"The Imminent Widow" by Mary Skomerza
Issue #8 / July 2014
Illustrated by Skinner
MARY SKOMERZA is a graduate of The Evergreen State College with an emphasis in creative writing. She currently contributes to Examiner.com. She has been writing for as long as she can remember and has a passion for alternative fiction and the writers who have chosen to push the boundaries of the written word.
"The outline of his shadow gyrates and roils against the wall, a disturbing pantomime of respiration. His breaths, raspy and uneven, heave upwards with a rumble and deflate with a hiss. It is an oddly hypnotic symphony. I watch him with waning energy, sinking lower into my seat while my eyes flutter against the weight of my lashes. There is a smell about him that I hadn’t noticed before. It thickens the air with a medicinal putrid odor. I drift into an uneasy slumber.
* * *
During interludes of stillness in my fitful rest I dream that a giant centipede climbed up into the sky and wrapped itself around the sun. It tightened its coil until the last ray of light was pinched out and we were left looking at that high-up bug, all legs upon spines. It looks like a tumor, or a desolate planet.
* * *
I slum around hospitals and pharmaceutical counters. I grip edges with hands that are slick with a sweat more viscous than liquid, a constant stickiness that oozes out of my pale nervous skin. The nurse behind the desk looks at me with a concerned, downturned brow. She’s not sure why I’m still here. I look for the nervous young doctor who told us, fiddling with his prescription pad, that the best thing we could do is keep him comfortable. I had half-expected him to write us a script for throw pillows. The fluorescents wash over the waiting room with a bone-white light, cast harshly like the desert sun. Death under these lights is clean. It looks phony, like a well-rehearsed tragedy of repeated performances.
Q&A With Parker Stockman:
First, what brought you to write a story about death and grieving that is so abundant in “The Imminent Widow"?
At the time I wrote the story I had become quite fascinated with South American shamanism and the circumstances that would bring someone in the conventional Western world to explore its methods of healing. I felt that as most of us put so much faith in modern medicine, it would perhaps have to be as a last resort of sorts for a very dire situation.
You bring humor into this—the idea of a doctor writing a prescription for throw pillows was a great way of bringing in a bit of light-heartedness to the piece. Do you feel that pieces that are heavy with death, loss, and grief need these moments? Why does your character go to those moments internally in the piece?
I really think it's just human nature to experience a wide range of emotions for any given circumstance. We are complex creatures and I think it is rare, in many cases, to ever feel a single, flatly unchanging emotion for an extended period of time. Even in our most ecstatic moments we can feel that twinge of melancholy as we recognize that all of life will not feel this way, or conversely, even in our darkest moments we can catch one little beam of joy piercing our sadness in the form of some small humor. I think she clung to those moments of dark humor in the same way that she grasped at every last shred of hope for not losing her husband.
Why do you choose to use metaphor? Specifically, why do you use the centipede in the dream and the idea that the characters are on stage?
I suppose I like metaphor so much because it seems like quite a natural way to describe things. We're programmed to make connections and see patterns, so when we think of some gruesome, invasive disease, our mind sometimes links it to an image we find equally horrific as a way to sort of understand, process, and categorize the original notion. For the main character, her simultaneous incomprehension and acceptance of her husband's cancer was visualized as a creeping, crawling pest, seeming initially so small and then growing so outsized that it was capable of things beyond her worst dreaming. Her visualizing herself onstage came from feeling that when things seem so extraordinary, we sometimes think of them as only happening to other people. Until now, she had only seen the worst tragedies possible on stage, and so at times she felt more like an actor in someone else's tale, as if those horrible things could only happen in a fiction. I think it was also an indulgence in a little bit of denial, a way for her to imagine even if only for a moment that it wasn't in fact real, that she could walk through those theater doors at any time and it would all fade away.
This is an extremely short story, yet you paint a picture of loneliness and longing vividly. Can you talk a bit about the choices you made within the story and why you chose to write certain scenes?
Well, I wanted to mainly touch on the events that would seem significant in retrospect to someone going through such an ordeal. Under such trying circumstances, it would be unlikely that she would able to recall what she had eaten for dinner or how her day was at work. I wanted to describe those flashes of memory that would maybe come to her later on, if she ever did recall that time in her life: her failing hope, her last interaction with the doctor, the friend who gave her one last tatter of cord to hang onto, her visit to the old shaman woman, his death and the surreal, sobering moments afterwards, and then finally her first move towards healing herself.
What was your process for this piece? This piece is very minimalist at times, reminding me of Amy Hempel’s “In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried”. Was the minimalism intentional, or was it something that you came to in the editing stage?
I guess it was intentional in the sense that I felt that her story was not one that would go on and on for pages with extensive monologue and other flowery scenes of grief. She herself could hardly talk or think, so I wanted her narrative to be sort of spare. She was at the stage of running so much on autopilot, so to speak, that any more elaboration seemed almost out of character for her.