Winter in Persephone.

Tess Congo

Issue No. 3 - Winter 2017-18.

Andrea wished herself a bear. Black, brown—any kind but polar. To steal a whole season for slumber and recuperation without consequence, to linger in sleep without shame. What would it be like to silence a season and resume life fresh with the first buds of spring? To feel awake as soon as—Andrea’s alarm beeped for the third time that morning. She hit snooze.

A text sounded at the top of her phone screen: Cynthia: How’s the draft coming?

Andrea dropped her phone on the bedspread. Light seeped beneath the curtains outlining the features of the room: the shelf with the dying cacti, the tufted settee beneath, the bookshelf of self-help, sex, and poetry books, the mid-century lowboy dresser and its matching mirror, and James’ recent bedroom display of affection: the photos.

On Valentine’s Day, James had spun her around three times as if they were in the midst of pin-the-tail on the donkey, and when he told her to open her eyes, Andrea felt like the donkey.

She wanted to say What the fuck? Instead she had said “Wow.”

James had taped twenty photos on the wall: “I LOVE YOU” carved into sand at Hampton Beach; champagne glasses cheers’ing over chicken pineapple kabobs from his family’s annual Independence Day barbecue; Andrea’s first Instagram post, a photo of James playing chess with the stuffed duck Andrea had won him on their first date; Andrea and James on that first date sharing a stick of pink cotton candy; James piggybacking Andrea across a puddle; James proposing to her in the snow (not shown: him saying Please say something. My knees are getting cold); their first wedding dance with James’ brother reaching mistletoe over their heads; Andrea preparing to throw soaked socks off a rainy Mount Major (Don’t, James said after he took the picture. The blisters will be worse.); pink shoes resting on Andrea’s hilled stomach; Becca in Andrea’s arms at the hospital; Andrea’s mom and Becca building an Angelina Ballerina puzzle; Andrea and James kissing over a candle marking their third wedding anniversary; James tickling Becca on a picnic blanket; Andrea and Becca bouncing hand in hand on a trampoline; Becca in a field of flowers in her bumblebee costume; Andrea and James snuggling next to a campfire; Becca biting into her uncut fifth birthday cake; a photo of Becca’s drawings of them as a marshmallow family with James and Andrea holding cell phones in their marshmallow hands; Becca dancing with her feet on James’s loafers next to a photo of Andrea as a little girl dancing on her father’s feet.

At “Wow,” James’s smile seemed to collapse into his chin. Andrea tried to perk him up with kisses, but he looked so wilted, the damage done. Why couldn’t she have just kissed him without the “Wow”? She cringed at the memory.

It wasn’t even the worst Valentine’s Day gift he had ever given her. Who could forget the wrestling tickets back in college? The photos were actually thoughtful. He had chosen some of her favorites, but in the moment after he spun her, when she opened her eyes, Andrea felt a tightness in her chest. What the fuck was followed by another thought: You’ll never be that happy again.

Surely, the display had to have a closing date, and yet two weeks had gone by, and here she was once again waking up to marshmallow versions of herself. Maybe James expected her to take the photos down. No matter the years, he didn’t seem to understand the cost of movements, the feeling of depletion before she even lifted her head from the pillow.

Her alarm beeped again. She turned it off and tapped open Instagram. The heart at the bottom revealed her latest notifications:

 

_y3ti_ started following you.

Radicalsabbatical_ commented: “Such a gorgeous family <3!”

Catherinelecomtephoto and 401 others liked your post.  

 

She clicked the third notification down. It was for one of her highest hearted posts:

 

“My daughter finds marigolds in the grass

and holds them to her eyes,

and says ‘Mommy, what time

are my eyes?’

 

And, I want to hold her still to this moment

as I tell her ‘Five o’clock”

 

Where were the marigolds now? Long dead, under snow. Andrea tried to listen for the ones without roots, the ones she could discover in her daughter, but it was hard to hear anything outside her thoughts. It’s always going to feel like this. It will never be what it was. It could be that she’d been living marigold moments all winter without realizing that they were occurring, but she knew moments only lasted so long as your awareness of them. If you didn’t commit them to photos, or words, or memories they were lost like they’d never occurred. 

Slipping her hand into her pillow case, Andrea found her gratitude list. Every morning and evening, she tried to read it to herself with a smile on her face. Sometimes if she imagined or pretended to imagine feeling joy, then she felt her head lift a little higher, her spine rise a little straighter. It made her feel like a kid again, with her dad penciling her growth on the pantry door: Another inch!

Part of the gratitude list was intertwining truths with desires. She had to imagine her gratitude at receiving the things she hadn’t yet received. Sitting up, Andrea began: “I’m so grateful that I am loved by my wonderful, adoring, handsome, kind, generous, funny, intelligent husband, that we have such a fulfilling, exciting marriage, that we have a beautiful, healthy daughter who is spirited, and curious, and smart. I am so happy that I am healed completely, that I’m healthy and strong and have more than two-hundred thousand followers on Instagram. I’m so grateful that I have a book agent, that I have energy to—”

“Mom, where’s the cereal?” Becca hung from the doorknob.

 

“Hold on, Becca.” Andrea dropped her eyes back to the list.

“Mom, I’m hungry.”

“Honey, five more minutes.”

Becca plopped her knees to the carpet, putting her remaining weight on the doorknob. In her other hand was a headless Barbie.

“Becca, I told you, you’ll break the knob if you do that.”

“Cheerios! Cheerios! Cheerios!” Becca began to chant moving the door back and forth.

“Five more—” 

Outside, a car door slammed.

“Daddy! Is that Daddy?” Becca ran to the window and pulled back the silk curtain.

Andrea flinched at the expanded light.

“Daddy’s home!” Becca thundered down the stairs, leaving the curtain still parted.

Andrea continued down the list at the sound of the key in the front door; … “book agent, that I have energy to” — the front door opened — “Daddy!” “to do everything” — the thud of a carry-on on the carpet — “that I want and need” — “And, how are you doing, Miss Becca Bell?” — “to do. I am so grateful” — “I’m hungry.” “Where’s your mother?” “that I am happy, content, and at peace with my” — “She’s sleeping.”

Andrea tore her eyes from the list and called down, “I’m not sleeping!”

“Well, where are you? I want to see your beautiful face,” James called in return.

I’m so grateful … at peace with …

“Dree,” he called. She could hear him coming up the stairs now. “Dree.”

Andrea sighed and folded the list back under the pillow. Maybe after coffee. She made it to the door just as James entered with Becca on his hip.

“You’re too old to be carried,” she said to Becca.

“Daddy doesn’t say so,” said Becca, and she stuck out her tongue.

Andrea kissed James. “Did you have a cigarette?”

“Just one or two while waiting for the taxi,” he said.

“Cheerios! Cheerios!” chanted Becca.

“Enough,” said Andrea, taking Becca from James’s hip. She set her on the floor. “Go get dressed.”

“Only if we can go to the park later,” said Becca, like a threat.

“We’ll see.”

“Yay! Park! Park! Park! And, Cheerios!” said Becca, running toward her room.

“And matching socks!” Andrea called after her. “Thought we agreed you weren’t gonna smoke anymore. You know my dad.”

“Smoker all his life, died at 43. How’s your head?”

“Still migraine-y. I don’t mean to sound naggy,” said Andrea.

“You don’t. You sound tired,” he said. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here this week. I just thought a sale might be easier in person”  

“We were fine. How’d the sale go?”

Footsteps scrambled back to them through the hall. “I’m ready!” Becca jumped in the air still wearing her nightgown, one foot covered in a spotted sock, the other in stripes.

“That’s not dressed, and didn’t I tell you to wear matching socks?” said Andrea. “Do you know what it’s like to do your laundry? I never know which ones are missing when you mix them up.”

“I’m tired of mean mommy,” said Becca.

James swiped Becca up into his arms. “Be nice.”

Becca laughed as he squeezed her ribs.

“I’m so glad to be back with my girls,” he said. “Who’s hungry?”

“Me! Me! Me!”

James stopped in the doorway and looked back at Andrea. “You coming?”

Andrea made eye contact with herself in the mirror before looking back at her husband. “I’ll shower first.”

“Don’t take too long,” he said, kissing Becca’s ear.

Becca squealed through the hall, down the stairs. “That tickles!”

_____________

 

In the shower, Andrea held onto the walls. If she laid in bed too long the walls tipped into each other. She could hear her doctor’s voice in her head: Low blood pressure. It helped if she held out her hands to keep the walls from falling. Sometimes it felt like she was ice skating on the frozen pond behind her childhood home. She had to hold out her hands then too, for balance. She closed her eyes. I’m so grateful that I’m alive. I’m so grateful that I am healed completely. I’m so grateful … How did the rest of it go?  

  Andrea brought her fingers to her shorn hair. She had recently cut it a la pixie to donate ten inches to Locks of Love. Her hairdresser had taken a video for Andrea to post on Instagram, and it was one of her top performing posts. It even made one of the top nine posts for the hashtag Locksoflove with over two hundred views. New followers were still messaging her about it: I love your page. Your family is so precious. Discovered you through #LocksofLove. I can’t wait to donate my hair some day.

Not bothering to lather her lack of hair, Andrea sat on the shower floor. Part of it was that it was something she had always wanted to do since a teenager—donate her hair (she thought of all the admirable heroines of literature who sacrificed their locks in the name of love; namely Fantine from Les Mis and Jo from Little Women). The other truth: she thought maybe shorter hair would make the morning routine slightly easier.

A tentative knock on the bathroom door preceded her husband’s voice. He tried the knob, but it was locked. “Dree . . . breakfast is ready.

“Okay,” she called through the shower curtain.

She could feel the energy of his hesitation before he spoke again. “Everything okay? You’ve been in there for awhile.”

She slammed her hand on the tub diverter and water gushed from the faucet. “Yes. I’ll be right out.”

She twisted the faucet off, and the water stopped.

Continue Reading - Issue No. 3 - Winter 2017-18.

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