cat. You wonder every time whether it’s the oversized knit sweater you wear, or if it’s your thick black glasses that make them ask, “What’s your cat’s name?” in place of “How long have you been with your fiancé?” You’re waiting for “How far along are you?” to become a usual question, but no one has asked it yet. You wouldn’t feel offended by the question, but you would surely have fun watching their faces twist in horror when you reveal to them that you are in fact, not pregnant. You haven’t even had sex in the last six months. The father is a phantom, just like your current lover.
You arrive at the bus stop, finally, clothes the same style as yesterday, a t-shirt that hangs off your frame, your sweater draped on top, lackluster jeans. You run around to the opposite side of the stop where the ticker blinks: 6 – twenty minutes, 172 twenty-two minutes. An older woman under cover of the bus stop arch smacks the button that repeats everything you’ve just read. You watch the ticker reveal the next routes as the prerecorded syllables string together against your offbeat inner dialogue.
School, of the graduate kind, that’s your intended destination, but you think hard about whether you’ve left the oven on, whether your cat will die an unfortunate death with several dozen other casualties while you’re sitting in a classroom for four aching hours. Then the bus screeches to a halt in front of you. But you’re staring into the window, having missed the mark where the door extends like holy hands to welcome riders in from the cold. So you wait behind several other people and don’t get a seat.
Instead, you stand amongst a huddle of people. Someone is too daft or distracted to move to the back of the bus. So they’re all squeezed in the front like the bottle neck effect you learned about in seventh grade science, the one where they try to explain something you don’t quite remember about speciation and the dinosaurs. This bus is an express one that runs from 47th Street to downtown.
The bus soars along the highway, interrupted by traumatic jolts and bumps. Somehow, despite its linear trajectory it rocks back and forth, lulling you and the rest of its passengers like the hull of a ship.
You know which parts of the bus are the best to avoid early spinal damage. None of the bus is truly safe, but you feel the impact less when you sit toward the back, facing the door. Or perhaps you often choose this seat not for its apparent lack of injury, but the fact that it’s closest to an escape. You can see now outside the thirty-ton tin can as it tumbles through the city.
But standing, as well sitting, is a sad grasp at physical contact. You secretly love the way strangers are warm against you. It’s comforting considering you’re completely alone. For the first time, there is only one person regularly checking for your existence, and she lives two states away. But she gave birth to you, so she feels the unbridled obligation to make sure no one has stuffed you in a suitcase and sent you careening into Lake Michigan’s waters. It’s she who will be devastated by your wistful removal from life. Perhaps your brother will be sad, but he will live, move on. Perhaps your father will mourn, but he too will find his way forward. It will be this life, the one that gave you yours that will be crushed by your demise. And you consider this most of all in the decision to end it. But do you end it because your only interaction with another person is the sad innuendo of an internet date, the gentle and accidental caress of strangers on public transit, the occasional passing gesture of a colleague? Do you try to make friends? It feels futile. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t be in this situation, finding the space between two people and sandwiching yourself in between. You wouldn’t be standing right now watching two people kiss, two people purposefully love, and feel like your body might completely collapse under the weight of all the men and women you’ve loved and never heard from again.
Hours later, waiting for the bus home, you waver at the edge of the sidewalk, eyes titled up toward the top of a tall tower. You think of all the comrades made and all the love ignited inside the multipurpose structure. The windows yield dark vacuums of space, but some are lit and the remnants of a life lived peek out of the glass, a chain of Christmas lights still on decoration, a lamp too dim to have all working bulbs, the fleeting shadow of a man’s head. You feel the joy of their connection, the love that can be had, and your body sways forward. One step, two steps onto the street into the middle of traffic. On any given day in the city of Chicago someone will be too distracted to stop. And you’ll feel something for only a moment, not a feasible amount of time to comprehend the pain. Not a moment long enough to connect nerve impulses to neural passage ways, just a broken chain of information at your spine. And all you know is you will be free of the absence. You will be free of the empty gut, the soaked heart that weighs down on your lower cavity, because it’s too full of love for those who believed you were not worth their own heavy hearts.
Home is not the home it was. But it is the home it will be after months of living in the static space. You will sit down on the floor of your bathroom, contemplate the little space between the toilet and the bathtub, and consider the poverty of your current situation. And you realize it’s not this; it’s not this place that’s the end. It’s not him who was the last or you that is the final. It won’t matter if you die. Everyone will continue to live, continue to die, but you will always and forever be the one who gave up.
About the author:
Alexandra Stanislaw is the Editor-In-Chief of Devise Literary, and serves as the assistant to the Managing Editor of Hotel Amerika. Her work appears in Penguin Review and Crab Fat Magazine. She earned her B.A. in English Literature at Youngstown State University, and is an M.F.A. candidate at Columbia College Chicago. This piece reflects her personal struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts after moving away from Youngstown for the first time in her life.