Monday, November 19, 2012

New Relics

We'd cleaned up the kitchen together after putting the girls and the baby to bed and I sat down at the table, wanting to be by myself before going upstairs. I telethought my spouse that I would come up in a bit. I felt the reassurance come back, and then turned the telepath off. My sister was asleep in one of the girls' rooms and Jess was downstairs in the study.

At the final moments of the atomization, I'd cried, my sister had cried, even Jess – his intimate from the last few years – had cried, and I'd found it strange that my mom hadn't. If there had been nothing else there, there was that bond through me, but perhaps she'd hardened herself long ago to potential loss.

I walked up to check on the girls. I never do that, but today, I just felt the need, to see them, with whom he'd spent more time lately than I'd been able to … neither with them nor with him. Some nights, if he was here visiting us when the girls got home with their father from swimming lessons or cello practice, he'd drop whatever we were talking about (math) or arguing about (math) to go be their toy. Surprisingly, he never once tried to teach them math, leaving that work to me and keeping his questions and inquisitiveness about my work for when the girls weren't around.

I'd wiped the tear stains off both the girls, but they were still a little puffy eyed. I am sure other parents, as the girls' aunt certainly did, would think me cruel for having taken them with us to the atomization. Now I found the younger one had crawled into her older sister's bed, pulled the blanket off her and cocooned herself. Just like my sister used to do to me. I spread the blanket out and covered them both up again - once they were sound asleep they would be fine, all the tussling took place early at night.

It struck me that as a child I'd never woken up cold. Did Dad cover me up at night when sis and I were asleep?

I suddenly wanted to hold him again, to feel his physical presence, to clutch him to myself - protection, protectiveness all jumbled together in this tangible vacuum that sat across from me as if forever. Milk seeped from my breasts and I realised I hadn't yet fed the “sleeps-through-the-night” baby but my body still felt too wracked to go up and do so immediately. I rebraided my hair, a single short braid I've worn since 5th grade, this time using generators of B_5, for which I'd had a soft spot ever since my discovery of their relation to conformal matrices had caused a small resurgence of interest in Strings.

On a sudden recollection I pulled open the wall behind me and there beneath the tabletop controller I found the only remaining physical vestiges I had of him. I lifted out the little plastic canister, the less-than-an-inch wide black body about the length of my pinky, the grey top with faded “IMLI SEEDS” written on it. Dad had had a few of those when I was a child - film-roll containers (from his childhood?) that he'd managed to hold on to through multiple international moves. I flipped open the top with my thumb and spilled the contents out on the kitchen table.

Nails. His nails. Both he and I had laughed when my sister had insisted on collecting these, “People collect hair and nails. Dad collected mine!”, she'd protested. “Only baby hair and nails, when they are soft!”, I'd sniggered. But she collected them anyway, that one time, and borrowed one of Dad's canisters which he used for taking spice mixtures on camping trips. She'd cried then because I'd made fun of her, but a few years ago she divided the contents with me, for safe-keeping. I opened the telepath and sent her a thank you, for morning delivery, and recalled her tying my half of his hair with a rubber band. I stuck my finger in the canister and sure enough there was a tuft of hair, with brittle pieces of broken rubber band sticking to it. The hair was a couple of inches long, grey. I sniffed it, painted my face with it, rubbed it between my fingers, desperately wanting to believe in re-incarnation, in a higher power, anything that would bring him back to me.

I carefully put the hair back in and looked at the nails. He'd been cutting his nails, we the three of us had all been cutting our nails before he took us climbing that day, and I remember that day because it was when I first climbed a 5.9, and then tried a 10a and he'd smiled and hugged me and said, “You already out-run and out-swim me, is there nothing you will leave me, not even climbing?”


What have you left me, Dad?

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