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  • Wasting the Light
  • Desiree Bailey (bio)

A thick smell lures him and he rises early. After all these years, the clock of long mechanic hours fixed in his belly, ticking loud and strong. Summoning the sun and his body. They rise, twinned. Tied tight. Sun and wrinkling body at the break of morning.

A kiss deep and trembling for Liza, lying beneath the floral sheets. Angles of light across the cotton. How lovely and still and perfect her fingers. He gazes beneath cloudy eyes, smiles and departs from the bed. His bare feet, unsteady. Find their footing. Feel for the grooves in the weary floorboards. For the loose heads of nails slightly out of their places. He drags into the kitchen, a wasteland of spoons marked with specks of food and old blue china. Chipped plates fighting against the cracks. Stained towels with the images of children leaning to pluck dandelions. The countertop lined with a row of porcelain ducks that Liza brought with her after they got married in that old country church with the air moving through. He pours water in the kettle, though the kettle is already full and water flows out, streaming down the sides. And he puts it on the stove and lights the burner to brew tea for him and Liza. Their early morning ritual for years. Tea and buttered bread before he left to fix the dying engine of cars and she to shine the vases and windows of large echoing houses.

Today there are no engines to revive or houses to free of their dusty shelves. Today is another cluttered day with the old rusty clock overseeing, its hands moving seconds behind, lagging through the quiet hours. On the wall, a framed photograph: him a boy with a faint coat of hair shadowing his lip. A boy in a stiff army uniform. The boy gazes out, beaming at the chance of leaving the tin roofs and the ghosts hanging in the trees. He no longer sees the photograph. It captures his reflection as he drifts through the rooms. Sometimes he can still hear the bombs eating into the earth, gnawing at concrete and spitting up car parts, stuffed dolls, arms and necks. But he cannot place the source of the sound. Taps his head as if to shake out the explosions.

Liza is still in bed stretched stiff beneath the sheets and the kettle whistles softly, a small breath rising from the water. The dreams have been drained from her head. Her eyes empty, fixed upon the ceiling. Liza is still in bed again, now for so many mornings, wasting the light pouring through the room, the light spilling onto the floral sheets. He reaches for the newspaper at the top of the pile and sits in the worn chair with the cushions grooved in the shape of his body. Reads the news of months gone by. A headline of gas exploding a building and a new highway to be constructed through a nest of houses, pushing them elsewhere on the grid. The newspaper trembles in his hands. The thick smell wraps around him and he curses the neighbor’s cats. He licks his finger and turns the page. Scoops up a few words here, some images there. Pieces together his own stories, his collages of truth. [End Page 375] A fly settles on the page, drills its tongue into the ink and then settles again on the bald spot of his head. It buzzes there for a minute before he finally feels it and swats it away. The kettle screams and he says lovingly, Liza the tea is almost ready! How long do you need to sleep? Don’t you think you’re beautiful enough?

Seems like just yesterday he was working up the nerve to talk to her, passing Liza by for months and locking eyes only to quicken his pace and flee. The day he found his courage she was perched on her stoop watching her younger sisters play hopscotch in front of her mother’s little house. She saw him coming down the road with pants too short, fraying at the knees. She busied herself, studying the hem...


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pp. 375-377
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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