“No Longer” By Emily Kate Hastings

No-longer-living things are everywhere in this house. 

They shouldn’t be shocked by this. Not really. Not if they thought about it. No-longer-living things sit in their sinks too, and hide in their medicine cabinets, parade on countertops, loiter in corners of garages, and drape apathetically over chairs. Capitalist clutter fills up every curve of their homes, objects composed of the once alive: wine corks, rapeseed oil, and violin strings, to name a just a few. 

I needed something garish, a salient signal of a living thing. I bought a Pathos—a hardy plant with pure green leaves the shape of little hearts, the kelly shade of a tree frog—it was obnoxious enough, perhaps. I positioned several variations of the trailing houseplant along the top of the kitchen cupboard, the living room mantle, and within hanging baskets around the house. Vibrant green leaves marbled with pigments of yellow, cream, and sometimes silver. I’d soon buy more trailing plants: Ferns, Ivy, and Wandering Jew. 

I cursorily smeared dust and cleaning spray across the medicine cabinet mirror. It had been some time since I surveyed the assemblage of ointments, gauzes, bandages, and pill bottles. Most people don’t realize that gelatin is often used in coatings of capsules, or that lactose is a common active ingredient in over-the-counter drugs. I slumped my arm onto the counter and dragged a pile of dental floss and cosmetics into a drawer (both made from wax of a tree). I grabbed the sponge (wood pulp, cotton) and swabbed it around the bathtub. No-longer-living things are everywhere, and I scurried to tidy them up. 

I had time to prepare for the visit, I can’t say I didn’t. But time gets away from you, and I was rushing. Broom, where’s the broom? I swept dust and hair from beneath the corner chair. Dust, the unknowable blend of dirt, pollen, specks of plastic, fibers, morsels of dead insects, animal dander, and sloughed-off skin cells. We all have dust in our homes, don’t we? I should hide the hair. 

I used to have beautiful hair, all down my back. I would return home from a day by the ocean, delighted to see that saltwater and laughter had fashioned full waves of my auburn hair, a striking look, the envy of every pin straight-haired girl whose locks were dull and lifeless. 

Throughout history hair has been used in the production of thread, rope, and cloth; textile manufacturers have used it to produce worthwhile items such as carpets, mattress stuffing, and socks for submarine crews. Hair is valuable. So really, if they thought about it, they would know that a collection of human hair isn’t so strange. 

Five dustpans. It was more than I realized. I shuffled to the kitchen to grab another garbage bag from under the sink. Kneeling was getting harder.

As I labored my way back up the hall, the puddle caught my eye. The wooden chest at the foot of my bed was leaking again.  

It would certainly be irrational to experience distress at the thought of getting rid of accumulated items regardless of their value—that I can concede. But these items were valuable; I could not discard them. That being said, I could not risk that a visitor should stumble upon one by accident. 

So I wrapped each one, tenderly and cleverly, in garbage bags and blankets, and made spaces for each. A box of handknit baby clothing; birthday cards, sheet music, and empty sketchbooks; a drumhead from a trip of my uncle, stretched from the hide of a goat; and a cup of bone china, ceramic mixed with animal bone ash—those were items that were taking up room. I needed to make space—the closet, the trunk, the case. They would never need to look in those places. Instead, they would comment on my thriving houseplants and talk about the weddings and pregnancies of girls I used to know. 

Traditionally, violin strings were formed of catgut (sheep intestine) wrapped with silver or copper wire. Though gut strings are no longer commonly used, certain violinists prefer this variety because of its warm and complex tone. 

I no longer owned a violin. I had to discard the instrument for the storage in its case provided. Unlike a wooden trunk, a violin case is well lined and proofed for leaks.

I used to play the violin all the time. But then, the muscles in my neck became sore, strained. That was some time ago.

I needed to hurry. They would be here soon. 

I knew they loved me, they did. But I had changed, had been changing for a long time. My voice no longer sounded the same, my eyes had changed color, and much of my body was no longer living. I knew they would not understand. 

The lid of the trunk was heavy. I lifted with my arm, angling my body to take the weight on my shoulder. Propping open the lid, I struggled under the mass as I reached my arm into the chest. Shit. The weight of the wood fell hard. I pulled my arm, but it was too late. I no longer felt sharp pains when this happened, more like the sensation of a fingernail being clipped off. The digit fell to the floor. Damnit. 

My left arm, my right foot, my hair, and now my last thumb. These items are valuable. Well, they used to be. When I am honest with myself, I know they are no longer living, and I cannot figure out how to turn them into something of use. 

I did my best to tidy: garbage bag of hair in the closet with the others, wool blanket over the trunk, making sure it touched the floor to conceal the dried blood, violin case resting in the corner, no need to keep it out of sight; no one asked me to play anymore anyway. No-longer-living things are everywhere in this house. 

I heard the knock at the door. The visitors were here.

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Emily Kate Hastings is a writer and thinker from the East coast of Canada. She can be found drinking ginger-lemon tea in the Himalayas between hikes, reading in Viennese coffee shops over a plate of bread dumplings, or snowshoeing in the winter forests of Canada, depending on the day. She has worked as a Speech-Language Pathologist in Canada, Europe, Asia, and South America, and frequently documents her world travels in photography. Emily is fascinated by phenomenology—the idea that what feels known and certain to one person may feel different to another, a theme she often explores in her writing. Emily currently makes her home in vibrant Shanghai where she is a member of the Shanghai Writing Workshop

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