Friday, 6 December 2013

Excepting Leap Years by Michelle Bailat-Jones


When they were young a windstorm blew a photograph off the desk and down behind the dresser in their bedroom. Today, when they are old, when they are packing and clearing away the house, they find it covered in dust, faded.

Would you look at this, she says. I’d all but forgotten these two… and my hair… and our clothes!

But he is carrying those clunky wooden drawers and does not look up. He grunts, shuffles his burdens into the hallway, asks again about the moving van. They are downsizing, empty nesters because suddenly, unexpectedly - how exactly this happened they cannot recollect - their children are now parceled out to the world. Each of them in a perfect pair.

She keeps an old yellow bathrobe she likes to wear in the mornings while she drinks her coffee but she throws away his favorite baseball cap. Stashes it deep inside a trash bag and carries it herself out to the curb. He wraps their books in old supermarket bags. The unbleached kind with red print. She stops, fingers the unwrapped titles and he does not have the courage to tell her that they won’t have time to read them all again.

Instead, he packs the black collar and medallion of the dog who was hit by a car in ’98.

And when the house is finally emptied, they stand near the magnolia and do not hold hands.

His hair is white and he is thinking of emails he must send, address changes, a cancelled poker game. He is thinking of friends who have begun to write each others’ addresses in pencil. And the sigh in his throat does not come out because he has made a practice of holding his more uncomfortable emotions back down into his throat.

She is thinking about something their daughter said last week—about the sun leaving its habitable zone in 1.75 billion years, about the way the earth will either cool down or heat up, but that whichever way it goes, there won’t be any more earth. They tried to work out how many days this might be.

It’s easy, the daughter had said. 368 billion days. Excepting leap years.

And she will bite hard into the bright taste of her pride in this daughter who has always been so good at math.

So now he reaches over to his wife, and she puts her arm out, thinking he’d like to lean on her to walk back inside, but instead he is reaching further, lifting that photograph by its ragged corner from the pocket of her cardigan, and he says, well, yes, would you look at that, we’re all so young, where did they move to again?

And she will turn right back toward the house, swallowing hard this time, and say, oh, hush it, I already know all about it. 

About the Author: Michelle Bailat-Jones is a writer and translator living in Switzerland. Her poetry, fiction and criticism has appeared in various journals including Hayden’s Ferry Review, Sundog Lit, The Kenyon Review, PANK, Two Serious Ladies, Spolia Mag, The Quarterly Conversation and Necessary Fiction. Her translation of Charles Ferdinand Ramuz's classic novel Beauty on Earth was published this year by Onesuch Press. 

Image: alan craigie