Containers

by Heather Hall

Everything hurt him; the way basketballs fell into the grass, their dejection certain, how the alphabet felt harsh when recited. I tried to explain pain as containers, something he can pack it into, the way lasagna is patted down with a spoon. The loneliness of boyhood had blistered him, something I hadn’t considered when assembling his crib, laughing at the nonsensicality of the manual. But now he stood before me, all seven years of him buckling under the California fronds.

“Even the fronds buckle ” I had wanted to say, but that felt understood, as we were complicit in his becoming together.

We once shared a container, something he could find in me and use. But now he has his own pain, an extraction from my own, his singular body seeking out a divot on the other side of the bed. I put my hand on the narrowing of his back. “It hurts like that,” he said, clenching eyes, fists, a furthering rotation that I could no longer reach.

I turned towards the wall, a leaden failure inside of myself. I stored it in my feet, imagining that it built upwards, into ankles, legs, thighs. What happened when I ran out of space? When my body was no longer capable of being his container? I segmented my body further. Faster. Toes became longer, bigger containers. It was only when my body had become a bloated, elongated form did sleep come.

He had a rogue nanny who played him tapes about Jesus and sinners who burnt in a hellfire and he found comfort in a doctrine that I had no verse in. “You are supposed to take me to church,” he once said, saying small prayers over broccoli au gratin while I watched in horror. Like the frond, I buckled, ordered a stuffed animal Jesus that he could hold at night in lieu of me. But this was not what was meant and stuffed Jesus made his way to the trash, perched perfectly upon damp coffee filters. His own sermon on the mound, if you will.

I did what any other Godless mother would do and handed it over to Youtube. I listened as some petrified booming voice explained the meaning of life and said, ‘fuck you’ for the last time to that big empty man, for replacing the container that I had once been.

Our days were stitched together by sandwiches, pillowcases, a head pressed on the window peering outwards. No matter how I approached, I could not enter. I once went outside, to where he looked out at, pale arms waving, smile diagonal, to signal that even here, in the expansive driveway of gravel, he could find containment. He gave a small wave and then nothing, as we both turned inward to tend to our throbbing.

About the Author

Heather went to Pratt Institute for writing and The Art Institute of Chicago for graduate school. She makes video essays for Northwestern and publishes in various literary anthologies.