All my memories, gather round her
Miner’s lady, stranger to blue water
Dark and dusty, painted on the sky
Misty taste of moonshine, teardrop in my eye
Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong,
Shit. Sounds and images quickly dove back beneath consciousness as he looked up to see a green light glaring from above and a Pakistani cab driver mimicking its disdain from behind.
There was the briefest flash of something (alive?) inside him. A fast-motion reel of instinct and anger: shifting the transmission to park, unbuckling his belt, opening the car door to a cacophony of enraged city motorists, walking briskly back to the cab, extracting the cabby through his driver’s window–to the serenade of frantic alien chittering, and then smashing his face with a fist. Over, and over, and over. And just as imagination cocked another righteous blow, the thought evaporated as quickly as it had emerged.
Like so many other thoughts in the past year.
He ignored the gesturing behind him and accelerated forward into the city’s cold labyrinth as the skies disgorged a bitter sleet. When did this weather start? He tried to recall what month it was, and couldn’t even summon surprise at realizing he didn’t know.
He was traveling across town to see her. It had been a year since she left him. Or at least something near enough to a year–time wasn’t as much an interest any more. He just knew he had last seen her in winter, on an angry day not much unlike this one.
The pain was still acute whenever he cared to dredge it up. Though in an empty soul, even misery is decent company. So periodically, when his resolve deserted the field, he would call her cell phone. She never even picked-up. But he could always count on hearing that same recorded greeting in the familiar velvet of practiced professionalism: Hello, you’ve reached Sarah Wilson. I’m not available at the moment, but please leave a message and I will return your call shortly. Thank you, and have a good day. Each time he would recall how those tones used to soften in his ear.
Sometimes upon calling he would just hang up, though other times he accepted the invitation to leave a message. He told her he still loved her. He missed her. That he was sorry. That he would move the heavens to have her back. Occasionally he even left long monologues just to share what had happened that day. What was on his mind. No one else gave a damn about his life, who else was there to tell? Though no matter the message, she never called back shortly…or ever.
He mused at the irony. There were times during their marriage when he would yearn to sample the pleasures of other women. And now that the buffet was open, his appetite had escaped. It wasn’t as though his libido was dead, but that his spirit was. He barely had the motivation to slice an apple; courting a woman may as well have been walking to the moon. Overall, it was not an entirely impressive emotional performance from a man whose wife had taken flight. Marriages ended every day; just not his.
As the car wound through streets piloted seemingly by limbic system alone, he began anticipating what he would say to her in person. He hoped for an opportunity to appeal, or at least just an indication she was listening. That’s all he wanted for today…to know she was hearing him. Perhaps some fond reminiscing would lure a smile back to her face.
As his own mouth almost creased in that forgotten act, he realized he was driving down Market Street. “When did I…” The thought vanished as he glimpsed gaudy fast-food signage on the right, as his foot eased off the gas.
The place hadn’t been this industrial sub-shop eight years ago. But rather a local pig sty whose name it hurt to recall. He had been consuming a typically mediocre lunch when a woman’s voice startled him: Hey, do you know Jason Parker?
She pointed to the logo on his shirt. I thought you might work with him.
Mmm, a pretty girl. Jason Parker suddenly became a topic of interest.
Sure, I know him. Are you friends?
Same hometown. If you see him, tell him Sarah said hello.
I’ll do that. So do you li…
She was already walking out the door. Damn.
As that meeting had largely faded as far from relevance as Jason Parker, he was surprised a couple of weeks later to be looking for a seat in an entirely different restaurant and see a woman a few feet away casting about for her own table. It was her, of course.
Dressed shorn of logos, he didn’t expect to be recognized, but smiled and said hello regardless. To his surprise, she returned the smile brightly and, even more felicitous, asked if he would like to join her. He would indeed. And some uncounted hours later, their lunch ended too soon in an otherwise empty restaurant.
Sarah, can I call you?
She grinned mischievously, I’d never speak to you again, if you didn’t.
He drove home that day like an infatuated schoolboy. Many more lunches followed. And the anniversary of the first was celebrated on their honeymoon. In a nod to origins, she would routinely offer a winking invitation to join her at meals. Even years later, he was happy to oblige. But she never asked anymore.
The city corridors were thinning out now as he passed into the suburbs. He thought how strange are the compartmentalizations of loss. How the mind is more supple than the heart. He comprehended she was gone from his life, but still didn’t believe it. What was plainly apparent couldn’t possibly be so. He simply knew they would be together again, while logic dictated otherwise. Was there a final stage of grief where mind and emotion aligned? He wished he still took some pleasure from music, as it would be a comfort to such considerations.
Finally he reached her address. Noticing the ornate fencing, he thought ruefully I see you got in a gated community, honey. Passing through the front entrance, he tried to remember which was hers–they were all so similar here. But there it was, near the back just over a small hill. He parked in front of her place and strode across the tiny lawn. She was there waiting for him.
And in the driving sleet, he sat on wet grass beside her and talked for hours as if no one else existed–just as they had done years before.
Driving home he allowed himself only the briefest view behind the curtain he had pulled over the memories of that day. Police knocking on his door, the anvil of his heart dropping as they explained his wife’s death. She had been killed by a drunk driver. An illegal Honduran. Not only drunk, but street racing. He had lived. And at his only court appearance after killing Sarah Wilson, was allowed to post bond of $5,000. He had not been seen since.
Arriving home, he sank into the couch oblivious to the discomfort of sodden clothes. His hand disinterestedly fingered the remote. One channel was as good as any other, or none at all. A cable news show scratched at his eyes from the dark corner. In it some vapid politician was railing about a wall: nativist, xenophobic, hate, hate, HATE!! He exhaled heavily and clicked it off returning the room to a sullen gloom.
His eyes closed seeking the familiar refuge of emptiness. But something turned insistently. Something that politician had said. One particular word. Waking a sentiment inside him from its long dormancy. Something every man bears, though most are trained to deny. Something that separates the living from the not-yet-dead. His eyes opened in the darkness, and he felt it. Burning. Vivid. Unapologetic.
He was alive.