YOUR WIFE, THE WIDOW
When you died, your wife held the word widow in her mouth as if it was a small bird. The points of it stuck sharp to her tongue. She paced the smooth hardwood floors that you had just waxed weeks prior, and only the rubber soled socks given to her at the hospital where your body crept towards a slow failure kept her from slipping on her ass. The word weighed itself against her jaw, her lips pinched as if it were about to escape. She snapped her teeth shut, but the frail body of language was still there, laying flattened against her palette, wanting to assign itself to her, clutch its body to her shoulder, tell her: this is where we are now.
You died, and your wife got big and then she got small, quickly, after you were gone; she ate until she couldn’t, and she starved until she nearly fell to pieces. You didn’t recognise her at either of these end points. The way her stomach folded over the waistband of her jeans was a stranger, but so too were the jagged bones in her knees. There was a place in the middle where you found her - in that tee shirt, that sundress, body rounded, curved, collarbones a small mountain range against her chest, where you laid down many drunken kisses and eyelashes and tears, pooled up against her, drowning yourself slowly in her man made lake.
She had lunch with your mother one weekend, months after the casket had been closed, who was still watery eyed, who was still bitter that the two of you hadn’t given her a grandchild before your demise. Your wife was gracious - somehow - and allowed your mothers grief to spill out onto the table, dampening the salmon and bread. You just don’t expect to bury your child, she panted over her glass of white wine. How lucky you will never experience that. Only you saw the bright flash in your wife’s pupil, the twitch of her angled eyebrow, as she contemplated whether spending the rest of her life in prison was worth never having to hear your mother talk. And only you saw her swallow it back, the bite and the burn and the decades long management of your mother’s small comments, which could turn fresh milk sour in a moment. Your wife was a saint, but maybe you only thought that now because you were dead.
Two years after you are gone, your wife brought a man to your house. He had a smear of pomade at his temple, sticky and white, little black hairs folded and curled underneath it. It was the middle of a crisp October, and you knew that this was the point in the calendar where your wife felt most alive: the long sweat of summer gone, she was like a bat with furious wings in the chilled air. This was when she plotted, when she dragged you around the Catskills on hikes, even made you go canoeing once.
But now she sat at the kitchen table, her back stiff, and drank coffee between slow nods as the man talked. And talked. And talked. His voice a droning melody, endless and vapid; where did he work, again? What did he do? Did she even care? You waited for her head to tip back, drool to trail from her mouth, and snores to take over his monologue. But she has always been a better person than you.
When he was ready to depart for the evening, he honed in on the softness of her lips as if the whole night had been leading up to tasting the inside of her mouth. Your wife turned her face from him, and his mouth caught the edge of her jaw. She paused for the smallest of moments, before stepping back, shutting the door on him. You both sighed in relief as the car pulled away.
The next man she brought home, eight months after the first, didn’t leave your house right away. Instead, he brought with him brown cardboard boxes, a foosball table, and a rat-like dog that nipped at your wife’s ankles when the man wasn't home. He drank beer every night, and your wife collected the bottles, dropped them off at the recycling center on Saturday’s. He owned one button up and numerous tee shirts that she was always soaking in Oxiclean and then scrubbing, trying to pull up grease stains. She hosted his poker nights, and let his slimy friends make jokes about her cooking.
She turned the guest room into Their Room and kept Your room locked up. You watched her reserve herself; the audacity of this man, to not free your caged wife, let her pulse her wings. He put her in a corner, said: this is who you are now, and she accepted it. She washed his socks. She mowed the lawn. She let her creamy green walls be decorated with cheap nautical paintings and posters from Bill Murray movies. The satin pumps she saved for nights out grew dusty in the back of the closet, and eventually she tossed them into a donation box. She grew bored, and the bald spot at the top of his head grew rounder, more shiny.
He went out of town for a weekend, five months after he moved in, and she unlocked Your room, crawled into Your bed, and took a four hour nap. She nursed her shoulder blades, wingless now; she woke up with a hunger and a vengeance, and she smelled your cologne still on pillows unwashed. When he came home, they had a long talk on the couch - his couch, dirty green and filled with decades old stuffing and the smell of stale beer - and he yelled, he paced, he tossed the dog outside, and he yelled some more. A week later, the only thing left in the house from him was the dog, who had taken to curling up against your wife’s ankles when she watched The Sopranos in the evening.
You watched the open wound of your wife’s grief pulsate, now six years after your body was put in a box. You watched her carry around your years together as she moved room by room, pulling down books from shelves, tying up linens, everything sorted into boxes of keep and donate. She clutched your box of pens from your desk and held them tightly in her fingers before placing them in the box that would not come to the next place with her. She held your collection of childhood comic books, your ties, your antique liquor bottles you had lined the window sill of your office with. All of them were homed in a new box, a new place, no longer this place, a place that didn’t belong to you nor her anymore. You were the dust she swept up with a smooth stroke, clinging to a damp towel; you became the particles in the air, fluttering between the separation of light through the window: you belonged to this place once.
Your wife sold your house, her house, emptied out the belly of it, the lumpy arm chair that was a wedding gift, and the endless cast iron skillets stacked in pantries, open mouthed circles of oil and residue left behind on the contact paper. She drove away, looked back once, allowing the memory of the place to trail behind the Uhaul like exhaust. You watched your widow unpack somewhere new, fill it with her own scent, her own photos, the dog you never met ricocheting its small body across the open newness of the place.
She went back to school, started painting, got another dog. Her body began its crawl toward middle age, figure still lithe and full at once, but the wrinkles around her eyes were crevices of a life lived. Your death began to turn over in her, scabbed and fraying, before hardening into a scar that was rough to the touch but no longer sore. Your small bird of a wife - now your widow - perched on the porch railing in the sun, feeling like some sort of free, finally, molting the heaviness of her loss; she collected the fallen feathers like miracles, tied in twine as an ode to memory. Your widow, the bird, this woman, the whole world unfolding in front of her, an open palm of the next thing.