“Something Other than This Shore” by Carolyn Zaikowski
Author’s note: “Something Other Than This Shore” is an excerpt from a fiction manuscript entitled The Neutral Point of Love. The story, constructed through a series of musings, memories, visions, and ruminations, is told by an anonymous narrator. She is attempting to recall, name, and map her perplexing and tragic relationship to a mentally tortured man known only as J. This excerpt finds her at a mysterious bridge over a river, where J and their memories are slipping away from her.
SOMETHING OTHER THAN THIS SHORE
J whispered from his newly bandaged depth, a place that went beyond the kingdom altogether. I couldn’t see him anymore, but I heard, I really heard: “Darling, this is not the way.”
A road made a cameo in the tar beyond us. Maybe we wanted it like that, to have a token fleeting path, such an obvious thing, so we could point and say Look, and say, We had a choice there. Or maybe we ignored it because we needed the comfort of acting like ours was the only way. Maybe it behooved us to give in, to commit. One of us had to complete the walk because of time and some story about an argument between choice and fate. Fate was sticky, J said; sometimes I said so too. No one could buy or sell it, we said. No one could even paint it unless it said yes first.
By then, my voice was juice, full of embers and arcs. I was trying so hard not to gag on my fluidity. I thought it had really happened, this unspeakable opposite, this undoing. His life’s whisper had gotten fainter until it could not be distinguished from a leaf batting at a window like a feral child’s paw, or a pine cone falling against a stump’s moss in early winter. He had become the kingdom’s water, its wind, its very tail. All along I’d believed that it was the kingdom’s job to speak, or at least the water’s. That there had to be room for something other than this wading, washing, and falling ashore. But really it was all just there to tell you what you were reflecting. To get you to ask the fine questions of yourself. I spoke to the kingdom and expected a reply, and expected an answer, and expected his penetration to arrive as it had all those times.
But I found only myself there, dripping. Myself and J and the notes in the margin of his dictionary. J and his fake wife’s dog named Blue. J and his undisclosed parents. J drinking champagne for bubbles and not for celebration. J getting upset at Spanish accents. J hiding in a chair in the shade of oaks in autumn. J taking inappropriate naps at the park during all kinds of weather. The ambiguous elders who speak with J. The circles he draws on the ceiling every full moon. The bent cards in his deck. J and I driving slowly to the bank at midnight. J and all those times we went to the electronics store in the rain to be subversive with radios and wire. J and all the cakes I baked for him that somehow came out raw. J’s boxes of wine that he said he wanted to be buried in and he wrote this wish on a dollar bill that he hid in a hole in the molding. J’s stories about women with pots and pans. J hating brothers. J smashing unusual things. J’s disdain for smoke and his indeterminate relationship to grass. J’s refusal of things including public space and wishes. J’s defiance and his sores. J’s constructions. J’s fingerprints, his teeth and his height, all of which would eventually crown. J’s mail in which he discovered a letter I’d sent from afar, from across many pieces of land that were not attached to each other, how I introduced him to myself thirty years too late. All J’s letters from me, the ones I sent and the ones I hoarded in my pen’s fingerprint. I had to hoard them for justice’s sake. I had to hoard them in the name of rails.
All J’s children, stowed away so comprehensively, taken beyond their objects. I never knew how many there were or whether, on any level, they could be conceived of as absolute or completed. His children who I knew and the ones I didn’t, all the young folk already grown, straight into elders. If not already, then soon. How I’d never know their given names, only the ones he concocted. I’d never know what their curtains or stages were made of or what their relationships were to water, to measures, to thrashes. J and I at the jetty as though there is sun and time.
I tried to take you home but you fought back, I said, quietly now. I tried to take you home again but still you fought, J; and then I tried to fight back, too, but still I could not take you home. No matter how many pages of mine you tossed over your brink, and no matter how I tried, no matter how gracefully I danced along your edges to the places that were actually mine, I could not hold you for as long as it would have taken to take you home.
Carolyn Zaikowski is the author of the novel A Child Is Being Killed (Aqueous Books, 2013). Her poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in Pank, The Rumpus, Eleven Eleven Journal, Sententia, 1913: A Journal of Forms, Nebula: A Journal of Multidisciplinary Scholarship, Everyday Genius, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Naropa University. She can be found at www.liferoar.wordpress.com.