She had been an undertaker’s wife for seven years. The mornings, she lay with her life projecting onto the back of her eyelids, between sheets that etched her skin with grains of foreign dirt. She bore witness to his livelihood each day as if she were watching a silent movie. She was used to it. He woke before her, brewed the coffee, stood in the chill on the porch examining the dawn’s world, and then reemerged from the warming air into their room. He pushed the hair from her forehead and kissed her, reminding her each day with that last soft click of the door latch that he returned to his graves.
Only then would she open her eyes, and take slow resigned swipes at the sheets, repeating the motions from the night before. Perhaps the cat would jump onto the smooth white quilt to knead her softening stomach and lay with his great gray head on the rise and fall of her breasts. When she no longer felt the granules beneath her hand, she rose, drew her robe over her naked body, and slipped outside to take his place on the porch.
The strange stillness when he was gone slid around her. She could cook, dust, mop, dance even but the stillness refused to lift. Sometimes she just stood on the porch and pondered the movement outside her small immaculate home—cars that came at distant intervals down her road, children that rode their bicycles like daredevils, yelling and cackling as if a murder of crows crossed overhead, the occasional delivery truck that tickled that tiny string inside of her with the hope that it would stop. But she never ordered anything.
In the afternoon hours she stood with dish suds to her elbows, fine grains of soil accumulating around her feet. She removed the laundry from the dryer and folded the towels in the living room, staring out the window. The images of her life before their marriage would materialize in front of her, gauzy specters she often simply looked past instead of at. How impertinent it now seemed! So very abstract! No direction but wherever she wanted to go. She’d released that life as if it were a veil in the wind, watched it float away over the mountains, and turned to embrace her husband’s home on the flat wide prairie. He’d taken her hand, her heart, her movement, and brought her to this house of soil and stillness.
She swept the warm, worn boards of her porch, moving the alien earth that infiltrated her life from every angle to alien ground. He always removed his boots before entering. She would be briefly encouraged each evening when more of this familiar dirt was detained before it could creep from his soles to her rooms. She smiled each time he left his boots outside.
He came in, enveloped her in his arms, and whispered her name into her hair so that she could remember it. They spoke words toward one another, each feeling their way carefully around the lovely deception. He loved her from outside the borders of their married life, pinpointing early on their unique compatibility as one would recognize a need to live near the ocean or the snow, even if you’d never seen either.
As she served dinner, he showered and changed his clothes, reflecting how, when he thought of her at work, she was a different person. The woman who existed there was laughing, airy, and complex. At the table, he ate as though tasting each element of his food for the first time, missing her and holding her hand, melding the two fragments of his wife together again in his mind. Sometimes he asked about her day.
If she felt like it, she would lie. Once in a while she told abbreviated truths, but she did not reveal her innermost musings much. She locked away the most intimate forms of herself, keeping him safe and shielded from her disquiet. What he saw each night was not altogether her anymore; it more closely resembled an animated clay figurine; one she sculpted each afternoon before he got home. She could not decide which of these depictions, her private sequestered self or this glazed caricature, he loved more. Or which of these portrayals she wanted to be.
His coming home brought a certain music to cover the silence, interrupting the stillness with the swaying tune of their union. The dirt ceased to bury her feet and retreated into the corners, waiting. She no longer remembered what it was she gave up by becoming his wife. Instead, she drew his stability and his warmth around her like a shawl against the wind and together their fortress held back the landslides. She caressed his coarse skin and listened to the melody of his songs. She tried not to hear the words. They were not meant for her.