Beyond Night’s Stillness

Dark clouds bruised with layered purple obscuring evening’s horizon as a hawk’s diving cry haunts with his arrival.

We stand fingers entwined with our eternity and wait for a future filled with uncertainty.

Could we anticipate each step as we lived through life, been more thoughtful before facing success or strife?

Should we have wondered what might be each day as if God’s hands ripped the thread of midnight’s fabric to show us His way?

Or to draw our attention from mundane distraction long enough to impart His intention leading us to a different reaction?

Can we see beyond fractured images of uncertainty, count moments of mystery holding the promise of days now a blank mystery?

Or do we miss light from new dawn that sparks countless jewels of dew laced along delicate fibers of freshly spun silken web left by a creature found only in the darkness of night?

Like an image of forgiveness, or perhaps the illumination of hope that life’s meaning lies not hidden behind a veil of doubt like the throbbing ache of loneliness that attempts to engulf us.

But lies instead in a message we can barely see and often miss when the mists of pain and loss blur and weaken our vision like the notes of a song forgotten until one single tone resonates, a tuning fork of memory.

Then the dark cloud layered purple sky rolls slowly into the distant horizon as the golden orb of new dawn lifts from the ocean with terrible majesty swallowing the hawk’s cry.

Reminding us that the love we feel, hold balanced on the palms of our hands surrounds us with the delicate kiss of life as love gently embraces us too.

Copyright 2012 Gabriel FW Koch all rights reserved

From a Distance, Red Velvet

Slowly, she opened her light blue eyes and smiled as I walked into her room. She tried to hide her feelings, but I knew her too well for her to succeed. As I sat on the edge of her bed, I took her hand in mine, and felt a squeeze as if she knew I needed her reassurance, the touch that always made my heart feel lighter.

I leaned and kissed her pale cheek, the corner of her mouth, her lips. She felt cool and dry, and I knew what she wanted to say. But as long as I didn’t ask the question, she would not tell me.

“I love you,” I said instead and kissed her again, lips brushing hers as sorrow nearly choked me.

“Always you too,” she whispered the response as she’d said it the first time after our first night together with moonlight curling through her brown hair, highlighting strands of golden red. Holding her had felt more than right. It had felt like what life had been missing, what the future must have to be joyful, successful.

I was about to tell her how I felt on that first night, but she drew a quick sharp breath, her eyes, closed now, pinching at the corners enough to tell me the pain was bad. As I began to stand, she pulled weakly on my hand to stop me.

It was then that her eyes told me what I never wanted to know as she smiled the smile that won my heart years ago. Her entire body stiffened. She closed her eyes. Her hand relaxed and as it did, I lifted it to my lips to kiss her once more.

The monitor over her head screamed as the jagged lines flattened one by one. Nurses and a doctor raced in to help. But Sara had placed the documents on the wheeled table used to hold the meal she hadn’t eaten.

“Do not resuscitate,” I said with grief ripping apart my heart, and pointed to the papers. I lowered her still warm hand to her side, and stood to let them replace me.

The bullet that took her had fractured into razor-like pieces as it entered her abdomen, damaging every organ except her heart. They’d operated for six and a half hours, but could not guarantee her survival since the fragments had destroyed her spleen, one kidney a section of liver, half of her stomach, sliced arteries and one lung too.

I had prayed harder than ever for a miracle, but none came, and now she was gone from me forever.

There was no reason for me to stay. She’d made all arrangements. In one hour, the funeral home would have her and I would be there to sign papers, select her urn.

As I walked out the door, resisting the urge to glance back, I brushed past her ex-husband without looking. Having seen him often enough, I knew about his dark Italian looks, receding hairline and all. His greed and need to feel like he was the most important man wherever he was, his driving lust for adoration even from those he screwed over, explained my emotions. I never liked the bastard, nor did he me. He was always late, usually intentional. And I felt sure it was a round from his handgun that put Sara in the hospital after the bullet fragmented inside her abdomen, and now put her into a grave.

“Just need to run up to Belks,” she’d told me. Outside in the parking lot a hundred feet from the entrance after she left the store, she was shot and robbed. No one witnessed the crime, or so they all said. Too many retirees had moved into our area on the coast most of them from cities and towns to the north. Where getting involved could, possibly make them the next victim. Or they just didn’t care to get involved, messing up their scheduled plans for the day. The parking lot cameras displayed the blurred images you might’ve expected a decade ago. Facial recognition software had nothing to work with.

“Sorry,” I heard her ex say without emotion. “I’ll miss her too.”

Fucking asshole, I thought, but otherwise ignored him certain he was not sorry. He was a man who beat his women locked them in rooms with chains and ropes, trapping them into his abuse until they were afraid to attempt escape.

I helped Sara after glimpsing her bruises at the gym and getting her to talk about him. Then a year later, after she underwent constant therapy, married her. Yet she never would or did press charges against him. I didn’t think it was my place to try to persuade her to have him arrested, and now wondered over my decision and hers too. Why let the bastard walk free so he might do it again?

If she had, or I had, I thought and almost glanced back at her room as if with that thought fresh in mind, I might be able to change something, anything, shook off the obvious and walked to the hospital foyer.

Outside the air felt wet. The tropical storm Sara and I discussed two days ago finally approached. We had joked about naming it as if it was a soon to be born child. Weather Channel took care of that difficult task for us. Now I no longer cared either way, them or us. It was time for me to return to a life I gave up to live a new life with her.

I steered my black 2015 Routan onto the road, drove around to the back of the hospital and parked to wait for her ex to depart. I didn’t wait long. Carelessly, he entered traffic in his silver Mercedes, as if his presence alone was enough to stop the flow of vehicles. He did so without seeing me, or caring if he did. I give him a block and pulled into traffic behind him.

By the time we’d driven the thirty plus miles to his town, night had wrapped us in its safety of darkness, safety for some, like me, not so much so for others.

He pulled into his garage as the door finished rising, closing it before he stopped rolling with the red glare of brake lights, feral eyes at the edge of a forest. I went around the block and found a foreclosed house, not unusual those days, using the driveway as if it were mine, parked to collect and focus my thoughts.

An hour later, a quick stop at the funeral home gave me time for distraction while I followed Sara’s instructions. I would keep her ashes with me until I found a place I wanted to call home now that our home was a mausoleum of past memories only. I considered burning it for a moment, and knew I could not. Eventually, I would return permanently and alter the house to fit my needs after I did.

Her eyes had lit the first time we drove past the old house and slowed after seeing a realtor’s sign at the street. I wanted to stay closer to town where I kept an office. Seeing the look in her eyes, the way it made her smile, I dared to drive on only to hear what I knew would come next.

“Slow down,” she said not able to hide her enthusiasm, even if she desired to, which I doubted she did then. “Okay, now turn around, I really think I love that old house.’

“You do realize the amount of work, updating, maintenance a house that old needs and will always need, right?” I asked knowing I sounded redundant, and knowing that if she loved it, I’d agree to buy it with her and live my life happily with her alongside me every night.

Since I had already begun turning around, she just nodded and stared out at the scenery. The house was huge, wide lap siding, plantation style with columns holding up a wide second floor veranda. It seemed to be surrounded by manicured land and endless trees, ancient live oaks, Mimosa, Gardenias, and towering long leaf pine.

I stopped alongside the realtor’s sign where there was a container holding information sheets. Sara jumped out as soon as the car rolled to a stop and headed straight for the front door.

Sighing, I leaned back and waited for what I knew was coming. Seconds later, she was talking to an older woman who had answered her knock, and Sara waved me to join her.

“You lose, friend,” I muttered to myself as I grinned, feeling that deep warmth for her that attracted me every time I saw her.

On the way back, I stopped and bought a throwaway phone, went home and opened an outdoor building, once slave housing, I had restored and then used for a utility shed. After gathering all I would need for the night, I closed and locked the building, knowing it was clean of evidence.

“So what do you think of it?” Sara asked after we toured the huge house, the amazing property and finally stood on the upstairs veranda overlooking two Mimosa trees filled with pink flowers, several hummingbirds, butterflies, and dozens of contented bees.

“I don’t really care that much for pink,” I said without looking at her.

“Where’s pink?” she asked sounding confused.

I pointed to the trees. “Right there.”

She punched my shoulder just hard enough to let me know she didn’t really think I was funny, but soft enough not to hurt.

“Be honest with me,” she said. “If you hate it we’ll look at a different house.”

I faced her, put my hands on her shoulders, and said, “Where do I sign?”

“Are you being serious now?” Her eyes searched mine for an answer, found what she wanted. She hugged me and a month later we moved in.

Again at the foreclosed house, after a thirty minute nap, I climbed into the back of the Routan, donned surgical gloves, opened packages of new clothing, dressed in black, used a new product I found online weeks ago, and sprayed the sealant on my wrists and other exposed skin. I covered my eyes with tight fitting welder’s goggles that had clear glass lenses one-quarter night-vision, coated on the outside to not reflect light. I tugged down a ski cap, spray-sealed it and my hair.

Once again outside, I checked the time. Close to 3 A.M. and stuffed shoe coverings in my pocket.

Getting in his house was easy. I found his 9mm loaded with the type of rounds that fragment on impact, sitting on his coffee table.

He snored lightly, slept soundly, and didn’t hear me approach with a knife from his kitchen. He woke sharply as the blade sliced across his neck and died in a shower of red that coated him like midnight velvet.

I’d stayed behind him, so remained clean, except for some light splatter. His newest wife was chained in the closet I imagined since that was what he did to Sara.

Might prove to be her lucky day, I thought grimly as I used the burn phone to report a disturbance at his house.

“Sounded like someone beating a woman,” I said through a voice distorter and disconnected before the woman on the other end could speak again.

By sunrise, I drove home to prepare for a short departure. I lit a fire in the huge fireplace that made Sara fall in love with the old plantation house, stripped, burned everything, stirring the ashes until nothing identifiable remained. Then, I showered twice in the outside shower once used by the household staff, yeah, slaves. Back then it had a wood slat tank above that needed hand filling or a good rainstorm. I had thought it should be kept as a reminder of man’s cruelty to others (which some might say is ironic for a man like me), and had it modernized but left open so I could watch Sara on hot summer days.

The first time she did, I had turned off the hot water. She stood naked after a swim in the river, and when the water hit her, she flesh puckered into a million goose bumps, her nipples tightened. She ran over and demanded I warm her, which I did without hesitation.

Finally, I walked naked to the river behind the house, used a rock and smashed the phone. I tossed the pieces into the deepest spot in the water, where currents swirled and pulled lighter material down to the Atlantic Ocean. Keeping the memory chip, I ground it up in the garbage disposal once back inside.

My name is Lucas Spender. Well that’s not my birth name. It’s my “for hire” name. Sara never knew. No one knew me as him except those who would take that memory to the grave and those who hired me to send them there.

It was time for me to start over once I’d grieved.

Copyright 2018 Gabriel FW Koch All Rights Reserved

Grounded in Today

I thought, one day, that the snow would never end.

That the sky had split like a torn pillow burying the earth in white.

And window glass etched with frost blurred the stillness of midnight.

It wasn’t a time or place where my mind could wander.

Instead, it was a time when emotion might.

No person should witness such bleakness and feel as tranquil surrounded by winter’s blight.

Yet there I stood knowing that the past’s door swung slowly shut and the future lay shrouded in a dark mysterious height.

05 March 2012 Albany, New York

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved.

Psalm for a Lost Seeker

I needed to call across time while musicians played a haunting cry on thin wooden pipes, whistling hollow notes that beckoned lost love like forlorn hearts, chiming echoes.

“Seeker can you hear me?”

The musicians were unseen. The tune not echoed across a gulf I could not bridge another way. Reaching out to touch someone so far through time and place as to make it nearly impossible to recall how they, looked the sound of their laughter as their eyes glowed with joy’s remembrance.

A subterranean reverberation of drums vibrated the atmosphere as if to summon absent souls. Ice tumbled the face of mountains, falling to collect in a pool where the sun would melt it, and like the blood of those wounded in war’s battles, the liquid seeps into the single entity of its beginning.

That’s what we were given; that’s what we lost.

I helplessly watched as you bled. Your life flowed and collected around the seat of your spirit while you shivered as if longing to die. However living is too strong and your power too much interlocked with mine for either of us to flee this Earth before our tasks are completed.

“Seeker can you hear me?”

Crickets stirred as they brushed through dew-laden grass. It was too soon to mow, too late to harvest. Their eerie song evoked confusion, but within their message lay the answer we sought. Listen to them dance with nature’s cymbals entwining their limbs, chirping each step, each heartbeat. The crickets spoke softly to us to stop hiding and continue the quest.

They told stories written but forgotten in archives tucked beneath stones along the stream that fed the Pool of Life. Stories once recited by the Giver of Knowledge as the tree bore fruit offered to the Creator in thanks for the opportunity to live and prosper with the grace of bountiful sustenance.

Stories of battles won and lost lives forfeit for the sake of the quest without the knowledge that the true quest was preservation of life. Stories about warriors seeking as they, struggled against foes uninvited and therefore unintended.

However cold rain persisted. The crickets fled their songs muffled and then forgotten. The pipers resumed their hollow whispered call into the wilderness of lost time and love.

One man crawled across the wet slippery surface at the summit having climbed to become what a man must be in his lifetime, and learned then that a man would, not have to prove himself a man if he were to become one.

Rain carried him down the mountain as if now discarding the remnants of the unnecessary and dropped him in the Pool of Life.

There the man found his purpose.

Then the rain pelted all living things killing some with the fruits of salvation while others were nurtured from the same abundance.

Bodies drifted along unnatural streams gouged into the Earth to flush the ruined dreams of Seekers who had given up their quest before reaching their goals; given up when a lifetime’s completion remained only a heartbeat’s distance. A single step a small caress a smile or hand held out in kindness.

It is easy to quit, but difficult to succeed.

Small bodies lie in the sun

I looked to be certain I wasn’t one

the soldier standing holding a gun

he was the person who might have won.

Footsteps rustled leaves even though wet

and life moved forward without regret.

We’re taught stories a fragmented vignette

of hollow tales and another’s need to forget.

Standing I knew I must move away

the soldier had lowered his gun to pray

the bullet he fired tumbled the day

turning light into words he dared not say.

I could watch and see his sorrow and tears

his shoulders shuddered under so many years

and while his features blurred with the cheers

the crowd walked away and like me disappeared.

Time dances with our lives and taunted us to challenge it with deeds. However, those tasks set by others were never to be completed. It is within our grasp to control the flow of time by calculating the emanation of our thoughts. Chaos ruled only within the context of undisciplined attitude, flowing into mountainous drifts, crossing the paths we selected as our own. A stiff current of unexpected events life’s promised fulfillment churned a heartbeat into arrhythmic palpitation that drew breath from a floundering body.

But a spirit at peace is a calming influence on all it embraced, on all it touched, and on all who ask, “Is this the way we should walk this path?”

“Seeker, can you hear me now?”

Copyright 2018 Gabriel FW Koch all rights reserved.

Double Rejoinder

A fire crackled on the hearth, filled the room with odors of burnt oak, my head with times lost in the years I lived as if reaching the end of life was a goal to race towards, rather than an accomplishment achieved on the back of meritorious actions. I turned away from the fire, and the blaze of regret, and spoke only loud enough to be heard as a rhythm in the background, as if my purpose now was merely to flesh out the past, to give form to the wavering shadows that lurk in memory.

I’m Marlowe Black. My son is Michael McKaybees. Don’t ask about the different names. I’m Not Telling.

I cleared my throat and looked into the eyes of my companion. He had the same eyes as his mother, the same high cheekbones, even the same lightning strike temper. But he cooled down much slower.

And damned if he hadn’t just asked the question that’s haunted my life: “How could the war affect you so deeply?” My instant reply: How could it not?

After a brief nod, I began with a drawn out sigh. “There’s always opportunities for error at any moment in life, especially a life lived walking the edge between a moonless night and the finality of death.

“I never really felt like I chose my existence, but more like the experience of it and its billions of pieces we call events big and small, selected me for the role. That may be a bit melodramatic, but it’s important for you to know if you’re to understand my answer.

“The war I waded through was so thick with horror, cluttered with death occurring so rapidly that those who escaped the clawed clutch and walked away unscathed, were shells of the boys they’d been at the very start.

“For me that was the entire story. I escaped without a physical wound, having lost the best friends a man might hope to find, having punished the enemy until numb from the bloodied effort.

“The enemy surrendered and my government sent me home to my native New York.

“But everything was different. The air smelled alien, the buildings appeared to be the same, yet not, as if an army of workers had replaced them with duplicates subtly altered.

“There didn’t seem to be as many young men on the streets. I think those who survived sought shelter in jobs that kept them indoors all day, or they fled to the suburbs for a life so different from what they’d had before the war that somehow it could make sense again. If not immediately then later in time. I suppose that meant a life where reminders of their lost youth wouldn’t hover in the alleys of their nightmares.”

I lifted my glass of eggnog, something I hadn’t had since I was a young man, sniffed the tangy cinnamon aroma, sipped the thick sweetness, and let it coat my tongue before swallowing. I set the glass on the green cork coaster shaped like a Christmas tree, and wiped my lips with the back of my hand.

Then I said, “I stayed right here in New York, pinned on a badge after studying in the police academy and fought crime with the same zeal that I fought the Germans. We went up against petty thieves, murderers, and even a few true commies, drug dealers, the mob, and all the other criminals that made headlines.

“I shunned close relationships. I couldn’t shake the fear that anyone who got close to me would die. Eventually I found the rules for a cop to be too oppressive and quit the force. That was when life, for me, began anew. A long while after I met your mother. She was modeling for Christmas in Macy’s front window…nobody but Sears and Montgomery Ward offered catalogs in those days…guess that was about 1970.” I nodded after calculating dates in my head–yeah those old gray cells still function, albeit slowly. “Yeah. You’re right. Nine years before you were born. Neither of us were ready to rush into anything. Your mother was a lot of years younger than me, and had just gotten out of a nasty relationship.”

I stopped talking rather abruptly when I heard the lilt of excitement in my voice. It surprised me. Excitement gets to be harder and harder to find in old age.

Oddly, I wanted a cigarette, but hadn’t had one in years, certainly didn’t have one in my pocket then. Instead, I lifted the eggnog, sipped and tasted the bite of brandied alcohol…my oldest friend. Gotten me in a lot of trouble over the years.

My eyes stopped on the face of my only child; the man who called me ‘his old man’. As a child, he never knew me. It was my fault, my doing. For one thing I feared my enemies would become his, and too I feared I’d fail as a father in the way that my ‘never-spare-the-rod’ father had failed me; become the father who had raised me in Hell’s Kitchen.

Michael sat silent and unmoving, what you might call stony. His eyes watched me, not revealing an inkling of his thoughts or feelings. After a year of our spending time together, we’d buried some grief and healed some surface scratches, but my expectation that he might understand what I’d done to him had been delusional. He would never fully forgive, and certainly not forget. I would have to learn to accept that truth.

I surprised him when I said, “I should have been more to you…but I was lacking in the basic foundations of civility. You know my history. Your friend in NYPD has allowed you to read the file her captain assembled that views my career as something less than.” I stopped, put the glass down empty. He pointed to it, and I nodded, watched him pour a refill.

When I failed to finish the thought, he asked in a monotone, as if he was being polite, “Less than what?”

“Less than what is expected from a private cop in this day. When I hit the streets, every crook, every pimp, loan shark, numbers man had a gun. And everyone, of them used their weapons with great enthusiasm. They were like runoff from the sewerage left behind by the Chicago mob.”

Michael had been looking at his feet. He didn’t look up when I stopped, but said, “It’s Christmas Eve.”

“I know,” I said, smelling the aroma of their live Christmas tree. “Remember when you were a boy and you’d sit up waiting for the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof?”

That pulled his face up, filled his eyes with wonder and pain. “How’d you know that?” he asked sharply.

“Your mother. You never could stay awake long enough to find out what happened next.”

“Don’t tell me that was you,” he said with a catch in his voice. He blinked and looked away.

“I delivered an arm load of packages each year from the list your mother presented after Thanksgiving. But, damn it I couldn’t make myself be there in the morning when you opened them and renewed your faith in the unbelievable.” I laughed dryly. “Isn’t that what faith is all about?” He nodded. I added, “I lost mine in a small French village on Christmas Eve 1944. By the time the fighting stopped the earth itself was bleeding.”

I drank some eggnog. The fire had dwindled. I got up, went over and opened the screen. I dropped another log on the wavering flames, closed the screen, sat and said, “Sorry. I guess it’s obvious that I’m forever stuck in a time capsule.”

He said, again, his voice a little stronger, “It’s Christmas Eve. In fact, it’s the second one we’ve spent together.” He glanced over his shoulder. Sue was sleeping on the sofa. She had moaned a little as she turned onto her side as if to face the heat of the fire.

I hoped they’d marry and raise a family. Yes, I suppose my desire might be stimulated by the possibility of vicariously enjoying the experience, but mostly so my son would have the chance I denied myself.

We sat silent for quite a long time. The clock he had on the mantle ticked loudly. It was an antique new a year or two before my father was born back around the turn of the century a quarter century before my birth. It was ornate carved walnut with a brass pendulum that reflected the lights from the tree at the end of each sweep.

The heat from the fire bathed me with its sleep-inducing embrace. Its sounds and smells roused so many memories they tumbled into a confusion of images of people now mostly gone. I could hear their voices, laughter, the tinkling of ice in glasses of greetings and songs sung to usher us through another holiday season doors opening that allowed blasts of cold snow laden air into the room. It was something back then. We never thought our way of life would end. But it did. Slowly dieing with every passing day like the sun bleaching the colors from a flag. You don’t really notice until they’re gone.

“So what other secrets do you have you’ve not told me?” Michael asked.

I was glad for the reprieve didn’t know just then which was worse, his feelings of abandonment and neglect, or my sense of losing something more precious than I could’ve known back when I had those years ahead of me. Time. Perhaps the only real gift God gives us. When it’s gone used up we get a brief chance to reflect on life and hopefully not regret too much of what we see.

I looked at him. You’re my son, I thought. No matter how you feel about what I did that fact will never change. “Your mother took you to a small cafe in Manhattan every Sunday after church, which I suppose you disliked as much as I when I was young.”

“The cafe or church?” he asked with a quick crooked smile.

“Maybe both for you. Me? Church. It drove me nuts. Didn’t make sense…maybe it’s not supposed exactly.”

“I knew about the cafe being something special for her. When I was very young, I thought she went there because it was a chance for her to go back to the old neighborhood. Later, in my early teens I guessed it had something to do with you. She always dressed up.”

I nodded. He was right. I decided to surprise him. “You remember the time a pie disappeared from Mrs. Shultze’s window?”


“Yeah. I love blueberry pie.”

He leaned forward eyes wide with surprise his mouth spread by the first real smile I’d seen on him. “That was you? You took that pie?”

I nodded sagely. “And it was good.”

“You know how much trouble I was in?” He grabbed his glass and downed the eggnog as if it was Pepsi. Finally he had relaxed and was enjoying himself.

“Sorry. But I’ve never been able to walk away from blueberry pie. Besides if you hadn’t had a reputation for swiping pastries they wouldn’t have suspected it was you.”

“Swiping pastries? Me? My mother told you that?”

“She mentioned it once…thought it was pretty funny. So did I.”

“And you let me take the heat for the pie?”

“Oh, no. Soon as I learned about your troubles I admitted to Mrs. Shultze that it was me who took the pie and went down to Bill the baker on the corner and got her a replacement.”

He shook his head. “I can’t believe it. It was you. How close were you most of the time?”

“Never too far but never close enough. I really am sorry.” I had to look down. The regret I felt was genuine and was causing me some minor chest pains. I rubbed my sternum, and then dropped my hand quick so he wouldn’t notice.

From behind me I heard Sue. “You all right?”

I looked back and saw she was standing alongside me. I nodded, but thought, No I’m not, felt my shoulders sag my neck suddenly unable to hold up my head. The pain returned burned down the length of my left arm and I knew I was in deep trouble. “Help,” I murmured as I began falling forward.

Michael jumped to his feet, said, “Call 911,” and I blacked out certain I’d seen my last Christmas tree and happy I’d been with my child when I did.

It was sunlight that opened my eyes. The sounds of Christmas music somewhat muted by the closed door to my hospital room reminded me of what had happened. The song was “White Christmas”, the volume increased as the door opened and a nurse stepped into the room. She saw I was awake and said, “Well. How are you feeling today?”

“Merry Christmas,” I said in response with no enthusiasm at all. “When can I get out of here?”

She laughed, “They told me you’d be like this.”


“Your son and his girlfriend.”

“Oh. Guess they would. But that doesn’t answer my question.”

“The doctor will be around in about an hour. You can ask him.” She finished taking my blood pressure. It was 145 over 95. Not bad for an old man.

I had a tube plugged into the back of my left hand. My heart felt like it was chugging along normally. But who can know what normal is at my age?

They allowed me some ridiculously bland breakfast. Salt-free everything that tasted like soaked cardboard and the doctor arrived with a flourish white coat flapping behind him. He smelled like strong disinfectant soap. His hands had the look of those having been washed far too often in too little time.

“I’ve always wanted to meet you,” he started.

I stuck out my non-tubed hand and said, “And now you have doctor…?” and hung a question for him to fill with a surname.

“Jefferies, Thomas.” He lifted the clipboard that was tied to the foot of the bed scanned it and said, “Well, you got lucky this time. You had a Cheney…as I like to call it.”

“A Cheney? What the hell’s that?”

“Don’t you mean who the hell’s that?” He dropped the chart.

I squinted at him just to be certain he really was a doctor and not a comedian in need of employment and decided there was no way for me to tell. I had to take him at his word, which was starting to get confusing. I knew we had a vice president named Cheney. He was the guy with two or was it three DUIs when he took office; the type man we really want in a high profile position to set an example of what children should not become.

I’d thought at the time they were elected it was a good thing they didn’t let him and the bozo in the White House drive their own limos. Then I remembered Dickie’s heart attack when it looked like the man who actually won would become the next president. At the time I thought it was an asinine attempt to misdirect public attention from the real issues. Still think so.

“Well,” I started, “Glad it was so mild I could become the Veep. When will you release me?”

“Soon as your son returns. Can’t allow you to drive.”

“Good thing,” I told him. “Haven’t had a license to drive in ten or fifteen years.”

He laughed, shook my hand again, and said, “I called in a prescription for your blood pressure to a pharmacy your son recommended. Get it and take it daily and a low dose aspirin once a day too.” He stared at me as if he thought I didn’t quite understand his instructions. I nodded and he said, “Hope I don’t see you here again.”

“Count on it,” I said and watched him leave. Nice guy, I thought. Wonder how he’ll finish.

Michael walked in as if on cue. He looked around the room got me thinking he had something important to tell me and wanted to be certain we were alone first. He stopped at the foot of my bed and asked, “How you feeling?”

I really wanted to inform him that I was getting real sick of people asking that question but held it in. “Ready to leave as soon as they unplug me.” I held up my arm to show him the tube taped to the back of my wrist.

“You’re lucky the doctor was willing to come in today. He’s a friend.”

A buxom blonde nurse in a pink uniform entered sidled past Michael and approached the side of my bed with undue caution. She had her hair tangled into a strange looking braid that was tight on the back of her head. Wore little or no makeup, but her lips were so thin I thought a layer of lipstick might be a good thing.

“I don’t bite,” I said, “Just take the damn thing out. It’s starting to hurt.”

She laughed nervously. Her hands were cool and steady when she lifted my hand and began peeling off the white cloth tape. She smelled like cinnamon and nutmeg.

“You been drinking eggnog?” I asked.

“No, sir,” she said and finished removing the tape yanking a few hairs with it. The needle slipped out as if it had been greased. She slapped a bandage across the small wound and said, “Doctor Jefferies wants to see you in a week. Stop by the nurse’s station on the way out. He left his card with the appointment date and time on it.”

I was tempted to give her a healthy pat, but was sure it would be inappropriate in these modern times. “I’ll do it. Where’s my clothing?”

She pointed to a closet. “In there, sir. Good luck.”

She left. I dressed and was wheeled from the room by a different nurse with Michael quietly in the lead. He got the business card, and Sue stood from the bench she was sitting on. She stuck a dog-eared Sue Grafton paperback into her purse. The title looked like ‘“G” Is For Gumshoe’, which I thought was pretty strange. If you’re living with one why read about another one? Isn’t the real thing good enough?

“You okay?” she asked.

“Yeah. Thanks to the two of you. If I’d been home I’d be dead right now.”

“Maybe,” Michael said, as if he didn’t think it possible.

“I’m not that tough.”

He glanced sharply over his shoulder paused his step as if to reassess what he was thinking smiled and said, “Don’t I know it,” in a way that said a lot more.

Sue stepped between us put an arm around his waist and my shoulder and said, “No mystery here.” And the three of us went outside and into the chill air of Christmas Day, with me feeling that at last we’d leaped across the pit of poison spikes the past had erected as an obstacle to block our way to healing a badly mangled relationship.

Nine Decades Gone

You can walk through the cemeteries, feel grass whisper against your ankles, and understand that everyone you knew for most or all of your life, are gone from this earth.

Their voices, their laughter once sounds that elated all, gave you special moments to anticipate, but will fade as memories do, or pass into yesterday when you close your eyes in the final blink.

I think life will become too quiet, somber moments of reflection will then fill the niches where new memories might have formed with new tomorrows if you were not alone.

Wondering where time went, why life is fleeting even though you survived wars, depression, and poverty, and now you look at the calendar and see ninety years passed since your birth. Astonishing, grievous, time swallowed your life completely, perhaps even unexpectedly.

A fallen shadow may waver across the mown lawn under your hesitant step. There may be moonlight to illuminate the way, crawling up the side of headstones, buildings, blocking grief with the knowledge that once years past, that same light lit her face on the first night you sat together.

You held hands, leaning close, a gentle kiss marked the promise, planning in your hearts for the future, which would be yours, knowing that all of life lay spread out before you, a feast of time and experiences yet to be enjoyed.

Your life filled with thousands of events, failures and joys, hellos and goodbyes. Living was like tripping up a flight of stairs, sliding down an ice-coated hill on the toboggan of preparation.

Early in life each day seemed endless, the clock glacial. Three decades passed and time began a peculiar rush forward, one that seemed never to delay but to speed up.

Children became adults, had children, who then became adults, and then time quietly, clicked doors shut behind which friends and family once resided. Until now, you stand alone in a cemetery, walking through ankle high grass hoping the new moon overhead meant that life had meaning, fulfillment, but never knowing with certainty as you lower yourself to your knees and pray alongside her resting place.

If I Walked the Crest of Time

If I strolled along the crest of a hill overlooking sand dunes hiding the beach from view you would not see my passing. Yet if I walked where you saw me as you had long in the past you would not know me. Memories are cellophane wrappers carefully applied to preserve what we experienced.

They rattle when we touch them, as if in warning, telling us that if we peeled away their protection, what we discovered once exposed to the light of present day might not reveal the knowledge we anticipated so anxiously.

Instead, if knowledge was not our desire but a comparison between then and now we might learn that what we left behind was a tenuous crystal eggshell of time. Within it lies trapped the fragile innocence of youth we then believed to be filled with the wisdom reserved for those who lived long enough to understand the true definition of tolerance upon which wisdom roots itself most securely.

Moreover, if we sought fondness along with those echoed whispers promises of joy and forever we might discover that promises were a moment’s gift and that forever ended a moment later.

Haunted by the why of yesterday we might learn that the why of today is but the precursor. Perhaps every why goes unanswered when definition is proven unnecessary? Asking may be a delay but not a query.

The sand across the top of the dunes swirled under a stiff breeze’s persuasion rattling across my feet as I moved forward. I will not walk where you might see me. I do not want to see you. Let the rustling cellophane of memory fade as a hawk’s feathers shivering the air does when she folds wings and drops to strike prey.

Copyright 2011 all rights reserved.

Hello Darkness

Distressing thoughts don’t burn brightly when I step into the night. It’s welcoming embrace with blank grays and deep shadows surrounding.

Once I walked the night with no more attention than a commuter riding a train with an iPhone’s emotional extension between his hands, thumbs dancing their absurd irrelevancy, meaningful to none but he.

Yet after daylight extinguishes where is the commuter? Still tapping clicking, still searching for connectedness, meaning perhaps where such are brief wisps of moments passed.

The day belongs to him. The night is mine as I rise from my daily slumber. Few who are out when I walk the city cares whether I exist as I pass without acknowledgement. So much pleasure gained by pure anonymity.

The urge of hunger comes slowly as I welcome its return after days without a presence I’ve live with for so very long. The hunters took her. Now my hunt begins.

The Questioner

Anger’s path seared the tranquil lake. Steam quivered rising to cloud hushed ideals of freedom.

Leaning forward each of us reached to touch the riled surface its tension then shattered by gentleness. The cavern echoed sorrow like a plague that filled each heart.

I whispered the raven’s song. With its silk-black feathers stretched to comb the air the creature swept back against what thrust it forward. The near silent brushing of wings drawn and feathered with curved tips lifted never yielding, but you were not there.

The raven flew.

The anguish you cannot speak. The anguish I cannot hear twisted your spirit tormented your life and walked across fragile surfaces crushing spring’s new sprouts now never growing.

I felt a languid stirring, heard melodic laughter hushed and shy. The channel’s flow opened not resisting any vessel’s passage. Overhead wings beat pulsating petting warm air rising lifting the feathered body to glimmer iridescent beneath the setting sun.

I opened my eyes after seeing you stand before me. A blink too slow you were gone.

The earth where I trod is where you never walked yet your steps go before me leading, to a place I have yet to visit.

Your thoughts now ethereal send images too vivid to ignore too vague to be dimensional. Like footprints through pelting snow your memory was mine alone passing through this reality of life like a blurred chameleon of time.

The secret was not in remembering but in remembrance. The thought not solid existence but woven fragments of past, juxtaposed crafting scenes to be recalled later as events lived through and beyond. If the listener cannot fathom the words approaching him fends off all but what was pleasant to hear the present shrivels into a past devoid of life.

Overhead hear the ancient Raven’s call

echoes spiraling its blackened plummet

each quill heart-beaten into a maul

its anger glistening death’s surfeit.

The raven sang unrecognized song. Black liquid feathers melted beneath the arc of sun ran red into brown dripping off ebon down liquefied yesterdays into the solitude of today, and then you are lost.

“I remember that name,”

he said to me,

“From the man who wore his shame,

and kept it company.”

And you my friend, are otherwise gone having left nothing behind to build memories nothing to cherish but what will never be.

And then too late you listened to the raven’s song.

Leaning against the tree carefully avoiding an angry burl I allowed my eyelids to drift down slowly closing out the green the ebony and the memory.

If I Whisper

If I whisper, will she hear?

If I brush a fingertip across its surface

Will she feel my touch?

If I sit where last I saw her

Will she know I am there?

If I welcome the silence she once enjoyed

Will she brush against my shoulder?

We expect too much she said

And I could only wonder why we might