I'm out here in the future. I don't know how I got here. Time just went. I'm not even sure I know where here is. Or where went went. I'm tired. I feel separate from it all. It's been a long journey that has deposited me here like a twig carried off by an indifferent stream. Here I am, out in the future, sitting on a wooden railing with the woman who chose to be my wife, waiting for the woman who had no choice but to be my sister. I'm turning eighty this week. Eighty. I feel more like ten. Or fifty. I've been half-awake this entire time and now here I am, out in the future, nearing the end. My brain knows I am here, and here lines up with then, but somehow I feel I'm mostly back there—a carefree child in a moon-flooded room, dog snoring on the edge of my bed. Innocence not yet lost. Am I nearing the end or just another beginning? How many beginnings do we get? Are we any different than the seasons, spinning in the Here and Gone and Here and Gone? I'll continue on. Life insists. My dead ancestors insist. I need to keep up. I'm not quite ready for my story to be over.
At Ned's Funeral
Laura brought Henry to the kitchen where John, the club manager, was waiting for them. “Follow me, the room is down this back corridor.” Laura held Henry’s hand as they walked through the bowels of this old Federal-era building, past the boiler room and down to a small bedroom with two windows overlooking the back parking lot.
“Just make yourself comfortable, Henry. I’ll let the staff know you are taking a nap so no one bothers you,” John plumped the pillows on the twin bed.
“Thanks,” Henry managed a weak reply.
“Rest up, dear. I’ll be braving it among the lovely guests,” Laura closed the door on her way out, shooting him a telling smile.
Henry took off his shoes and got into bed. An issue of Cosmopolitan magazine lay on the bedside table. He closed his eyes but was too wound up to sleep. He tossed and turned for a few minutes, then plumped up three pillows behind his head, attempting to refocus his meandering thoughts. He grabbed the Cosmopolitan magazine, the only available diversion. The young model on the cover looked like a waif all gussied up in heavy makeup, purple and pink eye shadow elongated beneath her Egyptian-looking eyes. She was staring straight ahead with a look that seemed to say: “Take me and do whatever you wish.” Henry let his vision swim in her eyes as he attempted to comprehend the perplexing storylines dancing around her on the cover: “How to Achieve Sex Goddess Status So Your Man Never Leaves You,” “Breaking Up to Make Up,” and possibly most perplexing of all: “Vaginas Under Attack.” Henry’s vision continued to swim in an uncontrollable manner, and he could not stop staring at the cover model, her eyes sucking him in. He was becoming aroused. He got up to open the door and gaze down the hallway. He was all alone. He took off his pants and climbed back into bed. He lay on his side, the magazine resting next to his face, his vision swimming within the confusing storylines and the Egyptian temptress.
He was startled to hear the door creak open, but saw no one there. He bolted upright in bed, concerned a ghost had entered the room. “Who is it?” he called out. No response. He lay back down, not sure where he was or what was happening. Suddenly a tiny white sphinx jumped up onto the bed, her blue eyes penetrating deep into Henry’s fragile core. It was a cat. A White Persian, how fitting given the Egyptian theme of Henry’s current fantasies. The cat purred and rubbed herself against his forearm. Then she slinked over to the magazine, which lay next to Henry’s face, and began dry-heaving. Henry didn’t move, transfixed by this grotesque turn of events, the cat heaving and hacking for several slow-motion moments, eventually throwing up directly on the cover model’s face. The cat shot him a look of jealous disdain, licked her paws, and jumped onto the floor disappearing as quickly as she had come. Point made.
Henry laughed, seemingly trapped within some Fellini farce. He picked up the magazine and walked to the sink, cleaning it off. He dried it with a paper towel, and then returned it to the bedside table. He got back into bed, attempting to process what had just occurred. He had the lingering feeling that this mysterious visitor had been his mother. Was there no escape? How many different forms could she take with her afterlife powers? He managed to doze off, waking an hour later feeling somewhat better. He got up to rejoin the party.
Chapter: Love in the Wind
Seagulls have arrived for the sundown service, perched atop neighborhood chimneys, solemnly observing streaks of clouds backlit by the blocked sun. The tops of distant spruce sparkle within the reflected rays. There is complete silence. The gulls change positions in a well-orchestrated dance, their cries stabbing into the heart of the quiet. A rogue duck in the distance adds its gravelly voice to the soprano shrieks.
Henry and Lakshmi are in the hammock gazing up at the trees, listening to the wind. Oak leaves rustle against the darkening sky, another day drawing to a close. A slanting slice of final light breaks free from behind a cloud, flooding the red doorway of the house across the street. Henry can feel his dead relatives in the wind: his father and mother, his brother and grandfather. They are here, inside him, enveloping him. This thought is comforting as he pulls his grandson closer. Henry adjusts the cushion beneath their heads, the musty scent of his father's home still hanging on this many years later. Ned as a young man smiles down on them; Eve is warm and present, as she might have been when he was a baby. Albert drifts overhead, contented. Henry can see Albert’s sweaty brow. Those huge bug eyes. Are they all in heaven? Where do the dead go?
He quiets his mind, closes his eyes, and feels the warmth of his ancestors floating above. Tears well in his eyes. Lakshmi’s breathing is gentle beside him. Gertrude is beneath the hammock, licking her haunches. The sun is now down, the blues above turning black, a crescent moon visible through low-hanging branches. A pickup truck rumbles by out front, interrupting the quiet, and is gone as quickly as it came. As if guided by the spirits above, Laura puts on an old Glenn Miller CD of Ned’s, the music wafting through the open kitchen window. Henry’s heart is warmed by wine and contentment of the day and he starts sobbing.