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Without a Body
(in which—the dream of
On the second day: the creation of sky, considered as an arch. Roman and round with a pie-shaped stone into which everything leans, shoulders butted up hard against, key and grenade pin, the point of that closed curve. What is sometimes called Heaven, holding, in feats of architecture, the water below from the water above, the remembered from the escaped, from the evaporated. After nothing and wet, there was this.

The woman behind the desk thanks him for waiting the allotted time and invites him to make a statement.

The ocean imposes a set of conditions, he says. He must swim to stay still.

There is an unfortunate tendency to jump to conclusions without careful consideration of the available facts. This is especially so when the initial facts nurture common clichés, such as abound in the field of forensic pathology: Self-shooters open the shirt before pulling the trigger. Women put on makeup before consuming a bottle of hypnotics. Automobile crashes are automobile accidents. Because initial circumstances bring something to mind, one is not obligated to disregard the totality of evidence in order to convert that initial thought into a conviction. However, cliché stems from the French cliquer, to fasten, make firm.

Back soon—xo, A. Library—xo, A. Needed milk—xo, A. Meet me … Your invisible notes, singed into legibility, all carefully archived on the face of the refrigerator with fruit-shaped magnets. New snow-white scraps announced themselves daily in their starkness and he would set to work with his lighter, chastening, transfixed as lemon-juice cursive bloomed before the flame. You’d early been revealed in longhand as the textbook vandal of Jacob’s dreams. The best love affairs are those we never
Confronted with his emerald-inked Russell volume, you gave up nothing, however; requested a comparative handwriting analysis; let him stroke your back until you fell asleep.

Now on the fridge, transcribed near-traceless onto three full sheets of foolscap from your scanned copy of Water-Cure Journal, dated October 1, 1848, and left unsigned:

A man’s breast may swell with unutterable sorrow, and apprehension may rend his mind; yet place him by the sick couch, and the shadow rather than light of the sad light which watches it; let him have to count over the long dull hours of night, and wait alone, sleepless, through the struggle of the gray dawn into the chamber of suffering—let him be appointed to this ministry, even for the sake of the brother of his heart, or the father of his being, and his grosser nature, even where it is more perfect, will tire; his eyes will close, and his spirit grow impatient of his dreamy task; and though love and anxiety remain undisturbed, his mind will own to itself a creeping in of an irresistible selfishness, which, indeed, he may be ashamed of, and struggle to reject, but which, in spite of all his efforts, remains to characterize his nature and prove in one instance at least, manly weakness.

In his dream he arrives at the terminal as the ferry is pulling away. The wet metal hull shrinks from his outstretched hand; the churning water spits its dissent. Doubling back, he makes a running start: hard, long strides against the asphalt as he comes at it again, charges again, and springs with the faith of flight beyond the rail and onto the passenger deck where you will be waiting to receive him. But the engine is silent and the crowd has dispersed with a flock of geese. Alone, he lists in a serpentine path toward the prow. Nothing exists but a small pile of neatly folded clothes. On top: your broken watch. Red sweatshirt with a stain. Silk tank top. Black cotton briefs. Blue jeans shredding at the inseam. Characteristic absence of socks. Buried beneath the careful stack, the sneakers he bought you for your birthday. In his dream he still believes that you have undressed for him—an invitation—that you are waiting for him somewhere on the farther shore.

The sea is constantly in motion. Much of the motion seems at first chaotic—the turbulence of waves on a rocky shore and the changing pattern and intensity of waves on the sea surface. Underneath this exterior, there is an order that begins to become apparent only in special instances to the shore-based observer.

In bed, he asks you again and again you say yes, yes, and again he has no reason to believe you with tears running down your face. Your lips parted from your body, flung out like a life preserver, vowing to keep afloat. This most ancient oath.

Sometimes in his dream he arrives at the terminal with no wings; he watches earthbound from the pier as the ferry disappears entirely.

He wonders, how vast the open water between permission and consent?

The desk sergeant hears his confession: what he wants to tell her about Aristotle’s teleology—that the insight granted to arguments from hindsight permitted him to project onto Thales only what came after Thales. Jacob asks this woman if she will hold his hand, and today, this is a world where that is possible. But I think, he continues, that Aristotle … Silence. He lifts his face to her in stillness: I think he knew that this is what he did.

In addition to sampling fragments from a wide range of online ephemera (personal blogs, obituaries, interviews, surveys, newswire items, etc.), the following materials have served as key sources of reference and intertextual incorporation for “Without a Body”:

J.A. Davis’s “Bodies Found in Water” (American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 1986); Katherine Gruspier and Michael Pollanen’s “Limbs Found in Water: Investigation Using Anthropological Analysis and the Diatom Test” (Forensic Science International, 2000); Derrick J. Pounder’s “Bodies from Water: Lecture Notes” (University of Dundee: Department of Forensic Medicine, 1992); and Jaap Mansfeld’s “Aristotle and Others on Thales, or the Beginnings of Natural Philosophy” (Mnemosyne, 1985). “The best love affairs are those we never had” is a line from from Norman Lindsay’s Bohemians of the Bulletin (1965).

Unattributed texts: The Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History’s “Ocean Currents” (Natural History of Nova Scotia, Volume I, 1984); “Processes of Water Cure” (Water-Cure Journal, 1845); “Management of the Sick Room” and “Woman’s Tenderness and Love” (Water-Cure Journal, 1848); the Philologos online Bible prophesy research archive; and the Encyclopedia Phoeniciana virtual center for Phoenician studies.


Kilby Smith-McGregor holds an MFA from the University of Guelph, and has received the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Bronwen Wallace Award. Her fiction has appeared in Dublin Quarterly and Descant, as well as Brick.