the day that no one died
We wake up and crack our backs. The rolling bounty of the bed leaving something in our bones that needs release. Our arms reach into the luscious possibility of a day that has not yet transpired.
Rodger’s shift at the hospital starts in an hour and he still hasn’t showered. He’ll probably be late. Just like everyday before this. I watch him roll out of bed, the imprint of the sheets against his back. The red maps they draw on his skin. His strong jaw and yellowing underwear. I yell at him to change them but he tells me he doesn’t have an unsoiled pair.
I stay in bed as he moves between the bath and bedrooms, becoming more rushed every time he passes through the doorway. I imagine what he looks like when I can’t see him. How he trims his beard with his arm tilted at just a certain angle. How he does not look his reflection in the eye. The way he bends over to search for a clean enough set of scrubs in the piles of our clothing on the floor. I want to know every fold of his brain, to have access to those thoughts he tucks away in moth-ball drawers of his mind.
We hold air in our puffed up cheeks when our heads are under the shower. We sometimes lose track of how many minutes it has been. The hot water runs out.
There are no traffic reports this morning. No interruptions about crashes on the toll way. No blood on the road. No eighteen-wheelers spilling their contents across the asphalt. The radio keeps a steady rhythm of top 40 hits and car dealership commercials. I watch Rodger’s cool eyes on the road, his dark hair drying in the breeze of the open windows.
The hospital tall and isolated. Only one car sits in the parking lot in front of the Emergency Room, a single red stone in a sea of black tar. Rodger puts the car in park in front of the fingerprint smudged glass door marked, “Staff Only.” I remain in the passenger seat and feel the car idle as I watch him disappear down the corridor.
The sun shines on the whole world for twenty-four wondrous hours. The very texture of the air changes. For one day everyone finds it easier to breathe. They drink oxygen like cream. There are many who pay it no mind. I know they go about their days; they know no one who takes up residence on death’s door. This is not their day. But for a cycle of the sun there are children in the streets. For a day, immortal as they feel when they play. Flowers in the muzzles of guns. No calls to say we’re sorry. No time taken to mourn. The only blood from paper cuts. Today is the promised day. For children in warzones. For hospital bedsides and a bit less worrying. A circadian cycle in which witches and bastards don’t have to watch behind their eyes.
I call Rodger at lunch. He says his only ER visit of the day was a construction worker who cut two joints off his left pointer finger. The head attendant already sent most of the residents home. He tells me they’ve called all the area hospitals. All the hospices and retirement homes. He asks me about white lights and horsemen. I chew on an egg salad sandwich with too much paprika and hold the phone to my ear.
I hold my breath until I see red. I close my eyes driving down the interstate. For a moment, I take my hands off the wheel. As soon as Rodger gets in the car I tell him I feel I have gold in my veins. He looks into my eyes as he nods. I cannot tell if he agrees with me or thinks I’m being childish.
The sky has purpled. We leave the restaurant and I stumble with the keys. We are the only pair of headlights on the asphalt. He tells me to stop, pull over. I watch his black silhouette walk along the shoulder twenty feet back. He bends down and picks something up gingerly. He carries it like the most sacrosanct object to grace this earth. He sits in the back seat. She is wrapped in a powder blue blanket, her whole hand clings around one of Rodger’s fingers.
I comfort her against my breast. Her limbs are cold and her eyelids flutter. They have no desire to open her eyes to the world. Her small body heaves in my arms. I have no milk for her, no comforting words.
I wash her in the kitchen sink. She doesn’t have a spec of dirt or any abrasion on her adipose skin. The water seems cleaner when I pull her out and smother her in a warm towel. She hiccups twice and giggles. She has a single tooth in the front of her mouth.
We empty the sweaters from the bottom drawer of the dresser, line it in a blanket and lay her down, already sleeping. I watch Rodger watching her. The empathy in his eyes, the elation. I want every part of him. We go to bed quietly. He nibbles softly at my ear.
That night I dream in cerulean. I hear horse hooves and celebration. There is abundance and soft winds and the sounds of holy songs. Dove wings and honey. Past the times of judgment. Beyond that which we might call perfect. Roses but no lilies. Everything sweet like fruit. In some far off hospital, they pull the plug and a woman starts to breathe again. She sits up, tubes coming out of every part of her and asks what day it is. Cemeteries lock their gates. Children call their ailing parents just to say I love you. And I’m certain there is no such thing as pain.
Reece Thompson (he/him) is a poet from central Texas.