Lodestar Quarterly

Lodestar Quarterly
Figure reaching for a star Issue 13 • Spring 2005 • Fiction


Michelle Auerbach

I am writing you a love story. I am standing outside the house of keys writing you a love story. I want you to know this before I walk in and everything is different than it is right now. Right now when I have the smell of you in my folds and crevasses and the heat still foaming my skin. Right now I hold in my hand this paper that did not burn away in the ashes, the ritual burning, the Khurbn. This is the secret that needs the key. The secret is the blank language of forgetting.

A frozen green heart at the center of me that is pierced by three swords. I see it floating just beyond my reach when the morning light catches us still in tangles. The heart, its color, its solidity, is related to the papers I was given that I hold in my hand now. It is black ice, the most dangerous kind, because it looks just like the pavement beneath it. This is not to say my heart is not a real heart. I have one. It beats with the same arrhythmia my grandfather's did. Making love is dangerous. Especially with you. I am never to climb Mt. Everest, never to run a marathon. What they don't know at the doctor's office, though they have told me as a joke that old men with this condition die making love. What they don't know is that when you are touching me, when I feel your fingers slip inside me, I am inconsolable. My heart skips a beat and I know something then about death.

I am writing you this love story because when I go in and Mary Riskovitch comes out in a language I can read, she will tell me the next thing I need to know.

Lovers have a language. A private language that is no performance for anyone else. An agreement of how to navigate the streets of a world where the axis has tilted away from the sun just a few degrees and the polarity is not right. You cannot navigate there with a map. Only with a ping. Where are you, like the sonar of a bat, and the voice comes back to lead you home. It is a kind of divination. Divination by looking at the birds or the stars above. There is nothing solid below you. There was nothing solid below you.

I am standing outside this building with the keys of knowledge hanging as a sign in the windows and they tell me more of what I need to know than I have learned from all my years in school. Texas Alabama Mississippi Louisiana. In that order. But I will never drive there. When I memorized it, I did it because I could. I would never need to know the order. What I needed to know was in a drawer with my grandfather's gold watches and the gold pens and that knowledge my grandfather could give to me only after he died.

I am writing you this love story in my head the same way he told me in my head what I needed to know before he left me.

He was at a strange angle. Feet lower than his head by a few degrees. Maybe ten, so that the blood would pool there, at his feet, under the cloth where we would not need to see it. His head was so large, and he was as a child, one you love better when he is asleep. Dead, and prepared for us to see, ready for viewing. A social agreement that truth is too terrible. The cloth, the agreement that even though we had seen him slip away in his own house on the kitchen floor telling us when his heart was beating and when it was not. Now it is. Now it's not. That we could not handle the dead.

He did not tell me before he left or when he was going or even after his heart stopped while we all knew he was there with us still in the room. He waited until we were in the funeral parlor in that steel room and said it. The sheets my mother wrote, you need to take them.

I took them. In Yiddish, I couldn't read them, and I kept them with my frozen green heart, and I captured them. I held them to me. Just as I hold you to me.

This is a love story for you. You put the electric charge in my skin that travels in my back and my arms and that spreads me. You send me out in the morning to the train by the huge steel cube that, like the rest of our world, is tilted on one corner. But it balances, and it has stood for years.

This love story has had just you and me. It has had by necessity no interference. I cannot warm myself up without you even a few degrees. Alone with you I have time to find you. To swim out to the island where you are and orient myself to its beach. Squint my eyes and feel the heat that starts first at my neck whenever I see you. I cannot feel the strongest shock, but I can feel you touch my hand hours after you leave. I can still feel now that we parted last with a touch of the fingers and that our index fingers lingered longest.

When I am on the train to see you I feel anxious that something will happen and you won't be there. When I find you I am so relieved. As a child my grandfather told me the story of how he came home from school one day to find this letter on the table and his parents gone. The letter I now have. I feel that one day I will come to find you and you won't be there.

The dead have their own language, that is the language we hear in silence. In complete silence, scientific silence, we hear our hearts beat and our blood pound and our breath draw. The dead speak the language of what they have lost, that language of the body.

This is a love story that I want to be for you. Mary Riskovitch will come, my great-grandmother, and when I step into the building of the keys and the sheets of words are unlocked we will never be alone again, you and me and our bed of angled light. Her words will live with me and will direct me somewhere new, words from out of the ashes of the Khurbn, the Shoah, the charnel ground. She who was exterminated there is still alive here. When the dead speak I obey them. Another kind of divination by which I negotiate my existence.

This is a love story that has become an awkward situation. I am standing in front of the building with the keys in the window and there is a translator waiting for the papers and time, time is passing and Mary is to come and you, I will miss you.

Michelle Auerbach's work has been published in Van Gogh's Ear, Bombay Gin, Xcp, Chelsea, and The American Drivel Review. She is the author of the historical novella Alice Modern (2005 Excessive Poetics Press). Auerbach lives and teaches writing in Colorado where she received her MFA from Naropa University.

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