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Magnetism

by Angela Townsend



Image of a collage of flowers.
Image credit: Kirsty Anne Richards

He had reason to distrust the magnet. It filed a dangerous report. It made incendiary claims. Watercolor daisies could not conceal impudence.

“It’s visual chaos.”

This was the ace that accomplished all. The specter of visual chaos kept books with colorful spines in the closet. The visual chaos threat level reached orange if the paper towels had prints. Many a music box was banished for crimes of visual chaos.

The recommended treatment was not quarantine but euthanasia. Did I really need the ceramic chicken? Wasn’t it unnecessary to keep the pawprints of pets past? How did one woman acquire so many small angels? Would I please pick up the cat toys? The cats could learn when it was time to play.

Rivers of magenta and gold went down the drain, but watercolor daisies pleaded in my hand. The magnet had made it through college and grad school, hopping from file cabinet to mini-fridge to the apartment where I danced alone.

I curled my fingers over it. It would survive his rounds of “healthy purging.” It was small, not like the stuffed ostrich from my stepfather, not like the sweater that made me look like a Muppet, not like my feet. I wrapped it in the under-bed box.

While we slept, it spoke. The letters rose through the bed and latched onto my body, etching tattoos that would not wash away. “The Lord longs to be gracious to you.”

I hid it under long sleeves. I locked myself in the bathroom to see if it was still there. I rubbed aloe on the words.

The Lord longs to be gracious to you. When I saw it every day, my hopes ran feral. Read anything often enough, and it will embroider itself in your pocket. Hide something so hot on your playlist, and you will start to sing it in your own voice.

The evidence was everywhere, mercy unmasked in dandelions and teacups. My favorite muffins were on sale because the Lord longed to be gracious to me. My mother was wry and healthy because the Lord longed to be gracious to me. I espoused the theology of exclamation points and apricot preserves.

The Lord longs to be gracious to you. When you hear it on the authority of watercolor daisies, you question the jurisdiction of despair. My diabetes was still as “brittle” as the days when doctors freely used that word, but the Lord longed to be gracious to me. The cosmic brow was not furrowed. When I had to change my infusion set in the middle of the night, it was the existence of insulin, not the scowl of my pancreas, that revealed God’s intention. I could not explain the terrible, but I did not have the greasy luxury of claiming it was disdain.

I did not accept that there are those who delight in disdain, almighty or subatomic. I made out the words on my husband’s hand. The Lord longs to be gracious to you. They were there. They are there.

But he pulled on chain mail, balling fists to hide his palms. We cannot live our lives in “celebration mode,” he warned. He pulled down the magnets and the postcards from home. I thanked God undercover for blue pens and yellow sweatshirts.

I pulled him to the floor one terminal afternoon, and for an hour the color filled his cheeks. We would make collages. I was not asking. I had obtained unauthorized construction paper, stacks of secret magazines filled with faces. Yes, I knew he abhorred Oprah, and I realized that life was anything but Real Simple. Every advertisement was an act of deceit. The leopards and tulips were photoshopped. The world was half as lovely as it seemed.

But for an hour, he cut out kindnesses. He curled his body around his findings, embarrassed to be small.

“It’s me,” I said. “The goofus who loves the world, the child who can’t accept coincidence.”

“You will laugh at me.”

“Have I ever?”

We sliced in silence, covering our pages. I ran my finger over Saturn’s rings and purple pocketbooks. I unbuckled to feel the turbulence of my confidence. The Lord longs to be gracious to you. I cut out pictures of pineapple cottage cheese and kittens. Everything was evidence.

“I think I’m ready.”

There was a child in his eyes, the one with clean hands. He raised his offering, all flowers, nothing but flowers, flowers like the flowers he didn’t bring home because “what will we get out of them? They get water everywhere. A mess. You know how I feel.”

“It’s beautiful,” I told him. “It’s your heart in full color.”

It lasted two days tacked to the freezer before the cataracts came back. “OK, you can take it down.”

“But I love it.”

“Visual chaos.”

The collage came down, and I kept it under the bed until I’d slept alone for six months. I wished I could donate it, send it to the same waystation as the porcelain dove and colored pencils I’d never wanted to purge. I wished I could send it to him and compel him to keep it. I let it go. I wished him the chaos that is kindness, a cacophony of company. No one finally repels mercy.

The Lord longs to be gracious to you. I am an intergalactic agitator dancing in my own kitchen. I hold tight to the scandal that holds me.


***

Black and white image of the author, Angela Townsend.
Angela Townsend

Angela Townsend is the Development Director at Tabby’s Place: a Cat Sanctuary, where she bears witness to mercy for all beings. She graduated from Princeton Seminary and Vassar College. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Chautauqua, Paris Lit Up, The Penn Review, The Razor, Still Point Arts Quarterly, Terrain.org, and The Westchester Review, among others. Angie has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 33 years, laughs with her poet mother every morning, and loves life affectionately.

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