Memento Mori

by Caroline Goetze

The morning after we brought the baby home from the hospital I made coffee. Jenna, still shaky, sat with me at the kitchen table. She tilted her head and for a long time regarded my hands cradling the coffee mug. Then she went to get her light boxes and her old Minolta.

*

The grave is far too big for Charlie’s coffin and I wonder how in hell they could have screwed this up. My fists ache. I yank my left hand from my pocket. Put my arm around Jenna.

She shifts.

At the house after, people won’t leave. They linger as if saying goodbye isn’t something they do a hundred times a day without thinking about it. By the time the last car door thunks shut, Jenna has melted into the couch. Over her chest she holds a black and white she took of Charlie. Her mouth, slack and raw, suggests things I don’t dare ask of her.

Something about the way her lips stay parted day after day and the hopeless slope of her shoulders pisses me off. She barely speaks to me. Nights, when I press against her, she pulls away.

She won’t pack up his room. I offer to have her sister Kate come over and do it, but she covers her face and holds out her palm at me each time I mention it.  I wake up in the dark, sheets beside me.

She can’t sleep in our bed. Even with the pills the doc gives her. She pads down the hallway after she thinks I’m asleep to martyr herself under his Winnie the Pooh quilt.

My hands twist in her hair. I’m in her and she’s sobbing. And I close my eyes. I close my ears.

*

Folding chairs are arranged in an incomplete circle in the church basement. At the opening, the facilitator sits by himself. He asks us to call him Ron. An older woman next to me cries considerately with her purse in her lap. I try to hold Jenna’s hand. Some people talk. Neither of us does.

When Ron dismisses us, my considerate neighbor asks if we want to see a picture of her daughter. “Of course,” Jenna says, ready to show the woman her photos of Charlie. A girl in a paisley blouse with a wide pointed collar smiles at us from the yellowed picture.

*

I don’t know why I bother to get out of bed. I know where I’ll find her. But she’s not in Charlie’s room. Or the kitchen. Or the living room. She’s in my office, sitting with her back to the dark computer screen. “Jenna?”

The bullets feel like slow scalded jackhammers. They kill the noise.

I spend months in the hospital. Long after Jenna has recovered and gone home I’m still doing rehab and physical therapy. I learn to transfer from my chair to the toilet and the bed.

Kate comes to take me home. She makes excuses. “Jenna’s gone back to work. Freelance. She’ll be on the road, mostly.”

Jenna sends me email. She tells me who’s hired her. I look for her photos online. She’s doing good work; even better than before, I think. It’s all digital for her clients, but she still prefers film for personal images. She mails me postcards she captions herself at those drugstore kiosks.

“This one has his nose.”

“His hair is almost the same.”

“Charlie on the swings.” 

“Charlie walking home from school.” 

I paste them in my scrapbooks.

#

Caroline lives on a farm in Michigan with her husband, two spoiled dogs, and too many chickens. She studies writing at Saginaw Valley State University.
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