Gabe Nolan returned from burying his wife of forty years, and all that he desired was to be alone in the house they made for each other. Most of the funeral guests understood, and looked sympathetically at Gabe who had already begun to slowly undress and slip into a state described by one in a single whispered word: "lost."

"Of course I am lost without Ana, what do ya expect?" he mumbled, waving away hugs and condolences, and led the small gathering of mostly her friends out of the house. He had stripped down to his T-shirt, halfway relieving himself of the burden of the ill-fitting suit. Having removed his shoes and socks, his bare feet traveled the nuances of the wood flooring and assuredly found familiar nicks and holes.

Giving invitation to exit, he opened the front screen door, which was shrouded in black cloth like most of the windows. For a sun-worshipper, Ana was ironically plagued in the last stages of her illness to an extreme sensitivity to light. As the small crowd passed Gabe, the most dreaded fell to the back of the line: a towering sister somebody of the local church which they never attended, and Gabe strained to stretch open the door in consideration of her fleshiness. He welcomed breezes off the bay that vented the staining sweat under her massive arms.

"She has crossed the border to Jesus now. Isn't she lucky?" she chirped.

Gabe dug his fingernails into the screen door, puncturing weak sections of the wire mesh. Why did this worshipper show up uninvited? Gritting his teeth, he responded grimly, "She will always be with me, spirit and bone, in EVERY WAY, sister," and was pleased to see her dumbfounded expression.

After locking the front door, he reluctantly turned about face in the foyer and gazed across at the wall covered with a thick sheet of black tarp. Damn the reminders. He lifted it and exposed dozens of framed photos, kept hidden from Ana's sight, since reflections off the gold and silver drove her into panics. Photos of them as a couple, with only one of a teenage Ana, alone, taken on a trip to Rhode Island.

Gabe drew close to this one, examining it while unloosening tears. Ana stood on a beach wearing a sized small sundress splashed in a furious pattern of bright dots. Ana hated this photo, with her glum expression and ill-fitting tight outfit.

For the first time, he noticed the long shadow in the background behind Ana that was cut off by the frame. It almost appeared to have been painted in, or placed over something. Trick of my sight, he reasoned, and wiped the tears from his sunken cheeks.

Interlacing his fingers into the tall gate that separated the living room from the foyer, Gabe suddenly craved for the comfort of the clouded vision that was the effect of Ana's medicine, which he had been taking since her death. His knuckles strained white in keeping upright one hundred and forty pounds of dried and dispirited flesh stretched thin and leathery like beef jerky.

He let his tight pants fall to his ankles and waded across the living room, like a waddling baby's first steps. He reached the garage door and fumbled to open it with the mass confusion of keys that he now had to carry.

His workroom off the garage was one of the few areas that really fit his tall stature. Throughout most of the house he had to lean down to embrace Ana, and stoop to glide past the gently curved arches.

At the moment of slumping onto the stool at his workbench, crowded with candle holders that he had been trying to glue together for illuminating the hallways for Ana's return, he heard a sharp snap coming from the kitchen, followed by the cycling of a motor.

Who the hell had left THAT on?

He rushed into the kitchen and saw that the double closet doors had been opened and the dryer behind it was jostling in the cramped space. He shut it off and opened the lid, his hands warming in the clean air. Fishing inside, he pulled out his white shirt that had stained with the pen used to write down her words for reciting at the burial. No priest or religious words were her eulogy demands. Just retelling of sunny predictions from high school yearbook, most of them having come to pass. Except being childless. His fault.

Looking down at his hands, he willed the incessant shaking to cease. He upturned his palms to shine in the brilliant fluorescent of the kitchen lights. And he wept into them.

Gabe and Ana held hands together at every occasion, and especially in bed, every night. Like schoolkids in the first throes of love. He thought to replicate the feeling with rubbing his hands together, but why betray it?

Staggering backward, he scrambled to look vainly for Ana's medicine, and began to sink into the rottenness that her presence had always been able to keep at bay. Need to look to the basement and see if those old bottles were still there, hidden from the past months of her illness, when he had picked them up to cope.

He stumbled into a stack of pamphlets that he was sure he'd dumped into the garbage last night. Someone piled them back up, accumulated since she died; religious pamphlets with the same extremely crude, childish drawings on the front. All of the figures were rosy cheeked as if satiated from vampire sucking, Gabe thought, disgusted at how they infiltrated his mail so relentlessly.

Gabe kept calling these people to cancel his subscription. And their answer, delivered in the honeyed whisper resulting from a thousand tongues speaking through them: "Lucky you, since an anonymous patron has graced you with a lifetime subscription."

"Then consider me dead," he responded.

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 Gallery and Photos by Mike McCaffrey © 2002 Artzar - All Rights Reserved