She thought that she wanted him to stay in the same place, but she did not know where that place was.
She wanted to be able to return to him, to come back with bags of vegetables, coffee, and cheese, to open their apartment door and smell the rosemary soap he showered with on weekday evenings before Noah was born. She would track him through the kitchen, down the hall, into the living room where he would be standing before the window, spotting the snow that must always be about to fall. The back of his legs would glisten with water that had not dried. She touched his tail-bone with her hand: “Keep it there,” he said, the bone screened by her hand.
She could not protect him.
She carries the weekend shopping up the stairs, imagining the scene behind her apartment door. Louisa, her husband’s mother, would have wanted to read to Noah, but she chose, as usual, to do her nails. Noah is evaluating a monster movie in which the dead stalk the living in houses whose cardboard walls are about to come down. “Stop jiggling on the bed,” Louisa insists, the nail polish tumbling to the floor. “They all look alike,” Noah replies, referring to the living and the dead. He will not be interested in distinguishing them; he won’t hear her key twisting in the lock.
When she opens the door, Noah is at the kitchen table, scratching paper with a crayon. Red and shaped like a missile, the crayon dwarfs his right hand.
“Did it hurt him?” Noah asks, shaking the table as he draws.
“Where’s your grandmother?” she responds, trying not to look down. She opens the refrigerator and finds his half-eaten tuna sandwich on a shelf next to an empty pint of apple juice.
“You drank your juice,” she says, facing the back of his neck, exposed by the shortness of his hair. She sees herself wanting to shield it with her hand.
“Look,” he directs her, holding up the paper cemetery of stick-men without heads, without clothes, piled at the bottom of the page. Their heads seem to bounce in the upper right-hand corner, as though they had been bowled there.
“It hurt,” he tells her, giving her the paper and the crayon.
When she looks in her bedroom, her husband’s mother is lying on the bed, asleep, painted nails leaning on her thighs. Disturbed by the pillow, Louisa’s hair crouches on her face, shadowing the vertical line between her eyebrows so that the line merges with her nose. Her lips are the color of her nails, smudged at the corners, as though she had been talking. A woman on the television sprays kitchen stains with an aerosol that encourages the stains to disappear. Turning off the television, she notices how the polish puckers at Louisa’s cuticles, emphasizing the grey, ridged skin below them. It will be time to wake her.
But she does not wake her.
What she wants, when she enters the living room, is not to remember the ruin of the car, the ruin of his face that she could not identify under one of the wheels, as if the car had birthed him on a road from which he would not rise. She wants to forget the duplicates of his face stiffening in picture frames on tables she cannot yet discern. She does not want the light that the room can offer her. She wants to walk through the room and approach the window, while in the apartments overlooking the park, lights blink on, disclosing the snow that does not fall, the anonymous father and son parking a car that will not engulf them, permitting them to move up the brownstone’s steps that are always there. She wants to wake Louisa and send her home. She wants to sit at a table with Noah and draw a body uniformly whole. It will not smell of rosemary soap or require the kind of protection that was beyond her. Together, they will position it on the page, and to them it will seem almost incapable of breaking.