The Stages of Grief: A Guide
Kids snug in bed, you will meet him at the Chevron, your dead lover. You have walked two miles in heeled boots and darkness. You want to suffer. To feel, finally, something. He is waiting at the wheel, smoking a joint. A sweet smell shudders from the muffler on the long black DeVille. The jerrican is thirsty for cheap unleaded. A box in the back plays a twisted blue cover of the Supremes’ “Come See About Me.” You make off for Sepulveda Pass, feel his heat, slide close on the red leather seat. Skirball exit. Gas. Match. Breaking News calls it apocalyptic: 422 brilliant amber and citrine acres, the mansions of Bel Air in flames; at the Getty, medieval illuminated manuscripts, irreplaceable icons of faith, and van Gogh’s Irises just barely saved; schools shut down for two days. You will wake up hungry for the first time in weeks.
When your bereavement leave is up, go home for lunch every day to play piano. An urn sits in a brass box on the lid. One day you will play Chopin’s “Funeral March” and smell him, your beloved, clean-shaven, anise and sidewalk after rain. In your left hand, repeated lenten B-flat and G-flat chords are the sweaty interior of worn black leather shoes, pacing. Melodic grace notes in the right hand are a citrus candy bouquet of wildflowers held behind his back. As the music progresses to a calming lullaby, you inhale the soft, wet coat of your childhood dog, the shampoo and stink after her bath, breath like marrow and chicken neck. A meadow opens. Fresh grass crisp sky. When the dirge arrives again, slowly, the two will slip away, leaving a heavy scent. Dark velvet roses.
Well-meaning people will say the word “closure.” You close the door, step into the closet, breathe in the salty inner collar of your beloved’s coat, searching the pockets for secret messages. Your sister places his clothes in a banker’s box near the door. Your therapist says your love needs somewhere to go. Her words blow in one of those fierce Santa Ana winds, knocking off last year’s leaves, awakening the apartment, which grows stilts, crosses over the 405, and sets down in a bare lot in West Los Angeles. An aging man spends his days walking your street, speaking in a golden language that piques and salves like ginger and turmeric and warm milk. When the rains come, give him the coat, the shirts. He will pace the sidewalk in worn black leather shoes at midnight, singing your name.
Linear time will be replaced by space and the solid continuity of things: the blue velvet chair,
its mahogany armrests shiny and smooth like the knees of your beloved’s favorite trousers. Time is a watch whose battery has stopped. The measurement of a wrist, not the measurement
of a day. Circular time began when Hera batted away baby Hercules from her breast. The milk’s spray a band of frozen time in dark sky. “Galaxios,” from the Greek word for milk. The beginning of a cycle of desire and its denial. The world passes by in its silly progression. Time circles the system, which is flat like a pancake. There is no progress now. Time moves around you in constellations, so far away it cannot touch you. In this realm of no-time, you will find
an unexpected freedom. Within it, air to breathe.
5. The Doppelgänger
From the window, a picture of morning gray greets you with its list of tasks. Dress, brush, wake the kids. In the kitchen, the surprise of last night’s dishes, residue of wine and drowning ants, and on the cold tile floor the other you, wrapped in pale yellow bathrobe, heart held to chest like a delicate animal. The you that is you rolls her eyes, chops up cucumbers and carrots for the kids’ lunches, smearing Nutella on a croissant for one, onigiri and small sausages cut in the shape of octopuses for the other. Lipstick and heels, backpacks and sneakers. One by one, each steps gently over the other you that is you, the one who sleeps at the threshold, still waiting for whispers from the beloved to come in from the crack under the door. Under the eaves, a house finch lines its nest with dull feathers. Along the garden path, red tulips raise their fists to the sky.
Kim Curts Mattheussens studied German and English literature at Ball State University, the Katholische Universität Eichstätt, and Westfälische-Wilhelms Universität Münster, and creative writing at the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University. She is an alum of the DISQUIET International Literary Program in Lisbon. Her work is published or forthcoming in the Athena Review, Punt Volat, Southword Literary Journal, and the Common, among others. She lives in Los Angeles.
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