A Break from Coronavirus
Though it is increasingly difficult not to talk about the pandemic, I think it’s time for at least a short break from the subject of COVID-19.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I spent a few years as a professional writer. While most of my writing, certainly most of what I was paid to write, was on the subjects of business and regional news, I did have the occasional opportunity to play in other literary sandboxes.
Here is a story I wrote for a self-published collection way back when being self-published meant you actually had to talk to a printer, a human one. It’s been almost twenty years since this has seen the light of day. Let me know what you think.
The old man sat in his favorite chair, the one with tape on the right armrest. The repair had been born into the category of “good enough for now” and matured through the years into “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The gray tape had long since become one with the faded leather around it, smoothed and perfected to its purpose by the rubbing of the old man’s skin.
As he had for decades during his working life, the old man sat in his chair, drinking his coffee and reading his paper. He was long since retired but he was a creature of habit and still drank his coffee and read his paper at the same time every day without fail.
His wife had often joked that, if he ever left her, she could use the permanent impression in his chair as a mold.
“So I’ll always have the best part of you.”
She’d smile and wink when she said it, adding an occasional waggle of her eyebrows. Even toward the end, when she was confined to her bed, she’d catch him by surprise, when he’d turn his back, with a pat on his posterior. He’d turn around to see her waggle her eyebrows and smile.
He’d seen no reason to change his ways after she’d died, so he was easy to find when his time arrived. He knew he’d die, probably within the next few years, and he felt prepared. Still, as it almost always does, death came unexpectedly upon him.
Death found the old man in his well-worn chair and stalked silently up behind him. Death reached out to take the old man in its cold embrace. Death was mere seconds away.
“Now you just hold on one minute,” said the old man as he turned to look at Death. Death was somewhat taken aback by this.
“?” said death.
“You heard me. I can’t see you, but I know you’re there.”
“I’ve studied you for many years, read many books and spent many days since I retired sitting at my wife’s grave talking to her about you. She told me all about you.”
“I know, I know, the living aren’t supposed to hear the dead, but my wife and I were very close, you see. But let’s not change the subject. I know you‘re here for me, but I’m not ready to go just yet. You’ll have to wait.”
“Now don’t be like that. I know it’s not the way things usually work, but I’m waiting for something and I mean to get it before I go.”
“A telephone call, from my grandson. He and his wife are due to make me a great-grandfather any day now, and I mean to be here for it.”
“A boy. The doctors told them it would be a boy, maybe.”
“Well, you see, he may not survive the birth. The doctors say something isn’t right. See, my grandson married a wonderful girl, I couldn’t ask for a better granddaughter, but she has something wrong inside her. This isn’t the first time they’ve tried to have a child.”
“Yes, it is sad. Four times they’ve tried and four times it turned out bad for them. It wouldn’t have been as bad, I think, if the pregnancies hadn’t gone so long before ending so badly. Each time they knew what the child would be. Three girls and one boy have all come so close to being born, only to be taken away.”
“No, I don’t blame you. I know you have a job to do. I know you’re necessary. I’ve seen what happens when death is denied. My wife got cancer and the doctors put her on machines that kept you away. She suffered for a long time until I told them to turn the machines off and let you in. I saw the look on her face when you came for her. She was glad to see you.”
“No, it’s not wisdom. I’ve just lived long enough to have seen the truth of it. You’ve been very patient with me and I wouldn’t like to impose upon you even more, but may I ask a favor of you?”
“Could you tell me if my great-grandson will be born?”
“I know you’re not supposed to tell these things, but as I am going to die anyway, perhaps you could make an exception?”
“That’s good to know. Thank you. I suppose there’s no reason to wait any longer now that I know things will turn out okay. I’m ready to go with you. I just wish I could have seen my great-grandson’s face.”
“No, it’s okay. Let’s go.”
The old man let Death take him and had no fear of his passing.
Death was not at all what he had expected it to be.
He found himself taken to a dark place and wondered if he’d erred in his life. Light burst upon him and he shivered in the cold air. Death let go of him and he was born, naked, into the world. All the pain of his life slipped away. A final fleeting moment of contentment finished an old man’s life, a life that had known joy, love, pain and loss.
He felt warmth as he was placed in his mother’s arms. Another face entered his view, a kind face full of happiness and relief. He’d known that face all its life, and now it was a new face, a face he’d know all his life to come. In those eyes, the eyes of his father he saw reflected another face, a face he’d so wanted to see – his own face, the face of an old man’s great-grandson.
His eyes filled with tears and he cried his joy for all to hear.
The End. The Beginning.
I’ve always liked that story because it’s not about death, but renewal. Change is hard. The end of what we know, of the patterns that have guided our lives, is never easy. Even when what’s ending is a pattern of pain, it can still be hard. Familiar pain can be less frightening than unknown possibility.
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EMBRACE YOUR WEIRD!