By Daniel Karasik
What the family does not know is that on Saul’s last night he broke his silence. Emphatically. At dusk. After four days without words my husband said suddenly, quite loudly: were you there? He raised his head from the pillow. Yes, he said, certainly you were there. I leaned in from my bedside chair, I took his hand, you’d think I would’ve been shaken, wouldn’t you, after so much silence, to hear his voice, but no silence can be held indefinitely, except perhaps the silence of God. I’m here, I said. My husband looked at my face, his eyes narrowed, searching. But where was my wife? he asked me. I could not think of what to say, so I said again: I’m here.
I had been married to my husband for sixty-five years. We were well suited to each other for maybe three of them, at the beginning, and then there was a period in our fifties and sixties during which a fitful reprieve was granted; we remembered why we needed each other, if not why we had loved each other. In spite of this, or perhaps the connection is stronger than I’d care to admit, our marriage was peaceful. Consistently. I had my passions, those things I longed for, to write, to travel, I suppressed them; he had no passions – is that not fair to say? about the dead, at least, may I not call a horse a horse? – but in the end we were temperate people. We were unimpeachably sane. My husband’s late descent into madness was nothing to lament. It was the most original, most soulful hour of his life.
I never told her, said Saul, and, foolish me, I said: who? My wife, I never told my wife. Was I curious? Certainly I had no fear of what he might confess. I knew he’d cheated. What else could I have thought? We were not in love, after a point, and he was not in town. It was raining, he said, remember? The lawn was muddy, so I lifted your skirt so it wouldn’t drag. He coughed. The effort of talking clearly exhausted him. He sat up in bed a little, leaned towards me. Clara, he whispered to me, the situation was sad, but we made a beautiful ceremony. We did, I said, because I have always liked the name Clara. And for the proper time afterwards, he said, I got up in the morning and went to shul to say Mourner’s Kaddish. I lit a candle. You didn’t have to leave. The mistake was the result, not what caused it.
I could feel my husband’s breath on my face. I wondered what Clara might have looked like. And whether their mistake had been a boy or a girl. I gave birth to two healthy children. I never, in sixty-five years of marriage, became pregnant by accident. I chose my life, it was not forced on me. And when I listened to Saul at that hour and touched him and was tender, it was a choice. Outside it began to rain. Drops rapped softly at the window. Saul turned his head and looked. When he looked back to me his eyes were full of longing. Can we go? he asked. Will you take me? And he pushed himself upright. Where are we going? I asked him. The yard, he whispered, smiling. Let’s go to the yard.
I helped him into his shoes and out of the house. The rain matted his hair into a flat white streak. He pulled me across the front lawn, holding my hand and laughing, he opened his mouth and caught raindrops on his tongue, he said: it’s not the rain! No, no, it’s not the rain! It’s being here with you! He looked at me, he put his hands on my forehead – touch doesn’t go, other things go, touch doesn’t – he looked at me and saw someone else. He laughed, his shoulders rattling. A pile of bones in the flood, my husband. Even if the occasion is sad, he cried out to me, smiling, even so, I am not sad, my dear. I am not sad, my Clara. Neither am I, I said to my husband. Neither was I.
Stumbling, coughing, he led me around the side of the house, by the ruined flower bed that Shayna came to tend with me some years ago, by the detached garage where Mark would lift his weights when he was in high school, to the backyard, where our apple tree grew, where it still grows, half its limbs missing where they used to hang over the neighbour’s property. He stopped under the apple tree and looked at me in a way I hadn’t seen him look at anybody, not even the pretty nurses, in years. He pulled me down to the ground with him, it took a minute or two, but he pulled me down, and we lay in the sodden grass with our mouths wide open to the rain. He never let go of my hand. I’m so happy, he said. And he rolled over and kissed me on the mouth. He kissed me like a young man kisses. It filled me with excitement and with shame. And even then I realized how foolish I was to be ashamed, I wasn’t pretending, I didn’t forget that I’m no longer young, but there’s the lie, there’s the great lie, that youth dies, youth doesn’t die, youth gets tired and goes to sleep. And how dare anyone be ashamed for waking a sleeper who has slept too long and had no one’s permission to absent herself from the world. I kissed him back. A chill from the wet spread through me. His bony hips dug into my stomach, like they’d done when he was a young man. Clara, he whispered, smiling, a name I’d always liked, and I smiled back at him, thinking: what difference could a name possibly make? On the night he died my husband was a man in love, squeezing my hand and stroking my sopping hair. And a name should put the lie to it? And if the time was wrong, the place, even the person, I should refuse him? Clara, my husband said to me, as soon as my kids are grown – but I put a finger to his lips, I said: shh. Shh. It’s not important now. He took me in his arms, when he didn’t have the strength to hold me I took him in my arms, and after a time his body began to shake, an endless shudder took him, his teeth began to chatter, I pressed him to the warmth of my body. I did not ask him if he wanted to go back inside. My husband was cold to the touch, all of him was cold, but as long as he shook I held him and pressed him to the warmth of my body.
The family has been told he died in the hospital, but they’re mistaken, he died under the apple tree in our yard. When I went into the house to call the ambulance I had neither the strength nor the inclination to drag him with me. The men from the ambulance found me holding him in the rain. When they asked me my name I was so tempted to say someone else’s. I didn’t. Of course I didn’t. I’m a reasonable woman, I know the difference between real and pretend. And I know that the arms that held him in the end were mine.
Daniel Karasik (b. 1986) is a playwright, poet and actor and the artistic director of the Toronto-based independent theatre company Tango Co. One of 11 poets featured in Cormorant Books’ 2011 anthology Undercurrents: New Voices in Canadian Poetry, Karasik recently completed his first novel, the manuscript for which received the Alta Lind Cook Prize and the Norma Epstein National Literary Award.
Aislinn Leggett, a photo-based artist and recent BFA graduate from Concordia University, uses traditional photography and photomontage to explore memory through objects and archives. Based in Montreal, she has exhibited in Canada, the United States and Asia. aislinnleggett.com
Alison Pick is the author of four books, including the recent novel Far to Go, long-listed for the 2011 Man Booker Prize and a winner in the 2011 Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Awards; Far to Go has also been commissioned for film. Currently on faculty at the Humber School for Writers, Pick lives in Toronto, where she’s at work on a memoir.
Montreal native Peter Behrens lives in Maine and Texas. His first novel, The Law of Dreams, won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction in 2006 and can be read in nine languages. The O’Briens, his second novel, is published in Canada by House of Anansi, and in the U.S. by Pantheon. He was educated at Concordia, McGill and Stanford, where he held a Wallace Stegner Fellowship.
Michael Winter has published 31 short stories and four novels. His latest book, The Death of Donna Whalen, was derived from court transcripts; it was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. In 2004, he won the Short Story category of the CBC Literary Prizes and bought a very old house with the prize money. Winter lives in Roncesvalles, a town near Toronto.
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