Counting days: seasons of grief

It’s a warm day in late October and the jacarandas are in bloom. Their purple canopies frame my wide street and their scent is mixed with the cut grass and the fumes from the nearby main road. My shopping bags are weighing me down and I’m sweating as I follow the fence line past the white pickets and manicured lawns. I arrive almost out of breath at our scruffy run down cottage, with the broken brick wall and peeling numbers, and take the steps to the front door.

My foot catches and I’m on the ground, knee bleeding with groceries bouncing into the street. Immediately, I begin to howl. I’m barely in pain but the shock of the fall has caused a sensation like a plug being ripped from a bathtub; suddenly I’m spiralling down. A breeze stirs the jacarandas. Before the last orange has hit the curb my housemates are upon me, lifting my sobbing form into the house and down the dark hall to the lounge room. They speak in gentle voices and tend to my knee before standing around me, all beards and worry. Tears are still streaming down my cheeks but now I’m silent. They leave me to start dinner and I can hear their soft murmuring from the kitchen and perhaps the sound of someone trying not to cry. They feel your absence too. I wonder if they blame me. It’s been ten days.

The night is still and clear, I look for stars through the branches outside my window, forever forgetting the city smog blocks them from view. It’s 3am and I’m changing my sheets, my doona cover, the pillowcases. The basket of clean washing has been in the corner of my bedroom for weeks. I haven’t changed my bed since you were last on it, resting your soft sleeping face on the blue and white blanket. I have barely had the energy to leave the house but now in the middle of the night I can’t stop cleaning. I finish my bed, throw rotting flowers in the bin, move my underwear to my sock drawer and my socks to my underwear drawer and curse not being able to use the vacuum cleaner without waking my slumbering housemates. It’s been one month, two weeks and four days and the scab on my knee is now a scar. I get into bed and lie still and calm for a moment before the crying starts, now familiar, expected and boring; my nightly penance. My bedroom door opens and one of my housemates enters, tears shining on his face too. No words pass between us, they have all been said, every comfort given, every moment shared. Silently I pull back the covers and he gets in besides me. We hold hands until we’re both asleep.

I’m taking a trip, getting out of this city for a while and away from the constant reminders. Running away. Friends have invited me to visit them in the countryside, swim in the dam and try some different air in my lungs. I didn’t realise they’d noticed I’d gotten so bad; it’s like a splash of cold water on my tired face. It’s been four months, one week, six days.

To get to their bushland sanctuary I have to drive alone for the first time since the day I got home from my last holiday, to be told you were never going to greet me again. So I sit, hand on the steering wheel staring intently out into the street at the bare jacarandas. My bags are packed, and in the boot I’ve set up the stereo and am ready to go. But as I reach for the keys it’s like time is slowing down; my hand has to push through the molasses of my anxiety to turn the ignition. On the way down the highway every piece of rubbish, every second bush, every scrap of roadkill is a body.

I’m in a supermarket in a new and colder city where I don’t expect you to be around every corner. I’m staring vaguely at the can of pineapple chunks in my hand as I check over the ingredients for a recipe in my head. The shop radio shifts from dog food specials to a tune, an old one. My hand tightens around the pineapple; I grip so hard I swear I can feel the tin buckle.  I can feel the tears burning behind my eyes but my teeth clench, holding them back, letting the anger in instead. I’m trying to shop. I’m trying to think through the recipe for a dessert I want to make to impress my new housemates. I slowly and deliberately put the pineapple back on the shelf and walk away from my trolley, out of the sliding glass doors and into the fresh autumn air. I carefully take my keys out of my bag, open the car and get in, shutting out the world with a slam of the door. I take a breath and wait for the tears to well up again but they stay buried deep, where I pushed them. It’s been six months and five days and I am wracked with guilt.

It’s been one year, five months, three weeks and one day and I’m on the phone to my housemate who is panicking. The backyard is strewn with feathers and the survivors are on the fence, shouting their trauma to the sky. I look into the neighbours’ yard and there’s the fox, surrounded by debris. We stare into each other’s eyes for a long time before it calmly gets up and leaves through a hole in the fence. I soothe my housemate – nothing could’ve been done, this is no one’s fault. The same things that were said to me after you were killed. It didn’t matter that they were true. It doesn’t change the feelings. The wondering if we could’ve done better. I hold the survivors in my arms, tell them I’m sorry. I don’t cry until I get back into my car. I raised them from eggs, I introduced them to the world and I failed them like I failed you. I am tired of this grief, of this guilt. But mostly I’m tired of not having you to come home to.


Image: Mitchel Lensink

Zev Aviv is a genderqueer chicken whisperer and confused Jew. Their favourite things are power tools and weight lifting. Zev has a somewhat regrettable background in performing arts which they can’t discuss without accidentally yelling. Working for various street presses and online arts publications in the past, mostly as a theatre reviewer, only made this yelling louder. Zev has spent the past few years living and surviving, which they’re pretty proud about. Their favourite place to write is in a car on top of Mount Ainslie in their hometown of Canberra. They long to grow a beard.


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One Comment

  • Deb commented on July 24, 2017 Reply

    I wandered back here after a long absence and this piece captures a grinding melancholy that hangs in the air after a pretty dreadful week or two. Lest we forget, those who we can’t go home to. Thanks for a beautiful vignette.

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