On Monday, I gather up each sound you left behind and stretch them out onto the kitchen table. Whack. Whack. Whack. The knife leaves long lines in the wood. I dice your early-morning whistles. I cut your chuckles into thin slices. I toast bread and spread it with your left-behind sounds, and I eat until the kitchen is hollow and quiet.
My father says “Don’t you want me to mail it to you?” and I say “Mail me what?” and he says “The casserole pot. We’re talking about the casserole pot, Eva.” I hang up the phone with him because I spot some of your sobs gathering in a pile near where your boots always rested. Janet came by yesterday to try them on, she’s also a 10.5 and they fit like gloves, so she took them. I squish the sobs into a ball and toss them into the soup.
Everyone blamed the simple sugars. Everyone blamed the cell phone radiation. Everyone blamed the charcoal on burnt marshmallows. On Tuesday, I clean the bathroom; you left it a disaster, so filled with your sounds that I pull on a winter hat to mute the noise. I gather all your pill-plus-water gulps that are collecting around the sink. I chase after a few chuckles hiding in the bathtub with a broom. I wipe your chokes and groans of frustration off the mirror, because you groaned every time you looked at your reflection, groaned and pulled back your thinning hair, poked the dark circles under your eyes. “I hope I’m dead before December,” you told the mirror, “from my lips to God’s ear.”
“Please don’t say that,” I told your reflection.
When you writhed in pain next to me at night, you might have been miles away.
On Wednesday, I venture into the backyard. I find your soft hums of Elizabeth Cotten songs near the tiger lilies that you planted last spring. I find your whistles lingering next to the unfinished pathway, another half-assed project of yours. A brick, a bucket of mortar, and a gaping hole left in the ground. With the handle of a broom, I poke at some of your shouts in the gutter of the roof, matted in piles of wet leaves. One shout when you ripped off the bandages around your hands to keep you from scratching your skin raw. Two when someone finished the olives you were saving for guests, one when I told you I didn’t think I wanted children. I find Saltines in the cupboard and eat your whistles, hollers, and hums for lunch.
That evening, I gather up each breath you left behind and line them up next to my pillow. Shallow gasps on the far right, moans of pleasure in the middle, deep-sleep sighs to the left. I pop one of your long moans into my mouth and let it dissolve under my tongue. When I drift off to sleep, I dream that someone is taking small pieces out of your body with a fork.
I drive to Goodwill to drop off your clothes on Thursday. Do you remember the time that you lost your grandmother’s shawl on a flight to Denver? You dragged me through three airports and two airlines until we found ourselves lost at the United cargo shipping facility at O’Hare. We sat in the parking lot outside the facility where pets go before boarding airplanes and you put your head between your knees.
“Dead before February, I hope,” you said, your voice muffled in your lap. “From my lips to God’s ear.”
I looked out at the planes rushing overhead and wondered how we had ended up here.
“You know that I’m dying, Eva, right?” You rolled down the window and screamed. “I am dying!” Your head rocked back and forth against the headrest. Your fingers curled around the sides of the seat. I find the heavy sounds of your head thumping against the dashboard when I clear out the car on Friday.
Everyone blamed the tiny cells, and the pills. Everyone blamed your hatred of calendars and Sharpies and making decisions. Everyone blamed my second part-time job at the bike shop and how I never came home in time for dinner. Everyone blamed your passive-aggressive bedtime comments, topped off with the click of the bedside lamp. Everyone blamed the fact that I moved onto the couch when you started tossing awake at night.
On Saturday, I put on a black dress and a rigid face and get into the car. My mother leans over and touches my face and asks if I ever got the casserole pot, my father puts a heavy hand on my shoulder, and Linda, your mother, clasps my hand against her cold, powdered cheek. Linda has the same large front teeth you did. She says “I just can’t believe it” and I say “Mm.” She says “She had a heart the size of Texas, didn’t she?” I say “Mmm,” and we all say “Mm” like a flock of hummingbirds, or a fleet of buzzing alarm clocks.
I walk toward the podium at your funeral and I feel your sounds churning in my stomach. I climb the steps of the stage and they climb up my esophagus. I clear my throat into the microphone and they spill into the back of my mouth. When I cough them up, all the sounds I gathered from the cabinets and the garden and the bedside table and ate for days, I imagine this is what you wanted. On stage, in front of the blank, bored eyes of everyone you ever knew, I sob, I whistle your favorite songs, I laugh, I moan so loud that your aunt covers your cousin Andrew’s ears.
From my mouth, a tidal wave of your sounds washes over everyone you ever touched or loved or breathed the same air with: Carlos your ex-lover from college, Fran from the laundromat, Janet the next-door neighbor, and Sean, he was there too—all of them gasping for air in this tiny room filled with you. When I cough up all the sounds you left behind onto the stage of your funeral, I think about the speech I was planning to give, the cute anecdote about the first time I met your parents, when you squished a raw shrimp into the palm of my hand as your father bowed his head to say grace.
I push out the back door of the building into the cool air, glancing at the sign marked “No Exit” as it swings shut behind me. My father catches me by the arm a minute later, and he is asking if I’m okay, touching my face, reaching for his phone with his other hand. “Eva? Eva, what was that? What’s going on?”
“I’m just getting it all out,” I tell him. One of your hums slips out between my teeth.
“Eva, you were screaming on the stage of her funeral.”
“Mm,” I say and cough up another one of your laughs.
“You’re making everyone very worried. Not right now, Eva, people can’t handle this right now.”
Have you seen how dry and brown your tiger lilies have become? Everyone blamed that hose we never fixed. Everyone blamed the pills. The tiny cells. Everyone blamed the way you hated small talk, and wet sponges left in the sink, and analog clocks. When you were dead before February, just like you promised, everyone blamed the cell phone radiation. Everyone blamed the nights we rolled over to the opposite sides of the bed in silence.
I walk several blocks to the lakefront. At the water’s edge, in the glowing lights of Chicago, I laugh until it hurts. I laugh, chuckle, and whistle Elizabeth Cotten songs until every sound of yours has left my body and I am so empty that the lake’s currents could carry me out, floating until sunrise or the shores of Michigan, whichever comes first.
-Alexandra Griffin, class of 2018