I remember reading once that on receiving news of a death, one of the Presidents just held onto the receiver of the Oval Office phone for a long time, not hanging it up. It was like that. Eons of the even, deep tone on the other end. The softening of the blue glow from the cell-phone face. The sound broken off at some point by the whirling, pummeling edge of sleep. I awoke to the mustard-yellow flowers, cupping turquoise circles on the quilt. And then, the smothering descent of my memory.
Medium blue pulmonary, slipping down the page before me like a river. I followed it, eyes feeling the page for a cluster of arteries that marked highway nine. Another three hours, at least. I had already asked him if his Grandad’s funeral in
I closed my eyes on the dusty heat, pressing the map against my chest, pretending that the map’s lines were mine, veins and arteries pulled to the surface like shipwrecks, held by a web of cranes. This time last year I was in
That’s how I learned about jigai. Laura had bought an illustrated history of
Ritual suicide, the book had called it. Women were given the twin attributes of being unable to bear pain (Laura and I had sniggered at that.) and being prone to solitude. They were expected, unlike the men who partnered to flay one another at the stomach, to use a six-inch knife to undo the jugular vein in themselves. This method—jigai—provided minimum disfiguration to the pallor and grace of the aristocrats, and saved them from dishonor in the form of rape by a conquering army.
When my eyes opened again, we were pulling off the interstate.
“Where are we?”
“Oh, about to
I sat up, wiping under my eyes and stretching the skin to the corners, pulling my pointer finger back to observe the black smudges of mascara.
“You want anything, baby? A coke or something?”
“Yeah, a coke’s fine.” I felt my limbs were heavy, and doubted I’d drink anything. Already, I felt the bile rising again. I thought about a lecture I’d been to on the morose melancholy of the Romantics, and tuberculosis. 160 miles to Winnsboro.
I imagined Grandpa, with his pleated pants, staggering out to the brick walk; I could see the dappled sunshine in his drive, the way it would layer over the sunspots and age-spots folded into his face over the years. Last time I was there, he had made a diagram, taping her medicines to a piece of foamboard, with labels…Zoloft, Diatrepamin, Seratraline, Chloranopam…pink, white, gel, powdery, indented or carved with tiny characters, they stuck on like pinned insects. (To the right, in parenthesis, the number of times daily they must be swallowed.) He’d started turning her plate, so she’d notice all her food, and had taken her white Chrysler away by then.
How could I go bravely into that dark night now? She used no knife, just the pink ceramic bathtub put in by his first wife, and too many pills. If I must go like that, I will tie down my thighs to my shins and face away from the door first. I wouldn’t want to be found wearing the contorted mask of death.