When I was young, this woman I knew peripherally died suddenly in her sleep from an aneurism. Rob woke up and found Sue cold in the bed beside him. I didn’t know then how quickly or slowly a body cools so I imagined, then, this meant she had been dead for some hours. I imagine he shook her body trying to wake her and failing. I imagine he held her, sobbing dry eyed into her hair.
Rob and Sue didn’t have children, but they had a giant iguana. He must have had a cage, but was out crawling on the sofa, lime skin rough under my fingertips. Rob sat on the couch in my parents living room after Sue’s death. He brought a collection of Sue’s jewelry. His face was red and his eyes kept tearing when his hands drew new bracelets and rings, earrings and brooches, necklaces and trinkets out of a bag.
I sat on my knees shifting hip to hip unable to sit still, to rest in the presence of such grief. I couldn’t understand why he was so upset. Why he couldn’t keep it together? Didn’t he know that people died sometimes? And I couldn’t help the feeling of joy when I looked at Sue’s bangles, the smile reaching my ears when I tried them on and listened to them clink when I moved my wrist.
Jewelry, even when it is costume and cheap, seems something women are proud of passing on and keeping. My mother-in-law showed me the treasures she’d kept from the women in her family: grandmothers, aunts, and mothers, who died leaving their baubles behind. She gave me a wedding ring that belonged to her grandmother. A simple gold band with some decorative engraving bearing a circle cut diamond. I tried to give the ring back when we fought. It sits in my jewelry box now waiting, I suppose, for me to die, too, so it can live another life with another girl who’ll put it on her finger then retire it to another box.
There is one image of Rob I struggle to push back when it resurfaces. He’s there now, sitting on the couch sharing mementos of his dead wife. He finds her perfume bottle. I don’t remember the scent, but I watch as he puts the bottle to his nose, inhales deeply, drinking in the smell of her, so newly lost. His eyes are red and wet when when his hand drops onto his thigh. His voice cracks when he tries to speak so we all just sit there in silence. I don’t remember how it breaks—that silence goes on forever.
I remember fingering the bangles on my wrist when Rob left. He took his grief out the door and left Sue’s jewelry. I was happy when he left. We were claustrophobic with his grief pushing through the corners of the room stifling the talk and killing the joy a little girl feels when she hears bangles on her wrist. I don’t know where the bangles are now.
Kari Treese is an MFA candidate in prose at Mills College. She graduated from University of Washington, Tacoma with a BA in Writing Studies and a Master’s degree in Secondary Mathematics Education from UCLA. Her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Crab Fat, Lunch Ticket, Pacifica, and others.