from The Lifeless Sea

She gave life to those Kenneth Cole loafers and those Liz Claiborne sweaters. She gave that Goody hairbrush life and that Covergirl mascara. She gave life to that Anne Klein watch and that gold bracelet. She gave those red-with-rhinestones reading glasses life and also that Lands End turtleneck. She gave life to that “Grandmas are the best” coffee mug and the half-eaten package of English muffins in the refrigerator. She gave life to the bag of Brach’s candy hearts in the kitchen drawer and the car keys with the green rubber Weissman pharmacy keychain. She gave life to that box of Kleenex tissues and those Visine drops in the medicine cabinet. She gave life to the bedroom dresser and the bottle of Chanel No. 5, the ancient, cloudy Shalimar that was her mother’s. She gave life to the sudoku digest by the bedside and the collected poetry of Sylvia Plath, open on the floor to—dear God— “Lady Lazarus,” to the Dearform slippers next to the bed and the plaid robe with pilled elbows and irregularly bent lapels.

She gave life to the pile of bills—JC Penney, electric, cable—that she rubber-banded and left on the kitchen counter. She gave life to the half-empty carton of Tropicana no-pulp orange juice. She gave life to that gray London Fog trench coat and that Michael Kors handbag. She gave life to that polka-dot golf umbrella on the coat rack and that Harper’s, that New York Times Review of Books. She gave life to that tin of curiously strong mints. She gave life to that misshapen cable-knit gray cardigan, the one that looked like an old mutt, that she always wore around the house on the weekends. The one she rescued from the trash bag marked for Goodwill, for St. Stanislaus Church, for the Salvation Army.

 She gave life to that plastic kitchen timer shaped like an onion and the potholder that looked like a cat. She gave the steel gooseneck teapot life and the wooden serving tray. She gave the refrigerator magnets—one shaped like a typewriter, one that said Belize! in script (from Jennifer), and one of a Renoir painting—life. She gave the creamer life and the box of mandarin oranges—a gift from Dr. Pataki—life and the pack of Gauloises (red box) stashed in the back of the crisper life, although perhaps the Gauloises would have given her death eventually. She gave the wind chimes life and the hummingbird feeder life and the roll of postage stamps she had bought more than five years ago and that they seemingly could not get through because of the internet. She gave the African violet life and the Rachmaninoff CD on the coffee table life and the post-it with half a grocery list and a reminder for him to pick up the dry cleaning.

She gave the presents—the presents!—life, all chosen and bought by her, still underneath the tree, present swaddled like the baby Jesus with opened, crumpled tissue and wrapping paper, all chosen and wrapped by her, the Brookstone memory foam slippers and the electronic tablet, the bathroom book about golf, the vase she bought for herself from Crate & Barrel but signed the gift label from him, the gourmet dog bones sawed from the antlers of deer or moose, the scarf she knitted with tight loops in the middle and loose on one end because it was her first scarf, now her only one, and she hadn’t been very good at it. She gave life to the Christmas tree that she dragged from the crawlspace every year and the tree skirt still punctured with old, brown needles from the live trees of Christmas past and to the ornaments, some of which were her mother’s and some her grandmother’s and some just store-bought from the Towson Towncenter.

She gave life to the bed, the queen size with the egg-shell foam layer underneath and the flannel sheets with snowflakes on them. The bed where he found her, where she had done it, the blue, pretzel-sized snowflakes on the pillowcases stained red and light pink in some cases. She had taken her own life on this bed, this pillowcase, to which she had given life, and she had taken life from everything from which she had previously given life, himself included.

But he was not dead, could only wish it were so. He called for the dog, who bent low underneath the tree, trying to coax the life out of those dog bones, moose or deer antler, with the wet boulder of his nose.

Come on. He patted the couch, and the Newfoundland hurled himself forward, amidst the tumble of blankets and pillows from the guest bedroom, into the soft canoe of space in which they would try to sleep without capsizing. He looked at the tree, and the Newfoundland under the tree, and they held each other there, alive in the lifeless sea of things.

Contributor

Jen Michalski

Jen Michalski is the author of the novels The Tide King (Black Lawrence Press, 2013) and The Summer She Was Under Water (Queens Ferry Press, 2016), the couplet of novellas Could You Be With Her Now (Dzanc Books 2013), and two collections of fiction (From Here, Aqueous Books 2014 and Close Encounters, So New 2007). She lives in Baltimore, where she runs the reading series Starts Here! and the journal jmww. You can find her at twitter.com/MichalskiJen.

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