Elizabeth Wade

We were there at the museum in my hometown, the museum named for the man, on the street named for the man, near a handful of buildings named for the man. We saw the man’s hat, which wasn’t the hat he wore, but a model sculpted from glass. We saw the man’s desk, where the faithful believe he signed their photos, photos they’ve displayed on their walls for decades, photos their children will fight to inherit. I know it was his desk. I know it was not his signature, not his best wishes. I know the words were inscribed by secretaries, by employees who wandered down the wrong hallway, by my father who worked near the man in a job he came to disdain in a town he came to love. I know that my father sat in that town, unloving, and wrote out his wishes under another man’s name. The first time I was asked to send my name to a stranger, I did not know how to construct it, did not know if I should start with four sticks or two curves, did not know what would please a man who wanted only my name, a man who promised not to sell it, a man who longed just to hold it near him. When I was not near you, I would write you letters in longhand, filling pages with sticks and curves, tumbling them together, outgrowing the lines, overflowing the margins. Now, from the margins, I wonder if you kept my letters. I burned your letters, keeping only a single, flawed photo. In the photo I kept, we do not look lovely. We had never taken a photo together before. Your hands circled my waist. I, who was always moving, had never stood for being held. Standing there for the photograph, I believed we would hold. Standing there in the museum, as you looked at the hat, I thought of the slippers, remembering how, as a child, I believed the glass would hold me, remembering how it shattered beneath my heel, how it left a scratch on the curve of my ankle. Now, from the margins, I think of how your name has four sticks and a curve, how you never noticed that scratch, how for a moment I stood as if on nothingness, how in a moment the transparency fractured, how quickly I slipped through.

Elizabeth Wade’s bio appears in this issue with her story, Prognosis.