Michael Telisha Moore Leigg March 22, 2018 Fiction After the second baby, Beau, Michael and I moved on 245 Aragon Lane to a small, two-bedroom, brick house painted white in Boris, North Carolina. It had a small garage that we didn’t really need. It wasn’t like it snowed or rained too much. The house was beautiful. Ivy grew high on the left side of a stone chimney also painted. We had a white, picket fence. Both my babies, my Isabelle, now almost four and my Beau, just out of arms, shared a bedroom with pale, apple-green walls that I painted myself. I remember there were lavender curtains that were some of the last Mother helped me pick out. I was almost 24. Michael was 30. He had just finished his Ph.D. and gotten a position at a local community college, where he proudly taught five classes, one class straight from his dissertation on Faulkner. I think we were in love, if not with each other, then with the headiness of youth and accomplishment. That day, Mother had just dropped me off from the grocery store because we had only the one car, and I saw him first in the kitchen with the lights off, Michael. He still wore the blue oxford shirt with the buttons at the collar that kept a tie in place that I had ironed that morning; he had not changed. Clicking on the light, I asked Michael, my husband, where the babies were as I rearranged applesauce and milk on the top shelf of the fridge. I remember I moved the stick butter behind the big bottle of ketchup because the butter tray was broken on the refrigerator door and it bothered me. Michael, sitting and pale, did not answer, and I ignored that. One of my papa’s stories said that there is an underworld that punishes people for their sins. “Michael?” I quizzed, still bemused, now stirring spaghetti in a pot on the stove. Michael looked out our window, the one beside the fireplace, the one where outside the ivy grew beside the garage. “They’re still at my mother’s,” Michael finally mumbled, but he trembled when the phone beside him rang. On the second ring, I went to get it, and he put one hand on my wrist on the receiver, his other hand to my left cheek. He turned me to him then, looked into my eyes, drowning through the water in his. “Love me, Anna-Margaret, please?” The Mourning Fields are the hell for unrequited love. Michael was the valedictorian of a boys’ military school in South Carolina. His valedictorian speech was “Our Future Before Us.” He wasn’t a violent man. His mother at the arraignment said he spoke and crawled at nine months and was a good, quiet boy. He had never been in a fight and didn’t want to go into service to fight. But his father, breaking down on the stand, said his son “knew his duty, by God, if he was called.”Michael never drank. He only occasionally smoked cigarettes, the butts of which I found in the backyard at the edge near the fence of our next door neighbor. I think that was his only secret shame. I know he was not equipped for the knowledge of what he did. I knew how he would end. And me? Well, there is a hell for demigods and heroes, but I was not one of them. At first, I thought he lost them in a store, Michael, my husband. That they could be found and fixed. I think I was begging my father’s gods at this point, but they would not hear me. Michael sent me to the bedroom like we would make love, although I never particularly understood pleasure there. And I like a lamb went. He said he was going to get them, my babies, but he didn’t. Instead, he made a call, said they were lost. The police came. Trembling, I waited about fifteen minutes behind that door and then came from the bedroom like a ghost. The police stood over him as I moved toward him and sat down beside him. There was an island of Michael and me on the couch. It was the couch that my Mother’s friend, Ms. Marva, gave us as a housewarming gift. Others, neighbors, came over. I remember I held his hand, my throat swallowing and swallowing. I think people think I must hate him, Michael, but I don’t. Love is such a slippery thing. Too much death, the covers pulled back showing its broken parts, and it slips away, or becomes invisible, and sits beside you watching like a ghost unburied. I know loss like this kind of lover. So I sat there on the couch at almost 24 not thinking of my children as panic and fear ran rivers though me. I held his hand. If Michael had told me outright, I would never have hidden his sin from others, but I knew. And some part of me wanted to hide Michael from them. So we sat there together until our futures came. My papa told me when I was a child that the Asphodel Meadows are where souls who didn’t do any wrong go. The police didn’t look far as I held Michael’s hand. The police said the garage door should have been opened, that the exhaust….that they were too little. I started screaming then. I jerked on his hand, but Michael would not let go. The coffee mug was still on top of the car. The paper he was looking for, some just-out- of-high-school kid’s half-assed typed work that Michael had red-marked and that was what took so long and he never found that damn paper. And they went to sleep, my babies. I like to think the gods took my babies, and I know the police took Michael. Sometimes, now that I’m older, I go to pay phones. I go there and I call Michael’s parents and ask for them, my babies. They are old now, brittle, but always kind to me, even Mr. Ragslin. They always ask me to come home to them, to come see them like talking to a child. They are not haughty to the-once 18-year-old girl who married their son in a shotgun wedding in my mother and stepfather’s living room. They have forgiven me, but I guess I have earned that kindness in the cruelest way. Michael hung himself in the holding cell the last night before the trial was to end. It was an accident, my babies, not his hanging. No, that he meant to do, and he left a note, tucked into the sole of his left shoe, something from Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! “There is something in madness which Satan flees, aghast at his own handiwork.” Loss is a rowboat set on fire in an ocean of lilies. I am on fire. I want to go but I cannot. I want to be lost enough, but I cannot be. I think of my classics-professor father’s stories of hell. I want to ask my papa. Where is my place? I remember my papa telling me there were levels of hell, rows and realms married to the pain. I search, Papa. I search to find them on every level, but I cannot. Here is a secret. I call him; I call Michael. I cannot say what I say when I go to those pay phones and sometimes call him. I know he’s gone. I go because he’s gone. Because, sometimes, I ask to speak to them…for Michael to speak for them. There is never any answer, just the bare and cold tones until the busy signal. I hope he is blessed, that they are blessed, because I am here and I am not.