Fiction · 03/06/2013

World That Owes

I lived in a house full of things that would one day belong to me. My wife was a blind goat. I was waiting for her to die.

Out here, there are stretches of land where you can go for miles and miles and find only blank space between towns. It’s a Northern country and few choose to stay. It could make you hopeful that there is so much earth left lying around to be claimed, or it could make you afraid, all this room, going on, for nothing. It depends on how you’d like to see it.

Maura and I had a house near the fjords, in what used to be a fishing village. When they introduced those transferrable quotas for the catch, all the work dried up. The fish factory closed. The young people moved away. The community center for youth shut down, because there were no more youth at all. Now there are just two hundred people left here, and we have time, we have time, we have so much time.

Maura has been sick for a long while. Her eyes have gone, and she likes to lie in bed and listen to the English television programs. When the television breaks, as it sometimes does, she lies in bed and waits for it to be fixed. She does not complain. She does not cry out. She has a lump in her side that makes her ache in her silence, and I give her glasses of milk with crushed up morphine and when she drinks it, she scrunches her face up and says, bitter.

This house was once her father’s house. Now everything I touch belongs to her. The ceramic stove. The radiator that glows all night. The television. The glasses which I wash under the kitchen window, thumbing the rim as I turn them.

When she hears me running the faucet, climbing up and down the stairs, Maura tells me she doesn’t want me to strain myself. She says I ought to go on long slow walks, to keep my heart healthy, my joints able. So I go down to the shore and I pile rocks up to make a big square column, five feet high, lifting great black stones pocked with tiny hollows, heaving. I leave the middle empty, so some day I can start a fire in it. I could cook my own meals there if I wanted to; I could send signals.

When the fish factory closed, I’d been ready to move to the capital. There’s still work there for men like me. If not the capital, then some other town here in the East, somewhere still alive, somewhere near the new aluminum smelter maybe. I could work in a metal building. I could breathe that bad air. When we found out about the closure, I’d grabbed her round the waist and breathed into the oyster of her ear, saying, Baby I’ll work, I’ll work hard to help us both, anything, you wait and see. But she’d said I didn’t have to work. That her daddy had left enough money. I could be retired and live a life of ease. She weaved her then-slim fingers through my then-brown hair. So we stayed.

Now my wife bawls a little at night, only a soft bleating. She does this in her sleep. Unaware. It wakes me up and sends me to stand at the window and look out at the black hills over the black water. When the pain wakes her up, later, she sees me standing there, the moon scaling the water, the snow a dull light scattered upwards.

“Hvað?” She breathes out of the dark. “What?”

“It is enormous.”

“What is?”

With her eyes gone, she can’t see the bay like I can.

She sits up straighter, waiting for me to come back to bed. But I leave, I go downstairs, I put clean water in a kettle and then wait for it to boil.

When my wife dies, I will bury her next to her father. I’ll put plastic flowers on her grave, so that they will keep a long time. I will own the small house in the small town in one corner of a hard world. And then, I’ll sell it all. I’ll take the bad roads inland, towards the man-made lights, where I will wear my hands down to living bone, grinding along until the white marrow is seen glowing through the well-creased skin, and then I’ll know that I’m alive, that I have earned the right to live, here, in a big world that owes me nothing.

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Delaney Nolan’s fiction and nonfiction has found homes at The Chattahoochee Review, Guernica, The Huffington Post, The Rumpus, The South Carolina Review and elsewhere. Her chapbook Louisiana Maps, winner of the Ropewalk Press Fiction Editor’s Chapbook Prize, is forthcoming this winter.