Categories


Authors

The Cuts

The Cuts

Kit Haggard

the cuts.jpg

The day after she died, my wife comes back to cut up my clothes: little waning moons at the hems of my dresses, the necks of my sweaters, the sleeves of a heavy flannel shirt she had once given me for Christmas. The floor of our closet—which still smells like her, powdery and clean—is littered with scraps.

I walk from room to room, touching all the things she’s left behind: a coffee cup with a thin, pale skin of milk from that morning, slippers with their heels crushed still by the door, a handwritten to-do list on the back of an envelope. Her pillow, for gods sake, still soft and creased in the middle.

Meanwhile, she is in among the coats with her shears, trimming the lining with dozens of winking eyes.

Meanwhile, she is in among the coats with her shears, trimming the lining with dozens of winking eyes.


In the mornings, the house emits its one low note, the thick drone of silence that begins in the ears and seems to spread outwards. The comforter is always on the floor. The sheets she chose have wadded around my torso, squeezing and pinching at my ribs, but when I’m able to unwind them, the sense of pinching is still there. The clock says that it is only just after 7:00 am; so much time still to wade through. Sometimes, I can hear her cutting things up in the next room.


The most famous ghost story is the one about the hitchhiker. A driver on a dark road stops for a stranger, just going on a ways. He drops the man at a boarding house, perhaps, or at the home of his parents, only to discover later that he left something—a sweater, as I heard it, but it might have been a suitcase—in the car. When the driver goes it return it, someone, and I like to think it’s the elderly mother, tells him that the hitchhiker has been dead for years, killed on that very stretch of road. In other versions, the boardinghouse itself is gone, burned down maybe, or some item that the hitchhiker borrowed is left draped over his grave. But here is what I want to know, what they never tell you: did the mother, afterwards, get into her own car? Did she drive again and again down that stretch of road, hoping the errant son—who had already revealed himself to stranger after stranger—would appear?


Eventually I return to work. The library has lost nothing without me. The same trees hunch around the parking lot, shedding needles; the same few patrons are queued at the door, waiting for it to open; the stale air, the fluorescents bleaching everything to the color of bone. People say hello especially quietly with their faces drawn downwards. I appreciate the circulation manager, Lisa, who tries to formulate something but only says, You have a hole in your sweater.

Oh, I do, I say, fingering the hole at the neck.

Sorry, she says, she sends me into the back to fix call numbers and hanging plastic covers, in the room with an old study carrel and a view over the trees. For a while, I am diligent about it, cutting small pieces of the narrow filament tape, repairing the slipped or split dust jackets, but then I begin to think about her. It’s the harmless things that come back to cut you up—her making coffee, standing in the shower, driving very slowly in a snowstorm. I remember seeing her for the first time, at the long bank of tables in the library, looking up suddenly to watch a group of turkeys crossing the lawn through the large picture window, and then I am bracing my hands against the edge of the desk, bent over.

It’s the harmless things that come back to cut you up—her making coffee, standing in the shower, driving very slowly in a snowstorm.


At home, I stare at myself in the mirror over the sink, sleeplessness fat and dark beneath my eyes. I pull at my sweater, which pushes too tightly at the base of my throat, and turn off the light. I think, as I often do, of the stories of Bloody Mary appearing in a darkened mirror. It’s just a game, they say—chant her name three times and she appears—but the only way to win is to see the violent ghost. I wait for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, but I can only make out my own pale outline.


It’s hard to be at home in the space between day and the beginning of dusk, when the yellow light from the sliding door reveals all the dust hanging in the air. Something about that makes me want to break things—dishes, the smug blank screen of the television, my hands.

Instead, I get in the car and drive, going up and down the suburban streets without anywhere in particular in mind. I imagine that the houses with their lit windows are a painted backdrop, two-dimensional. If I drove through our garage door, I think, I would come out on the other side of the curtain, in the dark hush of backstage.

I sit staring at the trumpet vine that she planted and trained up a wooden trellis beside the garage. Several years ago, it had begun to creep across the gutter, and she had let it—encouraged it. Now, it’s sickening to me. The flowers seem almost obscenely large, as though swollen. I get out and pull at the woody base until it splinters, the flesh inside pure white. I drag branches down off the gutter. I let the flowers crush in on themselves, thin as crepe. The smell of them is stronger, cloying. It’s on my hands. I don’t stop until the plant hangs sadly off the garage, stubbornly upright but split in several places, my hands scraped from trying to snap the green branches. Then I’m ashamed.

I wait for the sound of shears from the bedroom, from the study, but it’s silent.


Eventually, they mail me her effects in a brown envelope. When I open it, out fall the things that had last been on her body: a receipt, folded twice, and twenty-three cents in change; her wedding band; a Swiss army knife. Her wallet is there, with half-filled punch cards, her ID, a photo of the two of us, cut from the last frame of a photo strip. It’s black and white; I’m turned toward the camera and she’s in the process of turning away. There’s nothing else in the envelope: it’s so little in fact, in the end.


There are half moons cut in all the clothes I own. I pull everything out of the closet and lay it all on our bed, on the floor, spilling out of the dresser, all spread out around me. There are half moons cut in my pajamas, cut into the hips of my underwear. I stand in the empty closet and say her name three times. I realize that I haven’t spoken her name aloud in so long, that the sound of it sticks in my throat like a cough. I stand for a very long time waiting for the answer.

I stand in the empty closet and say her name three times.

In the morning, the sheets on her side of the bed are cut to strips; two half moons are clipped into the fabric of my shirt at the shoulder, like teeth marks.


Kit Haggard's fiction has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Electric Literature, and The Masters Review, among other places, and is forthcoming from Prairie Schooner. She is the recipient of the St. Botolph Emerging Artists Award, the Rex Warner Prize, and the Nancy Lynn Schwartz Prize for Fiction. She can be found on Twitter @kithaggard.

Illustrated by Jeremy Anderson.

If You Need Me, I Will Be over Here Remembering When We Took a Zipcar to Connecticut

If You Need Me, I Will Be over Here Remembering When We Took a Zipcar to Connecticut

Protective Instinct

Protective Instinct