The Mass of Invisible Labors
by Sarah Twombly
Now he wanted to talk about the thing she didn’t know how to talk about, the thing she had always carried—lugged, really—ever surprised by the agonizing weight of it, a thing she could not name, a thing that had no shape, a thing she could not even touch.
He wanted to support her, to transfer some of the burden onto himself, but she didn’t know how to explain to him exactly where it was, or how to grab hold. And she wasn’t sure the spindles of his legs could bear the pressure. She had spent years carting it around, growing stronger as it got larger until finally, this year, this month, this minute, it surpassed her muscles’ anatomical capacity and began to crush her. Millimeter by millimeter, she shrank. He hadn’t noticed, not yet, but tomorrow or the next day—when she could no longer reach the top shelf, or pull her dresses off the closet’s hanging bar, which he had mounted too high after insisting on doing the renovation himself, or when her bones compressed so much those same dresses, which had once wafted around her shins, now dragged across the floor and the hum of her sewing machine filled the night, hemming and hemming and hemming—he would notice.
And he did, but not because of her foreshortened arms or her need for a stool. He noticed the day the brown bob of her head—which had, for all fifteen years of their marriage, reached as high as his nostrils, filling them, every time she came near, with the cool tang of her peppermint shampoo—was not there. The moment she went up on her tiptoes and lifted her chin, and he tilted his, expecting a kiss, but instead there was nothing. No lips, no skin, no peppermint. Nothing. That, he noticed.
And then he could hear it, the delicate whisper of her bones being crushed. Through breakfast, through dinner, as he lay in bed clutching her hand and humming La Vie En Rose, the first song they had danced to at their wedding, he couldn’t stop hearing it.
Every day, she shrank a little more.
When she was so short she could no longer reach the bathroom sink, he grew desperate. He pulled at her arms, trying to stretch her. He grabbed wildly at the air where she described the weight of the thing she still did not know how to talk about, but his fingers slid right through.
When she could no longer hoist herself into the matchbox bed he’d made for her, he began to cry. He watered her with tears, but still, she did not grow.
She used her last millimeters of life to comfort him, to tell him how wondrous the world was; that the grain of the floorboards flowed like a river; that the trees were singing; that his shoes squeaked, even when he wasn’t wearing them.
And then, she was gone.
Sarah Twombly has been a roadie, professor, anthropologist, advertising strategist, and poet. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The New York Times, Prairie Schooner, Esquire, Hippocampus, and Atticus Review, among others. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.