The promise of something new dangles, new house, new cat, same old husband and life, which are quite good. A renewal. The death of my cat lingers, bedraggles into an accomplice. The elderly stray cat that kneads and rearranges my hair to calm himself and my ninety year old mother, who dislikes my graying hair because it ages her, disagree about my hair for their own particular reasons.
My husband is an identical twin. He and his brother weren’t lonely when they were young. They shorthanded a language between them, built trains and Lincoln Logs together, shot eight millimeter movies, joined the Rocket Club. One bucket of water spilled into two. Now they are rumors of themselves, physically different, changed by life. They reside in separate states and are growing closer to one another again. They both see the possibilities in ludicrous cats. One has studied insects, the other old electronic equipment. They both enjoy musical instruments, and they both like cities. I believe they are lonely for each other and fulfill one another the way buttons slip into their allotted holes to hold a shirt together. I, too, have seen my doppelganger, briefly, when I was about ten years old, at an ice skating rink. I was surprised that there was a girl who looked just like me. I wondered what her life was like then. Now I wonder what her life has become and how different we look.
My elderly cat that I’d tended to for sixteen years died a few months ago and an elderly stray has disjointedly married us. While the stray repeats certain gestures of my beloved cat, he is more broken and wary, a creature wanting to stay for a while and leave versus one attentive in a nearby resting place. The stray has retained many habits, none are ours. I try to sift through all the people I am and find one to complement him. But it is a two way street and our puzzle pieces don’t fit together yet, so he is a reminder of what I once had.
I’m still awaiting a new house, one full of serious things, sunlight, silence, speech, books. A specific desire can reside within a larger desire, shaping it. I want a mostly empty house with enormous windows and a husband with long hair and sneakers. I could be someone else, discarding my minor afflictions, my exterior aging, someone speaking loudly, with thoughts racing up and down corridors, someone excited as light pushes aside a curtain, someone arriving at both the future and past simultaneously.
Every moment is juxtaposed on another, future onto the past, future onto the present, past onto the future, etc. My grandparents’ apartment in New York City had a living room with thick plastic covering every available seat, sofa, and chair. Perpetually new furniture because of disuse, it was one of those ironies of life, not living in the living room. I wanted to be elsewhere. My grandparents’ habits had trickled down to them from an old time in another country where everything needed to be preserved. With no place to sit and relax, I disappeared, asleep yet awake. I agreed with my father’s parents. There was too much death and decay in the world and I wanted to be alive while I was still alive.
After those warnings I didn’t know what to say
Twenty seven years married and twenty six in the same Seattle house and three cats have come and gone. I’m gentled and distracted as I speak to my recently dead cat inside my head in the shower, scruffy yard, gazing at a friend’s colorful saltwater aquarium, on a bus moving my inert body from here to there. I’m listing all that can go wrong with motherhood: caring too much; caring too little; criminal mischief, as in digging a hole where there wasn’t one before; subtler elegies like tattoos; who broke what; why the color blue causes a frenzy; how to survive being in the wrong place at the right time. I notice the bed where my cat left the shape of his body. I still don’t want to imitate my mother who is a storm to my seasonal weather. If I’d been 3 loved by my mother would I still be a writer? Would I be who I am now? I like children and dogs. I have neither. I like silence. I deserve the amiable ghost I am, not the mother I think I might have been.
Missing the baby who:
makes butterflies kneel on the sky
peels the painted faces of his mother and father
lives in a place called sleep where bones speak
puts his white wings on over his coat
grows smaller except for his hands
is clumsy with contingencies
runs toward shadows
smiles at unbroken oceans that remind him of a resting body
kisses a question when no one is looking
points at the one god I’ve never noticed
frowns at clouds that fall from his fingers
Where are the others?
Sometimes different parts of my body fidget or ache for no reason other than stress. One day will my doppelganger take my place? Would I take hers? I like the feel of murder without the murdering. I need a push toward someone but a child, a vague reproduction, was never the answer, even when I could have one. I’m restless in the perfunctory rituals of my life that appear 4 to keep me safe but really can’t. My only way to protest is to become someone else for a while, someone who can have experiences or absorb the experiences of others.
My books don’t resemble children. I throw the unsatisfactory ones away, ones with insufficient plots or characters, ones that fail to wring me out. Books can’t act or grow or change into what the world can view and absorb but they can incite readers to do so. The new books I write chart my internal and external transformations, as if recording a child’s different heights with marks on a wall. Do we notch the wall when we shrink with age, unspooling life? When I reread my books, as well as old favorites, their meaning is different.
Growing up in New York City made me anonymous. I could become another person on a bus, a street, in a store. As a brown-eyed teenager with ridiculously long brown hair to my waist I became an orphan or a wild girl with six brothers or a shyly studious girl depending on my mood or the stranger I was speaking to. We see parts of ourselves in parts of others and those are the traits that we usually dislike the most.
A few nights ago I dreamt that my agitated twin, into whom I poured my worry and my worst feelings and inclinations, who studied me condescendingly yet with sympathy, snapped my neck. It was a relief.
ambles into rooms I’ve forgotten inside me
anticipates what he wants with unclenching fists
ignores me, stitching my regrets in and out of his skin while he’s sleeping
ignores me, doing and undoing his clothes before a mirror
ignores me, while he considers all his beckoning, internally lit cities
5 tiptoes through the seasons, afraid of being snagged by something decaying
allows his heart to hiccup his body into being
parades his tattooed half woman/half bird in another house with abbreviated motions
disappears into his own world in which these things could suddenly happen
My husband’s twin brother’s wife has early onset Alzheimer’s, which began when she was fifty five, and he adjusts and adjusts. They live in Indianapolis. She lost the face she had yesterday and the day before that, and the day before that. Her sky grows smaller, folding itself away from disuse. He doesn’t have a lot of choices. His wife has forgotten how to tie her shoes, shower, sign her name, and she’s recently forgotten what stairs are for. He likes to travel but can’t leave her alone.
They don’t have children either. But he is patient and repeats everything to her innumerable times since she keeps asking the same questions. He shops, cooks, cleans, works, takes care of the yard, and now tries to bath her and soon, perhaps, feed her. She is his child. She had been difficult in the past and may become more so. She follows him everywhere, including the bathroom, not wanting to be alone with what’s left of herself.
My doppelganger arrives from a world that is sentimental about needs, every noise is about life and every thought becomes a form of music. I ask her, “Which one of us cries?” “Which one had the dream about a place that was full and green?” I think about explaining what it’s like to be a woman who can be alone or silent or one who is shrinking into smaller and smaller spaces or one who avoids shadows and crowds. But she might already know. And I want to know more about her. If she feels people’s eyes stab into her or remembers a dog who 6 likes to hide its face under her hands. “What is this body?” I want answers. “And what do we do with it?” I’m not sure she’ll understand, especially if she’s like me inside. I wonder whether someone seeing us for the first time would be able to see our likenesses and differences or whether they would simply turn away.
It’s likely that something is happening
Today I’m an animal waiting for moonlight to move me, muffling my words, carving my sentences like initials in a tree. I’m bereft of children. I merge my exhalations with my husband’s breath in a city that traps shadows behind emerging buildings. I perplex my mother and use the monotonous language of cicadas with my sister. I’m in a boat, refusing to float on a startled sea with my dead father. I water withered plants. I can lure water into the shape of a glass. I feel misplaced by rain, which already knows too much about me, which might think it is me.
Laurie Blauner is the author of four novels and seven books of poetry. Her most recent novel is The Solace of Monsters and she has a new poetry book forthcoming from FutureCycle Press in 2021. Her essays have appeared in PANK, december, Sycamore Review, and Superstition Review among other places.