• Constellations

    Celia Bell

    Winter 2018

    Autumn: When I wake up, the light in the apartment is that opaque milk-blue that looks like it ought to be something you can touch. The sun’s rays catch flecks of airborne dust and hold them suspended. I watch as they inch across the floor toward my mattress. My body is heavy. I imagine my limbs weighted down into my bed, leaving an impression in the floor.

    I stretch my hand toward the panel of light, and because the days are cooler now, I feel its warmth on my fingers. I have to get up, but nothing in me wants to move.

    Before: After my brother’s funeral, I sublet my friend’s apartment in the city. When I arrive, it’s empty. The apartment across the hall is being renovated, and everything is coated in thick, white dust. My shoes leave tracks in it, door to window to door. Later, after I clean, the prints are reversed, the dust I track in from the hallway leaving pale smudges on the floor, marking the steps I’ve taken. I keep cleaning them, but the marks just change position. I leave a trail wherever I go.

    After: I stop applying for gallery jobs. On days off from the restaurant, I like to walk, without any particular idea of where I’m going, until I’m hollow legged and hungry. I like cold mornings, when the sky is flat and hard, the buildings pushing up like crooked teeth, or late at night, when I leave work and head west on 125th Street to the pylons of the 1 train, after the vendors selling incense and DVDs have folded up their tables and carried their goods away, leaving the street like a museum after closing time.

    I like the way my body feels when I’m on the edge of exhaustion. It’s the closest I come to feeling like I don’t have a body at all.

    Light: On the street, I look through my camera’s lens, focus on a streetlight, the door to an apartment building, or a trash can. Every scene becomes equally meaningless inside the frame. I can’t photograph the thing I want to capture. It doesn’t live anywhere.

    Defense: I sound like I think it’s acceptable to treat my grief as instrumental. At the funeral, when people talked about my brother, I could feel my throat closing, as if I was going to vomit. My consciousness of my body became horrific: my hair hanging limp on my neck, the texture of my pantyhose against my crotch. I felt the flaking dry skin on my elbows, the wet interior of my mouth, the scum of plaque on my teeth, the raw bite on my ankle where my high heels rubbed.

    There was an open casket in the church.

    I didn’t want to use that horror, or the larger shape of absence that enclosed it. And yet, the shape was there. I couldn’t touch it. I had to touch it. I had to find a way to look at it.

    Celia Bell is an MFA candidate at the New Writers Project in Austin, Texas. Her work has appeared in Bomb, Five Points, and the New York Times Magazine.

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