Category Archives: Allegory

The Rueful life

Whether or not feeling well warped my sense of self or feeling something inside me well up intolerably, I went out into the world for what I thought was the shortest of intervals today. Though you might doubt me, those moments stretched into a length that flowed without end.

Most people use the word ‘rueful’ in an exaggerated negative sense. I prefer the term to mean “expressing sorrow or regret, tinged with humor.” Those are the sublime connotations that often fuel me. Humor is what shields me; bittersweet fringes give me pause to ponder at the simultaneous complexity and simplicity of life. Swimming in the valley between them is a blessing interspersed with the unknown horizon.

My limited interactions while out in the world today reminded me of life’s sublime ability to be filled with our exclusive perceptions. Today’s moments were wrapped in the lightest of gauze and applied with gentle attention. To walk in a world so gossamer each day would be my undoing.

Such attention to the essential ruins us in our endless and needless desire to see the things around us instead of our interconnections.

During the first encounter, the female clerk ran across the recently-mopped floor, risking life and limb simply because she thought a customer might have waited too long. She made eye contact with me, and I said, “Please don’t worry. Nothing at hand deserves any stress.” While she wore a mask, I could see her eyes widen in curiosity. Her eyes then darted behind me as she noted another customer behind me tapping his foot and shifting his weight.

It’s when the shift I felt toppled inside me and made me lopsided.

As she handed me back the change, I tapped it and said, “This is for you, if you can accept it. And if not, let it be for someone who will soon approach who needs it.” Her eyes widened and became tear-laden. She nodded, unable to say anything. Not from awkwardness or loss of words, because whatever became momentarily off-kilter inside me became the same for her. It was tangible.

I walked away. The next two interactions were similar, even though it would be easy to dismiss them as figments of my feverish mind.
*

“With careful toes, I pranced through my life, to awaken no one. And in so doing, the ones who should have noted my passing failed to look up and witness me.”

Just Enough Truth To This

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It was a hot Saturday late afternoon. Though the clouds were piled high in the west, no one actually expected the sky to bless us with any rain. That part of the state hadn’t received any real rain in over ten days. Uncle Charles went through the screendoor and outside a few minutes ago. As he left, he shouted, “Get your behind moving,” already whistling. He taught me to whistle, too, and I knew I’d be mimicking him in a few minutes. He had also taught me how to whistle while inhaling, a valuable trait, albeit annoying to anyone who disliked whistling. “Assholes” was the endearing name Uncle Charles had for people who disagreed with him, especially if he was whistling or enjoying a bit of humor.

I was busily shoving as many homemade pickles in my mouth as I could, chewing like a man who just left a hunger strike. My Aunt Margie didn’t think much of her efforts at pickle-making. She couldn’t have been more wrong, though. On more than one occasion, I had devoured an entire jar without any assistance. Unlike most people, I accidentally discovered that I liked the pickles most people found to be less flavorful, especially if they were bitter.

I poured myself a huge glass of Coke from the 2-quart bottle as I struggled to get the pickles all consumed.

I went outside as quickly as possible to conserve as much of the cool air as possible. Grandma didn’t cotton to people dilly-dallying at the door in the summer. She was ecstatic for company to come to visit. She would, however, let anyone who took too long going in or out know that the air conditioning wasn’t free. In the South, it was common to hear shouts of “Get in or out!” or “Close the door!” fifty times a day. For those without air conditioning, the same shout was offered in response to the endless squadrons of mosquitoes circling every living creature.

Grandma didn’t have any foolishness such as chairs on her long front porch. Grandma didn’t understand why someone would sit outside in the heat if air conditioning was available. There was a porch swing on the opposite end of the porch, and it invitingly faced the field adjacent to her old house. You could sit on the edge of the porch, too, or on the creosote-soaked steps made from railroad ties. I sometimes forget how artfully so many men practiced the art of crouching and leaning.

Uncle Charles was leaning against the far end of the porch, near the porch swing. He was drinking a glass of water, a fact that seemed strange to me, given that Grandma kept a well-stocked supply of Coke in the house.

He and my Uncle Harry were arguing about the weather. It was a free hobby, so they tended to participate as if their livelihoods depended on it. Neither were farmers, so it seemed a bit odd to me that the matter managed to lasso so much of their attention.

Uncle Charles took my glass of Coke for a second as I clambered up onto the swing. He handed it back when I was situated. I nodded and said, “Thanks.” He winked at me and then clicked the side of his mouth to let me know it was okay. He lit a cigarette and handed it to me. Just as Uncle Harry was about to protest, Uncle Charles reached back over and took the cigarette from me. “You’re too old to smoke. And you don’t want to sound like your Aunt Helen.” He winked again.

As the yellow jackets flew by, we sweated. In the distance, loud cracks of thunder would occasionally echo, causing the wall of unseen insects to momentarily suspend their buzzing.

I finished my Coke after fifteen minutes. I remained on the swing, watching the wind blow against the bean plants. Both Uncle Charles and Harry sat on the edge of the porch with their backs turned to me. Uncle Charles had lit at least four more cigarettes. Their conversation had turned to baseball at some point, a subject I found to be as interesting as licking a hot stove.

Even though the wind had picked up speed, I hadn’t noticed that the sky had dimmed considerably. As Uncle Charles flicked his cigarette to knock loose the ashes on the tip, a massive lightning bolt struck the ground about fifty yards away, near the small board bridge along Clark Road. The clap of thunder that normally follows after a delay boomed immediately. We could all see where the lightning hit the field. All of us were seeing the afterglow of lightning in our eyes.

“Holy crap!” shouted Uncle Harry as he jumped down off the edge of the porch.

Behind us, someone threw open the front door and shouted, “Get your butts inside. Yes, Nannie, I’ll unplug the television!” The first part of Aunt Helen’s shout was for us. The second was for Grandma, who believed that unplugging everything prevented lightning from hitting. I always looked up at the tall television antennae wired to the side of the house when she mentioned it.

Uncle Harry quickly walked around the edge of the porch, up the railroad-tie steps, and inside the house. He worked outside a lot. Being around lightning didn’t inspire him to be closer to nature.

“Are you coming or what?” shouted Aunt Helen to Uncle Charles.

“Naw, we’ll come inside in a bit.” Uncle Charles jumped off the porch and onto the grass below. “Come on,” he said, turning to me. Even though I was short, fat, and barefoot, I ran and jumped off the porch and onto the ground. Such delights are long behind me. More than most things, the absence of such abandon ails my soul.

Uncle Charles removed his shoes and tossed them onto the planks of the porch. “It’s going to rain,” he said and laughed. He was wearing black socks. As a lover of all things barefoot, socks seemed ridiculous. Black socks made less sense to me than keeping a snake in the underwear drawer.

A few random pops sounded from the galvanized tin roof. They came more quickly. The air temperature dropped several degrees. Then came the deluge. The drops were so heavy that they pounded against us. Uncle Charles walked the few feet over to the edge of the bean field and stood in the perimeter of dirt there. The dirt quickly became soaked and muddy. I followed him. The mud between my toes was a sublime pleasure.

As Uncle Charles stood next to the bean field with me, we both quietly watched as the edge of the rainstorm enveloped us, the adjacent road, then race away. The rain pummeled the metal roof behind us and everything in its path.

Uncle Charles put his hand on my left shoulder and smiled.

I witnessed the possibility of a life filled with small joys in the wrinkles of his face.

We stood there, even as Aunt Helen shouted from the porch for us to get our fool heads inside before the Lord could come to take us.

The rain. Us.

I don’t know for certain that I’m not still standing there.

 

 

A Eulogy For December Moments

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I’m holding my breath and waiting for his swan song. Though the stanzas of our lives are numerous, some of us race with abandon toward the long silence. He’s among those. Even if we cover our ears to drown out the notes, the subdued and reduced scales will still flow and ebb all around us, whether injurious or nostalgic.

There will be no melodic crescendo nor applause-laden curtain call, of that I’m sure. His symphony will abruptly cease, and the echoes of his efforts will radiate quickly into oblivion. I can feel the tempo and its accelerando, racing impatiently toward the inevitable.

A life will have ended. Each of us who knew him will have our own arrangement, filled with annotations, corrections, and commentary.

As is often the case, many will have reached conclusions and coda without understanding that his life filled with the burden of secrecy. Lives, like harmonies, often gain depth through filter and perspective.

Our facades conceal our secrets; they also conceal us.

We can only make decisions with the information we have. I tried. I failed. But it’s not my failure to own.

I don’t hold myself to accountability, either, in part because his addiction demanded secrecy, anger, and retribution for those peeking inside the fortress of denial.

It’s difficult to stand near the fire without wincing in pain – even in December moments. We draw close to the light for warmth. As we walk away, the warmed fabric which protects us burns.

Life will go on. We’ll claim to have learned our lessons from his exaggerated example. We’ll reflect, hope, and dedicate ourselves to avoiding the same mistakes.

We’ll make them, however. Our humanity requires an ignorant allegiance to forgetfulness. Collectively, we have only a few vices, ones which we ceaselessly abuse to our own detriment.

We’ll recall his presence. Perhaps, in time, even as it fills us with fondness. His melody will be a problematic reminiscence.

Those who lose their arguments with their lesser selves tend to bequeath a series of discordant and minor shards of broken glass for us to decipher.

Walk among them at your own peril.

To he, to him, to me, to we, to us, to you.

Love, X

Years And Years (TV Show)

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For anyone interested, I recommend the HBO import show “Years and Years.” It’s dystopian from necessity, yet feels like a time traveler may have gone forward and returned to camouflage a possible timeline waiting for all of us.

Without flinching, the show throws you into a tailspin as Trump detonates a nuclear bomb near China as his second term expires. Technology, medicine, immigration, politics, money, and other issues swirl and coalesce as time frenziedly hurls forward, whether we’re ready or not.

Although it’s based in England, the storylines overlap with world events we’re already witnessing. The story focuses on a particular family as it spins in and out of control. The family could be any of us. Forces we’ve set in motion conspire against us.

Anne Reid, who plays the matriarch Muriel in the show (and who was phenomenal in “Last Tango in Halifax”), gets credit for the best line of the show: “It’s a terrible, terrible world, but I want to see every second of it.” She gets credit for the second-best lines in the show – and perhaps one of the best lines in a TV show, ever, when she points that each and every one of us is to blame for almost all the problems we see externally in the world. It’s impossible to watch it without wincing in recognition.

It’s easy to compare “Years and Years” to “Handmaid’s Tale.” This show, however, connects in a more recognizable way. You’ll feel some strange emotions as you watch the show unfold. Among them are dread, fascination, wonder, loss, a bit of terror, and hope. All of them fight for dominance, often simultaneously. Like the Hulu show, I find myself thinking about the implications of some of the ideas days afterward.

For anyone wishing to find something that is limited in length but infinite in the ideas it will provoke, I give this show a huge recommendation.

When time shifts forward in the show, the eerie melody that accompanies the shift might make your hair stand on end. You’ll be thinking, though.

And you might be thinking, “Is it REALLY us?”

Yes, it could be.

“Years and Years” is one of the best shows I’ve watched in quite a while.

Avara Rising: A Story of Beginnings

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Eleanor’s hands trembled slightly as she flicked the end of her cigarette on the edge of the porcelain ashtray. Her other hand nervously clutched the locket around her neck. Ashes from her cigarette fell from the overflowing ashtray onto the expensive table. Her eyes followed mine as I watched the ashes fall. She laughed nervously and waved dismissively at them. “No one knows I smoke. It’s the same brand my mother once smoked. There’s a lot people don’t know. I think you know that now, don’t you?”

We were both dancing around the central question of her life: how did she survive and flourish in the midst of such chaos. My editor wanted me to lob softball questions for the 6000-word piece I had been assigned. To my surprise, I had immediately felt a kinship with Eleanor. Her features reminded me of princesses from the Disney stories of my childhood. I wanted nothing more than to simply sit and talk to her for a lifetime of minutes. Her celebrity status seemed to fit awkwardly on her.

I’d followed her career for the last fifteen years and watched all of her movies. When my editor initially asked me to work on a special story about Eleanor, I had to conceal my enthusiasm. Seeing her first movie evoked something inquisitive in me. I noticed that Eleanor had a small diagonal scar on her neck, below her left ear. Later, I heard her tell an interviewer that the scar was a reminder of her childhood. When she said the words, I watched almost imperceptible clouds pass over her face. I recognized those clouds of trauma. Like me, she had survived a violent childhood, one seemingly hidden from her public life.

On a whim, I turned off the digital recorder on the table in front of me.

Pushing aside my misgivings, I laid a photo on the table. I heard an audible gasp as Eleanor took in the photo. I looked to her face and noted that her expression retreated into itself. I knew the look well from my countless interviews. The photo had pushed her to retreat far past her public veneer. Eleanor was once again the wistful girl in the photo. I wasn’t sure if she’d seen the photo in the 50 years since it was taken.

Eleanor looked up at me, locking my gaze. Tears formed in her eyes as she attempted to blink them into submission.

“So, you know? That day and my story?” Her voice trailed off in a sigh. “Where did you get the photo?”

I sat quietly, out of respect. I nodded. “Yes,” I said, needlessly. “One of the children of your neighbor had a box of keepsakes. I found it there. Finding things and people is what I do. It’s unquestionably you in the photo.”

Both of Eleanor’s hands reached for her locket as the tears poured from her eyes. I could see that her white blouse caught the droplets as they rolled down her wrinkled face. Strangely, she said, “It’s almost me, that’s true.”

“Can I see the picture, Eleanor?” I whispered. “The one inside the locket? I’ve noticed you wear the locket anytime you’re not working.”

She shook her head, a little violently.

I waited.

After a minute, Eleanor reached behind her head and fumbled with the clasp of her locket. She managed to unclasp it and pulled the gold necklace away.

She gracefully piled the necklace on the table near the ashtray, waiting. I noticed that her hand returned briefly and touched the small scar there.

I reached over and touched the locket. I lifted it and brought it closer to my gaze and opened it. Inside, I discovered the face of a beautiful, smiling little girl, one who shared the features of young Eleanor.

“Her name was Avara, a name my mother saw on a tin of cooking oil. She was my twin. As you may have guessed, she left me on the day that picture was taken.” She pointed to the picture of young Eleanor that I had placed face up on the table. “The other picture is of my maternal grandmother.”

“Tell me more, Eleanor, in any way you can express it.” I had forgotten all professional pretense at this point.

Eleanor adopted the faraway look once more as she began to speak:

“It was the early 1980s. My mother had found herself in a life she’d never have imagined, one defined by the birth of two twin girls she hadn’t planned. She shared the lives of these two girls with the most unlikely of husbands, one unlike any she had imagined. She was born in a very small town on the fringes of the state. He had courted her with the most gentlemanly manners. Once she was pregnant, my mother had to accompany my father to the place we called home, away from everything and everyone she’d known. He ruled their lives with a range of abuse. He had studied human psychology through the prism of violence and artfully applied its domesticating techniques with curled fists and cloistered shouts. Day after day of fierce application resulted in my mother surrendering all of her abilities to the whims of this man dedicated to anger.

Each time my mother attempted to put life in its proper place, her husband would remind her of her diminished value. The taste and stain of blood served as a reminder that escape was an illusion. As her twin girls aged, she noted that her husband realized that no greater bargaining chip or amulet of fear existed.

It was on one of my father’s good days that he gave me the scar. My mother was outside talking to one of the neighbors who needed someone to watch his two kids on Saturday. My father overheard voices and exited our trailer. Without taking a moment to listen, he grabbed my mother by the neck and hauled her inside the trailer. He told the neighbor, “Mind your own g-damned business, Robert!” Once inside, he had us all sit on the couch in the tiny living room. Once his rant started, his jealous words became louder and more incoherent. He grabbed one of the four framed pictures on the paneled wall to break it. My mom raised her hand to ask him to please stop. He threw the frame with as much force as he could manage. It flew sideways and shattered on the side of my face. A piece of the glass stuck in my throat. Blood went everywhere. Even as I thought I might die, I welcomed it. My mother was forbidden to take me anywhere to be treated. She used a decorative towel to stop the blood until my father fell asleep in his recliner. Another neighbor, Sheila, put three stitches in my neck using a sewing needle.

For the day in question, my mother awoke on Easter with the idea that if Jesus could sacrifice himself to save mankind, she could at least do something to save her girls. I’m not sure what convinced her that particular day was the day, so to speak. Nevertheless, she rose early enough to use the eggs from the fridge to make colored Easter eggs for her precious girls. She ignored the possibility that her husband might exact his vengeance upon her for wasting the eggs. She carefully placed each dyed eggs back in the egg carton. Before anyone awoke, she crept around the perimeter of the trailer to hide the eggs where her two daughters could find them. No one else was outside that morning. Most of her neighbors had burned the midnight oil. Saturday night was the one night they could all forget their mundane, repetitive lives for the week.

When everyone woke up, my mother dodged the verbal barbs of her husband as she coaxed him to drink his coffee and eat biscuits and sausage. He didn’t seem to notice the absence of eggs on his cracked plate.

While he begrudgingly ate his breakfast, my mother helped us get dressed in our dresses and brushed our hair. We assumed we were dressing to wait for the church bus that made its way around the trailer park each Sunday morning.

“Let’s go outside, girls, and find the Easter eggs!”

My mother camouflaged the fright in her voice. No one except her knew that either she or her husband would not survive the day. She hoped in her secret heart that Jesus and his message of forgiveness would absolve of her of the harsh necessity of that day’s choices. Only she knew that her husband’s pistol, the one he’d held against her head several times, would finally help her.

Avara and I stepped carefully down the old iron and wood-plank steps onto the sparse grass surrounding the trailer. I held the empty egg carton and Avara clutched the single basket we owned. Both of us were dressed in our finest summer church dresses.

As I began to gather the eggs, my mother took a picture of me as I searched the ground with my eyes. She was proud of the camera, even though it was used.  My mother took pictures as if they were made of gold.

Immediately after she snapped the picture, the back door of the trailer flew open. There were no steps there. Anyone wanting to exit had to double back to the front or simply jump the three feet to the ground.

My father chose the second option. His anger propelled him. He jumped the distance without hesitating. He balanced the pistol in his right hand as he landed. Somehow, he found it under my mother’s clothes in the dresser where she’d hid it last night. How he had come to the conclusion that his wife was planning something nefarious is still a mystery. Avara came up behind me as I looked up. My father lifted the pistol to fire it at my mother. Instead, the bullet hit my precious Avara and killed her instantly. My mother screamed in agony and anger and hurled herself at my father. They struggled for a few moments. I think my father was shocked to find himself needing to defend himself against his wife. That hadn’t happened since the second time he had beaten her. My mom seemed to have found new strength as she fought him. Moments later, another shot reverberated between the row of trailers. Since it was a Sunday morning, the deafening roar once again filled the air. My mother froze in shock as my father’s face shattered and a bullet passed from under his chin through the top of his head. He fell to the ground. My mother laughed, a high-pitched and untethered scream of laughter.

My mother grabbed me and pulled me close. She slumped against the underskirt of the trailer, next to Avara. I don’t know how long we sat there. We both watched as my father gurgled blood, trying to speak. Finally, he felt still and silent. At some point, my mother had taken off her locket and put it in my hand. After a long minute, a curious neighbor poked his head around the trailer’s edge to find us. We heard a shout, followed later by more shouts. Much later, a police car slowly pulled up over the curb with its lights flashing. I remember that it didn’t arrive in a hurry. I think the officer knew that being in a hurry in our neighborhood was a waste. The police had come by several times in the last year. They’d note the broken furniture, the beer cans, the bloody faces, said a few words, and depart. It was a story all too common in the South. Even on the night my mother had the courage to tell one of the officers, “Please don’t leave me with him,” the officer took my father aside and asked him to take it easy.

I don’t remember looking at my dear sister. I recall a neighbor picking me up like a doll and talking to me in a low voice. I saw Avara’s Easter basket on the ground, holding four or five dyed eggs. My mother was taken away in a patrol car. Though she was defending herself when she killed my father, the police decided that because she admitted she was planning to kill him, it wasn’t self-defense. I lived the rest of my childhood with my neighbors. That’s how it came to pass that my mother spent the rest of her short life in prison for murder. She convinced herself that prison was appropriate for staying too long within the reach of her violent husband. She missed Avara’s funeral. I never saw her again after the police shoved her in the back of the patrol car.”

Eleanor finished talking and simply sat in her chair. Her regal features seemed to be resigned to the sadness that the story held for her. “I’ve never spoken the names of my parents since that day, either. My mother’s name was Kimber and my father was named Gerald. I took the last name of the kind neighbors who raised me as their own. My real last name was Holloway.”

She leaned in and whispered to me. “Gabriel, do you know the real secret, the one that no one alive knows?” She hesitated.

I couldn’t believe that she held more secrets. It felt like she was in a confessional and I was her confessor. I nodded.

“That day? It wasn’t Avara who was killed. It was Eleanor. When my neighbor pulled me away, I told him that my name was Eleanor, my dear sister’s name. I don’t know why I blurted out my sister’s name. I’ve lived my entire life and career using her name. I’m Avara. I think the only reason I survived was by adopting her name and promising that I’d rise above the thing that killed her.” Once again, tears rolled down her face.

I stood up and walked around the table. Eleanor didn’t resist as I pulled her close and we both cried until time slowed. I knew that Eleanor, or Avara, was transported back to the trailer park all those years ago. In some ways, despite people not knowing it, Eleanor had spent a great deal of her life buried in the past.

Three weeks later, my editor demanded the 6000-word piece for the magazine. Instead, I handed him a full draft of the book that Eleanor had authorized: “Avara Rising.” She had decided to finally come out to the world and reveal the story of the crucible which had formed her. Her sister’s name had found fame in the world. It was time for the other little girl to find her real voice and speak to the world. Like her mother, she’d find the courage to plant her feet and insist that the reckoning commence.

It all started with a picture, an oath given freely by a mother, and a young life consumed by violence. Gabriel could only hope that the little girl picking up her Easter eggs was still frolicking in a nondescript yard somewhere, with her sister laughing joyfully behind her.

Amen, Avara. Godspeed, Eleanor.

 

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Obituary: Apostrophe

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Obituary

Today marked the passing of the dubious Apostrophe, whose real named is spelled ‘. The word “Apostrophe” is Greek, meaning “…the act of turning away…” It was born sometime in the 1500s. Shakespeare was a close friend of Apostrophe, employing him haphazardly and without regard to decorum. Through the centuries, writers and the general public have argued relentlessly over the usage of Apostrophe. Some have foolishly attempted to speak on behalf of Apostrophe; all are posers and speaking on his behalf without authority. No one truly understood Apostrophe or his real purpose.

The Apostrophe suffered a slow and agonizing death, one literally punctuated by debates about its viability. Apostrophonies (ardent admirers of Apostrophe) wept in silence, unsure if theyll be able to communicate without their beloved obsolete claw mark. Plans are being made to address whether we will or wont be able to understand written English after its passing. Its unclear what the cause of death was for the misunderstood punctuation mark, although an autopsy points to a complete lack of a reason to continue living as the most likely culprit.

We will still be able to determine possessive forms in writing, even in Apostrohpes absence. We have also surrendered any intention of honoring the ridiculous use of an apostrophe for so-called awkward plurals and the bane of all sane people, the plural possessive.

If youre not sure what was intended when reading, simply read it aloud to immediately clear up any confusion on the matter. The spoken word and Apostrophe have never needed one another.

In observance of the death of the Apostrophe, its remains will be cremated and its ashes scattered in the mouths of angry grammarians everywhere.

A eulogy will be provided by Apostrophes terminally ill cousins, Colon and Semicolon. It isnt clear whether Colon will be able to speak without several lengthy pauses.

The funeral is at 11 oclock on Wednesday.

A Reverie For Then

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In a nearby cavernous auditorium, perchance in another cosmos, voices rose and fell, each youthfully jockeying for position. The camaraderie of teamwork still lit each of their souls in excitement. Youth is a fuse which can be subdued only with great effort. Its exuberance is a trumpet’s undeniable fanfare.

I could hazily sense the subtle vibrancy of life percolating through the concrete walls as I sat on the right end of a worn wooden piano bench in the chorus room, a place I seldom ventured. My own voice was broken and even in the moments that I might have something to herald, doubt dutifully clamped my lips. Caged birds seldom discover their voices.

The lights were dim about us. I sat in awe, next to a transcendent creature whose humble mastery of those eighty-eight keys hypnotized me. Her long, nimble fingers playfully and effortlessly waltzed across the keyboard. She smiled at me, in part in the simple pleasure of sharing music she had created and in part from the delight she noted written on my face. If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, I’m unsure how to compare fathomless wonderment.

It’s a simple satisfaction of life to share a moment with another soul, one which transcends personality and place. Everything extraneous falls away, leaving people to face one another. The overlap of engagement is the subtlest of all possible harmonies. If the metronome of the universe finds the perfect synchronization, each person walks lightly and without recognition that their guards have yielded.

She continued to play as I sat, mute, imagining that I could see the notes float from the opened piano into the spectral air. Absent the vocabulary to express it, I realize now that I was living one of my first moments of bittersweet experience.

After a few sustained minutes, the tumult from the nearby hall spilled out and someone entered our shared sanctuary of the chorus room. The spell was broken as her devout hands moved away from their natural home above the ivories. She instinctively knew that the interloper had ruptured whatever interlude we had experienced. The notes which were magically suspended in the air dissolved and fell to the floor.

She and I smiled at one another – and for a breathless moment, I was rendered floorless.

I returned to my bestial life, one whose existence was the antithesis of that shared melodic moment. That the savagery of my separate life had suffered a momentary rest deepened its claw into my soul. I had managed to peer out the smudged window of my life for a moment.

As the years bury their minute-filled corpses in the past, I am able to sporadically recapture those minutes of rapture, listening. Out of time, out of place, she sits unhurriedly beside me, sharing the gift of presence and music. That moment resides forever in an absent place. In other moments of fanciful experience, I can feel its vacancy beckoning me, though I know it will be but a pale shadow of an iridescent memory of youth.

The gift of experience is that we often fail to appreciate the moments as they wash over us. The agony of wisdom is to discern how fleeting the sublime sensation of joy can be.

And so, we look back, away from the monumental gray of our mundane days.

Our lives often lack cadence and tempo except when sleuthed in reverse, in reverie, and in reverence.

Those melodies, though, they remain; eternal, and accompanied by the decrescendo of our bodies.

 

Cleanliness Is Next To What?

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It’s never a great idea to make a grown man cry.

I called a mobile car detail service. The young gentleman exited his van and shook my hand. I pointed to my allegedly white Ford Focus in the driveway. The man’s face immediately wrinkled as he inspected the outside. (The DMV added ‘allegedly white’ to its list of approved colors last year, thanks to me.)

“We do all variety of vehicles,” he told me proudly. “We’ve seen everything, X!”

He opened the driver’s door and leaned inside. He immediately stepped back out, his face suddenly blanched and tight.

After he returned from running down the block and realizing he needed his van to get out of my neighborhood, I handed him a kleenex. He dutifully wiped away the tears and just shook his head.

“Sorry, X. Apparently, we haven’t seen EVERYTHING.”

An Allegory Of It

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The light summer evening rain faded after a couple of minutes. I walked for quite a while along the edge of a long ridge as I admired the vista that was unfolding in front of me.

The air pressure seemed to plummet.

The horizon’s colors evaporated and the air slowed. The lazy blue sky darkened as the lighter clouds coalesced into ribbons of black. Insects ceased their instinctive chatter. For a brief moment, I could hear the faint murmur of what sounded like thousands of voices. Though I could see no one, something on the horizon was watching me.

Whatever it might be sensed that I was observing it and the voices immediately ceased. I could feel it shift to make its approach. My hair didn’t stand on end but I felt like falling to the damp ground. My stomach gurgled and my neck constricted like it often does at that moment immediately prior to nausea. “It” slowed as it crossed the flat valley, stopping near a large solitary tree. As it hovered, the tree lost form and its living leaves began to swirl and shimmer as if they had become thousands of imperceptible insects. The nothingness of the ‘it’ enveloped the tree and began to coalesce along the fertile ground.

Oddly, I stood my ground, my curiosity in defiance to self-preservation. After decades of walking the earth, it seemed as if the worst truth would still be a comfort to me.

“Not today,” a quiet voice whispered, literally in the air.

My chest compressed as ‘it’ passed over me and through me. I could feel the interminable nature of it as it passed.

After it went, I stood motionless, watching the sky infuse with sapphire hues again.

As I stepped toward the place where the tree once stood, the insects began to chirp and hum again.

My pace quickened. I knew that all my steps were now counted and measured.