On Dying, by Annie Lowenthal

The girl at my bedside gestures to the photos on the wall – my mother, posed by the photographer, her head tilted to the side. A smile spreads the apples of her cheeks.

It’s your wife, she corrects me, shaking her head, her eyebrows furrowed together. Her hands flutter in her lap.

I think of my wife in her makeshift garden in Brooklyn, holding plump tomatoes in her calloused hands. She’s freckled, her head thrown back in laughter, but as she gestures to me her edges have blurred. She’s a ghost in the sunlight, fading with each blink. I think of the child we bury together in the garden that summer. She places a cross fashioned from popsicle sticks on the dirt grave.

I think I’ve said this aloud but the girl is still frowning, lifting her hands to swipe at my face with a tissue.

On New Year’s Eve they place my chair by the fire. I watch the embers die in bursts of light and I cry for them. Smoke burns my eyes until they pull me away, knives in my armpits, my hands still reaching toward the flames. I cannot revive them
    death knocks at our door.

I paint two popsicle sticks and glue them together in the shape of a cross. When I present them to the girl, she tells me, you were a pastor, as if I’ve forgotten. I tell her that life is a game, but she hasn’t heard me. Applesauce drips from my chin.

I think of my mother, her hand soft against my forehead at nightfall. My father’s hands around her neck, a belt against my backside. My sister’s hand holding mine beneath the stained-wood table. A Bible opened to Psalms. I do not feel certain this is factual, but I cling to it.

We long for even the vicissitudes of life as it escapes us, I think.

But I gesture to the plants at my window, their leaves sloping to the floor. This is my room, I tell the girl. My wife wanted a child.

She holds my hand; hers is small, white. Her eyes are wide with fear.

My breath retreats, slow and labored, paying homage
    to that which I will leave behind.

 

Published 26th of November 2019

 

About Annie Lowenthal

Annie Lowenthal is a legal writer in the Philadelphia area. She is a graduate student of English at West Chester University of Pennsylvania with a focus in Writing. Her work can be found in The Bangalore Review.

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