Writer in Residence · 12/03/2010

The Birds, the Light, Eating Breakfast, Getting Dressed, and How I Tried to Make It More of a Morning for My Wife

MICHAEL KIMBALL’S ORIGINAL:

THE BIRDS, THE LIGHT, EATING BREAKFAST, GETTING DRESSED, AND HOW I TRIED TO MAKE IT MORE OF A MORNING FOR MY WIFE

I had fallen asleep, but my wife hadn’t died. I had woken up, but my wife hadn’t woken up too. She hadn’t moved either. I whispered into her ear that it was morning, but she didn’t seem to hear me either. I nudged her at her shoulder and touched her upper arm, but she still didn’t open her eyes up, so I opened the blinds on the windows up. I turned her head to face the light coming in through the windows.

I whistled bird sounds, but she didn’t open her eyes up or put a pillow over her ears or turn her face away or roll over away from the light. My wife hadn’t shifted her body since she had been in that hospital bed. She hadn’t kicked the bedcovers off of her feet and her legs or pushed the pillow onto the floor. She hadn’t tossed or kicked or thrashed or turned over in her sleep like she did when she would sleep in our bed at home.

She didn’t wake up for the morning as she had on every other day of our marriage, but we ate breakfast together that day anyway. One of the nurses brought a tray of food into the hospital room and placed it on top of the table that swung over the hospital bed and my wife’s body. I told the nurse that my wife couldn’t eat or drink or swallow or chew, but the nurse didn’t take the tray of food out when she went back out of the hospital room. The nurse came back in with food and water for my wife that was inside iv bags. She hung the iv bags up on the iv stand and made sure that the drips worked. I watched the iv bags drip for awhile before I took the tray of food off of the table and set it on my lap and started to eat too.

We ate breakfast together, but it still wasn’t morning for my wife, so I tried to make it into more of a morning. I decided to try to wash up. I pushed myself up out of that chair and tried to stand up, but the blood seemed to rush out of my head and I couldn’t really breathe right either. I had to use the armrests of that chair to hold myself up. I was bent over but standing up until I got my breath back. I tried to stand up straight again and my head cleared up. I took my hat off and left it on top of the back of that chair. I took my jacket off and hung it around the shoulders of that chair. I pulled the sleeves of the jacket around to the front of that chair and left them resting on its armrests. I wanted to make it look like I was sitting there, or at least make it seem like I was nearby, if my wife woke up. I didn’t want her to wake up without me there with her. I didn’t want her to be awake and alone at the same time.

I went into the bathroom inside her hospital room to take however much of a bath or a shower that I could. I smelled like sleep and I wanted to wash the sleep off of me. I took my clothes off and hung them up on the back of the bathroom door and laid them out on all of the handles and bars that are supposed to help people to get up or to stand up inside a hospital bathroom. I turned the water faucet on and washed myself off with wet paper towels, and I dried myself off with dry paper towels, but it didn’t really make me feel clean. I felt dry and tired. I felt like I had somehow shrunk.

I turned my underwear and my undershirt and my socks inside out. I wanted to have the clean side of them touching my skin when I put them back on. I shook the rest of my clothes out. I tried to get the sleep off of them too. I tried to move some air through them too. I got dressed again, but my clothes felt sticky and thick on me and it was difficult to move in them. My pants could almost stand up on their cuffs on their own and my shirt seemed to keep its own shape around my shoulders. My clothes looked stiff and wrinkled and so did I. But my clothes also helped me to stand up. I was trying so hard to stand up straight then. I needed something else to hold me up then.

I stood over the bathroom sink and looked at myself in the bathroom mirror. I looked smaller and older too. I turned the water faucet back on and splashed water on my hair and on my face. I pushed my hair down with my hands and combed it back with my fingers. I wet one of my fingers again and brushed my teeth with it until my teeth felt smooth to my tongue. I straightened myself back up and stood back away from the bathroom sink and the bathroom mirror. I tried to straighten my clothes out some more, but they didn’t seem to fit right anymore either. My clothes and everything else seemed bigger than me. I tucked my shirt farther down into my pants and tightened my belt a notch. I took a long breath in and tried to fill my clothes out with myself. I was going to need all of me for this morning.

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“The Birds, the Light, Eating Breakfast, Getting Dressed, and How I Tried to Make It More of a Morning for My Wife” first appeared in Open City Issue #20.

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THE REMIX:

MY WIFE AND THE MORNING NO LONGER

She had not died. She had not moved either.

I took my jacket off.

She did not shift her body.

She did not speak to me.

I wet her fingers with slow kisses.

She did not stir.

Although she bathed herself every morning, and although her fingers were quite wet, she did not bathe herself now.

She did not drink the coffee I always made for her. She did not eat the muffin I slit and buttered for her.

She had not died and I would not leave her.

I wet one of my fingers and I brushed my teeth.

I smelled like sleep and I wet one of my fingers and I washed the sleep off of me.

I stood there bathing and watching her.

She did not thrash or kick the covers free.

I did not leave her.

She had not died and I did not want her to be awake and alone at the same time.

I dried myself off with dry paper towels. She did not seem to hear me.

I whistled bird sounds. She did not die.

I tried to fill my clothes out with myself. She did not open her eyes.

I turned her head to face the light coming in through the windows. She did not move or thrash.

She had not died.

I pulled the sleeves of the jacket. I tightened my belt a notch. I opened the blinds on the windows.

She did not die. She did not shift her body either.

I tucked my shirt into my pants. She did not stir or move or moan or say my name in the morning although the sun was there and through our blinds and along her hair and in her eyes although her eyes were closed.

My wife did not wake. My wife woke every morning.

Now this morning she did not know—

Now this morning it was no longer morning for my wife.

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Remixer’s process: This is the third version I did of this story. The first version tended toward an entirely different story with a lot of added text. What bothered me most about that version was how it lacked, entirely, any connection to the emotions of the original. The second version was much as this one, only in block form, and with that mix I tried to work with the emotions of the original piece. I really wanted to see how much of the original emotion could be conveyed through contextless movements and abrupt phrases. The third version broke apart the block form in favor of white space. This seemed to change the tone and I liked what that did, emotionally. I altered a couple phrases and added a few phrases to accentuate the new tone. In my mind this version ended up as a middle ground between the first and the second mix.

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posted by Robert Kloss