I’m currently enrolled in a Conceptual & Experimental Fiction class and I’m reading the strangest of fiction, one that is challenging my conventional approach to writing and opening me up to new and imagined worlds.
After reading “Mud” by Geoffrey Forsyth, I attempted to create an imitation. I can’t say how close or far I am walking these lines of conceptual writing, but I like this because it’s different from anything I’ve written.
This is our first time—our anniversary dinner in sixteen years. When I say I’ve been waiting for this moment, I don’t mean I’ve been sitting at the gate like most people do around here, counting weeks and months off their fingers and toes, in eager anticipation for death to snatch their loved ones so they can be less lonesome. Well, perhaps I have been a little impatient and there have been days I wanted Joyce to get her sooner, to leave the earth painlessly and make it to this side, right next to me.
And this is the day.
She’s wearing some kind of a purple halter dress. Her hair could use some shine, but she is still the most beautiful woman I know. I walk towards her to touch her, to feel the softness of new skin in my palm, to hold my woman in my arms like a prize. I know people are watching; I told them all about Joyce—how her eyes gleam, how she walks as though her feet do not touch the ground, voice so silvery you never want her to stop talking. When I see her finally settle her eyes on me, I try to hold my head high and not come falling apart. My love for her, even in death, has been free running – a river of abundance; I am so bloated with affection I fear I will burst at the seams. We have what my mother called the wildflower love: a devotion that bloomed in all seasons, a vibrant and delightful spring that was almost impossible to miss. But when I look at her now, there is not a hint of joy. It is almost puzzling, as if I am not who she is expecting, or even worse, that she has no recollection of who I am, of what we were.
“My love, what’s the problem? Are you not happy to see me?” I say this as I walk carefully toward her, afraid she might retreat in fear and embarrass me.
I had dreamt about this moment—how she would leap into my arms, kiss me all over the face, her hand in my hair. I suspected she would cry with joy, some overwhelming gesture to make the moment even more special, to give these folks the performance they needed in a sullen place like this. But this arrival is nothing like I imagined.
“I’m sorry,” she says, “I left everyone I love back home. This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
She sits down in the chair I’ve pulled for her and pokes at the daisies I gathered at the center of the table. I have set down freshly baked wheat bread and peach juice. There are bowls of roasted groundnut and pineapple cut in the shape of hearts. When we met in college, all we did was leave meals at the door and feed each other. A belly language, hunger-easing, mouthful kind of love.
But at the table, she won’t even look at me. What does she mean everyone she loves? Who cares about our parents and what little time they have on earth? I left them too.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen?” I move around to my seat, mindful to keep my tone down so people do not hear my disappointment and growing irritation.
“Joyce, we haven’t seen each other in ten years. I missed you. How can you not want this?” I am losing patience; I sound like a child. “How is this not better than being a grieving widow at home all this time?” I rub my fingers against my knees under the table, a nervous habit.
That’s when she throws her head up and gives me the look. I know immediately I have crossed a line, said what was not supposed to be said, or as I like to believe, what one is never ready hear. But none of this is adding up. When we first married, I remember telling her I’d throw myself in a river if she ever left me. Of course, that was a melodramatic declaration of an twenty-year-old romantic, but I couldn’t stand the thought of losing her even then. And now my yearning, my waiting, my neglect of the people here seems useless. I attempt to return her glare, but as always, her look appears to ride on a wave of flame, burning a hole right through mine. I quickly look away and quiet the sob swelling in my throat.
“I was not a grieving window, Seth. I was not going to spend the rest of life consumed by sorrow-
She is crying now, her words punctuated and muffled by every emotion. This is my woman—attentive, deep thinking, so effortlessly present and sensitive to every moment. I shift in my seat. Nothing about this is going as I hoped.
“I remarried. I have two boys, Seth. Two precious boys I’ll never get to see grow up. My husband is…”
Her voice trails off now as her eyes, again, finally meet mine.
Around us, there is not a single movement. People have heard us; they have seen this outward rejection of what was supposed to ignite something in this place. There was a new man, someone had taken my place and the woman of my heart.
I know they are waiting to hear what I have to say, what words of desperation or redemption will come out of me. I feel inside my chest my love for her hitting me on every side, as if revolting against my very being. I want to vanish from the table, but I don’t want to move away from seeing her face. I want to bury my face between my legs and weep, but I don’t want to indulge the pity and rage. The strongest impulse nags at me: if only I can reach my arm across the table and lace my fingers through hers… But I cannot bring myself to do so. Instead, I grab the bread between us, break it in my trembling hands and say, “How about something to eat?”