During the weeks when he was leaving, the feeling that she carried almost constantly, that she lugged to work and around the supermarket, the sensation that flattened her to the mattress every single sleepless night – that feeling, was canoe shaped.
She came to see it very clearly.
An old, wooden canoe with cracked, warped boards, its paintwork weathered grey. The sort of given-up boat that’s sometimes transformed into a tourist sign, stabbed vertically into the ground before a row of cabins, a forest campsite. Once it might have been daubed with words, ‘River View’, or ‘Hiawatha’s Retreat’. Some such brochure-shit.
It wasn’t a canoe anybody would ever actually use. You couldn’t even bob in the shallows with it, let alone negotiate rapids or glide between dragonflies and lush green banks. Undoubtedly, it leaked.
And what use was that, a canoe like that, inside her?
She could feel it all too keenly.
Her flesh, her skin, draped awkwardly around it, like wet clothes heaped across a cheap hanger. Her stomach was crushed thin beneath it, and she had no idea how her ribcage managed. And yet it was such a waste of space, that canoe. While it’s oar-less heart remained stubbornly, greedily empty, filled with nothing but aching, sour air, she had to struggle to live around its edges. Some nights, in bed, when he was there, or not there, beside her, it made it difficult to breathe.
The only time she’d ever experienced anything remotely similar was after her mother had died. Remembering this, she wondered if the feeling wasn’t canoe-shaped after all, but more like a coffin? Except how did that help? How did that make anything easier? The idea of hauling a coffin about, of it rearranging your insides?
And even after he’d finally left the house for good, the feeling didn’t go.
She couldn’t escape it and there came a point when she feared she might start telling people, as if she couldn’t help it. Running into friends or colleagues, or even the familiar strangers at the station each morning, she became filled with the urge to reach out, to pluck at a sleeve or a hesitant hand –
“There’s a canoe,” she might tell them. Hissing: “A fucking canoe, inside me.”
Except it was far too easy to imagine how their lips might twitch or their eyebrows jump. The whole aghast or overly polite way they’d probably nod back at her. As if they hadn’t even heard of a canoe before. As if she was the type of woman to go mad.