by: Michael Shields
If we could visualize our exit from this world, what would we see….
So this is it, huh? You’re fucking leaving us. Like this? Here? Well, I’m sure this isn’t how you imagined it – but I guess few of us have the luxury of penning our closing act, although I have no doubt you would write a doozie. Out in a triumphant blaze of glory, or maybe, and more likely, a profound meandering off into the sunset. Well anyways, I hope you’re wrong Pops, about what comes next. I hope somehow, someway, there’s another game in us. Another meal. Another flick. Hell, another heated argument even. I’d gladly take a few of those right now. But….I know I never said it enough – tough guy that I am, that you taught me to be – but I love you. I know you know, and you’ve always known but I need to say it to you one last time. I love you. And I hope I’ve made you proud. I sure as hell did my best…..
His son’s words dissipated into the air like smoke, as the Cottonwood trees haloing above him were aroused by an aimless breeze that ruffled their leaves to dance. He sealed his eyes shut to fully embrace the sound. It was one that he had always cherished. He loved to watch the stem of a tree sway in the wind, and the branches and leaves jump and bounce, but the swoosh of the breeze through a tree’s crown had a special place in his heart. As soothing as waves crashing upon shore he would always say. The music of the forest. The song of the Cottonwoods he was particularly fond of, their rhythm so singular, as their leave’s flattened petiole lent itself to a particular brand of stirring within a gust. As the breeze subsided and the leaves returned to lay, he opened his eyes. The sun was beginning to wane and was casting ominous shadows on the grass below. Although his left arm was now devoid of feeling, it lingered in his right. With it he palmed a fistful of the grass beneath him, caressing the fibrous, sleek threads between his fingers. He jerked loose a fistful of it, relinquishing it from its earthy hold and balled it up within his palm, squeezing the grass like a rubber ball. Grass, a luxury in these parts he mused, a relic of his youth back East. And while taking a biting breath of fresh air, he again closed his eyes.
It’s time to rest dad. You’ve done enough. We’re going to be fine. More than fine. You set us up. All of us. And I found Jalen, we have each other and we have Mal and James. None of that would have happened without you. And I will never forget everything you did for us. For me. I guess what I’m trying to saying is you’re off the job. It’s been an honor to be your daughter. You did good. Now rest. Go be with Mom….
The imperious and constant chirp of the field crickets confiscated his concentration, freeing him from his thoughts and overwhelming his lessening senses. The pulsating rhythm was driving its way into his core and as as much as he wanted to revel in nature’s entomological choir, its pulsating constant sign of life, the monochrome throng was excruciating. As was the pressure in his chest, and the biting, fiery pull of air into his lungs. Each breath was more labored than the last. It would all be over soon, he thought. It will all be over. The breeze kicked up again. This time with a more sustained push, causing an outbreak of cottonseed to fill the air about him. In an instant it appeared as if the sky where awash with thick, satiny snowflakes, dancing about with reckless abandon. You could barely make out the deeply ruffled, stained trunks of the trees that unleashed their ivory eruption upon him. Quickly, a thin layer of the cotton began to entomb his frame, encasing him in a creamy bubble. There was little he could do about the onslaught, and a part of him found it fitting. His whole life he had preached that God, or solace, or happiness, or whatever it is you were searching for, could be found in nature’s confines. If one’s soul ever became void of spiritual fulfillment, immersing oneself in the universe’s amiable bosom was the certain cure. It was all too appropriate that nature would play such a central role in his final hours, and that she would let him bask in her intoxicating power one last time.
Honey, Look! It looks like it’s snowing! Oh, this is unbelievable. This reminds me of running through my backyard as a kid when the Cottonwoods along the Rio Grande would let loose their seed, jumping and reaching, collecting handfuls of cotton. Gathering as much as possible, in utter bliss as the sky swelled with white. Just like this. Amazing. I’m so glad you can see this my love. I’m so glad we did this, finally spread our wings and released ourselves from the big city. It was time for some open space, some quiet – and a chance to be together. Let’s never leave….
Laboriously, as the sun began its final descent, he rolled his head from the grouping of Cottonwoods stretching out to the East, towards the valley which ceaselessly expanded to the West. A vast empty plain, a saffron blanket extending as far as the eye could see. Bulbous white clouds with inky underbellies cluttered the crisp, azure sky which peaked through when able. Gold flecks of light were strewn throughout the landscape’s breathtaking ceiling and in the distance loomed the dark red swells of the Sandia Mountains, their ridges perfectly defined by the evening’s light, their caps a silvery hue. He yearned for them, to traverse about their gentle Eastern slope, and caress his hands across their smooth rock walls. In that moment, the numbness in his body dissipated, and a sense of vigor engulfed his venerable frame. With purpose, he rose to his feet as white fluffs off cotton danced themselves to the ground, and he gave into the magnetic pull of the almighty rock fortresses before him, beginning his long, everlasting trek into the wild.
The snap of a steady beep roused the hospital room to life. With fury, a company of emerald clad nurses burst in and began treating the patient. Following a series of procedures one of the nurses turned to the two battered, grief stricken onlookers, and laying a hand upon their shoulders gave them a solemn, knowing look which said it all. They nodded in unison as the room cleared. Walking towards their father, his children took solace in knowing that he was in a far better place. With a kiss on the forehead they bid him farewell. He was free from the confines of his body and the shackles of this world. The journeyman at the end of his adventure. “You did good,” his daughter recalled from earlier. “Now rest….”
Beautiful work, the blend of manmade madness via the hospital room and the vast, overwhelming and breathtaking natural power of the valley, creates a resounding impression of life’s inextricable journey to death.
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