By Meredith Sue Willis


The thing that tortured us was that we could see how she was tortured by the strangeness of the lamp on the table and the heap of clean underwear on the bed. At a certain stage she watched television, especially local commercials where the proprietor displays the product and explains how much you need it. There had also been a period– a respite, a plateau– when she wrote words in a notebook. At this time, she could still receive visitors with her brittle scaffolding of prepared comments. "Here's ice water," she would say. "Would you like a glass? Would you like water in it? Would you like an ice cube in your water?"

For a while, she could still focus on individual objects or closely associated objects: the humming bird dipping into the red plastic feeder. That pleased her for a while, although she whimpered when the bird disappeared. Gradually, supports and tricks and patterns of recognition were crushed into a kind of gritty powder. Eyes closed, she would be comforted for a moment by the grit beneath her bare foot, and even by the grit inside her shoe, but then she would realize that something was missing, that it was wrong for one of them to be bare and that one of those things was missing.

She brushes at her forehead as if irritated by a wind tunnel of departing things. She no longer has access to the pitcher or the word for a pitcher. Now she is the thing receding, yelping like the pet left behind as the family drives away. When she opens her eyes, it is all unfamiliar, shrouded in sheets. Shapes like knees and sounds like irregular chunks roll past. There is a flash of geometric green she can no longer name, a stone figure soldiering into the future without a face. Reminders of what has retreated.

Sometimes she can be calmed by stroking, as if touch sinks through to the back of her skull and smooths things. We say, the sooner the smoother the better. But for now, she noses and frets at the edge with no image of what she's looking for.

There will come a time, we tell each other, when agitation will end, anxiety will dissolve, and there will be at last an infinite smoothness. Disorder gone as well as order and the yearning for order. There will be some relief. We look forward to this with great anticipation.

We wish for no climax, only surcease.


Coelacanth Magazine, Issue 9, Fall 2003.