More Dire Then
by Matthew B. Kelley
Photo: Latavia Davis
That damn cat. All it did was stare at me, night and day. Those yellow eyes bored holes through my pupils as if mining for light just beyond the darkness, as if stars lived just beneath the surface, as if any stars were left. I hated it.
“Leave the cat alone, Jeffrey,” she sighed.
I could always tell when she grew tired of me. Her eyelids would drape over the whites of her eyes holding back all the irritation on her face, her shoulders slinking down against the curve of her back. This was the Star I knew. Now her shoulders lay in a perpetual slump towering over her petite frame. The same fluorescent eyes that spellbound men into delight now floated as two burnt out light bulbs in a sea of isolation. My only regret is that I did this to her.
“You really should take your medication now. They’ll stop bothering you if you just show some sign of self-preservation,” she said, holding out a small cup filled with multi-colored capsules.
“I hate those things,” I said without breaking stare with the cat. I could not bear Star’s lifeless stare. “It has eyes like piss filled marbles.”
Looking at the murky yellow orbs reminded me of the stench of dried tears and petty arguments in the living room. She’d loved the drapes in that little room. They were the first things she picked out for the house, the reason for our first real argument after we said I do. So silly to argue about drapes I suppose, but everything was more dire then.
“Stop fussing,” still holding out the cup. “That cat is going to do what it wants to do. Relax. It’s not like you’ll be here much long–”
Her hand shot to her mouth with wide eyes. The cat turned and left.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” she said. “I meant–”
I would not take her pity, could not take her pity. We both knew we were at Happy Ending Hospice. We both saw I lay in a hospital bed with tubes polluting my body. We both heard the doctor say six months.
The past three months left her tired. I can only imagine what it was like going to sleep next to her husband only wake up and come take care of me on my death bed. But she did not complain; I wish she would. It would have offered some semblance of our lost passion, instead her silence widened the chasm between us.
She visited me every morning at nine o’clock since Happy Ending admitted me for my stage four leukemia. She would come in and glance at me with a smile that would always read ‘Hi.’ I would try to mouth the word back, but the silence had become too normal, too safe. I wonder if she noticed.
She always brought a book with her and sat in the bright orange chair in the corner of the room. She said the past five years with Michael gave her a passion for reading. I guess those books were the only pieces of him she brought in the room with her. Those books and the silver band on her left hand.
“It’s okay, Star. We’re all a little tired.”
She paused, pooling the composure into her face.
“Angela. It’s just…Angela.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I can’t do that.”
I couldn’t strip twenty years of marriage from my lexicon any more than she could strip the star-shaped birthmark from her cheek. I tried calling her Angela after the divorce but my mouth quivered each time I uttered the name. It was a name my heart did not know; a name both hollow and filled with anguish. It would break me to call her Angela in my state. It would break me to let Star go.
She looked down and opened her mouth; she held her tongue. The cat came back into the room and climbed onto the orange chair. Star put her book in her purse and left.
Two weeks passed without any word from her. I’d stockpiled enough in that time. Blue ones, green ones, even the ones that the nurses said were simple vitamins. I did not mind the cat anymore. Even if its eyes reminded me of sullen times, at least they reminded me of something. It rested on my lap when I dumped the nearly thirty pills into my mouth. It was nice to feel the warmth. It was nice to feel the release.
Matthew B. Kelley is a writer and teacher raised in Atlanta, GA. He received a BS in Chemistry from Morehouse College. He has received writing fellowships from Kimbilio Fiction and Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop. He currently teaches Chemistry at Langston Hughes High School in Atlanta, GA.