Jennifer Wortman ~ The Forest of Foodstuffs

In the four months since my hus­band died, I dreamt of him only twice. In the first dream, he ate berries, reclin­ing in a shad­owy room while our girls played on the floor. What a thrill to see him eat­ing. No tumor block­ing the way. No feed­ing tube. No puk­ing in pink plas­tic bins, no con­sti­pa­tion alter­nat­ed with atom­ic diar­rhea. His hair had grown back. His body, too. And his clothes: no gown, no dia­per, just jeans and a t-shirt, the way I liked him best.

Those last months, I’d run into acquain­tances who’d ask “How are you?” I’d say, “My husband’s dying,” and track their reac­tions.

Someone take off my suf­fer­ing,” my hus­band had said, those final addled days. He said, “I want to be a para­troop­er so bad.” Elephants on the ceil­ing. He want­ed a wife just like me.

In the dream, my hus­band ate each berry one by one: straw­ber­ry, black­ber­ry, straw­ber­ry. I felt such joy, not just in me, but in the girls, the car­pet and the fur­ni­ture, the mossy light of the room: A heav­en! Then my hus­band made a chok­ing sound, brought his fin­gers to his throat.

I’d expect­ed more dreams after his death. Visitations, even. I’d heard sto­ries from oth­er wid­ows. As my friend lay in bed the night her hus­band died, she felt invis­i­ble arms wrap her in an enor­mous hug. After my coworker’s part­ner died, a coy­ote my cowork­er had nev­er seen start­ed prowl­ing her yard. When my hus­band died, no ani­mals vis­it­ed. I did not feel an enor­mous hug. What I felt was relief. You might even say ela­tion.

In the sec­ond dream of my hus­band, I went to a par­ty I didn’t want to attend, full of poets I didn’t know. A table held many cakes. One cake had Jackson Pollack frost­ing. I sneered at it.  When I returned home I found my hus­band sit­ting at the kitchen table. “Boy,” he said, his smile huge, “those poets sure liked that exper­i­men­tal cake.” Suddenly the par­ty didn’t seem so bad.

A few days after the sec­ond dream, I wan­dered the aisles of the super­mar­ket.

How are you?” an acquain­tance said.

My husband’s dead,” I told her. She held her chest, said, “I didn’t know,” and start­ed to cry. Her cheeks puffed, lit­tle pil­lows.

I’m sor­ry,” I said. I pat­ted her shoul­der.

In the next aisle, I found my hus­band, cow­boy-legged in front of the pick­les. He grabbed a jar, our favorite brand, by the lid, and piv­ot­ed my way.

You want me to open this?” he asked.

I can open my own damn jar,” I said. Though, truth be told, my hands are small, and some­times I need­ed help.

I’ll open it at home then,” he said, read­ing my mind.

Okay.” I placed his hand on the cart under mine. We strolled through the for­est of food­stuffs, stripes of light beam­ing soft off the floor. People roamed by, lost in them­selves, while we dis­cussed our pur­chas­es.

~

Jennifer Wortman’s work appears in Glimmer Train, Normal School, DIAGRAM, The Collagist, Hobart, PANK, JMWW Journal, Vestal Review, Okey-Panky, and else­where. She is an asso­ciate fic­tion edi­tor at Colorado Review and an online instruc­tor at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Find more at www.jenniferwortman.com