By H. R. Gibs
I am sitting at the kitchen table and the ghost who lives upstairs throws a bucket of water out the window. Back when God told us the myth about bringing us into the world alone, he failed to consider memory.
The world is born from your mother and the first sound it makes is her downstairs in the kitchen. I don’t need to tell you what that sound is like, you can already hear it. The clink of a mug on the countertop. The rain stick run of cereal into a bowl. The louder bash of a pan being put back into the drawer.
Alone is an aspiration, the reach for an untouchable lie. When you are alone in the supermarket, you stand side by side with a stranger, brushing hands in two isolated attempts to grab the same bag of spinach. Alone, you exchange pleasantries to the night shift cashier. She knows the truth; that this pre-packaged loneliness is far too loud and far too bright to be mistaken for solitude.
Being alone in your room is still the sound of your mother. You can hear her now, padding up the stairs to turn on the hallway light at the exact moment it becomes too dark to see without it. Without such a sturdy soundboard to send ideas backwards into the night-sphere nothing can mean anything.
Alone, you stand above her. The plot on the hill is too quiet. The hush of a million billion blades of fine-tuned grass lean in to listen. The longer you last, the more you hear her voice in your head, mingled with your own. There she is, in your acting on a sudden desire to steam the dirt from the kitchen floor or in the angry weeping at the sight of a littered countertop. There are never enough forks or teaspoons.
Your name in print is lost to a crossword sea of newspaper letters. The well-trodden road is full of strangers reciting the same lines. It is the opposite of being alone.
I am here, on my belly, wrestling with a root of ivy and I have never felt more present in my life. It takes every ounce of me to dredge the plant up out of the earth. The space left behind looks bigger the further away I am. It is a magic trick.
When I come back outside after getting a glass of water, the bald spot under the hedge has spread so I no longer recognise my garden. I repeat this careful rhythm in small portions as the weeks get warmer. My belly spends this time flush against the stone in the yard as I yank intruders from the soil.
Back inside, I watch from the window over the sink as the birds arrive. I do the hard work for them, churning and sifting up the nutrients of old soil. The blackbirds fill their stomachs. In the mirror I see my own belly in pink light. Protruding a rounded slope over the waistband of my trousers. It is soft and disappointing. It sculpts itself outwards. It disregards the calculation that values it most in concave negation. Outside the birds feed on their equivalent of pasta and wine.
At night the window over the sink is a reflection. I don’t bother to switch on the big light as I open the fridge. Its glow is enough guidance for my hand which reaches for leftover eggs and cheese. My feet sound like wet slaps against the titles. Through the window the night birds watch as I eat until I am no longer hungry.
Setting the table using placemats, lays a border of where things are meant to be. This is the grace line where spillage is allowed. You’ll have to forgive me for the refugee crumbs which spray across the dinner table when I laugh at your jokes.
Sometimes I want to shrink down small enough that our placemats feel whole kilometres long. I want to become so small that if I leave one here in the sun the space underneath it will remain like a sentinel and collect all those men who can’t take the heat. We grew up with invisible lines running all over this city. This would not be much different.
If I was small a year would feel long again. I might be able to forget all the times we ate without the placemats on the sofa. Have you counted how many glasses I have broken in the time you have known me? A place to rest without disruption. Boundaries. I’ll race you up the table legs and see how the lines have shifted since we last looked.
Lately we keep using the good plates. We eat at the kitchen table and discuss our day. The washing machine has started to smell funny.
Now I am spilling less, and we don’t need the placemats in the way we used to. We keep them for special occasions. It is all a matter of show. Their outline is scorched onto the tabletop and onto my mind’s eye, marking where it’s safe to be and where it’s not. Good is better than perfect. You’ll have to forgive me when I knock over the soy sauce with my elbow.