I Carried My Coma
At the party for my friend’s photograph, “What should become visible?” a woman who was asked her age asked.
Outside, I drank with a group of masks. Each one represented a different death.
“This was his mother, supposed to be. I don’t really think of her as a she,” a woman said through a grizzly mask.
A man, a lioness, said, “If I made my father, I’d do something like this.” He turned away from us.
I followed a path that led to a long wait. At the end would be my friend, signing his name on another man’s face. The man lay on a couch beneath a photograph of his wife. The place where the man lay was cold. There, people rode trains to a hole their country made them dig, then rode trains to the place where their country made them live.
I walked away from the wait to an edge of where I lived. I tried to imagine what held it in place holding me all night from behind.
At a nearby pier, a cruiseship littered light. A woman wearing SECURITY was patrolling there.
“When I was in a coma,” she said, “I wore a fanny pack. I carried my coma around with me. I wanted to keep it close to my body.”
“What did it look like?”
She picked something from a plant that began inside the edge and ended in cruiseship light. “Kind of like this,” she said, “Warm and wrapped. I knew I was inside it, so I wanted it close to me.”
She put the thing from the light in my hand. It was white and fuzzy and seamed, about to hatch.
“Do you want it back?”
“I want you to have something to keep,” she said. On her neck, the light from the cruiseship looked like bruises.
I put what she’d given me in a bag I’d borrowed for the night. After it was in there I was more conscious of the strap, how it crossed my body behind my body.
When I got back to the group, I wanted them to ask me where I’d been. Instead, they had found a hole and were taking turns looking in.
I waited for a long time for my friend, but he didn’t try to find me, and I didn’t try to find him.
To get home, I had to drive the highway. In the changing shapes of what was strewn along the shoulder, I was aware of the bag on the seat beside me. I had driven far to borrow it, and while I drove, I had imagined I was my friend. I would see how it hung like my body from my body.
I would try to keep other things between my friend and my body. We were most comfortable together in winter. Carrying those layers was a job to have in common.
We’d met through people between us. I had whispered to a woman’s earring, “Meet me outside by the fountain.” It was one thing laid in something else, laid in itself again, maybe bone.
To meet me, he’d borrowed someone’s coat. I’d watched his face for skin. Inside the coat he was small while we talked. He could make me see that I was watching him.
With one hand driving, I reached into the bag and took out what the woman had given me. I rolled down a window and threw the thing she’d given me at one of the shapes by the shoulder.
When I got out of the car at home, I saw the dark shape I’d sweated into the upholstery. Peel it off and take it to him, I thought.
Months later, I saw the woman from that night at another party. When I talked to her, something on her began beeping.
“My mother,” she said. “Her meds.”
We went outside and stood on a driveway.
“I don’t want to go back to the party,” I said. “It’s strange seeing you again.” Though I’d called him, I hadn’t seen my friend since the night of his party.
“Where do you want to go instead?”
When we got to the end of the driveway, she was beeping again.
“Do you live with your mother?” I asked.
“I live in one half, she lives in the other,” she said. “Sometimes we talk to each other across the middle.”
“I couldn’t live with my mother,” I said.
“Because she’s dead,” I said.
Then I said, “Sorry.”
We walked until we couldn’t see the lights from the party.
Though it was dark, I knew something large was beside us, and I thought of the woman who became convinced she was living on top of a huge body of water. She wanted to dig a hole to see the enormity of what she knew was below her. She was old, so she found someone who would dig for her. Her nephew began digging one morning, and before the day was over, the woman was dead. Her family buried her in the hole. It was just the right size for her body.
“Let’s go a little farther,” I said.
Soon we saw lights again. They were for a different party.