Excerpt: Us by Michael Kimball
Michael Kimball’s new novel, Us, methodically depicts the ordinary death of an elderly woman from her husband’s point of view. With spare and elegant language, Kimball articulates the mind-bending agony and desperate love that awaits at the end of most lifelong marriages. In the following passage, the husband has fallen asleep at their home while his wife is at the hospital in a coma. She has been in a coma for several days after suffering a seizure. The husband has returned home briefly to gather belongings to take to the hospital so he can stay there and wait for his wife to wake up (or die).
Michael Kimball will be in town to read at the Antenna Gallery in celebration of the release of Us on Thursday, June 9, at 7 p.m. He will be accompanied by Blake Butler, whose new novel, There Is No Year, recently came out via Harper Perennial. More details about the event here.
Come Back to Sleep with Me
I have been hoping you would come back to sleep with me. I didn’t mean to keep you up so long. I didn’t mean to make you so tired too. I have been too tired to wake up yet, but I will wake up soon. You should too. I want you to wake up so you can come back to the hospital and come back up to me. Bring my hairbrush with you when you come back up to me. Bring my slippers with you too. Wake back up and come back up and I will wake up too.
The Things that I Brought Her from Our House
It was still nighttime outside when I woke up. I couldn’t remember where I was in the dark. My wife wasn’t in our bed with me and I couldn’t remember where she was even though she had just been talking with me. I rolled over and looked at her empty side of our bed. I remembered her hospital bed where she was and how she was laid out in it.
I turned the bedside light on the bedside table on and looked at the date on my watch. I had been asleep for too long too. I called the hospital up with the telephone on the bedside table, but my wife hadn’t died or woken up yet.
I got up out of bed and went into the kitchen. I wanted to eat until I was so full that the food pushed how I felt out of my stomach. I opened the refrigerator door up, but there was so much food inside the refrigerator that had gotten old and started to rot. The blood had drained out of a package of steaks and turned the meat a gray color. The milk was lumpy and sour and had this crusty skin floating on it. The bread had a spotty mold growing on its crust and the vegetables in the crisper had gotten soft and lost their color too.
I closed the refrigerator door and filled a water glass up from the faucet tap, but even the water tasted old and flat. I put the water glass down into the kitchen sink and saw the bananas on the countertop. They had brown age spots on them and little flies flying around them, but I couldn’t throw any of that rotten food away. I didn’t want my wife to die.
I wanted to go back to the hospital. I wanted to be with her even if she couldn’t be with me. I pulled two suitcases out of the closet and laid them out on our bed. I packed one suitcase up for her and the other one up for me. We didn’t live that far away from the hospital, but we were both going to be away from home for a while. I packed up my toiletry bag up, along with enough days of clothes for me to change into until she got better or died.
I packed clothes up for her too—nightgowns and a housecoat, slippers and almost her whole drawer of underclothes. I packed clothes up that she could wear out of the hospital too. I packed the things on her bedside table up—an alarm clock, a reading lamp, the book she was reading, her reading glasses, and her glass for water. I packed her make-up kit up, which had the things for her to fix her hair up with inside it—a hand mirror, her good hairbrush, and a can of hairspray.
I packed her pillow up along with a blanket from our bed. I brought other things from our house for her too. I cut flowers from the front garden and put them in water so that they looked as if they were still alive. I picked out some music that she liked and I brought back other sounds from our house for her too.
I recorded the sound of the water running from the kitchen and the bathroom faucets. I recorded the sound of the latches from when I opened and closed the doors on the cupboards. I recorded the furnace heating up, the water heater coming on, the dishwasher washing dishes, and the washing machine washing clothes and the dryer drying them. I put the tape recorder on the wood floors and walked over them where they creaked. I recorded the sound of our house settling on its foundation at night. I recorded the back door closing shut and my shoes walking over the gravel in the driveway.
I set the tape recorder on top of our car and opened the trunk up, packed the suitcases in it, and closed the trunk back up. I opened our car up and set the tape recorder on the seat next to me. I closed our car, started it up, and drove everything that I had with me back to her.
Excerpted from Us by Michael Kimball. Copyright 2011 by Michael Kimball. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Tyrant Books.