CW: self harm, suicide
Eliot lights the votive candle, then immediately blows it out. The gun-shot of his breath ricochets off the stone walls of the church until it finds a way out and vanishes. He lights the candle again, blows it out again, and listens, again, to his breath as it slowly dies out. After seven times lighting the candle, he leaves it to burn in remembrance of Beth, his wife whom he found dead in her art studio with an exacto knife in her right hand and a purple origami orchid in her left hand above four neat vertical lines running down her wrist. Eliot kneels in front of the bleeding-heart-red row of votive candles, pantomimes the sign of the cross, then rises and turns away without looking back.
Every door Eliot opens from today until this day next year he will open and close seven times before walking through. Every light he turns on he will turn on and off seven times before leaving it to shine. Every meal will have seven portions. Every mouthful of food will be chewed seven times, a vast improvement from the first year when every morsel he ate had to be small enough to swallow after only one chew. Every night before he snaps out the light, he will say Beth’s name seven times.
On his way home from the church, Eliot stops at Bed Bath & Beyond to buy a new accent pillow, number seven, to add to growing mountain of pillows on Beth’s side of the bed. He stops at the pet store to choose a seventh velvety red Siamese fighting fish in a round bowl to join the expanding school of bowls lining the long windowsill of their bedroom. He stops at the florist to pick out a seventh purple Phalaenopsis orchid to add to the circle of six marking the exact spot on the floor of Beth’s studio where she died.
Before he calls it a day, Eliot makes two final stops. First, he stops at Beth’s favorite deli, Profumo di Carne, and buys seven slices of prosciutto, seven ounces of the ripest Taleggio cheese, seven garlic stuffed Kalamata olives, seven artichoke hearts, and seven small ciriola loaves, which he will eat over the next seven nights. Finally, he stops at Beth’s favorite bakery and wine shop, Bel Fiore, and buys seven of her favorite pistachio cannoli, seven sugared almonds, and seven bottles of her favorite Sangiovese, which will wash down the prosciutto, the cheese, the olives, the artichoke hearts, the ciriola, the cannoli, and the sugared almonds over the next seven nights.
After completing all of his ritual errands, Eliot arrives back at the house that he used to call home before Beth died. He stores the groceries, adds the fish bowl to the circle of bowls in Beth’s studio at the back of the house, places the orchid at the end of the line of orchids on the windowsill, and balances the pillow atop the slow-growing mountain that still doesn’t quite fill the space where Laura used to sleep. He strips off his clothes, turns on the shower to nearly scalding, Beth’s favorite temperature, sets the timer on his phone for seven minutes, and steps beneath steaming needles of water.
When the alarm sounds, Eliot towels himself dry and stretches out naked on his empty side of the bed. He opens the drawer of his bedside table and extracts the exacto knife that Beth used to cut fine flower petals from her own handmade paper to make the complex collage art she was so famous for. He reaches down and rubs that special place high on the inside of his right thigh, the place Beth loved to stroke with a feathery-light touch of a fingertip because it made Eliot’s leg spasm uncontrollably, the place that now holds six perfectly straight vertical scars, each nearly three inches in length. When Eliot made the first cut on the first anniversary of Beth’s death, he believed that he would use each new cut every year to create his own collage tribute to her. But after trying to draw a template for his masterpiece in Beth’s unfinished sketch book, he accepted that he was not an artist, and gave up any idea of trying to match her skills. So this year’s cut, the seventh cut, will line up perfectly with the previous six, another row in the expanding garden of scars growing on his thigh. He doesn’t pretend to know how many more cuts it will take before the scars become like a hedgerow to block out the rest of the world. All he knows is that next year the number will be eight.
Kip Knott’s writing has recently appeared in Barrow Street, Flash Fiction Magazine, La Piccioletta Barca, MoonPark Review, and trampset. He is also a regular monthly contributor to Versification. His debut full-length collection of poetry—Tragedy, Ecstasy, Doom, and so on—is currently available from Kelsay Books. His new poetry collection, Clean Coal Burn, is forthcoming in 2021, also from Kelsay Books. More of his work may be accessed at kipknott.com.