Candice Kelsey : Fiction : Oct 2020


Southern Legitimacy Statement: I grew up miles from Kentucky, spent summers in Tennessee, and married a guy from Tennessee. I consider the South my second home. Is that legitimate enough? Oh, my daughter will be attending Ole Miss in the fall.

Costumes for a Different Woman

The dresses in my closet
are costumes
for a different woman,
though I hide myself
in their silky textures.
The man asleep
in my bed
knows me best
in the dark.

~Linda Pastan

He grows smaller. Somehow he makes this old house feel draftier, like we live in a bank vault and he’s the balance dwindling toward the red. My crime, one of them anyway, is neglecting to lock the vault.

Cancer had been staking us out for months, and when we weren’t looking, it walked right through the front door. In its terrible mask with its slick urgent schemes, it would have snuck past the guards if we had any. Each day since then, I’ve searched for some forgotten cash drawer, some hidden drawer that contains piles of new, undamaged cells. Most nights I dream that I wear the terrible mask as I gather his pills into neat piles and plant them in the garden out back. They begin to sprout moments before I awake. The scent of loam remains.

Garter snakes prefer the tall grass. When they grow, they have to shed a layer of their skin; the rocks help the process. I’m sure there are countless ghostlike skins sleeping in the meadows across North America even now. But my husband is growing smaller. He is shedding himself. And I am the tall grass caressing his brittle hands.

Soon he will shed his warm bed, unhitch from this drafty house, and step over the mess Cancer made of our lives. There’s no costume to hide it. He will be so tiny I won’t be able to find him. I’ll search the drawers for clumps of his hair; I’ll scoop the cat litter extra carefully for lumps of his knuckles; I’ll sweep out the fireplace for remnants of his papery skin.

And then I’ll remember to lock the front door. Before I fall asleep, before I dream of my pill garden, before I begin the search for something Cancer didn’t steal, I’ll check that all the windows are shut tight. And I’ll scream loud enough to feel alive. Maybe I’ll even find forgiveness by myself in this drafty old house. And that will be the costume I wear.