Ash on My Tongue

When on Saturday that man walks into the small hall of people where I am standing, sees me, says nothing, and walks away, after all those months of silence, I expect it to somehow hurt less than it does. What, after all, is one more day of it in the grand scheme of things? And I want to recall only that strange reverberation I feel when my head lies on a different man’s chest while he is laughing, not silence anyways, only how the sound of that laughter vibrates up through my jaw and into my ear, the sound too of a man’s breathing when he falls asleep with me pillowed there, the sound of my shoes on a concrete sidewalk in moonlight or the calling of morning birds, rain on windowpanes, scuttle of uncovered leaves across driveways, even that sound of overhead fans or steady typing on keys, recall only those sounds that mean I am safe. Not those of someone’s footsteps, departing.

A day later on a drive home, the boy and I watch plumes of smoke rise around prescribed fires burning far off in fields, so much smoke we can taste it in the air, and when the boy wants to know why men are burning things, I tell him sometimes you have to get rid of what is dead to make room for new things to grow, and I do not think I am talking then just about dead shrubs or sticks or grass or whatever else has in these fields failed, and sometimes, I say to him, fire is just the fastest way, the cleanest of all breaks, only ash left. And I think of myself in that room the previous night like the way I might some rabbit that runs from a thicket in advance of those men in the fields with their fire, its startled heart thumping in its chest. Burn it all, I think. After all, I’ve enough ash to last me a lifetime already, kept in small containers in small drawers, the small pieces a body makes when you let it go the same way the men do those stalks in that field, suddenly, so suddenly. What difference is one day more of his silence? I know its taste already, familiar, no longer choke on it when breathing.

The day after I watch those fires I sleep better than I have in weeks, the nightmare I kept having, the one of him, finally gone. And while I lay there in that wide bed with the fan steadily spinning overhead, I hold my hands to my own chest, feel it, my heart. Feel its steady and even beating, not rabbit-like at all.

Because what difference is one day more of this silence? I know its taste already, familiar.

Like ash on my tongue.


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