Postcards From the Empty Nest
~ Rhonda Eikamp
Sorry. I know you set up the smartphone & e-mail for me, honey, but I came across these unused postcards while cleaning out after the funeral—face it, your mother will never be digitized—& I felt the urge to put down in ink what’s been happening here, everything about finding the Nest. I should start at the beginning. My, not much room on these things. I was so down after the funeral & you seemed in a hurry to fly out, I didn’t get to talk to you like I wanted. Your father was a difficult man (an understatement, haha), you know that, but very responsible, & it’s still hitting me how many things he took care of that are my responsibility now. Just thing things. Taxes, washing the car. You’ll know when you get old—there’s an energy seeps out of the mind & it can’t turn itself to things. It was about a week in that I forgot to close the garage door for the night. He’d been the one to do that, see. I woke up in the morning knowing, rushed out. Nothing stolen. The car was there. Hit the button to close the door, watched it go down & that’s when I discovered the silver circle. Big as a platter, there on the garage ceiling. The door had hidden it. Like a trick of the dawn light, or my dreams still percolating in me. I knew it hadn’t been there the day before. I go to stand under it & I can see it’s strands, rustling a little with the air. There’s a cloth we used to call peau-de-soie, satiny but hefty, always in colors of metal or transparent jewels. The wedding-dress sheen. It rippled like that (or rather it stopped when I stood under it). But such a perfect circle, like bread mold. Like silver-white hair growing out from the center. I should have done something about it then, but it was just another thing, & I didn’t want to deal with things. The problem is, every morning it’s been a little bigger. I know you were always afraid of spider eggs & I just wanted to warn you—in case by chance you’re back soon for a visit & I forget—don’t go in the garage. (So—that gets that out of my system some. Really not much room on these things!)
Dear Bryn honey,
Hope you get these in the right order.
You know when you see a face in an object & then you can’t stop seeing it? (You may have a face like that in your life someday.) This is after it started to bulge in places. Grew about as big around as the roof of the car, though off to the side, in the empty space. I’ve started walking round & round every day gazing up, studying details of it, tighter & tighter circles until sometimes I’m spinning in place with my head thrown back. Makes me dizzy. (You used to do that as a child, arms stretched to the blue sky. Do you remember?) Don’t worry what the neighbors think, the Nest is only visible with the garage door closed, remember. When the light from the little window hits it right (but it casts its own light), a face appears. Very plain, no particular features. A nonface, an unface, no one I know. I stopped thinking Nest so much & started thinking Face, telling myself, You’ve got to do something about the Face. But I never got around to it. Today, though, spinning slow like that underneath it, squinting hard, I caught sight of a kind of crack or rip in it, a darker hairline in the silver. Like a flap. Looked to be wavering with the motion of air, or maybe squirming, & I started thinking of all the things that could come out of a nest like that.
Your father would always get rid of the wasps’ nests around the house. He’d slosh gasoline on them to stun them before he knocked the nest down. I know you think your mother’s not tough, an old homebody (I’d have gone to work when you were older if your father hadn’t been so touchy about being the breadwinner), but here I was today, up on the trunk of the car with a broom & a gas can. Figured I could just about reach it from there. Felt a little wavery myself. You were probably too young to remember that scandal with old Lily Carston down the street, lived alone, how they found her bruised with a broken wrist on her bedroom floor after she signalled that bracelet alarm, naked from the waist down? Swore she couldn’t remember a thing & they figured the worst, till she confessed she’d fallen off her dresser after she climbed up to look at her hemorrhoids in the mirror. I felt like that (not about the haemorrhoids, honey) but thinking: if I fall this’ll be hard to explain. Found in a pool of gas with a broken hip (or not found at all). Wasn’t sure how I was going to slosh up there with that can. But when I straightened up I hesitated. Up close the Nest was so beautiful. The weave of it so structured, ridged. It wasn’t a Face up that close, there were whole cities in there, a million tiny buildings, & me a god gazing down—up—onto it from its sky. And that’s when the Nest
Sorry. Ran out of room on the last card. That’s when it spoke. It said, Water fountains.
That flap, turns out, is a mouth, though the sound (sounds by now) does not come from there but rather from all over it—a thrum, piano wire, church organs. Chords you feel deep down. A bone sound. I’ll admit I said, Henry? (Silly, I know. Years of marriage will do that to you.) I was down on the floor by then, half-fell off the car & hurt my ankle, crawled into the corner & just sat with my knees pulled up, staring. After a long time it said, Brainstorming. I could hear the disgust in the voice then (the non-voice, unvoice), & it made sense. You surely recall how your father hated drinking fountains. Unpredictable intelligence, he’d claim—one high & spraying, the next one low & seepy, icy or tepid (he loved that word), germ colonies of the masses & you’d cry when he wouldn’t let you use them. But you probably didn’t know brainstorming was one of his hates too, how he’d come home from those mandatory meetings ranting how younger men could steal his ideas because it all came out of the session, created by the one mind working together & where was the credit where credit was due. I hunched there in the garage corner, thrummed through by that sound, & it made sense, that if there was anything of him to survive it would be the hates. (Wouldn’t it?) Because in life they had been so large. I felt light, empty, always air anyway & now even that pumped out of me, just an old church filled with the organ sound of his gripes. I felt the Nest would float down onto me then, odd thought, almost wanted it to, but me & the Nest had both grown very still, not wavering anymore. Just waiting.
After a while it said, Country music.
Got your message on the answering machine. You don’t have to worry about me, hon. Impossible’s what you make of it—if you’re handed impossible lemons, make crazy lemonade.
I ditched the gas can the next day. Figured I could get up under it with the broom & loosen it, make it drop. Like turning a pancake. Didn’t know what I’d do if I got it down on the garage floor. Look it over maybe close up, take my own good time. Maybe touch it. The silver threads seemed to have gotten thicker in just a day, not hairs so much as gel, it rippled away from the loose edge I poked, all those ridges & structures softening & swelling, like it’d love to just shake me off, but I wasn’t having it. I was a god giving that city an earthquake. Just when the broom was wedged up under it good, it moved away. Fast. Scuttled all the way across the ceiling, toward the door to the kitchen that I’d left open.
I almost fell again. Not because it was its own creature, loose & moving (but still suckered to that ceiling). It was the shock of how it moved. Because, honey, I recognized that scuttle. There was that disgust in the way it hunched away from me, if a blob can be said to hunch. Annoyed. (Can’t think of a better word). If the list of hates hadn’t made me certain of what I was looking at, that did. He waited for a second at the door to see how I’d react, then went on into the house, sort of flowed across the lintel like an earthworm (a very large, very silver earthworm, an earthworm city) & I followed. Found him spread across most of the kitchen ceiling. It made him seem even larger, being inside like that, so unexpected against my ivy-pattern curtains & the plastic fruit on top of the fridge. So organic (I suppose that’s the word). A thing that belongs outside brought inside. Out-of-place. Not dirt but something like it. A neck of him oozed out from the rest, still attached, inched on across the top of the door into the den, inspecting it for changes. The voice said, Cobwebs. The sound of those hate words was larger too now it was inside, it thrummed in the walls & the floor. I admit I don’t clean the corners up near the ceilings like I should. Call waiting, it said, & then: Forgetfulness.
I felt all empty again hearing that. All my air gone. The whole house has been airless since that moment it said that, a box of airless. I think it’s what’s caused this latest growth spurt these past few days. Aren’t there amoebas that grow in a lack of oxygen? He’s so big now, honey, you wouldn’t believe. The only ceiling in every room, worming through the top of every door. That voice goes on night & day with its rumbling list. Wicker headboards, horses rolling, funerals. The sound is like a storm that’s passed but the thunder keeps reaching back for you. I dream it at night. Perfume, he said last night from the bedroom ceiling, just before I nodded off, & I said aloud into the dark: I know, it’s why I never wore it. Your father hated fake scents, Bryn, liked the natural scent of me, he’d say. Never a romantic, but something about him saying that always made me feel happier.
I had good dreams that night.
Love for now. More later.
Sorry I missed you again. I don’t pick up much anymore. Please please don’t jump on a plane, I know you have a busy life & it’s not necessary. It’s going too far though to say I’m imagining this, sweetie. No one could imagine something this big. I do have to stoop & that’s an inconvenience. He’s larger now than anything I’ve ever had in the house. Plus there have come to be certain (how do I say this delicately?) bulges, extending almost to the floor in every room, stalactites (or is it –mites?) that I have to detour around. Cottony columns, pillars, as if I was living in a soft silver temple. If I saw a Face before, I see something else in these Pillars. The tips bend toward me when I try to go around them. The words keep on rumbling of course, erupting from everywhere now, the whole house speaking when he does, a mumble so run together I hardly hear it anymore. Belt-buckles roses decaf tan-lines the squinting eyes lists. Hard to believe anyone could hate so many things. Meter-readers, snow in May, a letter with no return address. I’m tired of this on-and-on, Bryn, believe me, all his modern art’s & his gnocchi’s, all his hates rolled into that eternal mumble, but I sat there last week in the blue recliner as I often do these days, gazing up into that city that is more a huge heaving hill-country of silver grass, so close I can feel the thrum picking up my hair like static, & for a moment the mumble became words again.
Small dogs, sudden silences, tofu.
Child-proof caps? I suggested.
The quiet lasted too long. Wasn’t there anything you loved, I asked. Even one thing.
Another silence. Then a word.
Funny thing is, I’m not sure if he heard me or if he was still listing. After a second the mumblings went on. Empty rooms, word games, a liar. I accept it for now, but I can’t decide which he meant, Bryn, a hate or a love. I just can’t. Can you?
What I think is that I have to stop thinking about it.
So you see you don’t have to be afraid for me. The important thing is this—I could leave anytime if I wanted to, walk out the door & close it behind me, out to where there are no ceilings, & that is a thing he can’t do. Because he is attached & I am not, see. I can tell myself he’s been put in his place for once & it’s enough for me. That no matter how much of the house he fills, with his mass & his staticky thrum that turns my head to liquid & his grasping Pillars—it’s still an empty buzzing nest, whereas I’m filled with that energy I thought I’d lost. I may get a small dog. I may travel. I may. Even in my bent state (& it’s very low now, since this morning I’m reduced to crawling) it would not be too hard. Those Pillars haven’t blocked the doors yet entirely. I’ll squeeze through to take this to the mailbox & then I’ll come back in & think about it. What I mean to say, Bryn honey (running out of room again), is that you shouldn’t be worried if you arrive & don’t find me here because it will mean I’ve
Rhonda Eikamp grew up in Texas and now lives in Germany, land of dark fairy tales and fast highways. Her short stories have appeared in a variety of venues, including Lightspeed, Lackington’s, Nightscript, and The Dark. When not writing fiction, she translates for a German law firm and does Tarot readings for friends with her Salvador Dali deck.
Some of her stories may be found at her blog: https://writinginthestrangeloop.wordpress.com/stories/