Written with the prompts:  she could see no one, Mother’s Rest, Oklahoma, power, read books real hard, you smell terrible, to this day, where’s Bill, what about the body?, a sense of neighborhood, story?, you need to leave, gift, typical summer weather, kiss, what they taught me 

She could see no one anymore, isolated as she was in her self-exile.  But really, it wasn’t so bad on this island, typical summer weather nearly year-round, a bit humid for her liking but it cooled off at night when the trade winds blew in off the beach.  She liked to pretend the coastal birds provided a sense of neighborhood.  She named them after her departed relatives:  seagulls Bonnie and Dave swept in like her parents most mornings to eat bread crusts and scraps of fruit.  She named the hawks that perched in the pines after her ex-lovers Jamie and Billy, and then shoot!—where’s Bill?  That hawk disappeared and it somehow made the name choice even more apt.  Then there were seals under the wharf—she named them for her sisters, Cheryl and Terri.  But she could not bring herself to name any of the wild life after her lost daughter.  No the name Callie would forever be sacred to her.  To this day she could not bring herself to say it aloud.  God helped anyone who dared.

She called her island sanctuary Mother’s Rest, after a place in Oklahoma she read about in a book.  It seemed fitting since she didn’t expect to ever leave.  She had what she needed:  a generator for power and the Amazon drivers to bring in everything else.  She read books real hard, all fiction—mostly magical realism, sci fi, maybe the occasional historical tome.  The longer the better.  She liked stories, old ones and new ones, the same ones over and over.  She had no taste for nonfiction, so-called reality.  She felt she’d earned her fantasy now.

Sometimes a letter arrives, proof of a former life, a life she couldn’t hang on to, usually from a former student or colleague, but sometimes it comes from a book seller or even a journalist.  They write pretty prose, but it’s always the same question.  “Story?” they ask, and sometimes, on a rainy afternoon when her crocheted poncho isn’t enough to warm her, she is tempted.  She remembers what the nuns had taught her about her body—it is a boat or a shell or a horse—a conveyance of some kind, a mode of transportation; as if there is something else inside, a soul, a spirit, something vital, something more important, something that will live beyond her and this unbearable gravity, the weight of her sorrow.  But what about the body?  No, she thinks, there is nothing else.  Only the body.  And isn’t it enough?  Can’t she think only of her hands and feet, her eyes, her mouth, her belly and its many appetites.  She owes nothing more to anyone else.  And then she may kiss the paper, the fragile sheets of stationary, just before she slips them in to line her compost bucket.  She drops egg shells, coffee grounds, fish heads, vegetable scraps on top.  “You smell terrible!” she announces to her absent correspondents.  “You can’t touch me,” she mumbles, “for I am no one’s gift.”

Photo by Soheil Arbabi on Unsplash

4 thoughts on “Exile

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