Find On Your Body the Bruise, by Mar Stratford

First, you are everything. Then, you are a drop of blood on a blade of grass. You are the grass, the dirt beneath it, the network of aspen roots buried in the dirt—no, not yet. Pull yourself together now. You are a network of neurons spastically misfiring inside a broken skull. You are a fading chemical reaction, you are a feeling, you are a collection of memories. You are dead. You are not surprised.

You are a lesbian and you are a poet. Even before you knew these things—knew what kind of woman you were— you knew there was no future for women like you, whoever they might be. Now, you feel a relief. The anxiety of waiting for death is over. You feel satisfaction that in the end, it wasn’t your fault. You have experience with funerals. Often, when it’s a suicide, people are angry with the deceased. No one will be angry with you at your funeral. Since you are a poet, you are very sensitive about these kinds of things.

The names of the people who will attend your funeral sound like a poem as they echo through your consciousness. One name aches with a specific familiarity. Remember your name. Remember who you were, who you might have been. You had, improbably, made a future for yourself. Or were working on it, anyway. You were open to the possibility of possibilities. You were going to foster stray puppies and take a ballet for beginners class. Remembering these things hurts.

Your therapist has said that dissociation is a coping mechanism for dealing with emotional pain. Try to spread out again, under the dirt. Can you reach into the aspen leaves? No, you cannot. The force of your anger keeps pulling you back into yourself. Now you are a small, dense ball of lightning scorching the grass. Everyone dies eventually, so you don’t think you shouldn’t be this angry, but here you are. Angry.

Your therapist has also said that there is no should for emotions and that it is okay to be angry. Listen to the remembrance of the voice of your therapist, soft and soothing: What is the root of this anger? Where, in your body, do you feel it?

You will feel the anger wherever he touched you. Look at your body, lying there on the grass. It hardly looks like you. It is swollen and bruised. You are not this. You are a lesbian and a poet. You are a name that your mother gave you when she saw you for the first time, red and wriggling, and whispered, You are my precious daughter, beloved in the sight of the Lord.

You wonder what the man who killed you saw when he yelled hey baby from his car window as he drove past. Maybe he didn’t see anything except a woman until he looked in the rearview mirror and saw you giving the finger to his car, and felt so ashamed—that he had catcalled a lesbian, that he had hurt your feelings, that he had not done what Jesus would do—that he had to back up and pull his car over, crushing the tall green summer grass and yellow and pink wildflowers which grow freely alongside the road, and beat you to death.

His touch still lingers on your skin. Become your sweat and his sweat. Go deeper. Sweat is not enough. Be your skin cells and his skin cells and the friction between them. Skin cells will do if that’s all you have, but blood is best. Blood calls to blood. You know this in the same way that you know your own name, and know what it is that you must do to be able to let go of the anger—your anger, your own pain that grips you tight like a fist. Find on your body the bruise that made the skin of his knuckles split open. A drop of his blood, now dry, still remains. Use it. Go to him.

He will be in his house, sitting at the kitchen table. Ice cubes wrapped in a paper towel will rest on his right hand. His left hand will hold a beer can from which he will drink in slow, ponderous sips. He will have an old dog lying at his feet on the yellowed linoleum floor. No matter what kind of dog it is you will think, what a good dog. When the dog notices you, it will whine, ears back, eyes wide. You are good with animals. You will want to offer up a biscuit in an open palm to reassure this dog that you mean no harm, but you don’t have any biscuits, nor palms. You will remember, with sudden clarity, why you are here.

The man will look at the dog. You will want him to yell or throw something. You love dogs, but it is very important that he is not kind to his dog. You don’t want to think about this poor dog, after you have left, all alone with the body of his beloved human. You don’t want to think about how the man who killed you could value a dog’s life more than yours. Trust me, you don’t. He will call to the dog, and scratch it under its chin, where age has turned hairs of its yellow fur gray. Don’t look.

This is the hardest part, now, to go inside the man. You will have to stop being the flicker in the ceiling light and get close to him. Close like two wafer-thin pages in your grandmother’s Bible. Close like two women when the heat of sex has melted the space between their skin. Get close. Closer. When it happens, you will know.

You will be in him and you will be him. You will hear the dog resume its howl. It will sound muffled in his ears. You will look out with his eyes and see the incomplete translation of the kitchen table into shapes and colors. To think, your whole life has been mediated by the same kind of fleshly proxy. You will not be tempted to stay in his body. But there are some benefits while, stretched out from the marrow of his bones to the edges of his fingertips, you are here. You will get to pet the dog.

Now pull yourself out of the man’s bones, muscles, and tendons. Let him crumple, slumped in his chair, torso splayed across the kitchen table, face down in spilled beer. Pull yourself out of his stomach, lungs, and heart. Those organs will keep working without your help; besides, they are big and strong, they are not where you should be. Instead, sink into his arteries. Flow, within the blood, inside his arteries. Find his weak spots. Is it the abdominal aorta? The ascending aorta, siphoning blood away from the heart? The anterior cerebral artery? Only you will know. Find the place where he carries his tension, and push.

Stay focused. You won’t want to leave this half-done. Soon it will be over. The artery wall will break and the blood that is you will burst forth freely, triumphant. Then you will feel it: the soft dissipation of your anger. The emotion falls away from you as gently as snowflakes dusting the needles of ponderosa pines on a windless, silent night. You will rise up out of the man and be a coldness in the air. Watch. Wait.

The dog will sniff around him and lick his hands. The man’s breathing will quicken, then slow, then stop. The dog will whine for several minutes, and bark sharply at the cold spot in the air, then give up. Settled under the kitchen table, the dog will go to sleep. It is, after all, an old dog.

You will be tired, too, but you will want to make sure that someone will come by to pick up the dog and, you suppose, the man’s body. His laptop will be on the coffee table, open to his Facebook page. In a series of small static shocks, sink into the computer. Then, post a simple message, writing as if you were him, taking responsibility for the death of a woman and asking someone to check on the dog. You won’t have the energy to write more. You knew how to navigate a human body; it is more challenging to find your way around a computer. Besides, the boundaries of yourself are already beginning to soften. In the few seconds you have left, check your own Facebook page. Look at the pictures of you and your friends, and your friends’ pets.

Think about how much you love each and every one one of them. Then float up, through the plaster ceiling, wooden beams, roof tiles.

It will be good to be outside. Be the breeze and the aspen trees and the rustle of leaves. Be the roots and the dirt. Be water and sunlight.

You are dead.

It will be okay.

Mar Stratford is originally from the Mid-Atlantic region, and now lives in Arkansas, where she is an MFA candidate in the University of Arkansas Creative Writing program. Find on her twitter at @mar_stratford.

Published October 2018, Shimmer #45, 1600 words

Other Ghosts:

The Earth and Everything Under by K.M. Ferebee

List of Items in Leather Valise Found on Welby Crescent by Alex Acks

Caretaker, by Carlie St. George

Speculative fiction for a miscreant world

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