~ You calling my name?
~ You blowing that horn at me?
~ Getting your attention while I can.
~ You’re just the elephant in the room.
~ I won’t be much longer.
Near one of the junctures of the roads, pulled right over to the side, and as close to being in a ditch as it could be, a car of higher-end wealth was parked. This was not particularly odd within itself, but, glancing around the rows and rows of graves, there was no one to be seen. An empty car in a graveyard. I thought it best to take a look.
Although I assumed the car was empty, I also had thought it possible it was not. And when I got close enough to look into the windows, I understood why I had seen nobody. A thin, elderly man, his white hair mussed, was slumped to one side in the driver’s seat. He had not fallen completely over because he was held by his shoulder strap. I was peering through the passenger side window, and could not tell if he was breathing.
I tapped, louder and louder, on the door window, but nothing happened. Not a twitch or shrug by the man. I still thought he was probably alive, but wondered if he might have had a heart attack or a stroke. Or, he could be deaf. Regardless, my tapping did nothing to him. So I decided to go around to the driver’s side.
As the car was so close to the ditch, I had to stand in it. The ground was wet, though there was no running water. I reached up and started knocking on the driver’s window – no tapping this time. There was still no response, and since I had been at this about three minutes, I did start thinking he was at least unconscious. I kept rapping on the window, planning next to open the door and wondering what to do it it was locked.
The man finally moved enough that I knew he was alive. But I kept knocking on the window until he opened his eyes. He looked befuddled and didn’t move his head. I knocked again and finally he looked in my direction. He seemed dazed but not surprised. He didn’t sit straight but he did reach and open the window.
“Are you all right?”
“I want to make sure you are all right. You haven’t been moving.”
“Yes. Yes, I am.”
“OK. I wanted to make certain.”
I started to move out of the ditch, but he called to me.
“Thank you for taking the time.”
What sights indeed are these, that cause the racing clocks to pant their minutes in counterpoint to a life still learning the difference between wretchedness and love?
The swing goes up and the swing goes down, and then goes up again. If you are on that race, with childish yells, and up-down-mess-it-around feelings in the pit of your stomach, they haven’t lowered that coffin lid yet.
No, not yet.
What sights indeed are these, that make a heart argue the worth of dying, and ring the bells across the hill when there is no hand upon the rope?
There are happy tunes on the breeze and, yes, even the unicorn lifts its head with twitching ears and mouth agape.
And even (so it has been recorded, in long-ago books) our Lord Jesus God would pause in His ministrations at the wonder of it all.
What sights indeed are these, that ease the night’s passage and sow the fields full of restful dawn?
A race against the end is run by all of us; when the kitten kicks and purrs through her ball of string, or when the ancient’s cane tap-taps across the room. Eyes, whether young; or dim; or blind; can still open in amazement, and still marvel at the ever-changing newness.
Marvel and rejoice.
What sights indeed are these, that turn all tunes into rhapsodies of joy, and make the moon do gypsy dances through the night sky?
A sky of stars that shower and shake and stream across the galaxies to cram unto the ends of the distant universe. Grains of sand upon the shore would take sensitive fingers, and a lifetime of counting, yet still could never fill this distant space where even numbers stand in awe.
Zeros with mouths agape.
Some day she would not wake – she prays for this every night as she lays waiting for sleep. Tonight is not bad, there will be no need to use a pill. In fact, she is very good about the pills. Dr. Morgan has told her – almost encouraged her, she feels – to use a pill a night, and not fight for sleep as she sometimes does. But she can not bring herself to believe that that is right – she is certain Ned would never have agreed to it.
Ned was never one to take the easy way out. Not, she would hasten to add, that he was some sort of doomsayer, or a fanatic of any sort. But he did believe that it was up to each person to solve their own problems. Where he may have expected too much, was believing that all problems had a solution, and he would keep at something with a relentless persistence.
She would sometimes stand near him as he was trying to replace some tiny piece of a machine, or climb yet again on the shed roof with some tar, and she would say, “Leave it be, Ned. Let it alone.” But he would just pause, settle back on his heels and perhaps light a cigarette, and say that he may as well be putting in the time on this as on anything else.
And back he would go at it. As far as she knew, he never gave up on anything until it was done. He was not the type to gloat, or even show much sense of satisfaction, and she had been married to him for years before she recognised his small mannerisms which meant that he was pleased.
She turns over, being careful not to lay an arm on his side of the bed, or let a foot stray over the line she has refused to cross for eight years, ever since she reached out one morning and touched cold flesh.
No, she will not need a pill tonight, her work has tired her enough to eventually bring on sleep. It is, of course, the memories weaving through her mind which she would really like to stop with the pills. Those memories she can barely stand, and without which she could not live.
I have spent some portions of my life house-and-pet sitting. Always enjoyed it. And there are certainly tails to tell.
One such dog-sit was with Tibbit, a great, friendly dog. She just passed on to a more comfortable afterlife this week, leaving nothing but fond memories on my part. We shared this following episode a few years ago. I’ll share again in her memory.
This past weekend I looked after a dog whilst her owners went out of town.
Tibbit is a big, friendly dawg who likes inspecting piles of leaves. She has a long lead which her benevolent human allows to go as far as possible. She knows (better than her accompanying human) that there are treats at the end of each walk.
On Saturday I didn’t get Tibbit out until after dark. We skirted the university (where her masters work) and went up a street bordering the campus. We both liked the Christmas lights. Near the top of the street we met an inebriated gentleman warning us of a bear in the surrounding woods.
“Flush him out,” said he, “And I’ll get my 3 aught 3.”
“Get the rifle first,” I replied, and we went our respective ways.
Now Tibbit and I doubted the veracity of the gentleman, so when we came to a trail through the woods, we took it. I will admit I did peer more intently into the gloom than usual, but one trail led to a larger trail which led back to the university. We advanced without incident.
On Sunday I again walked Tibbit toward the university, though from a different direction. It was a crisp, clear day and she gamboled (as much as the leash allowed ) through the new fallen snow. Sunshine gleamed. This time we were on the other side of the campus, but our walk eventually led to a position about half a mile away from where we were the previous evening.
We followed another trail into the woods and admired the sun through the fir trees. The path was wide and sloped. It came to turn some distance away which would lead us even closer to where we were the day before.
At the top of the slope Tibbit stopped dead in her tracks. She stared and stared. She glanced briefly into the woods but mainly kept staring along the trail. I saw nothing nor heard anything (and I was intent upon both).
Tibbit did not move and made not a sound. She just kept staring.
After a solid two minutes of this I started to backtrack and she made no complaint.
You betcha she got her dog treats.
It had been a house of dreams, it was now a house of ghosts.
Ghosts tranquil and benign peered through the dusty upper windows, stood in wait behind the boarded doors. The dreams of long ago, which had tumbled down the stairs, and frolicked through the rooms, were now memories in the minds of ghosts.
The ghosts were themselves memories, destined to further fade with each new birth. But there would be no births in this house, as it slid inexorably toward decay. The lackluster brown shingles would be more smudged, the remaining panes of old glass would break, the floors would warp and collapse, the unkept roof would succumb to the years of harsh weather.
Even the `No Trespass’ sign was barely legible. Then where would the ghosts go?
Blaine left his car and walked toward the house.
If he had eyes to see, who would be there to greet him? Would children’s dreams, fair-haired and boisterous, burst through the front door and surround him in games of tag and laughter? Would he get caught by their enthusiasm (would he become a child himself), and race behind the trees, burrow into the hay, hide between the bins of potato and turnip, intent not to be `it’.
Or would he meet the ghosts, quiet and tentative at the top of the steps, moving slowly with their uncertain smiles. Would they greet him with a wave, invite him into their warm-smelling kitchens, offer him fresh tea, and squares right out of the pan? Would he sit in the stream of fall sunlight flowing across the well-oiled floor, and talk about childhood?
Blaine walked part way up the drive before he stopped.
He knew what lay beyond the boarded windows, and the sagging door upon its rusty hinges. Wallpaper would be water-stained, and curling off the plaster walls. There would be lumps of refuse in the corners of the rooms, with one inevitable rusty bedframe lying on its side. There would be gaps in the ceiling, where beams of sunlight shimmered through motes of dust. There would be holes in the baseboards, where earnest rodents made comfortable homes.
There would be musty smells offering a hint of long-ago meals, and something gone bad in the pantry. There would be one upper window (at the back) which still had a tattered lace curtain, half obscuring what had once been totally private. At night he would hear bats.
It was not this house he had come to see, of course. Of course, not this derelict house, which he knew could never be restored, and which was so beyond help even death slept while visiting.