She has no name

Something Elliott Jones starts doing from that night on. She begins to say the names of the dead out loud. Whenever she comes across a mention of a deceased person in the news, or trending on social media, or when she passes by a statue or park bench with a personal dedication affixed to it – new, old deaths, she does not discern. Instead, she stops over every single name she encounters, takes the time to speak it. If dates are also given, she quickly calculates the space between their birth and their death, so that when she says each name, she knows, too, just how long that particular person was here on this earth. Angela, 45. Glynn, 87. Boris, unknown. Tamir, 17. Gabby, 7. Baby Shiloh, 32 days old.

People lost to cancer, drug overdoses, school shootings. Kidnappings and war and little hearts with holes in them. Lists and lists of ways to die, and lists of names to acknowledge. Elliott sees the dead everywhere now, and for the rest of her life she will speak their names out loud, lingering over the syllables, breathing these strangers in and out. It is her ritual for the dead. A way to let them know that they have not been forgotten.

She has no name to speak out loud for me.

I’m Alice, I whisper to her many times. Alice Lee. But she can’t hear me over the car horns and the sirens and the doors slamming. I’m lost in the buzz of her phone and the sound of the shower running, the hiss of the coffee pot downstairs, and the pad of her feet against the ground. My voice is quieter still when she is laughing or crying or gasping against the memory of Ash’s mouth.

The thing is. When the dead speak back, we are seldom loud enough to be heard over the clamour of all that living going on.

~ What We Have Left

(Because there is still so much more to say)

Riverside Park NYC

As a lover might

There are people who know my body as intimately as a lover might. They know of the tiny mole in the arch of my left foot. The faint scar on my left elbow from a childhood scab that got infected. They know that my pubic area was waxed a few weeks before my death. Underarms and legs shaved, perhaps the day before.

They know I am not a virgin, had poor dental work done on two back teeth, and one or two of the men stop, as they catalogue my body, to think how pretty I am. How the sketches don’t quite capture the full of my lips or the honey of my hair.

Some men get obsessed with the dead as much as the living.

~ Alice, What We Have Left

WWHL

A whole week off to write … edit … write … edit … 

Verge (revisited)

My body and the clocks say different things.

Last night I poured my vodka down the sink and fell asleep on the bathroom floor. I fall deepest when the sun comes up, and wake disoriented from my morning travels. Everything is the wrong way round here, or I am. So much corner turning, so much emerging from below, and it creates a kind of alert exhaustion, an expectation that something is about to happen today if I just get up and in it.

It all feels so possible, so utterly and entirely possible, this living on the brink.

“I did not belong there,” Joan Didion said of this city. And I recognise her words, because I know I do not belong here either. I do not know the rhythm and the rules. I am a step out of time, backwards dancing across these cracked pavements and sticky stairwells.

And like Joan Didion, I am in love. I am in love with this grimy, swollen, stinking city. With her teeming masses, and the bare-bone trees of winter, waiting.

They are anonymous, quiet like me.

And I too am on the verge of blooming.

underground subway staircase

Photo by Jamie McInall on Pexels.com

My first blog post from New York, back in April, 2015. And now …

Stay Tuned!!!

Can you imagine

Do you trust your instinct, Elliott?

Sue’s question feels as large as the room, and all three women pause to consider it. Thinking about the nights they’ve crossed the road to avoid a parked car with its lights on, or pretended to make a phone call as someone walked too close behind them. Remembering the longer routes taken to avoid unlit streets, and how they automatically take note of who gets off at the same station or stop they do. The way they would never leave a drink unattended at the bar, and how they always check who’s there before unlocking the door. Self-preservation as a replacement for instinct, because being right would be the real danger here.

Elliott feels her body arch toward this sudden realization, a shudder that almost lifts her from the floor.

I’m afraid to be right, she says, holding out her arms to examine the tiny hairs standing up from her skin. I would argue away the most obvious signs, if it meant I could be wrong about him.

Because if I’m right – my god, can you imagine what that means?

~ What We Have Left

What We Have Left

The first time your heart shatters, you become one woman or another.

The first can only ever love the broken after that. She sees damage as her canvas, and she spends the rest of her life trying to make it beautiful. Cobbling together the lost and fragmented, soothing their sadness and their grief. She creates a mosaic from their stories and their sorrow, mends the pieces into something whole again. Because if she can love something back together, it means nothing, no one is too far gone for saving.

The other starts to sees damage as inevitable. So she strikes first, destroys anything that comes too close. This kind of woman will sabotage her own happiness, snap it clean in two, rather than let someone or some thing surprise her again. Her heart inured, she will be the one to lay siege from now on. For her, it is obvious people were never meant to stay whole. And to survive this world, we must learn to live with what we have left.

What We Have Left (A Novel)

grayscale photo of padlock

Photo by Paweł L. on Pexels.com

 

The quiet rage of women

Someone organizes a candlelight vigil at the park. News of the intended gathering is shared on social media, and on the night, more than 3,000 people make their way south, down to the fields near the pier. Mostly New Yorkers, but some women come from other cities, from their own dark places, called forth to memorialize one of their ilk, one who didn’t, couldn’t make it. The crowd is punctuated by these survivors, their pain red-tipped, fierce, as the faithful from many denominations hold forth, one grasp at comfort after another offered into the night. Candles quiver, wave, and when the talking stops, someone steps forward and softy sings Amazing Grace into the silent, head-bowed congregation.

From a distance, 3,000 candles held high is a beautiful thing to observe. A glow of stars drawn down into people’s hands. Faces are soft, warm, as people lean one lit candle into the wick of another, connecting each new flame until the whole field flickers. Until the crowd appears to breathe light, a collective inhale-exhale of grief and prayer.

There is no name for the girl they mourn here, but she is known to every woman present, clasped around their lifted hands, heavy on their hearts. She is their fears, and their lucky escapes, and their anger, and their wariness. She is their vigilance and their yesterdays, the shadow version of themselves on all those nights they have spent looking over their shoulders, or twining keys through their fingers. A man speaks to the crowd, entreats his fellow men to do better, and people clap, cheer, but it is the silence of the women that binds up the candlelight, sends it skyward, a flare in search of every sister who never made it home. So that when the politics and passion are spent, it is the quiet rage of women that lingers, can be seen glittering from above. Long after all the little fires have been snuffed out, and the people moved on.

Elliott does not attend my vigil. She sits in her studio a few city blocks from the park. She has lit her own candle here, one lone flame weaving, pulsing in the dark. Cross-legged on the bed, she stares at this candle and feels nothing. Grief, she is learning, can be as quiet as a whisper when it wants to be. When it all roils inside her, when it spills out like a swollen river breaching its banks, or when the waters still and she floats upon the surface, numbed – it is all the same feeling in the end. One of utter helplessness. Knowing that so little is in your control, knowing that you cannot claw your way back to the ignorance of safety. Sometimes she rages against this loss. Tonight she acquiesces. She is alone in a lonely city, and – this part Elliott is ashamed to admit – lodged in her stomach, nearly as deep as her sorrow for an unnamed dead girl, is the realization that she herself might just as easily lay unclaimed one day. Because no one will think to miss that she is gone.

~ Alice, What We Have Left

art blur bright candlelight

Photo by Hakan Erenler on Pexels.com

Spinning closer every second

Later, at the beach house she and her friends have rented for the weekend, Elliott takes a pillow and blanket and quietly pads out to the balcony. It is 3am and everyone else has passed out, couples curled into each other, or positioned back to back. She is, as usual the only single person here. Not that she thinks of herself as single. There needs to be some other word to describe the state she has found herself in.

Alone.

That would do it, she thinks, folding herself down onto a damp, wicker sofa. Someone has removed the spongy seat cushions, Elliott can see them stacked near the balcony railings, but she does not have the energy to drag them over. It has started to rain, and Elliott is glad for the discomfort, for the wet on her face and the unyielding sofa base, pressing into her hip. Back in her room, the world had started to spin. Now, she can see the black of the ocean, hear the inky water slapping against the sand. The sound feels as if it is coming from inside her, it is as if she is the one cresting and falling, and it takes a moment for her to realise that she is crying, out here on this balcony, alone with the rain and the waves and the starless sky. Soon she is crying as hard as the weather, all the accumulations rising up out of her. This is not where she intended to be.

Life, she understands in this moment, has stopped happening to her. She has stood in the middle of too many summers and winters, too many dance floors and other people’s parties, and simply woken up the next day older than before. For so long, nothing has happened. She has been on pause, while he went about making his life. Making the tiniest of spaces for her to fit into, asking her to make herself small so that he could keep her right there.

Here.

She doesn’t want to be here anymore.

The plan does not fully take shape this early morning, waves and rain and tears saturating everything around her. Elliott won’t even really know, days later, as she books her one-way ticket, as she scrapes together her savings, just what she’s doing, or why. She only knows that she can’t stay here anymore. That she needs, desperately, for some thing to happen to her.

In this way, our worlds are spinning closer every second.

~ Elliott, What We Have Left

WWHL