The Poetry Project

Holding the Gap

Charlotte Henay

I write a multiplicity of shes, obscuring/confusing/making integral the illusion of how we see ourselves as distinct from one another.

Just before my mother died I dreamt of her sitting at a formica table in the dark end of a kitchen overrun with dogs and an elder who told me not to be afraid. I pour a tabby cat out of my arms onto her lap. I know it is my mother though I can’t see her face. She was emaciated, not emancipated. As in life. Later a dream walker tells me that cat medicine is unreliable and it is sickness I gave my mother whatever I had. Can this be I wonder cats following me in visions to this day. Big cats. Mountain cats. Booted black cats that belong to the neighbour. Forest cats. I am allergic to cats. Did I poison her I wonder cause her death hurry it somehow? There is someone else sitting at the opposite end of the table with her. They are fully in the dark, except for their legs hanging over the edge of the chair. I cannot see their face. I don’t know who this is. I live in fear of it being my son.

My mother and I are walking home in the dark snowy night arguing she lags behind in a cherry red coat begins walking through the park along the fence line there is another woman with us a younger woman we have been here before the younger woman reaches the fence first this side has woven openings in it for pedestrians to cross through the younger woman holds the fence for me I stride ahead and hold the gap open for my mother to cross over to this side I look back and she’s gone I know this has happened before just like this suddenly her coat is back on the other side of the bisecting fence line that side of the park is darker not backlit by streetlights every single time this happens in our walk same spot same crossover to the other side I was waiting at the top of the hill to help her climb over the fence and barbed wire back into life we have done this before too as she is about to begin to climb an ambulance arrives on the street side of the fence the ambulance driver cuts her loose through the barbed wire one of the attendants is a woman she speaks to me I thank her and she replies it’s no problem she asked them my mother did for a ride home but they say they can’t do it they have to get back to Toronto Western too many folks from our side of town keep dragging them out bringing out their dead they don’t want anymore of our salvage the woman hands me a broken piece of greyish white formica edges brown and paperlike they were nice about their refusal they just didn’t have any more room for the kitchen mess we were leaving behind when we disappeared disapparated we walked the brief distance and I locked us in for the trip we knew there were monsters the other woman I recognize as her lover is with us I make a mental note to call her in the morning

Electric bars come down over windows and doors lights go out we hunker down for the form we know is coming the younger woman is still her she had been at the bar watching Anastasia dance she helped me to prepare the older womxn for travel when the storm hit we had just put them to sleep did we mummify them I am not sure they were in upright reclined positions in what looks like large boxes these in turn are seated in a hollowed out wall the wall retracts with touch ID a hairline trigger at its base I can’t get it to sit properly to fit right      the first few times I play with the wall switch the woman’s lover is agitated in her rest this is important there are monsters we knew the risks we also knew if we couldn’t find them fast enough their hearts would fail and they would die      a final death maybe the monsters can save them the power goes out and the lover begins to clutch her heart the old womxn are wearing floral print shirts and slacks the lover begins to call out procedures to follow in case of cardiac arrest she is a doctor she sits up I massage her heart try to put her feet up she isn’t having it she begins to gasp and recite the steps for administering CPR we lose track of my mother the lover doesn’t make it we look for mum but she isn’t there not in any of the baggage we had hidden along with us during lockdown I shake things throw them open empty everything I can find frantic nothing we revive the lover coming upon her floating again in our search for mummy she is preserved by the monster inside her it hasn’t been too long we can bring her back completely the fangs fade the exoskeleton too still no mother this is where I realize I am saying goodbye its 4:42 am and I begin to cry hot tears in this dark

We have searched every room of this heart. I hear a small, very high pitched voice. She’s calling me, shhhhhhh, shhh, shardie? It’s so weak I can barely hear it. This is what happened to her voice when she was getting ready to leave her body. It became high, reedy, annoying, unrecognizable. I hear it again, clearer, yet still faint, with a tinge of fuzziness. Like static. Shardie? We rummage through suitcases and trunks, ripping them open, looking for the voice. Disembodied. A body bag. That’s where its coming from. Old, burgundy. Cracked pleather. We unzip it and there she is. It’s her. Tiny. We haven’t been quick enough to save her from the monster. It preserved her, too, but the cost was much higher. She is unrecognizable except for her voice. And eyes. Grey, rheumy. She has two heads at nether ends of her body. Fangs. A slimy, flat face and insect-like appendages. There is no holding her in relief. Maybe no more hugging. Ever. The tears flow faster here. I know she is sending this dream from far, and that it is costing her, even here, to reach me – to watch over me. I want it to stop hurting her, and I want her to stay. Ine ready. In her experience being ready comes after, as she remembers it. I agree. But that was before this memorying. We infuse the monsters that are her with tonics, wrap the tiny in warm blankets. Wait. Watch. We don’t know what to fed her – we are worried she may eat children. She would never do that, she says, husky voice not so sharp, less quiet, still hers. But her eyes are brighter now, and I just can’t be sure. I have to let her go. No one, nothing, has prepared me for this. I wake and write it instead.

When I fall back asleep, it’s whispering, I miss you. Asking her to come back, teeth and all.

Work from Boo: Ghosts and the Unconscious for Utopian Dreaming with Claire Donato & Adrian Shirk