Ashley Stimpson

A Slow Reckoning

Today would’ve been the 2,190th day, but 133 mornings ago I piled my things in a laundry basket. So instead today is just the 61st day I’ve lived in this apartment. Not that I am counting. Simply tending the garden of my ruin.

Today is also our would-be sixth wedding anniversary and a Saturday. Of course it’s a Saturday. This way I can writhe in self-annihilation for as many unoccupied hours as possible.

I wake up to a timid sun; a mama raccoon’s maudlin cries reach my window from a backyard trap the landlord set to save his crawlspace. The cage shakes with her confused desperation and I stare at one of the many cracks that races through the nicotine-steeped ceiling. How immediate, how painless it would be, I think. The ever-stoned Dead Head above could sleep right through. Not a glitch in his THC dreams.

Hunger lurches me out of bed. I pause in the bathroom mirror and frown at the evidence of my hangover. The curls are falling out of my hair because I tug on them all day and mash them against pillows and toss them back like so many bottles of beer. Green, glass bottles, not warm with milk.

On my wedding day, I wore hydrangeas in my hair; they were cheapest. My curls were a burgundy then, and they were long and as full as feather pillows. Now they look like the trimmings on a woodshop floor.

I choke down days-old zucchini bread, picking out the chocolate chips, feeling like someone is tearing down a house in my chest. I imagine a crew of hairy men in hard hats, carrying wood and power tools on their shoulders, walking back and forth across the ventricles, shouting to each other while demolishing old support beams, destroying the foundation. I ask them to keep it down and the dog cocks its head.

I take the dog to the forest. I tell the blue ash and the sycamore that I fucked up and I know it and that it was an accident. I plead fervently for the people I have hurt. For their happiness, for their healing. I promise not to be reckless anymore if this prayer might be validated. I promise early nights in bed with books and as much solitude as it takes to become a worthy person. I promise to abstain from men.

The blue ash are suffering unhurried deaths from a ravenous Asian beetle and they do not hear me. The sycamores bend forward with a hot breeze as if to say yeah right.

The afternoon passes stubbornly. I do chores. I sweep I sweat I swear to god the marrow of my bones has been replaced by despair.

I put on a dress. Like I did on that blinding August afternoon four lifetimes ago. This one is not heavy, not overlaid with lace, not too expensive, not exactly what I said I’d never wear. No one is here to tell me I look beautiful and I know, objectively, that I do not.

I walk to the Catholic church on the next block. I sit in the third row from the back and pull the kneeler down. It slams against marble and the sound ricochets like rifle fire through the plastered tunnel of the vestibule.

I am here to turn myself in. I am so weary of this fugitive life.

I kneel until my joints ache. I stifle my sorrow until the Offertory, when tears begin pelting the satin across my chest. At first a few, and then a deluge.

I sing each song and creed and recite all the congregational responses they haven’t changed yet.

The only words I’ve ever uttered in a church and meant were—

I do.

I’m so sorry.

I stand in line for the Eucharist and for a moment I think the priest is going to keep it from me. Because I am a sinner. But he says, “Body of Christ” and I say “Amen” and shuffle weakly to the left and look at Jesus’ bloody feet and cross myself.

After mass I get drunk.

Ashley Stimpson is a freelance writer based in Baltimore. Her recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Johns Hopkins Magazine, Chesapeake Bay Magazine, and the Potomac Review.