Guest Post – Inseparable – Part 2

Guest Post by Will Maguire

copyright 2016

My boss, an old lady with butterfly glasses and a beehive hairdo, asked me to fill in one month on the morning shift.

This was a problem because I had a couple other jobs and I liked to finish late and drink beer until I couldn’t remember how poor and stupid and full of myself I was.

But she was insistent. So I found a way. I’d show up around 8 a.m. with my head aching and smelling, I’m quite sure, like I had spent the night face down in a puddle of stale beer.

Early each day I began to notice his old man in the visitors room. He was always the first one there. Always wore a white shirt and tie, combed and shaved and neat. cravat-987584_640He walked with a cane and when they opened the ward for visitors he would always check himself in the mirror. Like he was going on a date, like he wanted to look his best.

 

His wife of 60 years was in the ward.

She had started falling…and then started forgetting. Little things at first…misplaced keys, misplaced glasses.

And she would ask him, ‘What did I do with them? Would you remember that for me?’

Then one day she got lost coming home from the grocery store. And then a week later he found her lost and frightened in their own cellar.

He took her to a doctor finally and listened as the doctor explained that the past…every bit of it …would eventually disappear.

He tried and wrestled with the doubt and guilt but it became clear in a few months that he could not care for her.

So he found this place at the edge of the Hereafter, sold their house and took an apartment as near as he could.

He made all the arrangements, all the time fighting down the growing panic at the thought of being apart.

When he signed the papers and walked her in, he felt like a traitor to every secret vow a man’s heart can make to itself.

I was there that day mopping the floor. He was stricken…with loneliness I suppose and dread. I saw it in his face, though I’m sure I didn’t understand what I was seeing. How could I?

What did I know at 17 of having your heart cleaved in two, hollowed out at the prospect of what you know with certainty is crawling toward you?

She cried when he left that day. And without him near seemed to lose her bearings. It can happen like that…a heart can become unmoored.

And mopping the floors some nights I would hear her calling out that she didn’t know anyone or where this place was…. or even sometimes who she herself was anymore.

I would civilian-service-63616_640stand outside her door listening and trying to translate that kind of terror into something my 17-year-old pea brain could understand.

It was like listening to the foreign language…of loneliness.

But the old man would show up every morning…and would stand in that very spot outside her door …..steeling himself.

Day after day, he would paint a smile on his face and turn in to her room and in a loud voice brightly say good morning and how beautiful she looked again.

She would always brighten at the sight of him. Like a young girl in love for the very first time. And he would sit by her side and each morning say,  “Do you know who I am?”

Somedays she would laugh and respond,  “Of course…what a silly question…you think I could ever forget who I love….my husband of 60 years?”

And he would retell her things she had forgotten…a trip to the Cape each summer…the time he asked her to marry him…that first house before the kids.

family memories

Sometimes she would understand and ask,  ‘We did all that?’ in real wonder. And sometimes she would not…could not understand. Like the glue of memory had gotten so old that it cracked and fell away.

“Never mind…never mind  that darling,’ he would say.…’I’ll remember it for you.’

Near the end of the month, I watched him again…cane in hand, dressed like he was going on a first date, stand in that spot outside her room then, once again, turn inside. I went and stood in the spot, mop in hand and listened.

Once again he was gently asking,  “Do you know who I am?”

There was no answer. And he put his face close to hers so she could see him clearly and he whispered again, “Do you know who I am?”

Her eyes searched his face trying in vain to summon some forgotten landmark in her heart she might recognize. Then she whispered to him, “ I don’t know where this place is…or who I am.  I know I should…I know I should…” trying to  recover what had already leaked away.

He was trying to quiet her. “Hush…hush now…it’s alright.  I’m here.’

‘I know I should,’ she protested.

Then- ‘…… I don’t know your name…sir,’ all the time searching his eyes with her own. ‘..But I know …I can rely on you … I always will. I don’t know your name ….but I know who you are.’

If a heart has ears I felt mine begin to burn. I didn’t want to hear anymore. I never wanted to hear anything again. I stumbled away, back down the hallway of hereafter. I remember I threw the mop and I kicked over the bucket. What was the point. How could the world ever be clean again?

I quit that morning and I never went back.

 

The world is a beautiful place. It is a terrible place.

They grow together.

Inseparable.

Scrape a sorrowful thing and you expose the beauty. Scrape a thing of real beauty and there’s always some sacrifice…some sadness at the heart of it. They require each other.

 

A husband and wife of 60 years facing certain loss… …makes their love not smaller but larger.

And it humbles me still to think of it…to realize how little I understand.

I was 17 …and a poor boy with only a glimmer of understanding. Standing there listening, I felt some part of me quiver…and since then that quivering, like a small earthquake only I can feel, has never stopped.

I feel it shaking some nights in my dreams. I feel it sitting wordlessly in the dark on my shoulders whispering its tremor into my sleeping heart. It tells me again and again there is something larger….something hidden at work.

And some nights it whispers to me about this life and the Hereafter. It tells me it is more beautiful and more terrible than my heart’s clay foundation can bear.

__________________

Will Maguire is a fellow short story writer whose path intersected with mine on Twitter.  His stories explore the depths of human experience and have a haunting quality that lingers.

It is a pleasure to share his work on this blog.

 

Still Water Muse

still water muse**Classic hits filmmaking competition information (2017) is at the end.

“Tell me what you think about before you write a Grammy Award winning song.”

Bernie looked out the window. “I’ll have to tell a story first.”

Maxine pressed the red button on her voice recorder.

Bernie’s eyes moved back to rest on Maxine. “My adoptive parents got me when I was fourteen. I was a dark haired Crow boy suddenly mixed in with a bunch of white, blue-eyed farmers.”

“My mother knew that I was lonely and floundering. She bought me my first guitar and sent me to music lessons. The teacher wasn’t much help. But I’d take that old guitar out in back of our place through the corn fields to a big  oak tree where I’d sit and practice.”

“One day there was a woman there. She was beautiful; blonde, full-figured with long legs and huge….” Bernie grinned sheepishly.

“She was sexy but I still didn’t want her there. She stood, at least, a head and shoulders taller than me.”

“’What’s your name kid?” Her voice sounded like a frog with sandpaper caught in its throat. “Bernie doesn’t sound like a Cherokee name,” she commented after I’d told her.'”

“I shrugged my shoulders flippantly. ‘You don’t know squat about Cherokee…or C-R-O-W.'”

“She kicked at the dirt. She said that her nickname was Tiny and that it was a bad family joke. She also said that she’d heard me mutilating my guitar. She’d come to help… and to wait for the words. She looked at the tree strangely while patting its trunk.”

“We met every day for the rest of summer. She showed me things that my guitar teacher never did. I learned that she’d been a music teacher and that she came back to the tree because ‘she got lost sometimes.’”

“When I asked if my parents could hire her to teach me, her eyes blazed and she spoke harshly, ‘If you say anything about me, they’ll never let you out of the house.’”

“As the weeks passed, Tiny taught me to say what I was feeling with music. Then I reached a block. By this time, I was in full-blown lust  – or in love with her. One afternoon when we were getting nowhere she yelled, ‘What do you want?’”

“When I didn’t answer, she stepped closer and asked the same thing again, quieter this time.”

“Before I realized what I was doing, I blurted, ’I want to hold you.’”

“I would have curled up and died on the spot if she hadn’t been smiling. She told me to close my eyes and follow her directions. So I did.”

“She told me to imagine that the guitar was her –  to run my hands over its surface, to feel its curves and to let my fingers stoke the strings. ‘Hold me closer,’ she’d say, ‘Then let the music sing softly and slowly.’”

“She broke through my wall. After that, she’d bring her guitar and we’d make music together  – until fall came.”

“I remember the last time I saw Tiny. A cold breeze was blowing at sunset. I heard melody she played through my open window. It sounded crazed. When it stopped suddenly, I knew that I had to go find her. As I ran through the dry stalks of corn. I saw her guitar lying on the ground. I jumped over it, running faster. When I found her, she was barefoot, shivering and unresponsive.  I was terrified. Eventually, I screamed, ‘Tiny! What do you want?’”

“At this, she paused, turning toward me. ‘I just want to go home.’”

“Suddenly, we were both crying.  I said, ‘Me too!’”

“She reached out a hand to cover my heart. ‘The difference between us, Bernie, is that I am yearning for home, but you are already there.’ Then she kissed me.”

Bernie reached up to trace a finger where Tiny’s lips had left an invisible mark.

A sad expression settled on his face. “A full moon rose up behind the bare branches of the oak tree. I didn’t realize, until later, that all its leaves had been there the day before. When she reached it, Tiny started running her hands all over around the trunk.”

“’What are you doing?’”

“’I’m looking for the words. They have to be here!’”

“’Tiny, stop!’ I cried. She didn’t answer but kept frantically searching. ’There it is!’ she sighed, ‘I knew you’d show me the doorway sooner or later.’ She leaned into the tree hugging it like a lover.”

“‘You won’t be seeing me again,” she said over her shoulder.”But I’ll always hear you….” she paused, waiting for me to fill in the space.

“I couldn’t get anything out around the lump in my throat. I knew that she was waiting for me to tell her my Indian name.”

The unexpected silence that followed Bernie’s last statement was stifling.

Maxine blinked. “That’s it!  What happened to her?”

Bernie shook his head while reaching for his guitar, “That wasn’t part of the question.”

Maxine watched as he traced the contours of the tool that had millions of fans singing and humming his haunting tunes.

With eyes closed, he began to play and speak, “My Crow name is, Still Water Dancer.”

A soft, lilting melody filled the room. “My guitar is named after my muse, Tiny.”

Maxine leaned toward him, waiting for THE scoop of her career.

“Before I write one word or play one note, I say to myself, ‘Hold me closer Tiny Dancer.’

Bernie winked playfully.
__________________________________________

This short story was written for a 24 hour Writer’s Weekly writing contest. All or part of the prompt (listed below) could be used. The background and history of Elton John’s Tiny Dancer classic was woven into the story theme.

Story Prompt: The barren, tan corn stalks behind her snapped in the cold evening breeze, the only sound louder than the dry, fiery red leaves swirling around her tiny, shivering bare feet. She’d lost her bearings again and she hoped the dinner bell would ring soon. A gray tree with endless arms and fingers, devoid of any remaining foliage, loomed before her. She gazed at the odd markings on the trunk, which appeared to outline a hand-cut door of sorts. And, as she stared, it opened…

2017 – 50th Anniversary  Celebration of Elton John & Bernie Taupin partnership – Directors & filmmakers – compete to win a chance to make the official music video for Tiny Dancer, Bennie and the Jets, or Rocket Man. Learn more here: https://thecut.eltonjohn.com/

 

Elton John | Tiny Dancer music and karaoke tunes on Amazon

Good Morning Aboard Caralee

Their movements were automatic with a choreograph-like smoothness.  In a galley smaller than most American coat closets, this was an accomplishment. The 45 foot Caralee housed all of their worldly possessions and had transported them to exotic ports all over the globe.

He reached for bowls while she filled a pot with water. He struck a match to light the flame on the stove as she pulled out spoons from the drawer. She placed the pot on the burner while taking a box of oats out of the cupboard.

When hands were not occupied with tasks, they would glide across or alight upon the other’s body; a brush down the back, coming to rest on a shoulder, a hip or making a light tap on the behind.

Oats were added when the water boiled, the pot covered and the heat turned down. During the brief pause in their morning dance, their eyes lingered on each other; they smiled.

He enjoyed watching the light play across the pink facets of the pendant that always hung around her neck. A gift he’d presented to her some thirty-five years earlier on the day that Asmara was born. Their only child had been conceived above deck, on a warm night, under a ripe Sri Lankan moon.

Sitting hip to hip at the tiny table, they held hands as they ate. Her nervous fingers twisted his wedding ring around and around on his finger. She paused occasionally to rub her fingernail over the smooth mound of rose quartz that she’d found in Brazil.

Before taking that first sip of coffee, they clinked mugs together softly. A tradition adopted from their time in the British Isles.  It signified ‘a robust day and a tender heart.’

Photography by: Mark Pepall
Photography by: Mark Pepall

Bundled in coats, they went topside to welcome the sun as it crested the horizon. Elbows resting on the rail they let the cool breeze flow across exposed skin. Smiling, she turned to him, observing the lines on his face and the wiry gray hair that steadily overtook the brown along with the passage of time.  She thought that he looked as good as the day they met…even better. She mouthed the words, ‘olive juice.’ This was a family joke; these words look like something else if one is lip reading. A chuckle from deep in his chest echoed across the water.

____________________________

Story Prompt: [reddit writing prompt]

A married couple starts another average morning on an average weekday. No one dies. No twist. Show their overwhelming love for each other without them speaking a single word.

Inspiration:

The Family Secret

Family Secret wp“Oh, John! You must come!” Angie’s holler drifted up into his office.

Breaking the pencil in his hand, John inhaled deeply. He exposed his teeth in a Wallace and Gromit style grimace that was intended to resemble a smile. His footsteps fell heavily on the stair treads as he made his way down to the kitchen.  Once there, he observed his eight-month-old daughter on hands and knees poking her finger in a puddle of drool on the floor.

Angie, in the same position next to Ella, pointed while exclaiming, “Look! She’s drawn the number three.”

“Huh,” he muttered, “It does rather resemble a number.”

John’s smile was genuine as he went back to work. He remembered thinking that maternity leave would be charming and serene. The reality was that moments like this were oh-so-brief.

He and Angie had had one of their worst fights when she told him that she didn’t want to return to work. John missed the wife who wound her hair into a bun, wore heels, challenged his theories, and studied journals with newly published papers in their field.

That woman had been replaced with a tennis shoe wearing mother in sports clothes who talked non-stop about her offspring.  “Ella’s special, John,” Angie said daily.

When Ella gained motor control of her fingers, she covered every flat surface in their house with numbers, numbers and more numbers. Instead of drool she used crayons, markers, paint brushes, and chalk.

“There angular gyrus area of Ella’s brain, the area that processes spatial information is much more active than we see in most brains,” the specialist told them.  “You may have another Einstein on your hands.”

“See John,” Angie commented as she settled their daughter into her car seat. “I knew Ella was more advanced than the other kids in her playgroup.”

Raising a gifted child was challenging. As Ella grew, she became increasingly demanding, dictatorial, and driven. Their social life became an inverse function. For every Facebook and Snapchat follower gained when they posted news of Ella’s accomplishments, the family’s real friends  – the ones they socialized with – reduced in quantity.

There was one area where all three family members enjoyed themselves. When Ella danced she was awkward and blissfully unselfconscious about her movements. Everywhere she twirled, things on tables and shelves spilled, broke, or were knocked to the floor.

The specialists could never explain why Elton John’s music ALWAYS evoked spontaneous dancing in Ella.  It made her parents laugh, even as they picked up in the aftermath of her events. This particular nuance of their daughter’s character, John and Angie agreed, would be kept quiet.  It was fun, albeit embarrassing; how could it ever possibly matter?

——–

Ella and her parents survived her childhood. She graduated at the top of her class at MIT. She had a job waiting for her at the nation’s leading nuclear energy developmental firm. No one, at the time, knew that the department head where Ella was about to work was a former Elton John groupie.

———

Story Prompt: WriteOn: in 500 words or less tell a story where dancing ruins lives

Here’s a few Tiny Dancer tunes and Karaoke music to play with.

Tiny Dancer music & more

 

2017 – 50th Anniversary Celebration of Elton John and Bernie Taupin team

Filmmakers & directors are invited to enter a competition to create an official music video for Tiny Dancer, Bennie and the Jets, and Rocket Man

Click here to learn more: www.eltonjohn.com/thecut