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Richard Leise



Bloody water drains from the tub.  Fern waits.  She waits until the tub (hot against her back and bottom) cools, becomes uncomfortable.  She waits while small pools of pink water gather around her elbows, and the soles of her feet, and she waits as these dissipate, trickle towards the drain.  She waits until she is too tired to move.  She waits as gooseflesh ripples across her arms and her thighs and breasts and abdomen and still she waits—she waits—she waits until her arms and belly are dry and only her hair, heavy on her shoulders and stuck to her scalp, is wet.  She waits one moment longer.  She waits until, panicked, as if an act of survival, she grips the sides of the tub and pushes herself up.  She pushes against the porcelain until she is standing, uncertain, grasping the shower curtain and steadying herself as if physically injured, as if her body still mattered, as if she housed a life that still needed its—her body’s—protection.  Of course Fern does not feel different, physically.  This is because she suffers no physical injury. Still, she clutches the shower curtain and lifts and places one foot on the bathmat, and then the other, balancing herself, considering her place in the universe as nothing other than this performance of sheer balance, as if the bathmat might disappear and, like Alice, she will fall, and fall, and fall, and fall.  There’s steam on the mirror, and Fern draws her hair behind her ears, she reaches for the sink. Fern imagines her face and isn’t surprised to find this possible, that picturing what she looks like is easy (Fern has always been self-aware), but, when she projects this image onto the mirror and imagines herself so reflected, she realizes that she must flip her face, that she must halve her features so that what she sees is not herself, but herself looking back upon herself, and, considering how she’s feeling, given what has happened, this shapes her countenance into a mask approximating sadness and yes, she sees this too.  Fern steps to the window and opens the curtains. Fern dares, Fern wills someone to invade her privacy, to look upon her so exposed and derive pleasure, to pass judgment.  But there is no one there, her backyard is empty, and a bead of water on the glass glitters; a tear, it cuts across the window.  Objectively, it’s cooler near the window.  She returns to the tub, reaches to run the hot water, and then the cold.  The water falls from the faucet, drums that spot on the porcelain where the paint has eroded, revealing a patch of navy outlined with silver.  Lifting the valve there’s a pause, a liquid gasp, and then water gushes, water falls, and with a hand Fern catches the falling water, Fern steps beneath the water and feels not temperature, not water, but energy, the strength of force atop the crown of her head, her throat, and, steady now, she feels (as if she, herself, is a deeply taken breath) scum, or something like it, run from her flesh to pool by her feet before funneling towards the drain and, water spiraling, head lowered, her hair, warmed, almost hot, falls against her face, and she reaches for the shampoo and with a thumb flips open the top, she squeezes too much shampoo upon the palm of her hand (rising, lavender’s welcome, purple smell), shampoo oozing between her fingers and falling upon a foot and Fern working the shampoo into her hair and using her nails to massage her scalp and the sensation is pleasant and intimate (like admitting something to yourself) and isn’t it something the ability to from your fingertips create sensations which crisscross the contours of your body, the foam falling to her feet, and how the hushed crush of bubbles inform more bubbles, the tiny bubbles popping and the silence of them together forming sound and the smell of pressed flowers rising to within the bathroom’s manufactured humidity become something like a fossil, a memory preserved.  Oh, how you gain so much when you lose your baby!  Pink, flush, hot, steady, wrapped in a towel, she returns to the window, she hugs herself.  What a view.  Their huge lawn and then the skyline, Endwell’s sculpted spires, the highs and lows of each building brightening beneath the morning sunlight, the sky’s building clouds rising in great columns cumulus as if placed upon, instead of growing from within, morning’s bright sky, clouds comprised of color, color adding gentle dimension, and, in the near-distance, like oil atop water, color bleeding into the extreme essence of its own absences, and Oh, the breathless beauty, this color nowhere on any painter’s palette, the sun running, dripping like blood down a thigh, like morning into afternoon, and the alpenglow moaning, readying itself for an evening’s imminent gloaming.  Yes.  Everyone empathizes with the woman who fails to conceive, the barren mother.  Oh, what a tragedy!  When science fails.  And nature refuses to relent.  How this woman—after she miscarries (if she conceives at all)—is delivered casseroles and kisses.  But what about me?  Yes, I have a husband, and a son, and there’s the press of air against my body – Is it fair to ask for more?  Within the cabinet are jars and bottles and Fern reaches for something, for anything, favoring the oils with dark labels, and she unscrews their caps, she breathes what each offers and oh, when she smells Joy, or Valour, she will remember this sorrow.  She rests her head against the mirror, and the glass is cool—and her breath is made visible—and how like a morning’s mist her breath, like that which has fallen rising, a vapor that roils and settles to wrap the earth like a shroud, making that which is green (the holly with its serrated leaves) greener, and their fir trees (still as a cemetery) darker, and brighter, more alive.              

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