The Heart's Drip
It was sometime after Easter, when spring grows heavier, the earth a bloated womb. My father, one of spring’s miscarriages. I drove home from school to see him. The couch in the living room was gone—that tattered, sunken thing permeated with my father’s smells and the little mountain range of indentations his body carved the way we mold to fit against a lover. My mother and father didn’t sleep separately out of contempt. They were just more comfortable that way—her upstairs in her stiff, cold bed, and him downstairs on the couch. In its place was a hospital bed; my father lay on it like a ball of yarn unraveled. He was stained wallpaper skin, all ribs and elbows. When I hugged him, it was like touching my grandma’s twenty-year-old cat, Lady, downy soft with birdlike bones. He smelled of death sweat, sharp as rain on hot asphalt.
My mom collected the fluid from his lungs in round bottles. He called it his cabernet because it looked like red wine.
The cancer preened him from his bones like a vulture. He was rotting like roadkill. It was taking its time.
Over the summer, I didn’t think of my father as gone. He was a chalk-line shape in our home; emptiness, but heavy, like silence. At times I’d sit on the front porch and an orange-and-black butterfly would come by, land on the pages of my book, dance in my cigarette smoke. It wasn’t a monarch. It was smaller, more modest and moth-like, like the ones that used to swell in his urine puddles in the backyard, like the one that landed on his hand last summer. Later that summer, an identical butterfly landed on my mother’s shirt, sat still just above her breast, feeling her pulse.
And there were the deer. They kept me company that summer. When the only things moving were the smoke and the hummingbirds around the feeder, the deer would come out of the woods. They lingered by the creek and ate the fallen crabapples. A doe and twin fawns, like my mother, my sister, and I.
One night, my mother found one of the fawns, drawn by our voices to the back porch step. It was dead.
Its eyes were open and unblinking. It looked so soft that I wanted to reach out and touch it. Pale yellow bile puddled on the cement beneath it. Something about the color reminded me of Dad in the funeral parlor—so pallid despite all the warm pink lights, wearing the maroon thermal shirt I bought him for Christmas.
It was a private viewing. No formaldehyde in his veins, no mortuary makeup. Just the saturated warm light to distract from his complexion. His eyes looked strange, I didn’t realize why until months later. They were sewn shut. I knew it wasn’t him, not anymore. When I kissed his cheek it was like kissing February; it was like kissing the deer on the doorstep and anything else dead and cold.
My bedroom ceiling used to leak when I was a child, right above where I slept. I had to move my bed and use a bucket to catch the rain. It sounded like a clock ticking, the softest water torture, rain against plastic. One summer we got our roof fixed and the dripping stopped. All that remained was a giant water stain above my pillow, the color of dried blood. I stopped noticing it.
After we found the fawn, I started noticing things again, like the water stain, like the black mold growing on the wallpaper in my bathroom. I noticed the places where the squirrels had chewed through the eaves. I noticed the silence. It was a cool summer, so most nights my mother would tell me it was too chilly to have my window fan on. But I hated the silence. For some reason, all of this terrified me. To a passerby on Canal Street, this could be an abandoned house. I imagined it covered in ivy, windows broken. With my mom still inside.
The fawns were malnourished. The doe had died first.
The next morning, a man came to take it away. He picked it up by its feet and threw it in the bed of his truck.
A friend told me about the way her mother would stick her hands into her father’s ashes like beach sand when she was drunk, so my friend had to take them away and scatter them in the ocean. It scares me that I can picture my mother doing that.
It has been nine months since my father’s death. I’ve nursed this grief like a stillborn. The rain outside my window is like a pulse slowing in sleep. We can’t run from the heart’s drip, the soul’s rain gutter.
It’s March again. It’s been over a year since the diagnosis. The house is drafty and feels like an abandoned place I’ve broken into. The woods are a corpse picked clean, the trees wrapped around Canal Street like the sides of a ribcage. This is the underbelly of Mother Nature.
My mom talks a lot because she is usually alone. She talks about work, about how her manager, the bastard, put her on the schedule for five days a week instead of four, about cleaning up around my father’s garage and the way the soda cans he was saving blew all over the lawn. I picture her laughing, I picture her cursing his name.
At night she stands with me on the front porch and shares a joint with me. She asks me things like, “Did you see that light in the woods?” “Do you hear something?” I tell her no until I start to imagine things, or pretend to imagine things just to give her the benefit of the doubt. My father used to be paranoid, used to hear people on our property that weren’t there, used to make us pause the television every time we saw headlights outside. Sometimes I think my mother does this for him, sometimes I think she carries him around the way I carried his urn into the house after the funeral. It was heavy.
The stage of grief no one mentions is the one where you have to learn how to carry the grief of others. My mom gives hers to my sister and I like the voicemails she leaves that we never listen to. For herself, she writes it into haikus.
When I come home alone at night I run from my car to the door, singing under my breath. I don’t like the way the wind plays with the chimes at night. They dangle over the front door, tangled up like marionette strings but still tinkling.
I’m not afraid of my dad’s ghost. I don’t know why I run.
Rebecca Kokitus is a poet residing in the Philadelphia area. She is currently a student at West Chester University of Pennsylvania, where she studies English with a concentration in Writing. Her work has been published and is forthcoming in over two dozen literary journals. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @rxbxcca_anna, and you can read more of her writing on her website.