Long past August in Texas, the heat hangs on, a stubborn guest. Outside, the trees—their branches heavy with green—sweep in the wind. No signs of autumn, no ochre-butterscotch-rust, no sounds of onion-skin crunch, only sweat and swelter, a suffocation. I lean against the doorframe to my porch, weary. A year ago, I stood here talking on the phone with my mother, the two of us misunderstanding each other.
Virginia Woolf described autumn this way: “The nights now are full of wind and destruction; the trees plunge and bend and their leaves fly helter skelter until the lawn is plastered with them and they lie packed in gutters and choke rain-pipes and scatter damp paths.”
There is no light in my closet, no switch, no bulb, no chain.
“Once, in a letter, Woolf realized: “I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual.”
I am tired of the movements I make and make again, how I take the left turn on Hickory, how I come home to find that I forgot to start the dishwasher, how I pour a glass of wine at six, how I sort through the mail and throw most of it away, how I exchange the paper towel tube with a new roll, how I leap over the swelling stream of water in the parking lot outside my apartment as it storms, how I turn the comforter back on my bed hours before I get into it, and how I finger the soil of the hanging baskets on the porch, their pink periwinkles still cascading in October. Tonight, another obligation to check off the calendar. I set my wine glass on the end table and walk to my room, open the closet.
Once, in a letter, Woolf realized: “I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual.”
A black dress, sleeveless, a dry cleaner tag pinned to the inside of its collar. I pull it from its slot between a pair of jeans and a gray skirt. The dress slips and drops to the floor. My fingers find it among the shoes.
“I bend toward the back of my closet for the black pumps and pull them from the dark.”
Last week I hesitated before taking the dress into the cleaners. I sat in my car, counting the months back to April (pressing the heavy fabric to my face, taking a deep breath), remembering how spring had drawn a sudden curtain of gray and drizzle and cold, how I teetered on the damp path toward a silver casket, how every mourner, including the preacher, offered a coat to my quiet refusals. My father already in the ground.
Grief lingers, a stubborn guest.
I bend toward the back of my closet for the black pumps and pull them from the dark. When I stand, I notice a crust of caked mud on the first inch of each heel.
The shoes like wilted flowers in my hands, and I remember the way my sharp heels sunk into the ground with each step I took toward my mother’s casket.
At the kitchen sink, I run the water. I wipe the mud away with a paper towel. Each sweep of my hand, each removal a betrayal.