Costumes for a Different Woman
“The dresses in my closet are costumes for a different woman, though I hide myself in their silky textures. The man asleep in my bed knows me best in the dark.”
He grows smaller. Somehow he makes this old house feel draftier, like we live in a bank vault, and he’s the balance dwindling toward the red. My crime, one of them anyway, is neglecting to lock the vault.
Cancer had been staking us out for months, and when we weren’t looking, it walked right through the front door. In its terrible mask with its slick urgent schemes, it would have snuck past the guards if we had any. Each day since then, I’ve searched for some forgotten cash drawer, some hidden drawer that contains piles of new, undamaged cells. Most nights, I dream that I wear the terrible mask as I gather his pills into neat piles and plant them in the garden out back. They begin to sprout moments before I awake. The scent of loam remains.
And I’m preparing my heart for another day of fighting through the high grass of doctors’ appointments, empty prescription bottles, the remarkable shrinking of my husband. And yet my closet remains the same—my clothes hang in anticipation to be worn again to some festive event or another. They are oblivious. They don’t realize they have become but garish costumes I have shed. Costumes for a different woman.
Garter snakes prefer tall grass. When they grow, they have to shed a layer of their skin; the rocks help the process. I’m sure there are countless ghost-like skins sleeping in the meadows across North America even now. But my husband is growing smaller. He is shedding himself. And I am the tall grass caressing his brittle hands.
Soon he will shed his warm bed, unhitch from this drafty house, and step over the mess cancer made of our lives. There’s no costume to hide it. He will be so tiny I won’t be able to find him. I’ll search the drawers for clumps of his hair; I’ll scoop the cat litter extra carefully for lumps of his knuckles; I’ll sweep out the fireplace for remnants of his papery skin.
And then I’ll remember to lock the front door. Before I fall asleep, before I dream of my pill garden, before I begin the search for something cancer didn’t steal, I’ll check that all the windows are shut tight. And I’ll scream loud enough to feel alive. Maybe I’ll even find forgiveness by myself in this drafty old house. And that will be the costume I wear.
CANDICE KELSEY‘s debut book of poetry, Still I am Pushing, releases March 6th with Finishing Line Press. Her first nonfiction book explored adolescent identity in the age of social media and was recognized as an Amazon.com Top Ten Parenting Book in 2007. Her poetry has appeared in Poet Lore, The Cortland Review, North Dakota Quarterly, and many other journals. A finalist for Poetry Quarterly‘s Rebecca Lard Award, Candice’s creative nonfiction was nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Prize. She is an educator of 20 years’ standing, devoted to working with young writers. An Ohio native, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children.