Although as a small child I played around a few times with writing really short stories, when I was beginning to get serious (or so I thought), I determined it had to be novels. A good friend tried to convince me to write poetry, but I brushed him off. Poems were too short – _I_ was going to write Novels.
After awhile, with not even one novel remotely finished, I tried short stories. Having trouble with that…I tried poems.
The main thing I had against poems was that…I didn’t understand them. Even after years of writing them, I’m still not sure I understand them, but I do appreciate them. Some of them, quite a lot. Most of them I read seem to be pretty incomprehensible, as though they were written in some code that only the scholarly literati could read, decipher and promote as their own secret gnosis…thereby insuring them fame and employment.
The scholars – not the poems.
Finally, last year I tried flash fiction. Short. Potentially bright.
Nothing published yet, but “Like Sunsets for Insects” was the first one I finished. Still working on others, some even longer but – for now – this is long enough yet short enough to be a manageable wonder for my late-blooming brain.
(Apropos of nothing – but then, this IS a blog – almonds have been referred to as being “early late-bloomers” – the earliest blooms in the late season of the year.)
LIKE SUNSETS FOR INSECTS
The table got in the way.
“If I never see that table again…” you used to say…toward the end.
Well, I hope you’re happy now, I thought, wiping my eyes.
The table was a matchbox ruin, at my feet. The useless axe…I couldn’t see. I had thrown it, in the last of my crying rage, now spent. A good circular saw is better, anyway, and had done the job.
Why do we only do what we need to after it’s too late?
The funeral had gone badly. What one doesn’t? By that point, it’s all about degrees of “badly” and depths of pain.
Your mother wouldn’t look at me. In my delirium, just before destroying my Mission-style, handcrafted table, I imagined that she, too, hated me because of the table. But, I guess, she just knew I couldn’t make you happy – never suspecting why.
Our friends just thought of us as unhappy together – not laying the blame at either my feet or those of my woodworking project.
Upstairs, you’d be crying.
Everything I did and said was wrong, and you’d just say how I couldn’t understand – especially if I foolishly said, “I understand”.
So, I hid.
I hid behind hospice, paid them so I could hide behind them. Rather than have you cry even worse, and (even worse) cry at me, I hid behind a table in our basement.
I kept explaining myself away to myself: It would be a beautiful dining table – something beautiful for you. So for all of those hours and days, I lovingly sawed and sanded and finished what would’ve been a family heirloom – leaving my gloved hands stained scarlet.
Now I hated every sponge-swipe of every coat of cherry stain on that wretched wood.
My basement labor of love progressed each day – while my own love labored on in the mechanized hospital bed that had taken the place of our own bed. The screaming din of the circular saw drowned out my own mind’s screams. And in the battle against the smells of sickness and treatment, only the basement’s industrial odors could prevail.
“Men can’t fix what women really want fixed,” my dad would say. “Mostly because they want it fixed their way, not ours!”
I couldn’t fix metastatic liver cancer, and that much WASN’T my fault.
Catharsis weather. Isn’t that what tears are? Once they wash through to their saturation point, to our depletion point — they have to replenish, we have to recycle. Rain can’t go on forever, and I cannot cry forever. I’m dried-up, I can’t.
I don’t think I can. But the rage grips me again, all my muscles tensing and clenching my flesh to my bones, my fists to themselves.
And my head will be your house to haunt forevermore, your last words, not your last words, but the last ones that I will hear for the rest of my life:
“Why did you hide from me? when I needed you?”
The last shreds of my rational self consoled me, said to me, “If it hadn’t been the table, you would’ve found something else to hide behind.”
Some. Damn. Consolation.
It WAS the table I hid behind, it WAS the basement where I hid out – it WAS while you were dying—
Should I have just shut up and listened, in pain, to your pain. Was that the key? Not even trying to fix it, just being in pain with you…?
(Crap. Wrong about being all cried-out.)
My dad used to joke, “I stayed up wondering all night till suddenly it dawned on me.”
This dawn I know what I’ll be doing. I’ve dragged the table’s remains outside. Today, I burn the pieces in the fire pit. And if it takes all day, I’m turning what’s left of my misguided Mission project into ashes.
It was never about the table.
The fourth sunset after your funeral, and I’m watching a smaller, brighter glow in the bottom of the pit, as it slowly ebbs and burns out, the last of the pointless table. A ragged sigh jackhammers its way out of me.
Funny how the smallest ember can light your way to a tiny epiphany. “Tiny” being a relative term. Like the physical universe, there’s a lot of relative things. A wrong thought can be a knot in your mind – a roadblock for a whole life. “Tiny”.
You loved this fire pit. Liked watching the last embers die. The main show over, I’d want to drown it out, go inside — but you’d cajole, “It’s like a sunset for insects. A real sunset is too big for them to truly see, like a galaxy is for us. But dying embers must be small enough to be…a manageable wonder.” Then, your eyes twinkling like the dwindling fire, you’d murmur, “You dolt.”
The dried tears on my face tighten, slowly. Wondering why, I realize I’m smiling.
I love you. You were too good for me, like a galaxy, too big for my insect brain to grasp. But I did love you. I bark out a choking laugh, my eyes and throat stinging.
I hope you’ve forgiven me.
You were my galaxy, baby. I couldn’t wrap my head around you, and when your pain was at its worst – I let it be too big for me to wrap my arms around you.
My voice croaking like a hoarse frog, I realize I’m speaking out loud for the first time in three days.
I didn’t have to burn anything for her to forgive me. My face flushes as though the fire was still roaring. But is there anything I can burn that will let me forgive myself?
The ashes are done, and so am I.
This time, sleep will come. Even if it’s on the couch, sleep will find me and — for as long as it lasts — sleep will be good.
May I dream of watching sunsets for insects with you.