On Absence and Black Flies

Written By: Julia Lee

I am sitting in your chair. You are not in it. It’s three in the afternoon, I’ve spent the past few hours trying to decide the most effective way to live them, I did superficially productive things, I am sitting in your chair and you are not in it. When I first realized how often I was speaking to you, introducing words into the air (formless things seeking formless thing), I thought I should write a letter. I wrote you when you were still a form, and it helped both of us, I think. Meagan said you used to exchange love letters. She remembers one got stuck behind the mantle, asked I scrounge around for it if I could. Mom unfolded one you wrote her, too. If you could scratch something down for me sometime, send it my way through sand or jagged cloud, I promise to notice. They say you’re watching over us like it’s a daily thing, amorphous surveillance. Please, don’t. You wouldn’t like how I’ve been treating myself lately: whiskeyed mornings, a tattooed shoulder blade, dirt-veined fingers, a belly of peanut butter and doubt. I cut off all my hair the week you died, and forgot to make deer-spray for your garden. They ate the hostas. You knew they would, but I forgot. You forgot some things too, or rather, refused to acknowledge their existence. For example, you were dying and you were the last one to notice. I’ve uncoiled my syntax for you. Did you notice that? I’ve acknowledged that being nifty with language is not the same as communicating. And I’m trying to communicate, so I dice with commas and shirk adverbs, and uncoil syntax. Can you hear me? You’re welcome. I want to tell you something: when I was younger and we took walks along Indian Wells, padding the lip of ocean between water and pebbly debris, I crushed shells. I never told you, but I was the Shell Crusher. It’s funny now, to sort through the decades of beach remnants puddled throughout your house and remember my days as a toe-thwomping, calcium-cracking shell crusher. You bent to inspect a softened triangle (frosty glass or briny plastic?) whilst I, ardent eyes tunneled down ahead our tanned feet, calculated the path of maximum destruction. The daintier the shell the more readily satisfied the wad of flesh immediately beneath the toes (that callused clod, my primary shell-crunching instrument). Often the route would zig or zag me into your solid side. You would nudge back, assuming clumsiness, though I assure you it was not I, but the fated path, an occupational hazard. I kept my violent habit a secret, but if you felt how right it felt you’d understand. I am back in your chair, several days later, this time bearing sand. You would have loved the water today, how it sat deep at the shoreline, panned out wide and shallow a few yards in, then broke clean silver over the sandbar for idyllic bodysurfing. One of those days the ocean was asking you to wear it. How grateful I am for your, amongst other things, engagement in our engagement with our bodies. Grateful for play and your insistence upon it. This place is a playground, after all, and you perhaps the biggest child. By the way, your ring, that sterling squiggle Jan brought back from Indonesia, fits my left index finger perfectly. This sand’s shined it up something sassy, too. That adjective was out of character, but then again so was your unabashed adoration for Natalie Imbruglia, and a trough of other melancholy ladies soft rock artists of the 90’s. Liam and I call it dad music; we celebrate it recklessly. For example, the two of us got drunk together last weekend at the Talk House and at some point your favorite Police song came on. Liam grabbed my shoulder, threw his loosened head back towards the night and we howled “every little thing she does is magic” in the middle of the sardined bar. Cheers to dad music and maudlin manifestations of all colors of quiet wretched emotions. I am sitting cross-legged on my carpet. I would be in your chair, but it is currently smothered by clear plastic, along with your bean-shaped glass desk and iMac and clip boards sliced with your sharpied scrawl. The painters have been there since Tuesday. Remember George, the same guy that painted the house the first time around? We borrowed a scaffold to reach the crackling off bits on the beams, to scour the greasy ash residue from the ceiling fan and make the once greenish great room greater with layers of off white. We’re repainting and cleaning your house to make it rentable. I don’t want to talk about it, other than to say, when you were there it was a living extension of your self, but when you died we couldn’t bear to let it live without you. It began to shrivel as you were shriveling, anyway, forces funneled into the tumor. You moved less and it gathered centuries of dust in the yellow weeks of your decline. Earlier today when Mom came home from work she mentioned, in passing, the black flies, and I remembered the North Wind. You always knew that one signified the other, but I drove to the ocean in Liam’s Toyota despite the warning and found them for myself. Three seconds on the towel and a nip to the forearm. Rolled to my side and peeped a swarm around the ankles. The North Wind pushes them off the dunes, you swaggered. On North Wind days you rarely packed the cooler, neither roast pork and brie sandwiches, nor juggling balls, orange juice and sprite aluminum thermos, the wind-up radio. But I went today anyway and read, endured them instead, standing up against the sun calf-deep in water in arbitrary stroll to avoid their winged sting. I am not sitting in your chair, but you wouldn’t be in it anyway. And the next time I do, I will not think of cancer or what bubbled up on your shoulder. I will not remember you with cane, but with ax or mitt or sweat-sopped brow atop your bicycle. Next week Liam and I will bring the shells you collected back down to the ocean and toss them into the break. And I will recall my days as the Shell Crusher, and Liam his as what he will, and they will be returned to the churn, as your dust was down to Maidstone. And our salt will find yours along the bottom.