The Uncounted Things
by Michele Gagnon
Julie feels John’s baby slip through her and hears it splash in the toilet. After that, she sits at her kitchen table for hours, every day, counting the cracks in the drywall.
The house is falling apart.
John doesn’t care about those kinds of things. He’s always at work and he gets to see different kinds of spaces. She’s always in the same place counting all the things that go wrong. At night he tries to pull her towards him, but she flinches from his fingers.
“You’re not the same,” he says. “I remember us laughing once.”
She doesn’t say anything. There are no words to soothe the ache.
The moon is full and spilling its light into every corner. It pokes at her and prompts her to fix the cracks. He’s asleep unaware of the moon, innocent to the prying of silver rayed fingers. She slips out of the bed and sinks her toes into the carpet wondering why it has not yet been pulled up and replaced with something easier to clean. She packs some things in a bag and places it by the door. She spreads plaster over every crack on the wall. John will notice the cracks, she thinks.
He will notice them now that they’re gone.
She puts the bag over her shoulder, gets in her car and drives until she finds a place she’s never seen before. It’s nestled in a mountain by a lake. People live there together in cabins with no computers or phones. They sell vegetables and eggs to tourists.
She rents a room from these people and leaves her bag at the door. She spends her mornings feeding their chickens. She thinks about how strange chickens are as she dumps grain into a feeder. The birds come running as though they have not eaten in weeks, their strange amber eyes round with stupidity and their ridiculous necks jutting out mechanically. There are thirty chickens and they all cluck in a way that makes her think that they are desperate to be heard.
After the chickens, she moves on to quieter things, plucking weeds one by one from the dark soil. She counts each unwanted cluster of roots and places them in a pile.
At night she sits with the people by the fire flaking off her sunburnt skin. In the warm glow she slips slowly into forgetting. Her fingers intertwine with the fingers of Sandra, a woman with long dark curls and coffee eyes that reflect the light. They share a cabin at first and then a bed.
Julie presses her hollow belly, her hard hip bones into Sandra’s soft flesh and rests her face on Sandra’s breast. She traces the outline of Sandra’s nipple, counting the rotations, counting freckles and stretch marks until the light becomes too dim and her eyes begin to blur.
In the morning she puts her feet onto the bare floor boards and feels the shock of its roughness on her soles. She digs her toes in hard to feel every imperfect edge. Sandra pulls a sliver out of her toe with little tweezers and then makes love to her before the chickens get too loud with hunger.
One day there’s nothing left to count on Sandra’s body. On a cold night when the snow begins to fall and doesn’t melt, Sandra pulls Julie close.
“You’re a ghost,” she whispers, “I’m never sure if you’re really here.”
Julie stays quiet, just like a spirit not wanting to be brought out from the shadows.
“I might love you,” Sandra says, “but the only thing I seem to know about you is the outline of your body.”
The moon light dances on the new snow and it digs itself into Julie’s dreams. She remembers she has sandpaper for the drywall tucked into the bag. She counts five silver hairs at Sandra’s temple as she checks, for a third time, if she has everything she needs.
She walks back into her kitchen as the sun paints the world yellow, a gentle surprise of colour. It seems the walls have been painted by the same sun. The cracks cannot be counted, the plaster already blended and disguised in yellow. She tucks the useless sandpaper in a drawer.
John’s sleeping, the room is still dark, soft morning light sneaks in as Julie cracks the door. His arms are spread out across the bed, the back of his hand rests flat on the place where she once slept so restlessly. She undresses and lets her feet sink into the soft carpet. The heater hums as she crawls under the blankets, nestling herself into the crook of John’s arm. She places her head on his chest.
“Hi,” he says, still half asleep, “You don’t have to say anything. You don’t have to talk.” He moves in closer and kisses her forehead.
She kisses his lips three times, slow.
She knows. She confirms.
“I’m only a ghost, I’ll be gone again before you know.”
Her voice cracks, her tongue freed.
She runs her finger along the familiar outline of his shoulder, without counting, until she falls asleep.
Michele Gagnon (she/her; they/them) is an illustrator, designer, writer, late-to-the-game lesbian, angry feminist, and tired-but-grateful mom who loves to hide out in the woods of Quebec Canada. Find her on Instagram @mishedesign.