Did you hear? I leaned closer, unsure of whether he was listening to what I had said, whether I had in fact spoken and was not just talking to myself in my head as I sometimes did to pass the time. His eyes were lowered, studying the fading gold light on our empty plates, and he opened and closed his left hand, as if pretending to crush my skull to pieces, silence my mind. Do you remember, I said to myself, when the cat almost killed the bunting and it was flapping around in the grass struggling to breathe and I wanted to nurse it back to health in a shoebox but instead you said suffering was cruel and then took the head in your hand and squeezed until it was still, do you remember that, how you were crueler than suffering. As if in answer, he pushed his chair back, left his overcoat on the back of his chair and walked away without turning back to look one last time at the table beside the window where we once sat together, talking and watching the light change from white to gold on our dinner plates.
That disengagement, that choice not to respond: a razor in my heart. What was it if not a punishment?
The spell a man can cast to make a woman disappear? And it is a story that has passed through the centuries. A girl is speaking to her father, asking him question after question, and it wearies him, so he hands her something, a treat, a doll, a coloring book, a plastic princess crown, and tells her to go and play. Later, the girl is a woman speaking to a man, seriously about something, but he thinks that she is falling to pieces, going mad. Sighing, he rubs his temples, mutters under his breath – now where had she seen that before? – and says he doesn’t understand, will never understand, because she speaks another language and it is exhausting.
What happens then? Perhaps all of her words, stories, poems, her sketches, paintings, the pictures she has made with her hands, all get hidden away in the floorboard of a house that stands abandoned for centuries. All of the magic of her mind gets pushed underground and when those books and drawings are finally discovered it is too late. The pages turn to dust beneath a stranger’s hand, the ink smears. No clues of the woman’s life remains. All we know is that she existed, but that now she is gone.
I fear that my destiny is no different. Forever, I am communicating in code and symbols, a private language of sadness. I am a black stone ribboned with white. I’d put myself in the pocket of my own overcoat and lay down in a river to drown, if only I could. Instead, I stitch these words with white string onto the white lining of this man’s overcoat, this man who chooses to ignore me. I wear it when I leave my room, follow him around corners, down dark avenues, over bridges overlooking dirty rivers. It hangs over my shoulders when I hide outside of other women’s houses houses, crouching in a bush beside the window, all lit with warm light, watching as he whispers a few words to his lover before undressing and pulling the curtains closed.
I wear the overcoat, wrapped in all of the words I never can say to him, as a reminder that I once existed. And even through these words crush me, weigh me down, I continue to keep them close. And even through I can’t remember them all, they are there, just in case we meet again and I can hand him this coat before turning away in silence and crumbling into dust.