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Kim Henderson

A Rising

 

     My wife is stuck in the ceiling.  Well, the ceiling of the living room, the floor of the upstairs bedroom.  She is half-risen, says she thinks she didn’t make it all the way to heaven because of a last-minute sin.  Something we did.

     I tried to get her out, had my moment of faithlessness and sawed at the floor, yanked her arms until she screamed.  It didn’t get me anything except a new nickname: heathen.

     I bring her three meals a day, plus snacks.  Once, I even brought Cabernet wine from Safeway, and we ate grapes and expensive cheese and I lay across pillows in my underwear—we were like Romans, just to see.  Maybe God wanted her to be prodigal.  We started messing around, doing the thing Pastor Luis forbid, the thing that might’ve gotten her stuck in the first place.  “This isn’t procreation,” she whispered.  I looked at the place where her belly came up through the floor.  “That isn’t really an option,” I said.

     The other day she asked me to oil her feet, said she wanted to feel like Jesus.  But I didn’t want to be stuck, too.  In the beginning it was sexy, that pair of legs flexing, kicking, itching to get out, waiting for no one but me.  These days, I usually stop at Arby’s, then glimpse her swollen gray feet and lug the bag of food upstairs, where I rush her through curly fries while she talks in tongues.

     But last night I was feeding her shreds of roast beef—one bite for each prayer, hymn, apology—and in the middle of babbling verses and zipping her tongue out for a treat, she dropped her arms and clamped her mouth shut.  Her eyes were big and full of white, like when somebody’s just realized they’re being followed. 

     “Come on, eat,” I said.  I dangled the meat and repeated my favorite line—“You are beautiful in His eyes.”  She shook her head and gazed into the dark hallway, then crashed to the floor.   I tried shaking her shoulders, yelling her name, reading her favorite bible passages.  I cooked bacon and eggs and waved the skillet in her face, promised to get her a new puppy or a kid or whatever it was she wanted.  Nothing.  So here I sit, trying to pour water down the throat of my catatonic wife.

     Maybe she’s undergoing trial, like Job, and I’m merely part of a grand master plan to put my wife to test.  Maybe she has some reward waiting around the corner, where all I have is loneliness.

     In the morning I pack a duffle bag, and after work I get a room at the Sheraton and drink from the mini-bar.  I don’t want to be part of someone else’s trial.  I watch a tittie flick and polish off the whole goddamn liquor cabinet.  The next morning and nearly three hundred dollars later, I drag myself home and the first thing I see is that set of legs squeezing through the ceiling like taut balloons.  The floor beneath her is sodden and her feet smell like old mushrooms—I don’t remember the last time I washed them.  I put newspaper down and pour a bottle of Febreeze over that, then fill a bowl with hot soapy water, find the softest washcloth, and clean her feet.  Her toes wiggle and point.  Finally, I massage oil into them, and the muscles in her calves relax like I haven’t seen since this started.

     Upstairs, she has clawed parts of the carpet bare.  Her fingertips are bloody, the nails ripped to the quick.  Her eyes are sharp with pain and fever, but she looks up at me and turns her hand over.  I kneel and squeeze it.  “You’re awake,” I say.  She stares at the floor, at the place where her stained nightgown disappears into the carpet, like she’s only just noticed. 

     “I didn’t bring this on you, did I?” I whisper.

     But she doesn’t answer. 

     I wash the pillowcases and set her upright, vacuum her shed hair, soak her torn hands, moisten her lips with Vaseline and blot with mine.  I run my fingers over the lumps of her spine, wondering what my wife did to deserve this.  Why her.  She could be stuck for giving in to my illicit desires, stuck because of me, but that act was so full of love I can’t imagine it pissing you off, God, not really.  I wrap us both in a heavy blanket.  “You are beautiful,” I whisper, kissing each of her torn fingers.  “You are beautiful in my eyes.”  A smile passes her lips.

     It storms inside our house.  Outside, the stars are bright and still as bullet holes, but in here we are soaking, and blown, and our teeth chatter to the beat of rain.  Her hair hangs in dripping plaits, and her lungs sound like a fork in a garbage disposal.  She sneezes blood and I curl around her and say, “You deserve to rise.”  She leans into my side and makes this little “guff” like usual before she cries, only this time there are no tears left to shed.  I touch her dry cheeks.  “It’s OK.”  I clasp my kneecaps and she is completely enveloped.  Her gasping slows, and the only warm spot on my body is where her feverish breath burns.

     When I wake, the storm has stilled, and my knees are curled against my chest, and my body is tucked partly into the hole where my wife once was.  The edges are worn smooth like rock in a creek bed.  Below, there is the living room, the crinkled newspapers, the Febreeze bottle on its side.  I bury my face in the carpet and it smells like she used to. 

     It is still dark out, and I roll over onto my back, squeezing into the hole like it’s a seat.  Through the break in the roof, frost sprinkles down on me.  The stars shimmer.  “Why would you shine at a time like this?” I ask.  One by one, they wink, until the whole sky has flickered.  I close my eyes and place my hands where hers used to go, right round my flimsy little ribs, and say, “I know.”

 

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