Ugly Thing by Claire Polders
Inspired by “Alligators at Night” by Meg Pokrass
I’m taking the kitchen table, because you don’t remember how we hauled it together in sweating harmony from the Queen’s Day secondhand market through the celebrating streets to our first home. We ate raw herring that night proudly seated around the oak on compact book boxes stacked so high our feet dangled. I’m also taking the books, no doubt about that—the hours we spent in each other’s company yet in separate worlds add up to a decade I’m keen to preserve. We fought over the Moroccan rug more bitterly than any rug warrants, and you won, paid the perfumed hawker, so here I am rolling it up for me to take. I am helpless, hopeless. If you knew what I was doing, you would object.
I walk through the house, tagging the objects that mark our growth, the couch for Sunday mornings, me sandwiched between animal leather and human tongue, the letterbox in which you placed the amulet from your college friend next to my brother’s harmonica. We used to speak the same language. Breathed the same air when I bled far too much after six months. What I cannot take is the spot in front of the sink where you stood as I spied on you shaving. There was so much I wanted from you and so little I dared to ask for.
You’re not clear about what you want to keep, so I’m making all the decisions. I won’t take the clock I used to stare at when you failed to show up and I waited, waited. Won’t take the throw you slept under when I banned you from the bed. I didn’t know how much I was hiding and couldn’t guess how little you understood. I thought we still had time to learn. But we were mostly together, tough, weren’t we? Even if not always in harmony.
I’m done with tagging the past. My future without you is somewhere beyond that door. I don’t know who of us got the better deal in the end. Your heart ached for a while, yet you seem to have forgotten your unhappiness. Is it easier to be content when the present is all you have? I help you get up from the chair that I’m not taking, that I’ll gladly destroy with an axe—you would have hated such an ugly thing had you still been yourself. You lean on me as we walk through the front door. We still exist, I suppose, yet not as who we were when we hauled that kitchen table home or fought over the Moroccan rug. I’m taking your arm, yet I’m leaving you behind.
Meg Pokrass has a talent for telling tales with impressions so strong that they carry the weight of the story. In “Alligators at Night,” the title flash of one of her collections (2018), she creates a rich nostalgic atmosphere with the sound of alligators, which she likens to singing, so the protagonist feels as though she’s in a club where love is in the air and disappointments only in the future.
Claire Polders is the author of four novels in Dutch and co-author of one novel in English for younger readers, A Whale in Paris (Atheneum / Simon&Schuster, 2018). Her short prose appeared in TriQuarterly, Tin House, Electric Literature, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Online she can be found at www.clairepolders.com.