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Christopher Stolle

More Lines Left To Write

“And we were oh oh, so you know
Not the kind to dawdle
Will the things we wrote today
Sound as good tomorrow
We will still be writing
In approaching years
Stifling yawns on Sundays
As the weekends disappear”

— Elton John (Bernie Taupin), “Writing

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Marie Tsilikishvilli

 I. At the violet hour, when the eyes and back1

Dawn approaches. You and she remain in a deep slumber despite the encroaching hour. A single firework sizzles across the sky—some reveler either late to the party or wanting to celebrate again despite the quiet blanket covering the neighborhood. You hear her fuss a warning and then roll over and slip back to sleep, not ready to greet the day. You decide now is the time to make your getaway and head downstairs. Your arm is free now, your heart is aflutter, your mind begins to awaken too and you make her favorite breakfast and carefully arrange everything in bowls and on plates—complemented by a single rose, which you know will continue to grow in abundance over time. But you have no idea what awaits you upstairs. But your breath, your eyes, your feet feel heavy with excitement as you climb those stairs and realize another year is upon you both.

“You know, we can flip over that calendar, but today doesn’t feel all that much different from yesterday. Except, maybe, that that wine your parents sent us has done things to my head I don’t want to have done to it again,” you say, laughing, fully noticing she has been up for a while now and hasn’t concerned herself with her appearance, hasn’t needed to worry, because she knows you’ll love her regardless of what life throws at you. She’s not going anywhere. She’s up for whatever adventure comes next.

“But something will change this year. Many things. I predict that now. I guarantee it,” she says.

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because my feelings have been confirmed,” she says, showing you the positive pregnancy test.

II. A little learning is a dang’rous thing;2

Afternoon settles in like an old friend who’s come over for the big game. You know his transgressions. You know what he did wrong and how you abhor it. But you coax him here to help with her escape. He couldn’t stop her from here. He couldn’t hurt her or harass her from here. You sent your love along to help expedite her new journey. It couldn’t take long for an abused woman to pack and leave, but she needed a final encouraging speech to help her make that firm decision. It’s tough to leave familiarity and start again, love again, even when whatever situation you’re in is despicable and angry and filled with violence. You know what’s going to happen. You expect it. It surprises you anyhow. But it becomes a comfort because you have learned someone. But you need to learn someone better, be someone better, love in better and more fulfilling ways.

“Well, bro, it’s time for me to get home to the old lady,” your buddy says. You’ll cross that moniker off your list when he gets home and finds her gone. He might try to call you, but you won’t answer. You know he’s also going to lose his job on Monday. He might be arrested. You hope to never see him again unless it’s to stand up against his hatred. But you’ll be civil in your words. Lives depend on it.

“You did the right thing,” your love tells you. You believe it. Hitting is never the answer. What kind of soulless being are you when your daily routine involves violence and you never think twice about it, about the pain, about how it will all eventually unravel and not in your favor.

“You did the better thing,” you say, knowing what sacrifices she made and what frustration she endured to help another woman leave—not run away from—a situation that was never going to change. You can’t understand the mindset, the tricks women play on themselves, the constant aggravation anyone endures in such a situation. But it’s not your place to judge. It’s your desire to help someone make a change. But she has to be willing. And you decide to find ways to help people, men and women, discover they have the willingness, the determination, the purpose.

III. Each turn’d his face with a ghastly pang,3

Dusk creeps into your father’s life like a thief. He and Acuity have become fast foes—fiends who think they can steal from each other and yet still retain what they began with. What he robs from Acuity, Time robs from them both and Acuity does nothing but continue to rob from your father: memories, dreams, and patience. But he’s aware about what’s happening. He knows he can’t do much about it. But he’s determined to try. He knows science will catch up to human frailty in time. He knows it’s trying. He read an article in a medical journal about how people have been able to stave off some, perhaps not all, mental loss by spending an hour or so each day writing their memories down. They write whatever they can remember: birthday parties, grocery lists, names of people long gone. They make up stories to fill in gaps where memory fails or where Time has lost that memory without Acuity or the human body having anything to do with it. How many remember their kindergarten teacher’s name anyhow? Fill it in with whatever feels right, feels strong, feels good. Make everyone aware that what you’re writing isn’t necessarily true and has enough embellishments that anyone could have written this farce.

 But your father goes a step beyond this. He’s decided to teach a class in his living room. Once a week, with fruit and coffee and tea, he hosts a dozen people around his age, a crisp 80, and he takes everyone on a journey through each life. How old were you when you kissed someone romantically for the first time? What kind of a sibling or friend were you? What has disappointed you about growing old? Even reaching into newer and fresher memories will help keep Acuity from being too diligent about being a pest, a paranoia, a predilection for a disease that has no easily discerned cause and barely any cure—save for being a physical presence, which can’t serve any good purpose, can it? But keeping someone around is better than having to make a terribly difficult choice about ending a life early when maybe that resolution is just days away. Who can know? But your father teaches them mnemonics and word games and tries to connect even the most diverse aspects of life and tries to turn the obscure into something so familiar that you think it was that way all the time.

“I know my mind is going because I forget things that I should certainly know. I don’t want to admit what those things are. It seems easier to pretend that I’ve forgotten something and that that information is perhaps inconsequential to everyday living. But I know otherwise and I’m sure others can see through that facade because a generally wise man doesn’t suddenly forget an important date or a vital name or a critical memory in his vast life unless something else is going on to force that issue,” he says to the small crowd. They lean in on his every word, perhaps merely to hear better or perhaps because they’re attracted to his magnetic presence and his refusal to give it to a cruel disease, feeling a little electrified at this new magic trick and wondering how long they’ll be able to perform it before being caught, before being unable to remember the solution, before being unable to know a life has been greatly lived. 

1Line 215 from “The Wasteland” by T.S. Eliot
2Line 215 from “An Essay on Criticism” by Alexander Pope
3Line 215 from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge


About the writer:
Christopher Stolle’s writing has appeared most recently in Tipton Poetry Journal, Flying Island, Edify Fiction, Contour, The New Southern Fugitives, The Gambler, Gravel, The Light Ekphrastic, Sheepshead Review, and Plath Poetry Project. He works as an acquisitions and development editor for Penguin Random House, and he lives in Richmond, Indiana.

Image: The Garden of Earthly Delights by Marie Tsilikishvilli. Mixed media (spray paint, oil, and enamel) on canvas. 11 x 14 inches. 2019. By permission.


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