The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts by Tessa Fontaine

The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts by Tessa Fontaine

Author:Tessa Fontaine
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Two years and ten months after the stroke

10 days into my parents’ trip

August 2013

My parents’ train derails somewhere in Nebraska. Or just outside Chicago. Or in the Sierra Nevadas. It happens suddenly in the middle of the night, throwing the passengers out of their bunks and onto the floor, against the wall. The force throws my mother’s whole body up from the flat plane of the bed and into the air, freeing her limbs from gravity, from paralysis. Imagine it, the body loosed and airborne, the soft angle of a shoulder floating through space. Like a woman underwater. For the first moment, at least. Before the body’s smack.

In my dream, the train crash isn’t beautiful. I want to remember it beautiful, to put lightning bugs out in the cornfields, to see the egg-tip of moon up in the sky and the blues of the night fingering over one another like Van Gogh’s starry night. But it isn’t. The dreams are brutal.

The next dream has them in the small room they’ll be living in while they take the boat across the Atlantic. It is Davy this time, dead on the ground while my mom sits beside him in her wheelchair, the pee collecting beneath her, her cries collecting in the room, staring at him for minutes, hours, days, unable to know how to get help, what to do, unable to do anything. Just watching while possibilities for help fade away.

These aren’t dreams I have at night. I am too tired by the time I lay my head down to think about anything much at all and my subconscious seems to feel the same. I fall right asleep, sleep through the night, wake in the morning to do it all again. Some mornings I wake and wish so deeply to be waking, instead, in a room by myself with a locking door and a few hours to do as I wish. But when I play that out—what I would do next: read? cook eggs?—the action inevitably turns to doing something to keep my mom safe, to helping Davy, and again, as it’s been for two years and ten months, I don’t know what to do. Here, I get up out of my bunk and know exactly what to do.

I want to believe the waking daydreams bubble up out of my subconscious, as dreams do, but I think, mostly, they are conscious attempts at practicing for the worst. They happen as I sit backstage between acts, staring out the trailer’s back end into the late morning sun on the pig races next to us, the little pigs’ pink skin becoming the purse of the woman who happens to walk under a window in Italy and smell something foul, who happens to know the old woman who owns and rents out the little apartment where she smells the bad smell and whom she accompanies to check on the current renters, an American couple, one handicapped, who have been quiet as little mice and are now two rotting corpses.


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