Archive for category grief
It is only a whisper, but the room explodes into pandemonium. The word is a hurricane. It sweeps a nurse out the door, blows another out of the corner, clutching a chart and her chest.
He opens his eyes suddenly, memories caught between fog and pain. There is a beep and a click in the sterilized space, the suddenly silent space…and then his mind explodes. Click BOOM!
He clutches his heart, his bearded mouth a cave full of unearthly groans and escalating screams. He watches them in slow motion: Helen’s eyes crinkle at the corners as a mother-smile ignites, brightens her face. Emma bathes in the love; cooing, waving chubby fingers, bubbling at the world.
Rage bubbles now, builds, escapes from the cave and threatens to burst his eardrums. Beyond the nurses hands with straps and needles, he sees them. He sees Helen’s throat open up with the first bullet, then her chest. Crimson flowers bloom and splatter his shirt. Her hand reaches for Emma as she falls backwards; falling, falling. “Emma!” Emma’s soft head blooms as he lifts himself from the chair, his heart shattering because he knows he is one second too late.
His next bout of awareness comes two days later. Men in suits and grim, sleep deprived faces file in to stare at him.
Questions begin slowly, carefully as if the words are probing his wounds. Do you know where you are? Do you remember anything from Friday, October 1st? Do you know your name?
His answer is a blank stare. His mind is simply white noise.
“That’s enough for now, Gentlemen,” a sympathetic voice breaks in.
“What is my name, please?”
The raspy voice startles the nurse checking his fluid bag. She trips backwards and then stoically pushes her fists into her pockets. “You don’t remember your name?”
Sighing, she glances back at the door. “It’s David. David Farah.” Her arms now cross. “Ring a bell?”
“No.” He runs a shaky hand over the sore flesh under a thin gown. “What happened to me?”
“What happened to you?” Her eyes round, then blink at the ceiling. Her mouth tightens. “You were shot. The bullet damaged your cardiac valve and your heart wall. We had to do emergency surgery. You have a new heart, Mr. Farah.” She bows her head and leaves. The men in suits file back in.
Now their eyes burn fiercely. Shock has crumbled under the weight of anger and injustice.
“So, names, Mr. Farah. We want names.” One of the angry men moves to stand over him. He smells like cloves and fear. “We know you weren’t acting alone in this. Thirty seven people died in that restaurant, you son of a bitch. Thirty seven people that included a…baby.” This last word is spit into his eye. Venom. He doesn’t blink because he is focusing on steadying the images and feelings rushing at him. An old fire, from another lifetime is nudging its way to the front. It is hate and faith and fear all rolled up into a singular, seething wound that is wearing the mask of a human soul. His silence is taken as being uncooperative. The angry man slams a hand down on his stitched up chest. The pain feeds the fire.
“They should have let you die. I would have let you die! The only reason they didn’t was because of god damned politics and lawsuits. They should have given you a pig’s heart you piece of shit.” One of the other suits pulls him away. Takes him outside.
“You mentioned the name Helen.” The third man’s jaw twitches.
“My wife, isn’t she my wife? She’s dead, isn’t she? Oh…and Emma.”
His eyes narrow. He pinches his nose between his eyes then motions for the others to follow him out. He comes back in alone, with a folder.
“Helen Brennan, along with her husband, Michael and their baby Emma were victims in the attack.” He folds his arms. “How were you acquainted? Was this a targeted attack on them?”
“I don’t understand,” he stutters. The line between lifetimes is blurring. The space that separates souls is disappearing. They stand facing each other as one. One body, two lifetimes. Grief swirls as a black storm within and around them.
Nurses, doctors and agents share the view, peering at the man signing his confession through the window, struggling with their own grief and confusion.
“Maybe we should tell him,” a nurse glances at an agent.
“Tell him what?”
“That he has Michael Brennan’s heart.”
“What good would that do?”
“Most people don’t know that the heart sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. Some people believe our soul is in our heart.”
David Farah turns to the window full of faces, lifts his hand in a thumbs-up salute and plunges the pen deep into his new heart.
“Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?”
“It’s a ripped wing.”
“No, not the damn butterfly, Gracie. You. What’s wrong with you.”
A faint rustle in the shoe box moves Gracie’s attention from the computer screen. She peers in. One burnt orange wing beats frantically against the side.
“No, no, pretty girl. Shhhh,” she whispers into the box. Then to her husband, “You’ve startled her. She needs a calm environment.” She hums until its wings settle down into a slow, rhythmic pulse. It crawls onto the mushy pear she’s given it to eat. Satisfied, she goes back to the screen.
Hal throws up his hands and leaves her.
Dusk arrives behind the closed bedroom blinds. Gracie has amassed the needed supplies and begins the operation. Leaving the lights dim and Clair de Lune playing in the background, she pinches the wings together, lifts the creature from the box and pins her down on a towel with a looped wire hanger around her head, thorax and abdomen.
“Comfy dear?” She carefully fans out the ripped forewing. “Don’t worry, this won’t hurt a bit. Scary, though. I know. You don’t know what’s happening, what I’m doing to your body. Sometimes I wonder if that’s better…ignorance.” Clipping a tiny rectangle from cardstock, she measures it against the tear, trims it a bit smaller. “There, that should do it.” With a toothpick, she carefully spreads adhesive on the makeshift bandage. While she waits for it to dry, she watches the tiny legs twitch, the antennae swim in the air.
“Fascinating creature, you are. Filled with poison and yet fragile, fragile as the ones who come to eat you and die.” Gracie squeezes her eyes closed so as not to flood her patient. “Okay,” she wipes at her cheeks and straightens her back. “Ready for phase two.”
Making sure the black veins line up, she pinches the tiny rectangle with tweezers and positions it over the tear. This takes a few attempts and she has to hold her breath to keep her hand from shaking.
“I believe you will survive,” she whispers. Her attention wanders to her own hand; skin as thin as the butterfly’s wing, puffy blue veins like ropes running its length. “Such a short journey. We must…,” she takes in a breath. “Yes! That’s it. You must finish your journey! No reason for you to sit around this house. Oh, but it’s probably too cold for you now.” She lifts the wire hanger and encourages the monarch to turn over. “Well, go on. They should work now.” The wings shutter once, sweep up and down. Once. Then twice. Then she is airborne.
“Yes!” Gracie claps, gray eyes glistening. She watches the creature flutter around the room for a few minutes, landing on her pink rose bed spread. “Haldon!”
Hal rushes into the room, one hand on his chest, wide eyes darting about.
“What’s wrong?” Gracie asks, when she sees his face.
“What’s wrong?” he drops his hand to his hip. “What do you mean what’s wrong? You’re the one who yelled for me.”
“Oh,” She ignores his tone. Behind the anger is fear, she knows. She also knows it is better he doesn’t know exactly what he has to fear. Like the butterfly. Ignorance is a gift.
“Will you drive me to that truck stop on Central Avenue?”
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
His shoulders slump. He looks for a moment like he is going to ask her why, but then he just shakes his head. “Yes, Grace. If it will make you happy, I’ll drive you to the truck stop.”
Three days later, she gets the call.
“Hi, is this Miss Grace Adams?”
“Hey, this is Mac Barnes…the truckdriver?” He pauses. He can’t see the hope welling up in her swollen eyes, the Kleenex clutched to her mouth. “Well, I ah, just called to give you the good news.”
Gracie exhales. Her lungs ache like she’s been holding her breath for three days.
“She made it to Florida?”
“Yep. Dropped her off in a place with lots of wild flowers near Ocala. I watched her fly off. She’s good. Should be able to migrate with the rest of ‘em. That’s something, huh?”
“Oh, thank you, Mac. Thank you for giving her a ride.”
“No problem. You take care now.”
Gracie hangs up and looks over at her husband of thirty years. It’s time. She can face it now. Now that she remembers how to hope for the impossible.
“Hal,” she slips her hand into his and braces herself for the flood of his grief. She holds onto the image of the broken butterfly now hundreds of miles away, continuing on her journey. “Dr. Brennan has given me three months. It’s cancer.”
(based on a true tale of butterfly heroes)
As my knife sinks into the apple, I hear my neighbor screaming. His pain vibrates the sheetrock between us. I lean against the counter with a sigh.
He has only been home two weeks and already his wife has dropped ten pounds, forgot to wash her hair, formed bruises under her eyes and hefted a landfill load of worry and sorrow onto her narrow shoulders.
They have a child; a blue-eyed waif of a little girl, who seems to be disappearing into the background of their lives, pushed aside by the ghosts he has brought home with him.
I saw her yesterday. Her eyes have grown round with shock. My heart shattered, splintering right there in the hallway, in front of her silence and her headless doll.
“Where is her head?” I asked.
“I didn’t want her to get headaches like daddy,” she whispered back.
A box came through the door, followed by two people with tight faces and wide eyes. Haunted, I thought. The ghosts were busy. Peeking in the box as they passed with unsmiling faces, I caught a glimpse of a paint ball gun on top of rope and kitchen knifes. A black stick with a trigger was clutched in the tall, crumpled man’s hand. His knuckles were white.
I send over an apple pie and a note to call me if they need anything. I feel helpless.
The knock comes at three in the morning. A frantic pound pound pound. A wild noise pushed from her throat, a scream forming words, “Call 911”. The pale, wide-eyed child in a dirty nightgown is pushed into my leg by her mother, Karen. “Please,” she chokes, then turning away, she barrels down the stairs.
I know what has happened, I just don’t know how. Tentatively, I step into their apartment with the child clinging to my arm. The place smells like Lysol and old grease. Moonlight is pouring through the open window along with a light mist of rain. A lone white curtain billows from a gust of wind. I see it as a thinly veiled flag of surrender.
Their worn leather couch is turned on its back, pillows stacked neatly in rows across it. Evidently, something the maddening ghosts built. The people carrying out the box didn’t realize they were leaving the most deadly arsenal behind. I shake my head and look down at their victim, stroking her pale face. She is staring at her doll.
“Where are her arms?” I ask, a bit shocked her doll is disappearing piece by piece.
“She doesn’t need arms anymore,” she whispers, dropping the broken doll to the wood floor.
No, I think, as sirens scream below the open window. Wings. She needed wings.
Collapsing onto the floor, I pull her down into my arms and begin to sing quietly to her.
Her tears finally fall and I think about gravity. The ground’s pull must be infinitely stronger than human will. It is, after all, the place where we all end up.
My Mama says our new neighbor, Mr. Charles, lives alone because his wife died, but today I am having lunch with Mr. Charles and his dead wife.
Her eyes are glass, cat’s eye marbles with sweeping blue waves and tiny bubbles. Cluster pearls are clipped onto her walnut ears. Dust motes and steam, from the Hungarian goulash, create a mist around her. I try not to stare; it’s rude.
“Best you’ll ever have, Henry. Eat up, Son.”
“Yes, Mr. Charles.” I dip my spoon into the empty bowl and bring it to my lips.
“She makes it with tomatoes fresh from the garden; that’s her secret.” He reaches over and pats her hand, meticulously recreated from sardine bones, being careful not to disturb the thin gold band. I nod, glancing through the window at the yawning square of cracked ground and petrified vines beyond the porch. I dip my spoon again and shove air into my dry mouth. It’s only polite.
We sit like this for a long time and I begin to wonder if he’s forgotten I’m here. I steal a glance at the stained glass hearts clinging to the window. They glow like fresh blood in the sunlight.
“Okay.” I stop holding my breath.
He stands wearily, removes both our bowls from the table. The steam clears and I glimpse the painful cracks around her wax lips. Still, she smiles. This must be why he loves her. He lowers a yellowing doily in front of her, places a white ceramic cup gently on the doily. Steam rises once again and moisture accumulates on her eyes. He baptizes the teabag in the boiling water, scoops out some honey from a half-full jar and stirs it into the cup. A series of high pitched dings follow. My cup remains empty, but I don’t bring it up.
“Her dad used to raise honey bees, bring raw buckwheat honey in for their tea. Why she’s so sweet,” he chuckles.
The air is thick around us and I sit very still so I don’t disturb anything. I am becoming aware of the numbness in my bottom, but I don’t dare squirm. I can almost feel her approval at this, at my stillness. We drink our tea like this. In silence.
“You’re a good boy. We’re glad to have you in the neighborhood.” He shakes my hand and I feel the dry trembling.
As I slide awkwardly out of the chair, I am possessed by a sudden urge to give her something. I remember the four leaf clover I found in our own yard and reach deep into my pocket. It’s a bit wilted and ripped in one corner, but it did take me almost a whole hour on my knees to find. Still a worthy sacrifice. I place it by her fish bone hand and whisper into the tiny caverns of the walnut. I whisper that if she can hear me I would like to taste a bit of the soup and tea and honey for myself next time. Then I think maybe I am being ungrateful and add “sorry” and “thank you”.
“We’ll see you next Sunday then?” he calls.