"If you have a garden and a library, then you have everything you need" - Cicero

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Madness in the Fire

Chapter 6
The Solitude of Death
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"Beneath the skin crawled such hours, waiting to be released.  Itching and burning, the mindless minutes spent scratching, releasing.
And when the hours were released from the fat, plump skin, it fell back on itself in sheets of wrinkles and the flesh began to weaken.  So much so as the wind passed over the fine wisps of hair, the goslings they did not raise.
Clouded eyes once bright with sunshine dulled with the ticking of the clock.  The Great Grandfather booming out the hours while the pendulum of time swung relenting of none.
The steps grew shorter, the fingers more slender and the  breaths of younger days grew raspy with antique.
The time of plenty had passed and the future was now short and bitter with the coldness of departure."

- J.W. Bushman, The Book of Sadness
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It was in these days the old man took comfort in death.  To live and suffer was a far worse punishment than death.  Atonement in all its forms was never kind but he relished the thought of a long and peaceful sleep. His days were numbered.  He knew it.  The boy that delivered his groceries every week knew it and he tipped him more and more as each week went by.  He watched how the boy looked at him on delivery day.  The curious look, darting glances around the room, his uncomfortable stance.  Almost apologetic in his attitude but lacking sincerity.
The deliverer would arrive one day to a lifeless body, wrapped in the same worn shawl and tucked into his rocker or perhaps never risen from the lumpy mattress he was so well acquainted with these days.

His life was unimportant now.  His few friends had all passed, his family, disowned or neglected had given up years ago.  His only acquaintance now was this boy.  Once a week, every Wednesday he would arrive precisely at 4 pm.  The same bag of groceries, the same nod, the same look.  It was hardly anything at all but the man looked forward to it anyways.  Humans after all craved interaction with others and he was no different except he took his in small doses.
Never one to be part of the crowd he kept to the sidelines preferring to live alone, out of touch and almost out of reality.  His younger days while in college were not too different.  Studying, working as a dishwasher at the diner to help pay for expenses his scholarship didn't cover.  He did not indulge in frequent college parties or go to the frat houses like the other boys.  After his shift ended at the diner he would open his books and sip strong coffee until closing time.  It was his world and albeit a lonely one he liked it that way.

The diner was where he had met her.  Studying late one night she had come in with some friends and as they passed by his table she accidentally caught one of his many books with her hip and sent the pile cascading to the floor along with a cup of coffee.  Apologizing profusely she helped pick them up and promised to replace the coffee covered chemistry book.  They exchanged numbers and when they met eye to eye their fate was intertwined and destiny set in motion.
Soon thereafter they were studying together on a regular basis and a relationship began to grow..  Even being a shy young  man, a recluse or an introvert as some would say his body still yearned for the the pleasures of a female companion and late one night after their usual study session they had made love in the backseat of her car down by the river where the trees blocked the view from the road.  A few short weeks later she broke it off.  No explanation, no Dear John letter, not even a "it's me, not you" excuse.
Brokenhearted he retreated even further into his own self.  Almost never leaving his dorm unless working and avoiding any contact with others that wasn't necessary. A week before graduation he caught a glimpse of her leaving the administration building and his heart jumped and his throat closed.  She was pregnant.  The swell under her baggy sweatshirt was undeniable.  He tried to talk to her but she just asked him to leave.  She said it wasn't his fault and and he shouldn't have to bear the burden of her stupidity.  Nothing he could do or say would change her mind and she vanished into life as if never there to begin with.  He never saw her again after that.

Graduation came and went.  He accepted a position at a leading pharmaceutical company and climbed to the top of the ladder in a few short years while on a team that developed several well known drugs.  Investing everything he earned and living the solitary lifestyle he soon amassed a small fortune in stocks, bonds and real -estate.  He was never truly happy.
Once a month he would mail a letter to the girl he had met in college.  The letters always came back but somehow it made him feel better to write them anyways.  He spent countless hours trying to track her down and more importantly find the child that she had carried in her womb in the last year of her college education.  After many years he finally found her and with much pleading she had allowed him to write to her son, his son. They exchanged letters for awhile and the young man soon agreed to meet.  He was in college, studying anthropology and had a girlfriend who he adored.  They were going to get married after graduation.  They met often and developed a pleasant father and son bond.

The son moved away and though they still spoke it was reduced to short phone calls on the holidays or a birthday.  The man grew quiet again and soon retired.  Buying a small cottage deep in the hills outside of Calgary he spent his days sipping coffee and staring at the birds outside his window.  He grew old, his hair turned grey than white and then began to fall out.  His bones abandoned him and left him weak and scared to venture too far from the warmth of his cottage.  His only company were the birds flitting around the many feeders in the yard and the weekly delivery boy.
Winter was just weeks away and he scribbled out a check to give to the delivery boy for the local firewood cutter.  He would need several cord to make it through these bitter Canadian winters.  The cold was worth the peace and solitude of living here.  The city was just a 45 minute drive down the hill but here in this tiny cottage he felt like an only soul.  A lonely soul.
A rap at the door brought him from his daydreams.  The boy came in and set the groceries on the table.  He slid two checks across the table at the boy and politely nodded his head.  The boy scooped up the checks and turned for the door.  Just as he was at the threshold the old man with the faded shawl draped over his slumped shoulders called out," Young man."
The boy stopped dead in his track slowly turned and eyed the old man.
"Would you drop this at the post office for me", he asked, waving a letter in the air.
"Sure", the boy stammered, unaccustomed to hearing the old man speak.
He crossed the floor, retrieving the letter and quickly scooted back out the door leaving the old man with his birds.
He watched the boy walk down the drive to the waiting car and as they drove down the long gravel drive he turned back to watch the sun begin its descent towards the distant mountain tops.

2 comments:

  1. Vivid, chilling, heartbreaking… I choked up a few times - the sadness and pain of lost love is something many can connect to - I did.

    I've been on a hiatus - doing a little soul searching in light of some overwhelming news - closed the blog for a bit… need time to breathe.

    But you, my friend, are always on my reading list - today I thought I'd leave a few words in my wake. Cheers, Jenny

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  2. Yeah, what Jenny said. This is always so chilling and sad. I feel like I need a cold beer and an episode of Sesame Street after reading this. (I say that in the best way possible)

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