There is a body. When stretched out to its full length, it is six feet, three inches, but the disease has created breaks and angles that shrink its length by two to three inches. The body is often lying on a bed suddenly too high from the floor, or it reclines in a chair by the windows that look out toward the mountains, though the body cannot see very well and often does not know if it is regarding the sunrise or the sunset or something in between.
The body has green eyes that have never needed glasses. Its hair is short and almost black. It sometimes wore a moustache, but it is presently clean shaven.
The body is always resting.
When the body is in motion, the other bodies around it hold their breath. The body uses a cane when it is permitted to stray from the bed or the chair, but the cane is distasteful to the body, so the body often chooses to sit in the chair that searches out the mountains.
Outside another window, there are horses, one of which threw the body off it once, a long time ago, breaking the body’s pelvis. The body is nostalgic for that earlier breaking. Many months later, but several years ago, the body, holding a different cane, approached the horse that had thrown it from its back. The horse snorted, and all was forgiven.
There are many things still desired of this body—love, money, apologies, regret, answers to riddles and crossword puzzles, the punchline to jokes, memories, explanations. But the body is too tired to offer much except for its savings account.
The body has lived on four different continents and has spoken three different languages, though now its tongue is dry and its mouth doesn’t cooperate with words. Instead, the mouth groans on its own, and this is embarrassing to the body.
The body has been an athlete, its legs pumping bicycle pedals, its palms releasing layups, its arms slicing through water. The body prided itself on getting to the top of the mountain first, and while it waited for others, it looked down into the valley to see its house, silent, patient for its return. That distance gave the body pleasure, as did the thought of a long bath. The body used to bathe itself.
The body has attracted both men and women. It has also attracted jealousy, envy, and ugly thoughts. The body has carried its own ugly thoughts, but these have been rare, and easily brushed aside. The body doesn’t like to dwell.
The body, once, dreamed and carried wishes into the morning. The body is not religious and believes all of its wishes are tucked into the mountainside.
The body has a scar on its chin from a childhood fall off the back of a friend’s bike. That friend gave up his body a long time ago. The body remembers this friend, but stopped longing for his easy company years before.
The body has lost its sense of taste, though it eats what is put in front of it, because the body is still aware of others’ feelings and the work that goes into a good, nourishing meal. The body pretends the food is sweet because it remembers ice cream and honey and strawberries ripened and warmed from the sun. The body eats chicken but pretends it is chocolate cake. This deceit feels like a gift as well as a secret.
The body remembers that its father’s hand was gentler than its mother’s, but also remembers that its hand was less gentle toward its children than it should have been. The body does not know how to apologize for this.
The body lost its first love, but then loved again, or at least tried to, and that was often enough. The body liked having another body close but was stingy with its affection and praise. Still, the body was, and continues to be, loved.
The body has grown hair in new places and lost hair in others. When the windows are left open, so the body can smell the autumn wind, the breeze tickles the hairs that have grown on its ears. The body shudders but enjoys the jolt. The body, tragically, is still quite young.
The body cannot swallow, so it spits.
You already know the body cannot see well and it cannot taste, but its hearing is clear. It regrets never learning birdcalls. It regrets not knowing how to appreciate jazz. It regrets the worry it hears in the sighs and whispers carried within the house through other bodies.
The body has lost its curiosity. It hasn’t picked up a book in ages. It doesn’t watch the news. The body thinks time moves far too slowly, whereas it used to think time moved much too fast.
When the body is stretched out and prepared for bed, its youngest daughter sits at its feet. She rubs its papery skin with lavender, a smell the body has never particularly liked. This daughter is a doctor, and the body feels her hands resting on the pulse point atop the body’s right foot. The body knows she reads its secrets below its skin, by temperature and heart rate; she knows how its cells are warring. If the body could, it would kick its daughter away. It loves her, but it doesn’t want her knowing its secrets. The body is embarrassed for them both.
At the body’s shoulder is its second wife. She and the daughter do not like one another, and the body wishes it could fix that, just as the body knows it is very much at fault for this distance. While its daughter probes, its second wife prays and extracts promises from herself and her god. The second wife makes deals with the air.
In the corner of the room, far from the body, sits its middle son. The son doesn’t say anything, but his silence carries his son’s unspoken demands to the body; some of these include approval, pride, acknowledgment. The body feels burdened by his son’s silence, but at least it doesn’t smell of lavender. It is too late for the body to give its son what he wants, and even if there were more time, perhaps it would still not give.
The body is not guilty.
The body is light. The body is no longer worn out from the judgment and scrutiny of its children. It is no longer weary from its second wife’s gaze that always seemed to ask it, Do you love me as much? When the daughter whispers, You can go, the body thinks, I don’t need your permission.
The body wants to be buried in the meadow, but its second wife thinks it wants its ashes to be spread over the pond, where they will sink and perhaps be nibbled by a fish. The body is repulsed by the idea of some part of it residing in a fish’s belly.
But after some thought, the body, in the end, doesn’t really mind where it lands. Does it really care about that fish? What is a meadow without this body to look at it?
JOANNA LULOFF is the author of the story collection The Beach at Galle Road (Algonquin, 2012) and the novel Remind Me Again What Happened (Algonquin, 2018). Her writing has appeared in Cincinnati Review, Memorious, The Missouri Review, New South, and Western Humanities Review. She is an Assistant Professor of English at University of Colorado Denver, where she edits fiction and nonfiction for Copper Nickel.