At the Shiva, people tell me I’m lucky.
They say they know someone, who knew someone, who met a woman in the meat aisle, whose fingers they grazed while reaching for the number dispenser. Who looked up horrified. Whose eyes flashed, not with, I didn’t mean to, but with something like wonder electrified.
A woman who said:
I haven’t felt someone else’s touch in a long while and would it be okay if I left my fingers here? If I left them here just a little longer?
Could you maybe just read aloud your grocery list or keep nodding into your cart? Is there a baby in that basket stroller or is that a dog? Whatever it is, if something’s breathing in there, stirring in there, could you just stand here a little longer? Can you pretend to talk to me? I can pretend to listen. If you want me to, I can really listen. Artie never really listened.
If you want me to, I can wrap the chicken breasts you ordered in even thicker butcher paper so the breasts won’t stick. I have some here, right in my purse; it’s no trouble. I’m touching your hands again, I’m sorry—I don’t really mean it though, it’s quite lovely. I’m just reaching for the chicken. It’s a funny thing, chicken. We have an awful way of turning them into an insult while also popping them in a deep fryer and organizing holidays around eating them with dipping sauces.
Artie could’ve been a chicken. By that I mean he was a fan of anything that could be coated in oil and grease and then slathered with butter. Anything except his women of course. Women were meant to be small. Women were meant to have legs that go on and on, kind of like you do. You’re lucky, you know. To just look like that. Most women don’t just look like that. But looking the way you do isn’t always enough—I see you’re getting dinner rolls. You picked out the packaged brand, the one with all the seeds and grains. I hope you don’t mind, but I think you’d be better off with the doughy knots from the bakery counter. If you have someone at home, I think he would like those. It’s important to know what he likes.
If he isn’t happy, one day he might say: Marlene, I’m heading in for a shower. And you might say: Alright darling, I’m off to the grocery store. Later we can cook together.
Only when you come back with the diet pills they’re always going on about on the television, and some low sodium turkey to fool Artie with, to try to reverse what the doctor said was heading for his ticker, well, Artie may be gone. By which I mean: your someone may be gone. He may be gone for good, with the car, with his clothes packed in, with half of your money—more than half of your money if you’re really being honest with yourself. Without even bothering to pack any photographs.
Or Artie could be dead at the bottom of the tub. His body could be slimy and wet, and he could be lying there, just waiting for you; hoping you brought him the good stuff from the store, but you didn’t bring him the good stuff from the store, you brought him the healthy garbage that makes him grumble, the healthy garbage that’s only meant for your consumption. The healthy garbage that turns into real garbage when you find wrappers from McDonalds in the trash and the untouched quinoa patty you seasoned for over two hours right underneath it. What I mean to say is, if you aren’t careful, if you don’t choose your bread right, you might lose someone.
If both rolls cost the same amount, why not get the tastier option? There’s no sense in trying to change him. What’s the sense of health without happiness? Life is about the tiniest things. It’s really the small things about Artie that I miss. Not the ones we photographed, not the ones we posed for or planned out. The time we licked chicken skin from our fingers and went at each other—really went at each other, right there on the sofa. I don’t think we did it again like that, I think that time was special. We were slimy and oily and he kept clutching at me, and I know there were parts of me that were saggy, but he didn’t try to smooth them out, he didn’t try to erase me, he let those uneven bits stay. I was just me that day and Artie was Artie.
At the Shiva, they say: Think about Marlene. All mothers get old. All mothers get grey. You’ve only lost your past, what if your present went away? What if you kept going to the store hoping to come home to someone who was already long gone?
I say: To my mother, I was Marlene. I wasn’t any of the things she needed me to be.
But they’ve already moved on from me. They know someone who knows someone, who met someone else, who has something else to say.
Jenessa Abrams is a Norman Mailer Fiction Fellow. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in BOMB Magazine, Washington Square, The Offing, The Rumpus and elsewhere. Recently, she was nominated for the 2017 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. She has an MFA in fiction and literary translation from Columbia University.