Oliver inhales and stares at the still creek, thinking about buying a dog and about the dying rose bush in the backyard and about alternate realities. He once read somewhere about a man who had theorized that with every decision or action that is made, an alternate reality forms in which the decision or action is contradicted. He thinks maybe there could be an alternate reality out there in which he actually does buy himself a motorcycle. There could be an alternate reality in which he decides to sell the house. Maybe that’s the same alternate reality in which he decides to not marry a dead woman.
She wasn’t dead when we married, Oliver reminds himself. Not yet. She always said there was a difference between dying and dead and he always pretended to believe her. So you knew she was sick when you proposed, his friends said. How selfless of you. It always amused Oliver when they used the word sick instead of dying, as if he married a woman with a head cold. And he knows that they never actually believe him to be selfless. He’s a masochist in their eyes, Oliver thinks.
Oliver shivers. The creek remains still. He has never seen water so still. He tries to touch its surface, but he can’t. He watches a red-brown leaf detach itself from the extended branch of a sycamore tree and plunge in a downward spiral before it lands next to him. The leaf’s bloodish color reminds him of the girl who works in the cubicle behind him. Joan Sterling. Oliver doesn’t know much about her, only that she drinks a can of green tea every morning, that she has an awful habit of clicking her nails against the side of her computer when she’s tired, and that her friends in the office call her Joanie. The color of Joan’s hair is very similar to that of the leaf next to Oliver’s shaking knee, so similar in fact, that for a split moment Oliver believes the leaf to be a part of Joan. Oliver wonders where Joan is. He remembers the one time he talked to her about something other than work. She mentioned she used to live in France. He told her about the French film festival happening that weekend, suggested maybe they could go to one of the shorts together. She told him she was going to be out of town. Who wants to go on a date with the guy who married the dead woman?
Oliver’s eyes feel heavy. His tongue feels heavy too. He hasn’t slept much in the past couple days. He has always had trouble sleeping, but these past couple days have been worse than usual. Every time he was just on the brink of dream world, sudden restlessness coupled with an unrelenting longing to be covered overcame him. He tried forming a cocoon out of fleece blankets, but his arms just itched to break free. He reached, not for his dead wife, but for the cup of water that always sat on the table next to his bed.
Still shivering, Oliver looks away from the creek. He thinks maybe it will finally start to move. He looks at the sky, which peeks around the edges of the trees. Is that what reconciliation looks like? He feels the earth, wondering if, perhaps, this is an alternate reality. He could be the result of a bad decision, a dramatic change. Oliver likes this idea. While everyone else goes on believing that their world is the world, he will know that this is just one of many worlds. Insignificant and peripheral. This will be Oliver’s best kept secret.
Oliver notices there are no birds. He notices the cold. He notices the purple and white wild flowers growing in a perfectly random pattern on the other side of the creek. Those are nice flowers, he thinks. He could put them on the window sill in his study. There looks to be enough to fill at least three large vases. He could pick them, one by one, only to drop them into the lifeless creek. Perhaps the flowers would like their relocation. Perhaps the creek would finally allow for a ripple, a wrinkle, a tremor. He could gather the flowers up and tie a loud ribbon around them and give them to Joan. She won’t accept them. She’ll ask him why he didn’t put them next to his dead wife’s grave. How strange, he’ll think, comical even. The dead, after all, can’t smell their seeping fragrances or feel their even petals. He laughs now, but no sound comes out. The cold must be absorbing it.
Oliver hears something behind him, but when he turns, he sees nothing. It was probably just an animal, he tells himself. Or a question. Questions follow Oliver everywhere. Maybe they are what led him to this lifeless creek, he thinks. The question that appears the most is always the one that no one dares say aloud: why? But Oliver never feels a need to reflect on the why. Only the when. He stares at the stubborn creek. He stares, just as he stared at his motionless wife, propped up in their bed. Awake, but still dying. When I’m gone. That’s how she always started her sentences in those days. Oliver breathed nothing but air tainted with the grimy promise of death. That’s when, Oliver now thinks. When nothing was allowed to be beautiful anymore. That’s when he stopped loving her.
Where has the day gone, Oliver wonders. Where have the birds gone? His neck is stiff and he knows he will sleep soon. Thirst overcomes him. Or is that deliberation? He doesn’t remember how he got to this creek. He will have to try to remember the way back, the same way he tries to conjure up an image of his dead wife when he stands where he imagines her abdomen to be, buried beneath the packed earth and cacophony. He is easily distracted by these whispers, by the clamor of the gone. Oliver exhales. He sees the missing sound of his laughter, soaring away, the red-brown leaf clasped in its soft grip. He sees Joan’s laughter too. He sees his rosy dead wife standing by a rushing creek, calling for him to come inside before the dark draws in.
Created: Jul 19, 2010Document Media