Take, for example, this armrest—

it begs the existence of an elbow. I always sit on the left side of the bus with my head turned to the left. It keeps other people at a safe distance while the buildings beyond the glass succumbed to the speed the bus traveled. I keep thinking I married the wrong man and how I, for a long time, commuted to work.

Of course, something was wrong from the start. Something like a boy with a jar in his arms. What connects the words to the events or the objects they describe? We do. We act as if we own the world, but we are simply material through which these currents pass.

When the world was smaller, Blake walked three blocks to our house. Sweat stained his shirt and reminded me of how lobsters changed color when boiled. He was breathing hard. That day his mother decided he was old enough to keep a pet.

“It’s a fetal pig,” he said, showing me the jar. “Kinda like a guinea pig, only without hair.”

I wrinkled my nose. “What does it eat?”

“It just needs special water. See this mark? When the water level sinks, I have to add more.”

“Why isn’t it moving? Does it have a name?”

“He looks like he’s asleep but really he’s thinking. Mother says he can hear us when we talk. She’s a nurse. That’s how she knows.”

He stayed over for dinner. My mother knew his mother and thought Blake was the saddest boy in the world. It wasn’t true. We called the pig Snowglobe.

A week later Blake was asked to bring something for show-and-tell. That was the first time they took his mother away. He didn’t know that certain kinds of love had to remain secret. Children learn this instinctively. When they learn it in school, it is always too late. Mary had a little lamb.

I ran those three blocks to his house when I found out. The September mosquitoes swarmed me like second skin. Later, I learned that only female mosquitoes drink blood. It is because they need it for reproduction.

Some nights I still wake up to Blake’s mother screaming as she was led away.

“I shouldn’t have kept you!” she yelled. “I knew you were trouble. Make it stop! You’re hurting me. You’re just like your father. Alive first, and then dead again!”

A woman in a pink suit tucked Blake into a different car. He pressed both hands on the window when he saw me. His nose was bleeding.

When I tried to go to him, the Sheriff stopped me. “It’s going to be all right, kid,” he said. “He’ll be better off without her.”

“Will I be able to write him?” I stared at the Sheriff until he promised I could. My mother knew his mother who knew that his wife had filed for divorce. Behind him, the front door of Blake’s house creaked from its broken hinges.

That night I returned. Snowglobe was on the kitchen floor, his jar in pieces. The smell reminded me of loss cut open. Using the apron on the counter I took Snowglobe in my arms and buried him in the backyard.

“A heartbeat is already indicative of hurt,” Blake’s mother loved to say. For the first time, I understood her. I called it my Antarctica.

Consequently, I learned to name 17 varieties of penguins in Antarctica. The teachers seemed obsessed—little knowing that as we gain power over the objects and sensations that we call by their particular name, we also give them power over us.

The Sheriff kept his word. Blake and I weren’t as efficient in keeping in touch. We worked through a series of forwarding addresses. We mailed each other snow globes to mark our arrival at a different place.

Every city was a submerged city. Each one reminded me of film scenes where someone—tied and gagged—is dropped into a lake with weights on their feet. On my wedding day, the only thing I noticed was that the groom had been drinking. There are, curiously, many ways to drown.

After a month, he said, “We should move upstate. I know someone there. He’ll give me a job.”

“That’s what you keep saying.” I kicked off the bedcovers and turned my back to him.

“What? You don’t believe me? I’m dying here. Whatever happened to us?”

“I was never there. Now I just work harder.”

“At what? Serving cold food to people who spit in your face?”

“At staying dead, Jack.”

When Blake mailed me an angel snow globe, I knew he had brought his mother home. She was kept sedated in the mental ward, but considered harmless. It reminded me of past hurt. Growing up, I kept my head down. I was good with answers to test questions. One comes to mind: Penguins survive harsh winters by huddling. And so the snow globes multiplied.

I step off the bus and walk straight into the middle of another funeral. We’re both adults now. There are many theories on why 98% of Antarctica is governed by thick ice.

I read about Blake’s mother on the obituary my mother sent me together with photographs of herself as a child, then later married to my father. On the side of the news cut, she wrote, “The police say it’s suicide.”

Afterwards I trail behind the small crowd and linger outside the house. The front door remains broken, but no one seems to mind. They enter, chatting about their cats and credit card debts.

Blake shows up at the threshold. He has no hair, even his brows and eyelashes are gone. We freeze, assessing each other the way explorers would when coming across a territory that proves larger than it appears on the map.

Finally he says, “After all these years, and it still comes to this.”

“Your mother—” I bite my lip. We both know there’s no bringing her back, except . . . “She told me once that staying alive is harder than dying.”

He flashes me a faint smile. “That sounds like her.”

Inside the house, a phone rings. Blake hands me a key. I walk past him to the study and let myself in.

A noose hangs over the couch like a soul waiting for a new body. Patient elbows have left permanent dents on the armrest. I wait for the people to finish eating and leave.

Near the window, there’s a glass cabinet. As I draw closer, I recognize all the snow globes I sent Blake. Dozens of them line the shelves—a tiny fetal pig floating inside each one. My eyes tear at the overpowering smell of formaldehyde, of loss irreversibly cracked open.  

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