You used to clear the cobwebs with a broom. You had an outside broom and an inside broom. I think it frustrated you that it isn’t possible for a spider to hang its head. You turned the lights on to seal the roaches in too. Like they were secrets. Like they were yours. If you ever caught one I think you would crack it open like a crab. Things are different now. When I am quiet I can hear them breathing. I can hear the draft under the door. The mealworms share my wine. Still life happens. Some days I wake up wiping wings from my eyes. I use antennae to stitch up loose cocoons. See, between the two of us I was not the one wasting anything. I never poured water straight into the ground.
The keening is bland this morning; the smell in the season thinning. My son is sleeping inside, rolling in those young lung dreams--I remember them--Pacific and covered in saliva. When he wakes, when I wake him, he will eat the eggs lukewarm and sit hunched on the porch steps. His mother is gone; his friends are at the corrals. He says they call it a ritual, a rite to survey the squatters and mock their prayers using our tongue: Who planted the ear? Who swelled the eye? They will leave with grins and flakes of red paint on their palms. My son will forgive my sternness because he has so little to forgive.
He was there already this year, without my permission. I have seen the petals of the marigolds on the bottoms of his shoes. Did he palm that flower like a ball when he threw it? How sharp was his aim? If he was able about it, he did not get it from me. As a young man I tried my own tongue—for the sake of, for the love of—everyone thought I was a riot. I am not a riot now.
Soon the mornings will be quiet, humid with the smell of their breath. That will be the time to take him to the corrals, when they resemble grim hounds. Sockets and mange. Dolls and rings will have been discarded by then. When they are slow like that, it is easier to see why we must extinguish everything that has been extinguished before.
When they are gone I have a difficult time with sleep. I sit atop the fresh soil pile and look at the stars barbing the sky. I have blessings. When my son wakes it will be knowing their hands are not like ours. He will ask me to make a fist. You're lucky, he will tell me, your knuckles are white.
He brings orange juice and the blue pill box before morning gathers. The window was open overnight, just enough to discharge the smell, and he closes it, secures the curtain for the view of the willow trees. He stretches his arms over his head and leans to one side and the other, as if he is waking, as if we still sleep in the same room. The talon edge of his dragon tattoo climbs over his shoulder. I remember how it felt when it healed. "The koi are big enough to saddle," he says. I can match every shape his mouth makes.
I sit and stack the pillows behind me. My shawl needs washing; the pills go down like eggs. This routine of ours has become sentient. It is like we had children after all. "Do you remember the Fairs'?" I say. Back then all of his socks were covered in red dust, I had a foothold on a disease. It was last tithe of a good day. "You and your pearls," he says. I had been looking for a pen in the glove compartment when I found them--pink and cheap--a leftover party favor. I wore them because they made him smile.
The sunrise is haptic, blood orange. "We should have champagne," I say. He turns, I run my fingers through my hair. My posture is the forecast for the day. "I can pick up some cider this afternoon," he says, but that's not what I remember. I remember a green bottle with a sepia label. I remember all the men gathered by the bonfire outside. He was just home, and he said everything was like seeing a painting in person, one you had seen a print of all your life. Illness works the same way.
He sits and takes my hand. Every morning he rubs the base of my thumbs, my wrists and up to my elbows. It is like cleaning a weapon. He talks about the grocery list, his afternoon of work, the upcoming Memorial Day. My tremors come and go. His breathing becomes a metronome, and the day levels out. I was drinking champagne from a plastic cup. The tide was coming in; the wind blowing ocean into our hair. The men were jockeying around him, patting his back and punching his arm. He winced when they touched him. They made jokes about servicing our nation and he smiled, fended off their blows. He did not look like he was home. He had brush strokes. He should have been in a museum. Paintings there last forever.
"You have a fever," he says. His hand is wet on my head. "It's hot," I say. He moves closer, and then away. I smell my hand. The sick doesn't seem any stronger. "It's my shawl," I say. He grabs his phone. Pelicans, a long formation of them sailed over. I feel them more than I could see them. When I lost my balance no one was close enough to catch me.
"Too much champagne," I say. My mouth tastes like dry apples. The room is almost familiar. It has guest room wallpaper, and I am lying on a pile of coats. He is far too worried for too much champagne, he is always like that now. "Come," I say. I don't want to go home. I want to be here. I want to be a body in a great pile of bodies. He comes with my fingers, longer than they have ever been, in his mouth. Sweat drips on to a suede coat. I shudder, and he drops his head. I barely see it go. The work is hard enough to kill us.