Rosemary Jones

A weave of matter. The shuck of an overhead fan. Grains of rice. Small matters between us as they sit upon the table. An arm, an elbow. Crossings over. How to get to the other side of the table? These are graver matters than they were before, graver than images, graver than bad light fixtures. Gravely, we look at each other. Sometimes with his collar open at the neck, he still looks young. With a bit of dash. Sometimes I suppose I look young, but with less dash. More tired around the eyes. Jowly.

The way forward is fraught with old things behind us and new old things ahead. It seems there won’t be much time before our suppers. Suddenly age has a new facet, it’s more just around the corner than it used to be. I have a chin I didn’t have before. These are small matters, he would say. The larger matter at hand is how to matter before it’s all over.

We can’t work any harder, so it will have to be smarter, he says. But I haven’t a clue how. We order okra and smashed eggplant. I like the smash. The bearing down upon. The eggplant, squished and purpled. Elegant baby food. We talk about shadows. He has his shadows now appearing as a splay of three: the unconscious one, the one cast by the present, and the one foraging about for itself in the future. I wonder what I am doing with my shadows and when they will appear, roaring, cursing as if out of a fire, a bed of ancient compressed geology, a place down under. Unless they already lurk and watch me as blithely I walk along. Perhaps it’s too late. Perhaps they don’t want to be seen.

I have no shortage of dreams; shadows pack themselves there in unruly formations. Sometimes flashbacks. To the strange, the unreal, the hallucinatory. Hippie dream colors, but richer, kinder so I wouldn’t mind hanging around to see what they are saying. Color and voice collusions. But I won’t linger – other dreams may foam up, dreams in search of shadows I don’t want to know about. I broom-stick them out of my orbit: shoo, be off.

But when a shadow enters should I really turn tail? Or force myself to shake its hand. At least squat by the side of the road to watch what it does? A shadow is not, as he’s said, in the shadows; it presses down over the current self. It seeks attention, acknowledgement. Will that be enough? How much does a shadow want to be known, and how much does it want to be allowed a little space? How much does a shadow rob the present of its mattering? These are the questions I don’t think to ask him over okra and eggplant. The small matters between us in well-placed, small white bowls. They do not cast shadows. The shadows slide down to wait for us below the rims. For the moment we take up our forks.

Rosemary Jones is an Australian living and teaching in the U.S. Her fiction has been published in journals such as Gargoyle and Denver Quarterly and been read on Australian national radio. Her nonfiction has recently appeared in Creative Nonfiction and is forthcoming in Brain, Child.