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Authors: Brooke Davis

Lost & Found (9 page)

BOOK: Lost & Found
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Women were funny, he knew. Not hilarious, but strange and unpredictable. They saw every possible implication of a word, like a prism refracting the light, making too many patterns on the wall. He had learned from an early age to say little and pretend he was slow. When you don’t say much, Karl discovered, women assume you’re deep and mysterious; they don’t, for whatever reason, assume you’re stupid.

Her dress was a dull white, and there were no patterns on it, like the reams of paper he threaded through the typewriters, day in, day out. The wedding ring he gave her was customized, a plain silver band with an ampersand typewriter key attached to it in place of a stone. Later that night, as he removed her dress in the glow of moonlight and lay it on the bed as though it were her, he typed on the fabric,
I am so glad I met you, Evie
. But he didn’t type like he was warring with the fabric, or
throwing punches. He typed delicately, as if he were typing into liquid and trying not to make any splashes.

And when he typed,
I am here, Evie
, across her collarbone, so softly he was barely touching her, she put her lips on his ear and whispered,
Me too.

love

In their life together, Karl and Evie didn’t go anywhere, ever. They were each other’s foreign countries.

Only unhappy people leave home
, Evie declared.

And we don’t need to leave
, he said, typing on her forearm.

Yes
, she said, resting her forehead on his chin.
We don’t need to leave.

They lived such a small life. Trees and flowers and ocean and neighbors. They never scaled mountains, or braved rapids, or went on telly. They never ate strange animals in Asian countries. They never starved themselves or set themselves on fire for the greater good. They never delivered a rousing speech, sang in a musical, or fought in a boxing ring. Their names wouldn’t be in textbooks for children, their faces wouldn’t be on banknotes. They would not get their own statue. And when they died, their names would disappear like their last breath, a curiosity for cemetery-goers and nothing more.

But they had loved. They grew plants, drank tea in the
afternoon light, waved at neighbors. They watched
Sale of the Century
every night and, together, were reasonably accomplished at it. They exchanged Christmas gifts with their butcher, their fruiterer, and their baker. Karl gave an old typewriter to the young highly literate boy working at the newsagent. Evie made mittens for the girls working the morning shift at the supermarket. Karl was a guest in the local grade-six class, talking about the history of their town. Evie was a guest in the local year-seven class, demonstrating how to make a pavlova. Karl fiddled about in his shed. Evie fiddled about in the kitchen. They went for looping walks in the morning and evening, through local bush land, through the town, along the shoreline. Their life was a twenty-kilometer radius around their house.

death

He remembers not being able to talk to her as she lay there at the mercy of machinery and starchy sheets. His words in the air, without hers, were horrifying. She was sleeping, she was always sleeping. She would open her eyes occasionally, but they reeled like a newborn’s.

So he had stood up and pulled back the sheet that had been so tightly enclosed around her, as though someone wanted to trap her there, pin her to this bed like a specimen of the Almost Dead. He rested his hands on her arm, just bone really, nothing
much more, and he typed, softer than breath,
I am here Evie
, and then walked around to the other side of the bed, and rested his palms on her other arm, and her skin was not her skin, there were bruises up this arm, so purple, with such definite edges, like maps of little-known countries, and he thought,
You are my foreign country
, but he typed,
I am here Evie
, and then he lifted up her hospital gown to just above her knees, and her thighs were just nothing, they were just nothing, and he rested his open palms on one, and felt so much nothingness, and he was crying now, he couldn’t help it, he was so weak, he was so weak, there was just so much nothingness, and he thought about making nothing into something, and he typed with force and flair this time, watching his fingers, the way they moved on her skin, he so desperately wanted her to feel the beauty of what his fingers were doing, and he typed,
I am here Evie I am here Evie I am here Evie
, over and over again, all the way down her thigh, over her knee, down her shin, like a line of ants marching down her leg, and he leaned over the bed and typed down her other leg,
I am here Evie
, and then moved to the bottom of the bed, and held her feet, her very, very cold feet, in his fists, as small children hold crayons, and he was holding them so hard, as hard as he’d ever held anything, but she didn’t move, she didn’t notice, she didn’t even stir.

I am here Evie

I am here Evie

I am here Evie

sadness

In the days following Evie’s death, Karl whispered the words
My wife’s dead
in the mirror, preparing for some sort of audience. He pictured the woman from the post office, the next-door neighbor, his brother. He loved the feel of their imagined discomfort. The power it gave him. It somehow made all that had happened worthwhile, as though he had gained some sort of secret power through the death of his wife.

He slept in their wardrobe, looking up at her clothes like he was gazing at the stars. They hung over him like apparitions, the lack of her so obvious in the thinness of these clothes. It felt as though he were lying under a guillotine; long, thin strands of cloth that would surely kill him, somehow.

He dreamed of her, of course he did, and woke up thinking,
That is the only time I’ll see her now.
He stood up in the darkness and leaned into her clothes, with his arms out like he was flying. Her clothes were so cold.

He had remembered, every morning, since she died. Woken up, and the shock of remembering. He didn’t want to sleep anymore, because he didn’t want to forget, because the remembering was harder. It was so physical.

He sat on the toilet seat and stared at her bathroom things. The things she once spread on her skin or sprayed in the air or massaged into her hair. He brought the big saucepan in from the kitchen. He emptied all of her bottles into it. Her perfumes,
moisturizers, hand creams, body balms, pill bottles. He mixed them together with his hands. The smell was awful, like something out of a department store. But the feeling between his fingers thrilled him.

He dug his hands in, deep, up to his elbows, mixed all her creams and smells together. Her empty bottles were strewn all over the bathroom tiles like carcasses. He squelched his hands together, making fart sounds. He did it over and over again, and let the brown mixture spurt out of the pan and onto the mirror, onto his face, onto the walls. He picked up the pan and sat it on their bed.

My bed
, he thought.

He hovered his hand over her pillow, as though he could draw her out from the bed with his hand magnets. Light-brown goo dripped on the pillowcase. He took his clothes off and threw them on the ground. He hoisted himself up on the bed, and stood, teetering a little on the mattress, careful not to bump his head on the overhead light. He lifted the pan up to his belly. Breathed in. Closed his eyes. His mouth. And then raised the pan higher and poured the entire contents onto his head. He gasped. It felt like he’d jumped into a river in the depths of winter. He opened his eyes. The goo ran down his face and neck, and he shivered. He threw the pan against the wall, and it made a satisfying crash.

His son had found him hours later in the backyard, lying on his back on the concrete, basking in the sun. Completely naked
except for dollops of brown goo all over his body. Hardening like a crust on his skin.

After dinner on his first night at the nursing home, he sat in the TV room with some of the other guests and watched
That Was Wack!
—a movie set in an American high school. He’d never seen an exclamation mark in a movie title before, and the title didn’t make any sense to him, but he certainly found the film compelling. The main character was a young man named Branson Spike. He was not conventionally handsome; however, once you looked at him for long enough, you found a sweetness to the way he behaved that wasn’t offensive—that was, in fact, endearing. Branson Spike didn’t understand the way his peers behaved or his position in the world, but he tried and this seemed to be the point. Life in
That Was Wack!
was pool parties and midterms and how Veronica believed you fared on Vee’s Body Aptitudinal Test, where the body parts of fellow students were scrutinized in agonizing detail and marked—often ungraciously—out of ten. Branson Spike just wanted to fit in, just wanted to find a girl, just wanted to be cool enough. Just wanted. With hilarious and sometimes regrettable results.

During an ad break, Karl looked around him. The room smelled of cleaning products and vomit. A woman sat in an armchair doing her knitting, which was a reasonable and comforting-enough scenario had she been one of those soft, rounded women
with pink cheeks, a gaggle of grandchildren at her feet to knit for, a sparkle in her eye, some scones in the oven. But she seemed to Karl to be knitting her own umbilical cord to the living; knitting so she wouldn’t die. She looked at the television blankly, hunched over the tangled mess of knitting like an animal crouched at a river.

The man seated next to him on the couch made a gurgling sound in his throat every few minutes. He turned to Karl and stared. There had been an attempt to shave his face, but it wasn’t a very good one. Clean, tight stubble was interspersed with surprising spikes of hair.

Gurgle
, the man said.

Indeed
, Karl said.

Two other men were seated at a nearby table attempting to play cards. One of them had fallen asleep in his chair, his head lolling back. The other one hadn’t noticed, or didn’t care, and shifted cards around in his hands, mumbling listlessly to himself.

Karl turned back to the television. An ad for a footy game, a reality-television show, face cream, cream cheese, a fast-food restaurant. United in their central message: You are not enough.

It all made Karl feel small, heavy, colorless.

Who were you?
he thought, looking at the knitter, the gurgler, the card sharks.
Weren’t you someone once?
He felt a vortex of past tense sucking him in.

He avoided eye contact. He didn’t introduce himself. He
didn’t want to make friends. He felt as far away from them as he did from the young Americans on the telly.

And yet, as Karl watched the exploits of Branson Spike and his peers thrillingly unfold, he felt an overwhelming closeness to the boy. As Branson Spike pined after Veronica Hodges, the most popular girl in school, Karl felt his body tensing. He found himself unable to relax. He so desperately wanted Branson Spike to be loved.

He could see that hope in Branson Spike’s eyes. That hope for the one woman. Karl knew that all it took was one, just one, who you could grab on to like a buoy in the sea, who could help you float, stop you from drowning. You were still in the sea, but it didn’t matter, because you could hold her, lie on your back and float, look up at the sky and marvel at the things you may have missed. The day, the night, the clouds, the stars, the feeling of the ocean lapping beneath you. And he thought,
C’mon, Branson Spike
.

The beautiful Veronica Hodges was not that woman, as it turned out. Turned out the woman was his best friend, Joan Peters, who had been there all along. Cute, mousy, reliable. There. And Karl had found Evie, and Branson Spike had found Joan Peters.

But what would happen to Branson Spike when she left him? For a job offer, for someone else, to die? What happened to Karl? As the credits rolled, he caught his reflection in the black of the television screen.

What will happen to Karl?
he thought.

Later, Karl sat upright in his bed in the darkness. The lights had been turned off hours ago, but he couldn’t bring himself to lie down. He felt like if he did he would never wake up, or that he would become one of them. There seemed a depressing choreography to the smacking lips and whistling noses and rasping breaths that surrounded him. He thought,
I don’t matter anymore.

And then, with stinging clarity,
Have I ever mattered?

He had become blank, but there was not the expectation of something blank, like a page or a canvas; there was not the hope and fear and wonder that blankness can sometimes create. There was just nothing. In the world of punctuation, he might have been a dash—floating, in between, not necessarily required.

Karl wanted to feel again. He wanted to walk onto a crowded bus and make eye contact with a woman with brown hair, blond hair, blue hair—just hair would be enough—and feel that flip in his stomach, that nice hurt. He wanted to laugh loudly, to lean over his knees with it, to throw grapes at someone, to sit in a mud puddle, to yell things, any-things, it didn’t matter. He wanted to pull down a woman’s skirt, to sit on the bonnet of a moving car, to wear shorts, to eat with his mouth open. He wanted to write love letters to women, tons of them. He wanted to see some lesbians. He wanted to swear loudly. In public. He wanted an unattainable woman to break his heart.
He wanted a foreigner to touch him on the arm. Man or woman, it didn’t matter. He wanted biceps. He wanted to give someone something big. Not meaningful, just huge. He wanted to jump and try to touch something way out of his reach. He wanted to pick a flower, to pick his nose. He wanted to hit something. Really, very hard. And he thought,
When did I stop doing things and start remembering them instead?

BOOK: Lost & Found
2.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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