This morning I received a very disconcerting telephone call from M, an old family friend. M told me that her former daughter-in-law, the mother of her granddaughter, had died. The woman who died was in her twenties and left behind a seven year old daughter who is one of my daughter’s best friends. Not to get too Dickensian, but it is for them truly the best and worst of times.
The granddaughter is now motherless, but she will now be moving back to Georgia to live with her father and grandparents in a more stable environment. During the course of the conversation M told me told me that her own mother had died when she was just seven years old. The call took me back to a cold November morning almost 35 years ago when my own father died. I was eleven and it was the defining moment of my life.
One of the ways that I have tried to grieve through the loss is writing about it. Below, and I won’t do this very often on this blog, is one of the things I have written. The facts and the sequences of events are all accurate. It will be fairly obvious where I have tried to universalize and depersonalize the story. Note: I am a middle child, the third of five.
I wrote the narrative more than fifteen years ago. It is part of a series of other eight stories that were designed to fit on a single sheet of standard 8 x 11 paper as part of an attempt to meld the writing art and the visual arts. The stories are placed on a large black canvas and are meant to look (more or less) like window panes. I have long been interested in form and function, that the art do or be what it says. Each story is a different window and provides a different perspective of the big picture/view. Reading the sequence of stories from different starting points, or even in reverse order, produces different tales. Each sheet/pane is modified to look like what the narrative on that particular sheet/pane addresses. For instance, one of the stories implies that the protagonist jumps from a window to his doom. I took the sheet of paper, wrapped it around a rock and threw it out a window. It is torn and mutilated and has grass stains. I smoothed the paper back out and affixed it to the canvas. Form and function. I even came up with a hokey name for the finished work: Window Pain.
The Deepest Darkness
The rosy fingertips of dawn, morning eternal, the time of waning light and strengthening morning, a limbo, a brief eternity between Luna and Sol, a pause in the endless rhythm of the heavens. The ebb and flow of day and night hold for a time and the essence of both is present in a state of calm flux. It is at this time, on this day, that the scythe cuts its inevitable, inescapable arc.
The father's lungs heave in a near pneumonia panic. Plunged into pain, a fury of coughing, he rises from the shroud of blankets out of the darkness, through the cloth door and into the warmth. The woman waits as her husband emerges from the tomb cold room. The father gropes through the room fighting for balance, and passes through to the kitchen and uses the pot kept there when winter brought its bitter bite. She halts, hesitant, frightened as her husband slumps and nearly falls to the floor. In a motion of pure instinct, with his heart and brain longing for air, he lunges upward, back into the living and dying room. Oh my God.
The mother's scream, the essence of her pain, pulled the Middle Child from the panacea of sleep. At the open bedroom door they all witnessed the sight that haunted and scarred, the sight and the moment that defined their existence. Their father's long, heavy body had fallen unto the mother and pinned her to the couch like a perverse Pietà. His handsome face was horrible and red. A dirty ghostly white battered shell, his body emaciated and gaunt outlined through the blood, phlegm, urine, sweat, and nicotine stained pajamas. The eyes and mouth were open, frozen in the last moment of ultimate reality, horrified by the abyss. Scarlet saliva escaped out of the corner of his mouth and left a dark spreading stain upon her bosom. The oldest brother ran to the nearest sociable neighbor to phone for the rescue squad. They could only state the obvious and carry the once father away.
The new day rose and merged with the old horror and grief of desolation and isolation. The noble, limping old gentleman, the ambassador of good will, brought a banquet of fresh food from the Salvation Army. He gave thanks, broke bread and brought hope. The night settled, quick and true, and was long in lifting its cold hand from the hearts and lives of those who live at the end of the road.
As the night lay down in the deepest darkness, the snow turned into rain.