What Comes After


hey enrolled her in a grief course, after she left him. Stages of denial and sorrow and pleading, but for her her grief was nothing more and nothing less than the wonder that her husband might do what she now saw he had done. It was nothing to do with her own lost self. Down below there was a certain camaraderie among them, this shared feel of their selves ripping away from their selves, as if part of them was being held somewhere they could not ever access again. They assigned themselves new names in place of the ones they had forgotten, and she took “Violet” because it felt like the world to her, or the world as it should be, or the world that he would one day discover but so far had not.

By the time she came back it had been years since he’d seen her. She could not say how many, just as she could not say how she had found him or how she knew she had found the right him. She sat in the arm of their old oak tree, legs hanging and crossed at the ankles. She leaned forward, let her left breast rest against the bark, her arm circling the branch. There was a physicality to this act, something so pure she could not believe she had forgotten it. She watched him with a woman and though they never touched, just stood there talking, with their coffee mugs, she could know, she could know, that there was a long and comforting past between them, that there was more of value there than she had ever offered him or could ever offer him again. She didn’t know how long he had been with her, but they had had only had two, three years together; she couldn’t remember exactly, though her inability to remember was a persistent worry to her.

The weather that day was like it was down below, only not as dark. The sun might have warmed her back if not for the leaves above; the wind had gone elsewhere; the temperature was neither hot nor cool but just was. This absence of weather, the way things that should not be comforting become comforting. She could forget where she was as she watched her husband casually touch the hair of some spoon-banging toddler not her own. There was a comfort and correctness in the tree, in the spider she watched walk along her arm and in the bugs so small she saw them not for themselves but as miniscule rents in the world around them. There was a comfort and correctness in the tree that she did not want to detect between her husband and that woman.


own below there was not weather and neither was there time and neither was there tiredness. When she found herself yawning and legs and shoulders aching and a boredom layering under that other feeling she had forgotten, she did not know what to do. Every time she moved the bark pressed into her in new and uncomfortable ways, leaving its brown crumbs across her dress.

He had gone to work, the blond woman staying home with the girl. She had thought to go down, to ring their doorbell and to say, “This is my house, that is my husband, this is mine.” But she could not think of what could come after that, so she stayed in her tree. Could she push the woman aside, step through that peeling red sunburned door to wait for her husband to announce his arrival home with the one-two hop of a man attempting to remove his loafers without his hands, as he had done before? If she flipped over the sofa cushions would she find the one with the cigarette burn, the one thing she could remember doing in that house?

When he came home it was dark, she was cold. He sat in the coupe she had helped him pick out, door open and feet on the pavement, unlacing his shoes and balling his socks in one hand, stretching his toes. He looked up at her tree as he walked the lawn to the door, but just once, just long enough that she could feel the lack behind his gaze. Her old car was gone from the drive, and she could not remember enough to know where it had gone – if it had become an absent thing the same night she had, or if her husband had sold it. From the neighbor’s yard, a cat mewled.

Her husband went home and she climbed down from the tree. She cracked her neck, she stretched her arms above her head, liking the feel of her body for that moment. She went back down below, by a path she might be able to describe but would not even if you were to ask. She went back down below, not to the place where she belonged but to the only place she knew to go.

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Ellen Rhudy is a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in the Republic of Macedonia. Her short fiction has previously  appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, SmokeLong Quarterly and Hanging Loose. She writes a blog about literature, Fat Books & Thin Women. Her other posts at Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.