The Thing Speaks For Itself
Res ipsa loquitur (Latin: “the thing speaks for itself”) In tort law, a principle that allows plaintiffs to meet their burden of proof with what is, in effect, circumstantial evidence. 
Look at this, a hand towel, hot from the dryer. A souvenir from a friend’s trip to Italy not so long ago. I bury my face in its warmth, unable to let go until the linen is cold. It clearly speaks for itself, but when I point that out, no one listens so I must make the case myself. Italy, for example, leads me to this bowl with mottled-green glaze. Italian pottery of this type is getting harder to find, but we unearthed it at a local flea market. Five dollars. I showed her the hand-painted mark on the bottom in case she ever saw another. “Got it,” she said.
A single glance at the bowl and I hear her voice. Other objects are more like a chorus. Golf pencils for example. I bought a box of them for her funeral so people could leave notes in a basket to her only child, the 26 year-old daughter not ready to hear the grief of others. Days later that church closed its doors against the pandemic, but I felt protected with Karma, an amber wedge of glycerin soap. My friend had given it to me, the 70s patchouli scent a reminder of 1974 when we met. I scrubbed my hands raw with it, until the day it dissolved into nothing.
What to say about these curtains? We found the fabric together at our last flea market. Eighteen yards of Waverly Williamsburg, blue on white, for $25, still folded in its original bag. Yardage is expensive and non-returnable. What happened to the original buyer that it ended up on a card table in a Massachusetts cow field? “Save me, save me,” it pleaded, so of course I did. I had curtains made to replace the ones in my sunroom where she spent weeks on the sofa bed, convalescing from the surgery that did not save her. Yet the miniature rose by her bedside wintered over, blooming this summer with a pink that hollered with life. It was the same pink in the rug I hooked for her first wedding, then reworked for her second, replacing one set of initials for another. I love it when a fix is as simple as pulling out the stitches.
Years ago, I gave her a St. Francis bird feeder well past its useful life but with a tender weariness about it. It sat to the left of her porch door, a gentle welcome to guests. Now it hangs to the left of my door and I find myself staring at it with animal dumbness as if I am back at her house. “I just want it to be over,” she said, holding my hand. “I know,” I said. To the right of the door is a planter she gave me for one birthday or another. ‘Heavenly Blue’ morning glories tumble from it and climb over the lattice with blooms that are beautiful and alive, then shrivel and die in a day.
Please stay, I tell them. Don’t go. But they are as ephemeral as breath.
Please stay, I tell them. Don’t go. But they are as ephemeral as breath. Unlike the solid bronze bottle openers shaped like wacky fish that we both owned. Short of a foundry fire, they are indestructible. Mine repeatedly falls in the compost bag and I find it in the garden eventually. She never lost hers. She was always more careful with her things, believing that what leads us to our possessions is as interesting as what joins us with people in our lives. Her opener now lies in a storage unit, whereas I know mine is in the earth here somewhere and will surface in time.
What about that can of bright turquoise paint I found when emptying her basement? What fun project did she never get to? I sprayed it on a lone metal chair in my yard and called it hers. My therapist told me that instead of dwelling on all she is missing, I must learn to be her eyes. So on her birthday I sat in that chair and watched the spring day unfold in all its dazzling grandeur.
Christ. I know that the cure for the pain of grief is the pain, but really.
Recently I was searching through the spice cabinet when a jar of pickling spices she gave me fell out onto my forehead. Hello to you too.
When the fire department came to carry her from her bedroom to a hospital bed downstairs she kept asking, “Where is the picture of the little hands?” Her daughter and I searched everywhere, not knowing what we were looking for and never found it. Later that week, unable to control her pain at home, we went into hospice, and there it was on the wall, what she would have seen from her bed if she could open her eyes. A child’s drawing of yellow starfish that looked exactly like two little hands.
One more thing about that. On the winter solstice, while rummaging through a bowl of sea glass, I found a teeny yellow plaster starfish. I don’t know how it got there or where it came from, but at winter’s purple sunset I left it in the heart of a labyrinth.
Here, my last piece of evidence: A faded packet of seeds I found while emptying her desk. Periwinkle blue, her favorite color. Dated 1987, the year she moved from the Rockies to Gloucester, where I live. The type of seeds? Forget-Me-Nots.
Talk about leading the witness. This case is closed.
 Cornell Law School, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/res_ipsa_loquitur
JoeAnn Hart is the author of the memoir Stamford ’76: A True Story of Murder, Corruption, Race, and Feminism in the 1970s (University of Iowa Press, 2019). Her novels are Float, a dark comedy about plastics in the ocean, and Addled, a social satire. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in a wide range of publications, including Orion, The Hopper, Prairie Schooner, The Sonora Review, Terrain.org, and the anthology Black Lives Have Always Mattered.