Short fiction by Eric Bosse
 

Cupboards
a short fiction by Barbara Montgomery

“You risked a lot on that relationship.”

“Yeah. I did.”

Not even telephone noise. That was as close as it ever got to sympathy. There was nothing more to say.

I was a quiet, reserved person who invested her life in caring for others. With determination and strength. Especially for those I loved no matter how or why the need. I mothered, I mentored. I defended the dumb, the unthinking, the innocent. I’d done this long enough to know that everyone’s hurts are real— that each pain has an honorable reason to be. Then I gave this all away.

A fifth of a box of bow-tie pasta.

Last year, horizons tilted and disappeared. Mercury ran off the backs of all the mirrors and ate the air. And I raced so far into the forest that my skin deserted my body and I didn’t recognize myself.

Frozen corn tortillas. 99 cents.

There I heard the voices that loved to hate me. Of anxious, bastard children I thought I’d shed. Hairless, dirt-toed, unvaccinated, elbowing strangers, each arguing with the same demanding, wet scream. They’d grown so strong over the years. They would not leave my head.

Vanilla.

I bought drugs so I could dress in peace. When that volume gradually, finally receded I began to pick out syllables enough to form words. Then sentences. And slowly some questions. But they stayed boxed inside my head where the only answer was “I didn’t know. I didn’t know.” 

Was I wrong? How to decide? Should I know?

Sea salt. Bay leaves.

I thought I would ask some friends. Among that porcelain teacupful, I chose a poet, a confidante, and a sister—none a relative. Ones whose open eyes I’d sometimes noted.

An almost-full bottle of Orange Water.

We must work to define our individuality and then feel good about it,” confidante said. “If we are even partially composed of (or defined by) the will or opinion of others, we will ultimately lose our way and become vulnerable and frail. Once you can reflect your own wonderful uniqueness, you will draw others who can only be appreciative and steadfast, whoever they are. As much as I abhor trite phrases like ‘no pain, no gain’… ”

Candy canes in a ribbon. Soymilk dated July last year.

Where would you like to live?” sister said. “It’s not what you don’t have, it’s what you can and should have; all there for the taking… ”

Half a candle smelling like sea kelp. Wooden matches.

A year ago, a year ago today we’d said:

What’s going on here? Are we all right?”

One gentle smile.

What do you think? What do you feel?”

Tears.

How did this happen? What can we do?”

Silence.

I never imagined it would be this way. I never imagined …”

I didn’t either.”

 

What happened next? The space between looked like a naked stranger. If you can’t return, you can’t stay. Not like that. Not where words have turned to water.

A muffin pan.

A year running from anger. An itching, irritating, drunken endless year. All the wrong bandages and expenses. Move. Help your mother. You scare her.

Dusty wineglasses.

Move again. Become your children’s child. You confuse them. They demur.

Sprouted garlic.

The one who stayed was always in the corner. Answered the phone but not the wrong questions. Always answered the phone.

Can you hear yourself?” he would say.

‘Can’t,’ ‘Don’t,’ hear that?”

When I could no longer say those words, I could not swallow either. A gorged heart lodged in my chest, my stomach, my throat.

Then, “Breathe”

There was nowhere else to go but forward.

Remember to eat, please.”

A series of the smallest steps. Slow. Discrete.

Why go there? Did you sleep?”

And there were bad decisions. A gun in the trunk of the car doesn’t last long and isn’t very entertaining. And thieves of privacy soon look ugly, even to themselves. Did I really have to learn those words? Was I so reckless about choices?

He stayed in the corner. “I care about you”

This is my corner? But I hate this corner. I don’t own this corner. It’s not even a corner!”

It’s where you are. Small steps. Breathe. Write. It’ll take time. I care about you.”

I began to write away the shadows in the corner. And then I admitted it.

Two corners make half a room. Having two perspectives. Not a finished shelter but countable steps out of the forest. 

Between the corners is what was risked and what was gained.

The box of Sunmaid raisins will still be good next year.

  

©2001 Barbara Montgomery

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