I Thought I Heard
It was Ray Charles
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whom I'd spun on the Bose, after having tired of my cable system's music selections. And of watching finches feed on a black tin cylinder, the redheaded woodpecker upside down carbing up suet, stuff from the big box, man-made items to maybe capture at least one day, the tireless birds, and how clouds cooled the wooded air.
Thistle thieves and an acrobatic redhead oblivious that an old, old friend had died last night.
He once told me a little story, that he had landed in Japan on shore party and then occupied the country. Ground zero he had called it. Finches sprung in opposite arcs, and swooped instantly high and back in a four wing collision --- yellow-yellow/white underwings, black necks and heads- orange beaks --- the watcher sought a definition. Crows announced late afternoon from the highest tree, the last twenty feet of dead limb colored and shiny as wino khakis. A fountain shimmered silver like a giant sparkler out from rock. Sunlight brightened the silvered water, the noise constant, soothing, tranquil. Around daybreak, I thought I saw his widow dressed in white, seated where they had always sat together for years and years.
For years they were, counting birds. Sounding a horn at deer. They had washed carrots and asparagus with cold hose water. Many decades before the hospice. Many other midnights and Octobers and Easter Sundays and weddings and graduations and birthday after birthday after birthday. Where he had been next to her on that bench sipping apple cider. This morning she'd been dressed as though for tennis, or ready too early for a drive to the city. A white summer outfit to delay the despair of alone.
I had no idea he was no longer with us at that hour.
He had found peace, I realized when the bad news traveled to me, he'd found peace in a dark hospice room, where'd he gone after a brief struggle to die at home in his own bed, more on his terms, he may have sensed, if not only to lessen her woe, he would battle gallantly, I knew that, as the crows cawed, accentuating my observations, as I was obsessed, perhaps entranced, with the silvery fountain. The crows cawed meanly. If I were a creative writer I'd maybe blast off a few rounds toward that menacing racket. I've lapsed, and I say it emphatically, to observing, watching, sometimes marking it that that yard where they sat and held hands has a brilliant cherry tree and wonderfully contrasting apple trees; just sayin', my old, old friend had that kind of eye. And he was a happy, loving person. He was a sober God fearing quiet person. Allow me to mark it down that he had lived the better part of one hundred years.
So you should know how he started awake surrounded by concrete walls centered with crayon drawings from three billion grandchildren. He died just like that. Did he remember his combat boot imprinting the hot Japanese soil. A scared kid, his own rifle ready? Or did he think of that fond embrace hiding his head in her bosom it's over it's over when they held each other so tightly wrapped in an incredible disbelief that it's over, you're home you're mine; that suspended animation you're home the war's over I'm home I'm home I love you? Or did he feel again, yessiree mister, you're hired, that feeling, damn it, a swerve and head fake shifting a linebacker and a blur of thrills deflecting the last defender --- that touchdown --- Or it's a boy! Or she's your daughter, they'd say to him many times that ten years after he'd fought the good fight, he did, all his life. Or did he reflect: that night alone on a mountain, how the clouds cleared, he'd never seen stars so bright and big in such a perfect sky thanks, man.
They'd awaken her he's passed he's gone your husband has just died. She'd leap to him and put her face on his warm face, the women in blue uniforms holding her arms. She'd not know of the big tears, big full baby tears, God please reverse this minute God please reverse this minute. She'd stroke his hair back behind his ears. Her hand on his heart she put her mouth on his and breathed into him one final time. From her tummy the sorrow would not erupt, but when they held her from his bed, from the death, let me die right now, too, her wail escaped into the most gut-wrenching, soulful sound ever heard.
Strength Strength her mind fought back, like she'd rehearsed many times in the last several weeks, she could not have her children be hurt now too. They'd let her cover her face in her hands. Merciful heavens the children and older grandchildren arrived all looking like they hadn't slept. They mobbed around her. Walking over to the corpse his first born said, Jesus he's as skinny as Jesus.
And their tears fell quietly, their talking and tone and weeping would be hushed so as not to wake up the dead.
4, 3, 2, fiction grief death survivors 1 life ground zero
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This is remarkable. Lyrical and evocative and wise.
My aunt recently lost her husband of 68 years--longer than most of us have lived. I was thinking of them throughout this.
JULY 04, 2009 09:44 AM
O'stephanie it's amazing how strong and resilient folks are. We document how rapidly that generation fades. We quantify ourselves equating one another when in the end it's one family, the newborn and the dearly departed, those betwixt hither and yon; may we hear the music.