Sunday, March 29, 2009

sharp things

From the minute he was told about the accident Graham had been stoic. She’d thought he was strong, at first. He never openly mourned, at least not in front of her. No tears, no desperation, not one crack in his staid demeanor. Of course he was grim and he was quiet, speechless even. Graham moved as if on automatic pilot, zombie like. But he never broke down, not once. Kate never would have gotten through the whole process, the hospital, the funeral, if it weren’t for Graham’s solid level of control. She also hated him for it. She could never forgive him for letting her mourn alone.

It seemed like as soon as Ethan was in the ground Graham went back to a routine, back to living some semblance of his former life. He didn’t do it with as much animation – none in fact. But he put one foot in front of the other. He got dressed, he ate, he even slept. Kate could do none of that. She was in a drugged out haze from the tranquilizers and even if she hadn’t been she could not have functioned as before. Food would never be the same. Sleep would never be the same. Breathing would never be the same. Ethan was gone and nothing could be the same ever again without it feeling like a betrayal, a denial.

She watched Graham sometimes, when he wasn’t aware, looking for a crack in his hard exterior. She had done that, watched him secretly, since they first met. Back then she had loved the way his movements seemed so exact, so assured, never any extraneous motion, even when he had no idea anyone was looking. Every action he took had a purpose. Whether he was walking down the street, making a sandwich or washing his car it was all fluid, no hesitation.

Whenever they were far apart, fighting, arguments that went on for days, when they had barely spoken in weeks, she didn’t want to watch him. She didn’t want to admire his perfect execution of everyday activities. But sometimes she caught herself doing it in spite of herself, despite him.

After Ethan died she found herself watching him all the time, but now it was with rage, a silent wrath that she could feel bubbling in her chest the minute she saw him. Yet to give voice to it, to speak of it would be to offer him a chance to refute it, to defend himself from it. She wouldn’t do it. She would never give him that. She would rather watch him and hate him, blame him for his ability to go on.

There was one day, months after Ethan was buried, that she remembered thinking he might break after all, might lose it as she had done so many times. She’d started into the kitchen and noticed Graham was there, she hadn’t heard him come home from work. Kate hung back, staying in the doorway partially obscured by the Hoosier cabinet immediately on the right as you entered. Unless he turned around and took a few steps into the center of the room past the old pine farm table he wouldn’t know she was there. And even if he had, she just would pretend she was coming around the corner at that very moment.

Graham had all the ingredients for making a sandwich laid out on the counter in front of him, the mayonnaise, the bread, lettuce, tomato, and a package of cold cuts. She hadn’t been cooking and the gifts of food had stopped weeks ago. Graham hadn’t complained aloud, but she knew he was losing his patience; his silence always spoke volumes to her.

She watched as he took the serrated knife and thinly sliced the tomato, placing the sharply pointed knife at the back of the counter when he was done. Then he spread mayo on one slice of bread with a butter knife, placed the lettuce on it and then placed the butter knife in the sink; he was done with it. Next he went to open the package of ham…or was it bologna? Graham reached into the blue crock Kate kept on the counter that held the most often used objects, spatulas, tongs, wooden spoons, and kitchen shears. He took the scissors and cut open the package of cold cuts and then laid them on the counter.

Almost immediately, out of habit, he realized what he’d done and picked them back up – no sharp objects left within reach of Ethan, both of them were always so careful of that. It was easy to forget, to get distracted and leave a stray knife or fork too close to the edge of the counter where little hands could reach up for it. Once when he was barely two, Kate found a steak knife in the toy box, he must have taken it from the kitchen and managed not to impale himself with it, thankfully. After that they’d taught themselves to be vigilant, watchful, as all parents did as their toddlers explored more and more of their surroundings.

Graham picked up the scissors again out of that time ingrained habit and began to put them back into the crock, but stopped. He held them halfway, frozen in midair. Kate couldn’t see his face but she could tell by the angle of his head that he was staring at them. Slowly he put them back down on the counter. Then he slid them closer and closer towards the edge, slowly, till they were right at the very rim before falling on the floor. He reached for the serrated knife and placed it next to the scissors, also right at the counter’s edge, its blade hovering in space, only the heavier handle kept it from falling over the edge, kept it rooted to the counter’s surface. One by one he took all the sharp objects from the crock, the meat fork, the large bread knife, the sharp cheese grater, and lined them all up side-by-side at the edge of the counter.

Once done, Graham put his hands down at his sides and stepped back as if to survey his handiwork. Suddenly he turned away and walked quickly across the room, opened the back door and went outside, leaving his sandwich half made and all those implements of harm lined up at the edge of the counter, like weapons ready for impending battle.

Ethan wasn’t there. The scissors couldn’t hurt him; sharp things were no longer dangerous. There was no point in being careful anymore. It was just the two of them now.

Kate turned and went back upstairs. She went to Ethan’s room, where she slept now, and took a few more Valium. When she came back down in the morning everything was back in the crock, tidy and neat, as if nothing had happened. Everything was safely back in place again just the way it was.


La Belette Rouge said...

I am absolutely green with envy at how fantastic your 1000 words a day are. Mine are an unedited spew of ranting and nonsensical words that I wouldn't dare share with anyone. I am just amazed by your talent and discipline.

Kayleigh said...

La Bellete -- your comment meant so much to me; I can’t thank you enough. It’s in no small part due to Carolyn See’s book that I decided to try once again to write a novel…and I read that book in very large part due to you -- well, entirely because of you, actually, lol.

I can’t begin to tell you how flattered I am to receive a comment like this from a writer I admire so wholeheartedly. You totally made my day :) Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

La Belette Rouge said...

I am so happy that I inspired you to get Carolyn See's book and that you enjoyed it as much as I have.

You are so kind. And, I am telling me that I feel the same way every time I get one of your amazing comments from you.

I love your fashion blog but I love learning more about you and your writing. Thanks for sharing this!!!

Kayleigh said...

Thanks so much again :) And not only did you open the door by recommending that terrific book, but I've now got a small stack going of other books related to writing...each one gives me a new perspective -- as does reading wonderful writers like you!