The Dead Man’s Bride
This is a true story. When I was 22, we buried my almost-husband in a graveyard that now no longer accepts the dead. Think about that? That a graveyard can fill as easily as a movie theater. There is standing room only for the grieving, not the lost.
When he died and was buried, I tried to dig him out of the dirt with my hands. My fingernails broke. I had a fever that peaked at 103. The dirt shoved into the lines of my palms, the beds between nails and fingertips. Someone took me away, and I thought of insects, of fungi and the roots of trees breaking through dirt and then wood and then skin. Only someone wrong would think of those things. So, I covered my body in salt to keep the demons out.
A fortune-teller once told me that I was scared of crowds, because in a past life I had been dragged from my bed and burned at the stake as a witch. Was I a witch? I asked her. I would like to have been burned for a reason. That wasn’t the point, though. The point was that sometimes I have nightmares that I’m in a swarm of people and they buzz like bees, and when I look for familiar faces, for someone who loves me, I see that none of the faces have eyes. They just have mouths and teeth and teeth.
I loved a woman, too, once. She had snakes for hair. She couldn’t turn people to stone, though she laughed once and said she could turn them to sin. Even the scientific names of snakes will writhe on the lips, curl over the tongue. Sistrurus catenatus. Dendroaspis. Agkistrodon piscivorus. She left me when she said that my reflection in mirrors, in windows, was always looking over one shoulder. I learned to never look at myself in glass.
I stopped drinking when I found that alcohol made my mouth burn like drinking holy water, and my dreams fill up with ghosts. Not him. But ghosts of people I had never known. Is it fair to see the unfamiliar dead? To not know their names, but know their pain? I tried not sleeping for 17 days, but it made nightmares bleed out from my eyes.
A man that I trusted once put a gun to my head. He said, if this is what you really want, then I will pull this fucking trigger. I did. And he did. And I’ve never trusted him again.
When they buried my almost-husband, I thought that I was now a halfway widow. I cut the heart lines from my palms with a silver knife. The scars came in ragged and ridged and irrefutable as gravity. I used to trace my fingertips along his clavicle. Has anyone ever loved someone without loving the bones of their body—the jutting hip, the jawline? And now I traced his name where it was etched in stone. Sometimes my skin catches fire spontaneously. Mostly when I see stained glass out of the corner of my eyes.
In the hospital, on the night I was born, a woman died three doors down. Everyone said that this would make me sell my soul to the devil. They weren’t wrong. I really would, but the crossroads are always empty at night.
Changing in the Dark
When they ask how she died and you say that she ate the seeds of too many oranges it will make you seem like a liar. As will the fact that the earth refused to take her. Her fingertips smelled of lilacs for years. And you refused to fall into grief because you felt that it was something cold. You felt it was the river flowing backward into ice. Your hands would shake for years and it would be almost imperceptible until you picked up your coffee and the tremors would send waves across the surface of your cup. Can you hear the sound of those waves crashing when you pick up the empty cup?
And sometimes do you wonder if your life could run in ten directions and all at once? If alternate worlds might try to steal you away to them? And in every other world you still end up losing? As if there is no possible outcome for you to be okay? And don’t you hate the sound of the word “okay”? It makes your lips feel crooked when you say it: okay a thousand times.
When you find yourself weeping at the scent of the pith buried deep under your fingernails years later it is because you are remembering how she could uncover the fruit in one single peel. And you will call yourself a liar a thousand times. There is a tree now above her, and it smells of lilacs, though it only bears blood oranges.
Sometimes the dark creeps in behind her eyes, and she imagines shadows playing games under trees and running down sidewalks. And she will always, always try to name them. But, really, how many times can you name a shadow before it stops being a shadow?
She married one, you know, a shadow. He was tall and his hands stretched for miles when the light was just right, and she sometimes would use soft lighting just to vex him, and he would sometimes hide in the corners of rooms for hours even as she yelled and yelled that “dinner was ready, dammit!”
Sometimes she felt like the world was wearing at her. That it nibbled at her edges like paper mites slowly devouring a book. They take little bites each day, but you never know they are eating until you open the covers and out falls every page. She thought someone would eventually try to open her up, and there would just be a crumbling.
Oh, for the world to not always be rushing around her. She hated the spinning. She could feel it. The earth rotating on its axis. She could feel it. She wants to sit down in elevators. She imagines the plummet. She thinks that everything could just stop moving, and she would feel all right.
She sometimes places her hands into basins of water. She likes the idea of sinking. She thinks, oh, what a feeling that would be. Weightless. But it isn’t weightless. She would still be dragged under by something.
One day she sees a shadow girl playing on the sidewalk. The shadow girl is drawing hopscotch outlines, and her numbers can be only read by the blind. The girl sings something. A childhood rhyme. She wants to touch the shadow girl’s hair. To warn her about life and the world and all of that spinning. The little shadow girl looks up at her and smiles. She points to the sky, to the clouds, and says that it looks like rain but feels like sun.
Chloe N. Clark is an MFA candidate, fantastical baker (like a dragon but with cupcakes), and fangirl extraordinaire. Her work has appeared such places as Rosebud, Sleet, Menacing Hedge, and a previous issue of Cease, Cows. Follow her @PintsNCupcakes.
Lead image: “Blind” (via Flickr user Stefano Corso)