By: Michael Levan
The next night, he is early to the sixth floor. He places his phone, / his wallet, a few spare quarters in the locker, / but he takes back the phone. He dials Dr. S. / He works to coax from him an answer / she would want to hear. The doctor is noncommittal, / he is borderline obstinate, he is willing to see / finally what can be done after the man’s third try. He will give / no promises, he will not be swayed to her release without / assurance she is no longer “a danger to herself,” / which means after thousands of patients, dozens with HG, in this very fertile / town he practices, this doctor has learned nothing. / He doesn’t know how the danger is within her, / the danger is why she is there, the danger / looks nothing like a grenade turned pinless, a spark ready to light / so many worlds aflame.
The danger announced itself / as the size of a pomegranate seed. It grew into / a blueberry, a raspberry, a cherry, and now a kumquat, / so bright and sweet there is no way, the man supposes, / to see it—or him or her—as anything that could bring / a woman to crave an end she can control.
And there is the difference. / Neither the man nor Dr. S. grasps the possibility she does: / nothing is too small to choke on, nothing is / too small to devour a world even so filled / with love.
While the moon hangs in the mid-October sky, / while the wind whips in from the open windows, / while he pushes down on the accelerator and flips / the radio off, the man remembers their time dating, / to that day and those several more after in particular, they waited / for her to not be late. He was driving then, too, when she slipped / this into conversation, this revolt of her body / against the routine it always had. This little note six / months in, several more shy of when he understood / they’d have a lifetime to learn each other, inside-out. / He worked to keep calm, asked if maybe her math was off, / if she was panicking for no reason. For as careful as they’d been, / now there was a shotgun over them, / a life within their lives he wanted, but not now, not / now, please, because too much must still be done. He had nothing / to offer her but his debts to the world, nothing that would / convince her parents theirs would be a union of love, / not insistence, not holy demand.
That’s how the man thought, / that’s how he thinks and how he will think: / in the negative. Not, no, stop, can’t, won’t, everything to refuse / possibility because even when late turned into / the present, the man only knew how overdue he was / to love her, to say they can begin earlier than anticipated, / to see the consequences were, are, and will always be hers.
Here’s the thing about the man, though: / while he wishes to be present, he couldn’t be much / farther away from her, from the boy and the girl. / He makes them breakfast, drives the boy to school, / lets the girl crawl on his lap and put a tiara on his head, yes, / but what he is doing only has him cross / off hours, days, until she can come home and share this / burden. He wants her to be well so he can / run from the lives they have made together. / He wants her well so she can answer for the fourth time, / No, you can’t have ice cream at 9:00 am or No, you can’t sleep / in my bed tonight, not when you tangle and steal all the sheets, / when you curl up next to me like you’re trying to crawl inside / a body that never suffered you, when you ask in that tiny, midnight voice, / Is she ever coming home?
So much of the man’s life is spent / wondering where the escape hatch is and how many / drinks he needs to sleep a night through. He should / have been ready for this, he should have more answers / than questions those drinks might silence, but that’s the thing: / there is only one answer that matters, now and here, and every other time besides: / Because they need you.
Michael Levan has work in recent or forthcoming issues of Laurel Review, The Rupture, Waccamaw, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Arts & Letters. He is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Saint Francis and edits and writes reviews for American Microreviews and Interviews. He lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with his wife, Molly, and children, Atticus, Dahlia, and Odette.