restricted access The Half-Life
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The Half-Life

Listen for a cry or moan of a child in a nearby bedroom. I listen for the bang of a horse in the barn out my window. I listen for the dishwasher churning away downstairs. My body cannot let down for listening. I listen for his return—but I know he will not come home tonight. He has gone to drink. He has been gone three days already. I have not relished sleeping in the center of the bed, the way we joked about our husbands’ absence during deployment, during the certainty of knowing Clark was gone and making the most of the space. I don’t reach into the other half of the bed, but fist my hands between my thighs—roll myself into containment. I struggle between asleep and awake. When morning finally arrives I feel groggy and disorientated. I know physically where I am but I no longer recognize the shape of my life.

The house is quiet—even my old dog’s breathing is so subdued I fear she might have died during the night. I don’t want to wake her so I watch her sides for movement. Relieved to see the small rise and fall of her rib cage, I shift my gaze to the window. The sun climbs from the far corner, illuminating thin clouds that begin to inflate with color, and then rises to cut through the tree tops on the hill. The light settles on the high point of our hayfield.

The fields are empty. The horses wait in the barn; not even the ever-present turkeys move across our landscape this morning. I have to get up so that my son, the first of the children to awaken, will not go down to a still kitchen. I have to get them to school on time.

None of my ordinary morning smells greet me. The coffee pot sits empty and cold on the counter. I search the utensil drawer for the metal scoop and dish out enough for two cups, one for now and one for later. Pulling out the cookbook, I flip to the pancakes—a recipe he knows by heart. My eyes stick on the pen marks in the margin, his all-capital abbreviations printed in ink, [End Page 1] “TSP.” Turning the griddle to low heat, I lift the burner to check the flame. My impatience sets the burner on high for a quick result. (“You always put the burner up too high,” he would say as I chiseled the first burnt batch off the hot surface.) I shiver and glance at the woodstove. Even though I see no frost out my window, it’s chilly in here. We are in a seasonal transition—the bardo—a distended moment of in-between, no longer winter but not quite thawed. Moving to the woodstove, I stir the coals and push a log in to rouse the fire and warm this one-room floor. Then I switch on some music to stir the children. Nonsensical lyrics from The Lion King’s “Circle of Life” blast through the house. Once, I tried looking for the words in my Swahili dictionary, without luck. Still, they are sounds we belt out together in the car.

I flip pancakes as the children climb onto the stools at the island. Anna has turned off the stereo on her way into the kitchen. I would think she would prefer the noise, the distraction. Although he is only six, my son knows by my presence over the pancakes that his father is missing. His two sisters know this too. I turn on the radio and hand them glasses of orange juice and plates filled with cut-up pancakes coated in syrup.

I turn to the calendar to study the arc of the coming days. It’s the third morning I have woken up alone and I probably will tomorrow. Tomorrow, Saturday, I will work at my shop. I consider who I can call to watch the children. Who will I let in on our missing? I glance at the calendar to review the weekend plans: on Sunday, in Lyssa’s large...