GROUP ADMIN, ILLNESS FORUM
By Tamara Sellman
I found my sublet online one day while in my pajamas, my muscles too stiff to move, the shower too hot to tolerate. I was taken in like a rain-drenched stranger on a cold November night. Somebody dried my clothes, I was given a robe and towels, a stein of hot cocoa appeared near a blazing fire that warmed the whole flat. The walls were thick, the floors layered in rich animal skins or exotic woven rugs. At first I didn’t stray from the luxury of the sitting room, but finally I did, and discovered it was a castle. Though there were a few rats inside the walls, the well water sometimes needed boiling and the windows were painted shut, I decided to stay.
I strolled from room to room, discovered beautiful broken people who sang of loss, love and adventure. I pried razors from shaking fingers, handed out butterscotches, became a translator once I mastered house dialect. Two years later the landlords gave me keys to the vault. Deputized, I found a compassionate end for the rats, hired a plumber, stripped down and cranked open the windows to release years of stagnation. I wasn’t alone; others baked pies, polished the banister of their own free will. One played the parlor harpsichord deftly. Another donned jester’s points and told stories on the parquet floor in bell-tipped shoes.
But there were others, who painted obscenities in India ink on the hallway wallpaper. Collectors of flying termites and black widow spiders. Wailing women with skin so transparent we weren’t convinced they weren’t already ghosts, encumbered by worldly pain. There were naughty children who told fibs at the dinner table and elderly matriarchs who poked you with the sharp ends of their canes if you came within distance, and sometimes the noise level vibrated the crown molding and sent cracks across the plaster ceiling and we would have to send everyone back to their rooms in order to sweep up and patch and sand ourselves back into normalcy.
When somebody passed, we were elegant in our sobriety. There was never a formal ceremony, only gossip leading to prayers and embraces, soft words spun of the silk of truth, heads nodding, eyes clear and long sighs heard in tandem. We are more than our bodies so we left the burials of us to the skilled sexton who lived quietly in the white cottage out back. Inside, windows were thrust open even to the rain, and we tipped crystal flutes of crisp cider to salute the dead around a dining room table void of fruit, because who could eat? All of us looking at every other one of us, knowing, and yet, wondering… when?
Tamara Sellman's work has been published widely and internationally (US, Canada, Mexico, UK, Malaysia). Most recently, her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in the print anthology, Something On Our Minds and the HIV: Here & Now 365 poems project (both in Dec 2015), as well as Wordgathering (Mar 2016), Barking Sycamores (Feb 2016) and Halfway Down the Stairs (Jan 2016). Her personal essay, "Intersections," was also nominated for the John Burroughs Nature Essay Award. Finally, her work has also been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize.