Still Air, Shareefah Pereira
It was almost 2:00 a.m., the latest I’d stayed up in years, when I pinched the bridge of my nose and pushed the heels of my hands into my crinkled eyes. I knew I couldn’t yet. It’d been poetry for hours, but I knew I couldn’t. My heart pushed against my bones while the rest of me was still. The seams of myself were straining and tightening. I pressed my lips together in case my lungs came up my throat. Felt like it. Tough.
“This dead of midnight,” I recited, letting it trail away. Out the window, the dingy street lamps pressed on the brown-yellow sky. I shook my head.
When I got outside, a nighttime breeze plucked my cheeks cold, and I burrowed my chin further into the soft collar of my sweater. Leaves rustled around me. I pulled and tucked the sleeves around my hands. I nestled into myself, so carefully. It wasn’t any less explosive out here, despite the cold, but I’d expected that. It didn’t go away.
The air smelled chilly and old in a crinkled sort of way, like how a book would smell if you let it get really old and left it outside for a while. I breathed deeper, feeding my heart what it needed. I knew I was leaking; I knew there was nothing I could do about it and that I was overtired. Not yet, though. I couldn’t yet. I would just let the air ripen me for a few minutes.
“The noon of thought,” I recited into my sweater. I knew what came next, but there were no stars. In the city, there were rarely stars. I looked up, and the sky looked sick: brown, yellow, purple, gray, and all the colors a sky should never be. I could even see puffs of clouds, as if nighttime weren’t a real thing anymore. It didn’t matter what I thought.
But I did think. In one big ball of wham I thought of beginnings and endings, of making love, of cooking hash browns on a Thursday. I thought of us laughing like the ascending trill of piano keys and wind chimes after a thunderstorm. I thought of discovery, of remembering to put the milk away, of forever and ever. Patience, warmth behind my heart, and thirty-three years. Cut short.
The weight of the truth hurt again when I remembered it. It jerked me down from the sky and into myself again, again, again. Over and over, after all that time, all I could feel was the moment it ended, as if the rest of it didn’t matter.
Which hurt, so I pressed my lips together again and tried not to think. I blinked up at the sky, mentally crossing my fingers for stars this time. There were no stars. Which hurt. There was a plane, which hurt. My socks were getting damp, which hurt. It all tried to explode out of me again, stretching the seam in my throat and in my chest.
I breathed deeply once and let my arms settle at my sides. Okay. There were no stars, but there were stars somewhere. At home there were stars. The black roll of mountains would point me in the right direction: up. Up and up, forever into silver glitter on a blue and green velvet sky. Make me feel small, please, an ocean of infinite and forever. It didn’t matter what I thought. It didn’t matter, and it didn’t have to. I could go on knowing it didn’t matter, which was okay. It felt good. I opened my eyes and carefully returned to my self. The trees rustled together in a gentle breeze.
I moved gently, afraid at first to feel my bones crumble under the weight, but then with more confidence toward the house. The cold didn’t matter; the stars didn’t matter. I was alone, but I could do it now.
In the house, I navigated the dark hallways with familiarity. I found my phone and called my son. Voicemail. “Hi, I know it’s late. I’m sorry…” My throat clenched. “You told me to let you know when he was gone. Your dad passed away this morning. Give me a call back. Love you,” my voice breaking on “you.”