Withheld Ends


Adam Cavanaugh

Adam Cavanaugh is a writer from Prince Edward County, Ontario. He works in Toronto.

Withheld Ends was conceived as a study of Samuel Beckett before drifting into its own territory. In Beckett’s fiction — particularly Watt (1944), The Unnamable (1951), and How It Is (1961) — existence is entangled and irreducibly confused, a response to Second World War atrocity and its refutation of world-historical progress. Beckett’s protagonists are lost and deranged by the disappearance of common purpose and of the faintest ability to convey meaning to others. As a consequence, his fiction constantly resists and taunts narrative convention, beginnings and ends, and is endowed with a mere presence that is desperate to hold onto itself yet suspicious of its own past and future. We feel that presence achingly, deplorably, and sometimes hopefully.”

          Room 543

That time, the time, time when at the CashGo you said there was a time earlier, earlier that month and the month before, the one before that, that which was before it as well, when—when?—January and this January when you thought yourself pregnant on a hunch and there in the QuickCash on John St. where we got first and last or the one where we got money for the fees. There, kissed my neck only moments momentous and moments later to say that you wished it true then, and then before, after and the halogen blinked above like an unwanted halo in the wrong kingdom of heaven and you. And your skin softened by the cleft glow and it was clearer now that you were not crying as under the importunate light I supposed you were, would, might, might? Might: the power of possibility lost. Lost job, apartment, car, that one rough jacket with the torn silk liner: QuickCash with the plastic benches and metal mesh chairs and your darkened skin and uncrying eyes seeing in my face my skin: dry, dry? Dried from the long winter, possibly seeing the long winter on me like I saw summers on you in your cheeks, forehead flush, flush? Flushed down the toilet bowl in the bathroom of the QuickCash. Looking up the mirror: streaks, scratches, showed what your eyes saw and see, saw: tired. Eyes like autumn puddles in summer. No need to be strong like that you say just before its said. I’m angry. It’s hard. Hard enough to tuck it off without you playing at collapse and what do you want if not strength, my strength, your strength, forepart your strength. Your eyes like spring clouds in winter, possibly seeing it there in me: weakness. In the QuickCash toilet bowl, toilet paper soaked with tears and snivel and sickness. Sick? Sickness or death. Unaffordable luxuries. The receipts crackle under my pillow so I won’t forget, can not forget: You won’t forget, won’t, you are strong, good like the idea of motherhood and our politicians and like bibles and free money and like unborn babies and then also like us; good like we’re good. I trust, you said I thought: trust, trust? Trusted no one but you in the slow past time of QuickCash.

          Room 224

You asked the wrong question. ‘How could you?’ Very simple for me, then. Sisters, a sister, my sister: it did not mean much to me when it mean all to you. Value’s most apparent at the junction of its loss. A person will not be fixed, a person will only be broken anew. What a comfort to speak in the general. I would take your help if only it was offered as the correct question. It’s the wrong question and always was. Why did I? That’s the one. The conversations were boring. And I saw through them. ‘How have you been sleeping, how’s your apartment, how’s that swollen foot, how’s the job.’ Poor if at all; malodorous, of beer and vinegar and tobacco by the nightstand; swollen and cracked and ruining socks (fifteen pairs in the last four months, last I took count); lost, lost but a coworker stopped by last week. I called him a ruinous prick and laughed until I coughed and again the blood on my lips. It’s an ugliness I repeat, but I take you at your implausible face-value that you wanted to know the truth. Do you still, or have the professionals started you out on Acceptance, that final yet insurmountable peak of their therapeutic pyramid scheme? The truth is an orb: one side always precludes others. This is the side I hold to you, my flesh. The way you talked was dull, my flesh. Because I saw it on your faces, the way you wished you didn’t love me like you did. Though it doesn’t matter for long. Your pain, my pain. Not long. At my door that christmas you invited me back to our home and I wouldn’t let you past the frame and your brow furrowed—anger, yes, finally—but no: furrow broke and your smile and those tears, tears, tears by the end meant nothing to me. Know this: all you claim as holy I claim is sculpted from shit. Claimed. I said it then. Do I still claim it—did I ever? Yet sanctimony. You judged me. How can I forgive that? How can you forgive me that. You can’t or can’t, my flesh. I can or can. The sheets stick to my swollen abdomen. The nurses keep their eyes on mine. I don’t mind if they look, look here, pregnant with my degeneracy. How long does it last. The doctors are bent like children over roadkill, and they speak to me in partial truth. Hepatic encephalopathy. There, my flesh, do my lips move? Your son, when he went to school for buildings—remember my old tricks? Architecture, so you tell people to erect your picture book. Mean uncle, mean, sour old uncle with the yellow eyes on the church steps and his shirt barely holds in this swollen gut, my distended orb. Boy, I didn’t hug you nor your new wife because I knew how I smelled and you are the finest architecture of our genes yet, boy, but she: her smile, your hands, eagerly carried in hers. No, not for mine to touch, they never learned how to hold on. My life is bad weather. And kindness and numbness as I teetered and hold the church pillar in the way I learned to stop from falling but you wouldn’t know, no one ever wise to me. Flower petals at our feet as the limo rattles near you say ‘Entasis’ and bow your hand in slight curve: ‘they curve the pillars because of a deficiency in human sight. People even see a concave in straight lines. Architects improve this by overcorrecting a slight convex. Architecture is as much about the appearance of stability’. Then your tears in his eyes. By then tears are enough to make me meaner. Jealous uncle says ‘If only you could make buildings from those slick words, maybe you could afford the life your wife deserves’. But here, look, same here with doctor’s silver tongue, use the words to correct the way we see this great fall, bend it out partial. Appreciate it doc, boy, world; no need here, though, on account of I’ve known what I’m doing to myself all along. Haven’t I? Said so. No place for doubt now. Look at their eyes when I slap my gut and laugh—try to—gurgle and they swab my mouth. Hospice is just another form of indignity. My flesh, are you here yet? We can see our veins through the wet sheet on my portion of this heap of flesh we inherited from father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, greatgrand, grandgreatgrand. Slapped gut like waves against the ocean-liner brought great grand and all over the seas to these shores. Slap, slap. Look at their faces. We call the noise flesh makes history.