Equations for a Falling Body by Chloe Jory
It starts in Canyon Creek Hospital, where, on Sunday mornings, he waits for his mother to die.
She rasps my name as I come to stand behind him. But all I hear is beep, beep, beep: a funeral march for velocity. Each week there is a little less of her, another inch of bone ill concealed under papery skin, another mess of deflated, knotting viscera that swell and distort with every labored breath. Septic cracks chap at the sides of her lips from the last time she was intubated; he holds her hand in both of his. It smells of iodine.
In the car, I’m not thinking about her. I’m thinking about falling apart. Thinking that if I don’t concentrate all my effort on staying in one place, the reality of it all will come hurtling in: tunneling through space with alarming momentum, picking up speed and force and weight as I go. I’m thinking that it would only take a moment’s lapse in judgment to suddenly experience all those physical laws that I know are happening and choose to ignore. Entropy and energy. Trajectory and time.
He must be thinking about it too, because he doesn’t see it when it comes. 8,500 pounds of screaming metal. Catching us in a tailspin that crunches and squeals and snaps on the intersection. A damn breaks in my ears. A crash. I feel a crack and an ache and a hot torrent of blood.
But there, in the haze of it all, I see him, frozen neatly in the framework of time: clean and clear and sacred like the Fontes Sequanae. His lovely head propped limply against the seat. My love. I trace the sharp curve of his splendid jaw with my eyes, the dark lines of his eyes and cheeks and clavicle. I don’t see him breathing. His neck is torqued acutely to the left.
For one terrible, sensical moment, as my vision oscillates from red to white to red again, I think, if I can just remember this picture, I can keep him. Preserve him. I think perhaps we are being spared. Spared from cold plastic beds and antiseptic fever dreams. From long nights in cramped chairs. I can see him in the same bed, like her: breath laced with the oily stink of liver rot and stiff tubing, hands pulsing and swollen with edema. In the same grey box, I will sit with him, clinging desperately to the memory of his amplitude. I think of watching the life evaporate, slowly, from a crumbling, wheezing shell. Of staring so long that the image of his sunken face burns out the rest.
When I wake up, I am in the same grey room at Canyon Creek Hospital. Not the same, I learn later- identical. Two floors up from the room where his mother coughs and sputters like a spoiled exhaust pipe. He sits above me, neck confined by the foam of a plastic brace. His two warm hands clasp one of mine. I hear him whisper something about fineness, and rightness, and the dilation of time.
I think that is a strange punishment for being loved.