My father once said, There comes a time when a man will feel himself empty. I believed this to be a metaphor for the sheets soaked through to transparency, each breath so outbalanced by exhale that he became a single sigh by the time he was gone.
It was autumn when she first saw me through my window and called, her dress fluttering around her so her whole body waved. She was thirsty and needed directions and I would have taken her anywhere.
It was strange—the emptiness and joy of waiting for her. The knowing that she would never be with me.
And so came the hunger. I ate all the food kept in my home. Every day I said to the butcher, Give me your best cuts. I stored wheels of cheese, loaves of rye, steaks still bloodied-aching, all gone by night. Still the hole, still my ribs spread under me, still every morning her smile as she stopped by my porch, said, Yes, he loves wine, too.
Soon, it wasn’t enough and I ate what I found in the woods. Twigs, leaves, birds’ nests abandoned, stones polished clean by snow and light.
She told me of her family: her mother working with the miners until her hands stained black with dust; her father selling paint to the men building homes in the mountains.
She told me of her not-yet-husband bringing home wildflowers, and I imagined his fingers, toughened by axe swings, smoothing away her dress, kneading her skin into goose pimples.
I waited for her every morning, and it was welcome, this routine, this looking forward. Still I ate brick, ate grass, thought of a life before her, thought of myself as a part of her life, as the man she came back to. The great fire that broke in me when she smiled, touched my arm, said, I’ll see you tomorrow.
The night the hunger overtook me. How my feet took me into the chill air. How I found her home, her man waiting alone for her at the kitchen table while she hunted for their dinner. How I felt the heat, the burning of my stomach. How humans and sheep struggle against the blade, against pooling oil in the pan, against the gnashing of teeth and grumbling stomachs.
The dreams that night:
No hello, just a kiss that we wouldn’t part from until the end
A kiss that was the center orbit for our bodies dancing through the door to the bedroom
Our clothes undone
Gasping and swallowing
Our hands feeling for everything blind and familiar, tasting every moan and sigh
And we part, our lips still hungry, feeling the immediate ache for more
How I was forced awake by the retching and cramping. The taste of bark and roots and hair in the back of my tongue. The things I couldn’t take back.
I heard her never-husband speaking around my intestines and spleen: I am here but I am not a part of you.
He said, Neither of us will see her again.
He said, Did you think my consumption would end this ache?
She stopped visiting. I waited until past lunch, the emptiness gnawing, the crows overhead. The men at the store said that she had left town, her hair grayed, her eyes reddened by the smells in her cast iron pan, her engagement ring kept safe under her tongue.
I thought of myself filling, of the wanting, not of her, but what she had, what they all had, full and whole and together.
His voice in my navel saying, What did you expect?
I let my wolf-stomach consume what was left of my bones and sinew, my limbs deflated as rubber. I thought of my father. How we now shared the same concave chest, the skin transparent blue. How wrong I was to believe him.