Friday, May 11, 2007

Thanks to everyone: here's the final version

Those That Sow With Tears By Kathryn Evans

The ringing of the phone brought Kay out of a deep sleep.

Yesterday was a long day. She had spent the day with a pregnant friend whose mother has been seriously ill. Their tasks for the day had been twofold: to clean out the mother’s small apartment and to visit the hospital.

The first task was to tackle the small apartment. Driving up to it, they pull past the lumbering Victorian on the shady avenue; behind the main house, they reach the old carriage house. The apartment is on the second floor, up a narrow staircase – dark, dirty, and unkempt for many weeks. The state of the apartment tells the tale of the past few months of denial. No one could accept the thought of the mother’s illness progressing.

Her friend’s family is a matriarchy. Fathers disappear. The new baby, armed with a sweet temperament, will help break the cycle of abandonment; the tiny little boy will be the lucky one, the first offspring of the new patriarchal structure. The baby and his father have already started in the games they will share. Every evening they play a game of paddy cake, with only a bit of flesh separating them. Just an hour after the baby is born, his father will start to sing the song, as he has done everyday for months, and the baby will turn his head to towards the noise, shocking those in the room with the recognition that he has been an active participant all along.

There is a solemnity to this moment in the tiny apartment: cleaning the mouse droppings off the shelves, removing the smell from the refrigerator, and carrying the remnants of a life to the curb. There is not the slow shuffling of old age to comfort anyone. The illness has fallen on friends and family with the sudden impact and deep wounding of an enormous weight dropped from a great height.

By late afternoon they have finished all their tasks and they go off to the hospital to see to the ailing mother. Today when they walk in, her friend will notice her mother has shifted off to one side. Instead of helping her back to the center of the bed, she crawls in beside her. She allows herself to relax against her mother in the same way she has her whole life, laying her head on her mother’s soft shoulder. She places her mother’s hand on her stomach and lets her feel the baby kicking. Her mother instantly remembers that resonant feeling from her own pregnancy, and her face softens. Her only child there in bed with her; she will try not to cry.

Kay is embarrassed to witness such a poignant moment. The intimacy between the friend and her mother pushes everyone else out of the room. It takes only a moment for her to realize she is intruding, so she says goodbye and leaves them to their time together.

Kay feels dirty, lonely and exhausted. Above all, she is jealous. Jealous of the kisses that pass between the newlyweds as the dad-to-be stops to check on his lovely wife. Jealous of the unborn child so full of promise. Jealous of the tender moments between the mother and her daughter. Jealous of how quickly the rest of the world becomes insignificant in a moment of true intimacy. Jealous of the trauma that can only exist when people truly love one another.

She is hoping for a hot bath and a comfortable meal when she gets home, before her tightly wound tenant walks in and fills the common spaces with his self-inflicted tension. After a day like today, she likes to sit quietly in the house, allowing the disappointment and tragedy of life to slowly melt away into the silence.

On her way home, while waiting at the station for the train to take her home, Kay allows her mind to wander. She imagines all the things that might very well come to her, should she ever be reunited with the man she loves. Long nights staying up late play-fighting about news stories and politics, and luxurious Sunday afternoons with cups of tea and their favorite newspapers. She dreams of extended travel to his native country, offering him a turn at feeling like he belongs in that place where he was born, and returning with him after he slowly remembers the good points of his new life so far away.

Mostly she thinks of his long arms warming her, or his hand resting in that crook at her waist. The fantasies of a young woman rarely focus on the turning of an axle or the firing of a piston, but instead rest in the soft feel of a cushion, the warmth of her hand in his, or the light playing across the surface of the wall as they relax in each others arms.

They have continued to write to each other every few weeks, even after his move to the metropolis. They exchange poetry, well wishes, and stories of their work. Six months has passed since they were in each other’s arms, and the tone of the letters changes from time to time. Cool inquiries alternate with furtive yearning. Closings vary from “Warm regards” to “With all my love”. Both talk of waiting for the other one without ever defining the particulars.

Kay knows when she turns the corner on her walk home that today there will be a letter from him in the mailbox. She always knows. She sees his name carefully written in the corner of the envelope sticking out of the postbox. She careful opens the letter, unaware she is holding her breath.

Hello, my dear, how are you? I apologize for the delay in my response. I have been so engaged in my roles at work and at school. The time that has passed has vividly distilled my thoughts of you. Even in all my exuberance and tiredness, a swirl of longing surrounds me – full of fragments of a poignant past. Scenery, sounds, color and scent—the image of us at the garden has become a consoling niche in the chaos of my life. I hope that I will see you when you come next week. Take care and be safe. Warm Regards, David

The letter exhausts her. She adores the poetry of his words, but cannot help but be disappointed that she again has his regards, in place of his love. Every other beautiful sentiment becomes tainted with doubt. She is wary from experience that his schedule may not allow for them to see each other when she travels to the city, and she begins to worry.

She abandons her thoughts of dinner and a bath. She coldly ignores her book on the nightstand. She leaves her clothes in a pile on the floor and turns out the lights. Time passes as she relives the day: her friend, the filth, and the letter. Past, present and future succeed each other as her thoughts move from the day the baby will be born, her dear friend’s dying Mother, the empty apartment, and the last time she was in David’s arms.

Sleep comes without her realizing, until the ringing of the phone slowly rouses her. She reaches for the receiver without really waking; certain it will be a misdialed number, the milkman, or perhaps a friend that she can put off for a few hours.

Hello

Darling, it’s David, I’m sorry to phone so early.”

Oh David. I just received your letter. How are you?”

It occurs to her that he never phones, and she begins to wonder if something has happened.

Everything is fine, dear, don’t wake up, I just wanted to tell you I love you.”

The relief and warmth wash over her as if he were there in the bed whispering those last three words in her ear.

Is that all you called for?”

Yes, I’ll see you next week. I’ve got to free the line, but be safe and know that I miss you. Ciao, Darling.”

The line drops and for a moment she is uncertain if she dreamt the call, until she becomes aware of the weight of the phone again.

In that moment of comfort she knows, as surely as she knew his letter would be in the box that day, she will be with him. She knows that he will make time for her, but he will also work too much. She knows that their life together will be difficult, and she knows that someday their children will visit her in the hospital. They will all mourn their father’s passing, but not before they rejoice in weddings, births, and 63 more of her very own birthdays. As sure as her next breath and the next beat of her heart, she knows that her life will be marked by the trauma of truly loving and of truly being loved.

1 comment:

Craige said...

I think you have tidied it up nicely. Definitely ready for submission.