Again we found ourselves at the shoreline, among shards of shell and plastic, scrim of seaweed trapping my feet like a net. Red freighters and the grey Onley mist of the islands. The seashell gleam of sun on water, herringbone sky. I was thinking of a movie where a man was drowning in the middle of the ocean, huge swells soaring all around him like dunes in a desert, and how I’d once said, That’s what it feels like, grief— years ago, before anyone had even died. Who knew how wide the ocean would get, how high those waves would climb. Then I went into the water, into that marine world of kelp and plankton. The green that bathed my legs had travelled for miles to reach this bay. A noose of cloud hung on the gold horizon. Spores, sand in the gritty air. No one I loved was there.
His Last Days
You call one Sunday night to tell me about his last days on earth. How he made you promise him one more summer, a garden where the two of you would sit over a white tablecloth and a pitcher of cool water. Promise me, he said, while you dipped a swab in cool water, rubbed it along his gums. Yes, Daryl, you murmured, because by then you were saying yes to everything— water, white tablecloth, the South of France where he was too ill to travel those final months, the tickets booked, the oxygen rigged for the flight. You moved him into the guest bedroom on the ground floor, and he did not recognize the house he’d lived in for twenty years. Where is this place? he’d demand, fussing in the unfamiliar bed. Are we in a hotel? The maid service is terrible! The bed and special linens ordered from New York, the syringes laid out on the prettiest dishes you could find— splashes of colour throughout the room, any colour but white, that no-colour of hospitals, flowers at a Chinese funeral. Pyjamas he wore once, a cashmere robe from Holt Renfrew twice— he was only himself upright in bed in a shirt, buttoned and pressed. The Filipina nurses came and went, girls with names like jewels— they poured tea, read poetry to him. Don’t forget my wife, he’d say, even in those final days, don’t forget to bring tea to Anne-Marie. Friends who had died years ago visited him in morphine dreams, he woke elated from the rich meals and much red wine they shared, from the conversations that went on into the dark. He went into the fire wearing the suit he had selected, but without the raincoat he wanted in case it got cold in the afterlife. What do you need a raincoat for? you’d laughed, then wept as the storms tore the trees from their roots in Stanley Park the winter he died, snuffing out lights and televisions across the city grid— you lay awake, imagined him shivering in some damp celestial doorway. His ashes in a plot positioned to soak up the sun, the sweet silver rain and the cold fire of stars.
The Burning Desert
The day your obituary ran in the paper, I lay buried in bed as if stuck in sand at the edge of the shore where the tide brings in seaweed and washed glass and skeleton-white shells— wave after wave of muscle pain, the mist of sweat on skin, the weird bliss of temperature. It was flu season, the bare branches outside carrying their burdens of snow, the sky a scratched and burning silver. We had seen you just months ago, swimming in your suit, radiation and pneumonia shaving you down to college weight— you looked forward to buying a new wardrobe, to the twenty more years the doctor had given you. I hope more, I said, thinking how brief twenty years sounded, gone in a shrug, gone while we looked the other way— so little more time with us, among the living. Two months later, you were gone. The warmth of your embrace in the lit doorway, the beach we walked with the shadow of the black dog leaping for the ball you threw, streaking past the park and the rocky point, through the summer days we loved and could not make stay. The fever sloshed me in its wine-drenched bed, rocked me into seasickness— the bitter wrack of hair, the fishy reek of skin, the aching pebbles of my eyes held open to your face on the funeral page. You had travelled to the border, the purgatory between day and planetary night, locked in a coma, wrapped and penetrated with tubes that brought sustenance and carried away waste. You lay in this border state for days, then slowly made your way back to us like a thirsty traveller with tales of the golden desert, your face burnt, rasping your name. If only we had said something, offered water, begged you to stay.
A Cup of Cobalt Glass
The white star-shaped building is still there. The waxy plants by the doorway, surviving cigarette butts, candy wrappers, anything we throw their way. It’s been months since you’ve been gone— soon it will be years, and in decades you will be a handful of photographs in a fading family album, your great-granddaughter perhaps saying, Depression runs in our family— see, this was my great-grandfather, he killed himself. Nothing left of what you made but a cup of cobalt glass, blown from your mouth, the rose one broken long ago. I think of taking the elevator to the third floor, finding you again in the amber hallway, standing in your sneakers like a boy— the frown lines between your eyes those final years, like the tracks of a hunted animal. Instead I stay in the lobby, stare at my reflection in the speckled mirror, imagine disappearing, the mirror reflecting back a lake of mercury light. Turn then to meet your partner Nadine for lunch, her green eyes across the table glazed with what they saw that morning she found you in the hotel in Halifax. The entire meal you drift between us, huge and unspoken. The mountains beyond the window frozen blue seas tilting at the sky. Then without a word she touches my hand, and in that gesture of grace you are alive again— in this new year, this one more day without you, one more day lost in this world, where there are still days I see your face around a corner, across the street, and rush toward some startled stranger.