Spring breaks through my empty walls and drawn curtains, an impenetrable fortress. It spills onto cell phones where sisterly jokes about my old-school wardrobe and loving and laughing face emojis no longer wait. Sunlight taunts the charcoal-colored shadows that keep me company on empty couches that smell of musk, armpits, Malbecs, and sativas.
I go out for a walk around the block some nights. Blossoms burst in pink and white and lawns crawl out from icy coffins, as if the dead could truly rise. Mud and dirt tickle me.
I retreat back to my apartment, the touch frightening. I haven’t been touched since Nan, with her sweat and onion flavored hugs. I can’t help but smile a little. A little, that is.
And many nights, the moon seems a little more luminous, without that wintry veil. There’s been much mourning already, with Debussy and Tchaikovsky rising sorrowfully from Spotify playlists. Although I do have to listen to Clair De Lune, Nan’s favorite. The moon practically calls for it.
But I try to find the joy between the notes this time.
My sister Nan always loved spring. Always said it was a chance to stop fucking around and wipe things clean. A true Renaissance, she said. She always tried to pick things up in the spring, go on the offensive against the world. She treated herself to patio dinners, Merlots, and went to crappy movies like The House, with Will Ferrell, just because she wanted to. It was one time of year I saw her smile, a childlike smile, something not beaten down by booze and age and the world. She tried so many jobs, waitress, ticket-taker, barista, but none fit into place and she was too slow or too sociable, too honest. The world wore her down like a pencil, her breaths once measured, raspy and then silent.
I pull the curtains open, piece by piece, until shadows go running and a new blank picture rises. Pieces tumble into my consciousness, pieces of a future. So many pieces to fill in.
I sort, ruminate. I try forming writing groups, movie groups, laughter and words rising once again, even if the groups are only three or four people, people who pay fealty to Richard Yates and to the Coen Brothers with dogmatic force. I take what I can. I tell dirty jokes about Mickey Mouse and Trump and Putin, if only to myself. I try to tell corpse jokes, death jokes, but retreat in shame, Nan’s cracked smile rising again. Too soon.
Some nights, I even go to bars. I listen to the jukebox blasting Lady Gaga, Sinatra, The Eagles, blasting eclectic history. I try to play pool with others and fail, the cue always slipping from me. I absorb the smell of musk and Camels, people who have lost people, jobs, people who have lost the world to slacking, and still manage to find some joy in the motion of a cue striking balls, in the balls’ journey, people who manage to laugh and acknowledge inevitability.
At night, I walk two blocks, then three, then a mile into downtown, where windows glow with silhouettes and late-night liaisons and people taking 10 pm dinners, where trains roar through the night, carrying cars full of sulfur, coal, so many things. The trains roar by while I sort pieces, try on options, keeping them right beside me. I petition to paint my apartment walls a color other than white. Denied. I change my sheets from black and white to lavender, blue, welcoming and soft.
I paint the walls lavender anyway, wiping sterility and coldness piece by piece, brush bursting with each stroke. Nan’s smile comes to me some nights, something growing, something beatific now, instead of beat-down. The smile speaks no words, but it doesn’t need to. I festoon the walls with Big Lebowski posters and Van Gogh prints, starry nights keeping me company inside and out.
On I sort, especially on nights when bills pile up, landlord complains about neighbors complaining about my music or nights I still cry for Nan. I sort nights when neighbors don’t stop to chat or offer a hello, when they slam doors and their weight echoes in my mind. I sift pieces for the picture when thunderstorms rise, chasing the moon away. I store them in my pocket, in my mind, in my heart. Compartmentalize each piece, each minute, each hour. Remember where they are. Try to assemble. They’re still easy to lose.