Bernadette walked from the kitchen singing “Hold On,” that song with a rising refrain. Her voice strong, she looked at each of us in turn: the woman with a bullet lodged in her head, one with a daughter dead a year, another whose unexplained anger flew loose daily. And me, the visitor trying to come home again.
Song filled the room by the pond, scarlet scarf on Bernadette’s head damp with sweat. Then that ringing, and how I knew to head for shade by the water. Your voice from a marriage ago. I fingered the phone cord like something umbilical as it filled with all the clues to mourning. Each word, a hot match in my ear. The cancer cells, the toxins. Doctors had made a mortal chemistry of your body, and you were now ready to leave, radiant as the undeclared dead.
Artesian pool at my fingertips, clouds spring-gray and shifting overhead. And only moments before we’d been speaking of our bodies. One friend wanted to keep each organ far past the end; another laughed at her corpse on a pallet at the harvesting center. And there you were, alive with death eating at you on the other end of the line.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.