Nightgown

I’m wearing bare legs in Atlanta on the last day of November, and my brother’s stomach hurts like an eight out of ten as we give our goodbyes. It’s probably an ulcer. This morning after black coffee and eggs we struggled into a downtown church that smelled hard – bitter and rich, like somebody’s urine was living or dying on its stone porches. I was torn between wanting to wash the whole building and wanting to pull down my red underwear and piss in sour harmony with the perfume. I did neither, but remembered last July, on the subway after rosé when Meg lifted her blue dress to pee on the platform. She bent her bare legs in the fluorescent underground. It was flaked with stain and black film as she bent bare – in front of midnight’s half-crowd – and she laughed as the piss coated her white ankles. It mostly smelled living.

This morning my brother’s left hand shook in mine each time we stayed seated for a hymn; around us strangers towered with one sound. At communion, he whispered, “Go ahead,” nodding toward the bread and wine, abundant at the front of the sanctuary. Instead, I told him I loved him by taking his fist in two hands. Instead, we shook silent in the green, velvet pew. “Lizzie, I wish this could heal me.”

I think of my brother as a hundred places. He doesn’t know this, but I’ve put him everywhere. I talk about him when I least expect it. Almost every time I eat, I imagine the pink hole where the feeding tube sat and scarred him: it feels bare and backward to have him anywhere apart from here.

I find a bathroom immediately after they drop me off at the airport. In the widest stall I dig through my purple duffel for the gray wool tights I only wear in Vermont, balance my bare ass on the toilet, pull the soft thing from my ankles to my hips.

I drink cold coffee in the middle of the crowd where I taste nameless and worn-out. We are all waiting with crossed knees on blue leather in the spoiled air of the airport. We are all filling our mouths with anything bright – I have my coffee in unison with their 5 Gum, and Goldfish, the Diet Coke, and Burritos. It somehow feels abundant, swallowing together.

Between November’s rough and rusty breaths, I remember this morning when I helped my brother to the toilet, and I remember how I watched his small, stale legs fold bare against the cold seat. The whole thing, beating and boiling above the tiles where I stood strange, helping. The whole thing, sunk in the center of my stomach, a pink hole, folding backwards into herself.

I bought the blue paper lamp for my bedroom with money from my last paint-shop paycheck; my mother hung the fragile thing from my ceiling in September. Tonight I remember the gift of her: making toast with butter in the middle of the night, flat-footed in the kitchen beneath the long white nightgown that I’ve taught myself she wore in her hospital bed on the morning I was born. I’ve always believed this – that I was born from below, from between, the bright sheets of her sleeping dress. If I could reach her closet from Vermont tonight I would hold its stale, split hem, smell its armpits, kiss the pale, thick-sewn flowers fallen at her pink-blue feet.

May it come that all the radiance will be known as our own radiance. I write this in a letter to Edward. His stomach pain turned out to be gastritis. I imagine the acid in him, lapping at the lining. He sloshes in his white bed on the floor of the hospital apartment. My parents lie sideways across the room in the crease between two foreign twin beds pushed together. Stale, silent.

Do I want someone to read this and take care of me? Do I want someone with clean hands in my bedroom under the blue paper lamp, touching my temples with the window propped open, kissing my fingers when I burn them in the sink? Do I want someone to know that I was born inside a nightgown? Do I want to lap at anyone’s lining? Do I want anyone at the foot of my bed when anyone has felt something final or first? Do I want anyone to fold and to open, as if an envelope, as if containing blue ink, as if I could taste blue again?

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