The End Came With a Kiss(6)

By: John Michael Hileman


When this kind of thing happens, the looper's brain must then do something it does not like to do. It must make a decision—and the looper will do a lot of damage before its brain can come to a conclusion. When it does, the results are sometimes comical. I once saw a man sitting in a parking spot on the side of the road. Days later, he was still in the same spot. It finally dawned on me what he was doing. He must have gone to get in his car and found it missing. After what was probably a day long rampage, his brain came to the conclusion that he would sit and wait for the car to return. He’s probably sitting there still.

Most of the time, when a looper’s loop is broken, they will choose to either go to the place that is most familiar, or go to the place that holds the most connection, and give up on trying to get back and forth.

I feel Kate squirm next to me. Her mouth begins to form words again. This is where she makes her daily confession to me in airy whispers. She is sorry she hadn't been braver. She is sorry she hadn't been more vigilant to protect our daughter. As I study the anguish on her face, I can't help but wonder again about the nature of emotion. Her brain reproduces all of the outward signs of guilt and remorse, but is she feeling it? Is she re-living the pain of that day, or is her brain merely sending signals to tighten the muscles?

I snap my fingers in front of her face. Her eyes lock onto them. Jaw slightly slack. Emotion gone. She has no automated response for what I've done. She remains transfixed until I drop my hand. The process she was in isn’t important and can be interrupted, much in the way Harold is able to pause from clipping his hedges. The next one, however, is important and must be done right or it will break her loop. I found this out the hard way.

"I'll get you something to eat," I say, mechanically.

She looks at me, emotion has returned to her face because my words let her move on from the death of our daughter into a different space. It is the section of her day I call ‘home.’ It can be any variety of smaller motor memories from doing laundry to decorating a Christmas tree. When Kate is in home mode, she acts out any scene from our past in perfect detail with no consideration for sequence or time of year, scenes that hold a significance for her. If she is agitated, she does chores. The familiarity of repetitive tasks have a calming effect on her.

I stand and go into the kitchen. A can sits in the strainer. It is empty. Clean. And only slightly rusted. I plunk a spoon in it and bring it back to my wife. She receives it graciously and begins to eat the air inside, in slow stoic silence. I don't understand how it works. All I know is that the can is important. She can adapt to whatever is inside, but it has to be a can. Otherwise, she growls. Or worse.

I used to put food in the can, but supplies are getting harder to acquire safely. Loopers don't like it when you go into their homes uninvited. And store owners—even dead ones—don't tolerate shoplifting. For a short period, I was able to pretend like I was buying the food, until the cash registers stopped working. Man. There is nothing worse than a looper trying to get into a dead cash register.

Kate sets her hands in her lap and looks at me. She is so beautiful. She has always been beautiful. If she had a flaw, it was the mole on her left cheek. But that is gone now. It is a constant reminder that she has been changed. I reach out and cradle her jaw in my hands and rub my warm thumb on the spot where the mole used to be.

My touch triggers another stored response. Her eyes light and her face warms, even though it is cold against my palms. I’m not sure which scene from our life together is playing out, but it produces a look that reminds me of the way she looked at me on our wedding day. My heart aches as our vows come back into my mind.

For richer. For poorer. In sickness and in health. Till death parts us.

The corners of my mouth tighten. "No," I say. "Not even death."

She stops for a moment, as if she heard what I said, then continues the mental process I started. The series of motions pulls her head free from my hands, and her mouth begins to sound out words again, but I don’t know what they are.

I come in close and whisper in her ear. "I know you’re in there."

She pauses again. Her eyes grow as cold as her skin.