Sometimes when I’m alone in my apartment, the maker speaks to me. It talks about my husband.
We had a blowup last summer. I got mad and moved out. Our cat listened to it happen from the ledge, because cats hate shouting. Now, she stays with him. She’s sweet and adorable, with a face like an owl that peers from the ends of hallways and claws that dig into flesh to show affection. He has her and a good job and a nice place to live. He should be happy, but he’s not. I know this, but the maker tells me, anyway. It whispers like a surrogate conscience all the things he does to try not to be alone.
In the daytime, I go for long walks through the blue-green hills that resemble bunches of broccoli. I look at the bluebirds and marshmallow clouds and walk to the store to buy groceries. When I get home, the rooster on the weathervane is stuck pointing south, its figure suturing the fog. I carry in the groceries that I’m addicted to buying and pour water and grounds into the maker, switching it on and listening to it brew. The whispers begin almost immediately. They’re palpable in the silence.
“He wants to be alone,” I say, unloading heads of garlic, carrots, celery, cheese, crackers, thinking I’ve been transported to some other dimension.
“He pushes people away and then asks them to come back.”
“He can’t stop.”
Though soft at first, the sounds become more plangent as the cycle runs its course. I pour a cup, lean back in the chair, and close my eyes. Images of family and friends appear. Their features are nondescript, like tiny grains of sand swept in and out of form. I imagine my neighbors sitting down to dinner all throughout the neighborhood. It’s twilight. I know what happens at twilight. Shadows rise and mists settle, holding everything in their vaporous breaths until morning.
Sometimes, the maker splutters at these times. That’s when the heaviest truths are divulged—when it’s running on steam and wants to be fed more water so it can continue talking.
I sip and think I must have really good hearing.
They’re all gone now, those closest to me. Not gone—distant. It’s only the maker and I in this thick, cloistered silence.
Suddenly, I hear the flawed person inside and panic. Its voice fills my head—the voice of someone who’s been abandoned and who’s doomed to ask questions with no answers. I’m angry—angry that my husband treats people like puppets, bending them to his whims.
“Why did he do this?”
The thought sends shudders through my collarbone and pushes up beneath my skin, wanting to be let out. A plaintive growl spreads out across the room. Except instead of making a sound, it forms a word. There’d often seemed to be an echo in here, and while the maker’s percolations have been well timed to coincide with my questions, they’ve never implied they belong to an actual being or presence—a mind. I’d fed it water, electricity, and grounds. From those ingredients, it pressed out something like a piquant juice—sometimes smoky, others intense—but always juice and no more.
Yet the word was unmistakable. I straightened in the chair, my back turned rigid.
More than a growl—an affirmation, with the maker reaching into its grizzled depths to lay a finger on its pulse and measure the beats of its efficient, little heart.
“He is, or intends to?”
My imagination spirals back to all the possible causes: Childhood abuse, neglect, the old tunnel with no light at the end, his loss, our loss, the growing apart, the splitting after so many years together.
“Will it be fast or slow?”
Yes, I might have guessed that. He’d already been killing himself slowly. One moment later, another question arises.
“What can I do?”
“Buy him a book?”
“Cakes? Treats? Records? Phone calls?”
My brain kicks itself. You’ve already tried all that. For god’s sake, think of something more original.
Finally, it comes.
“Maybe, somehow, I could help him live?”
I hear the longest growl of all. Not only a growl, it’s something chthonic that seems to rise from the earth and shift through night’s inchoate shroud—something that speaks for others.
Clutching the sides of my chair, neck laced in sweat, I realize it’s not the maker at all. It’s he. He’s somehow found his way inside and is channeling himself through it.
The notion seems to lift some of the fog. To hear from another source that his life is truly out of control offers closure. But I’m just as unnerved as before, wondering what can be done to help someone live a life whose intent is on ending it, however gradually.
Rising from the chair, I walk to the kitchen and look at the maker sitting on the counter, its contents settled in the bottom. I could give it more water to listen to it talk some more. I could do that.
Instead, I pick up the phone and call him.
KATIE NICKAS writes off-kilter fiction. Her work is published or forthcoming in journals including Anti-Heroin Chic, Asymmetry, The Furious Gazelle, formercactus, FRiGG Magazine, The Oddville Press, Sidereal Magazine, Soft Cartel, and STORGY. Find her on Twitter @katienickas.
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