A Child's Thought
by Christopher Clagg
The pain of dying is replaced with a sudden bright light. I have often hoped there is a God, but have feared there is not.
I put out my hands to shield my eyes and see the liver spots that stain my skin.
My breathing is ragged and labored. I am old. Ancient.
From here to the end, which is only three more days, it will get steadily worse. Eventually, in the middle of the night three days hence, I will simply stop breathing.
The clock turns backward.
I struggle through the rest of the day in pain. Evening gives way to an afternoon sunset. Rains fall at 4:00 p.m. just before everyone gets off work.
A few hours earlier it is lunch.
An intern brings applesauce and a small glass of skim milk on a black tray.
It sits uneaten until he comes to bring it back to the kitchen to be uncooked.
The day fades back into mid-morning, then to early morning.
I watch cartoons on the TV as the janitors clean out the rooms and smile mechanically at the people in the rooms that they don't know.
As 6 a.m. fades back into 5 a.m., night begins again and I fall asleep.
When I open my eyes again it is five days earlier.
I stand at the window overlooking the yard and the pool that we are having installed. I want to yell for Hannah to come see, but she is still upstairs undressing from the party this evening. I remember now that it took her several hours to get dressed, and so I glance at my watch and sigh inside myself.
The pool of course will never be finished. I had feared this, but had hoped it would be close. That perhaps there might have been the rest of the summer, maybe a bit of the fall. That perhaps the dark stalker that would take me would still be some months away.
But it is not.
It is only four days away.
Just four days from now I will have a stroke as I am getting up and readying for work.
I will stand in the bedroom at 7 in the morning still undressed and bend over to open the bottom drawer of the dresser, and I will have a sudden sharp pain go through me.
I will never straighten up.
It is as far as I will ever make it.
I will begin to die there, half bent, reaching into the bottom drawer of the dresser to get dressed.
They will rush me to the hospital and to the emergency room, and eventually to the room on the second floor that faces east and the sun. Mornings when the sun fades back into the night and the day unbegins.
It will be a stroke and my face will not move in places, and I will try to speak but it will only come out in slurs.
I will try to cry, but the sounds won't co-operate. The tears will pool in the cup of my eye and then overflow in rivulets that run straight down my face.
Hannah will abandon having the pool installed and the project will slowly be undone.
Perhaps it is morbid. To contemplate my own death.
But it is the nature of my reality.
The nature of this reality.
That the world fades from the end back into its own beginnings.
Scientists theorize that the universe will not be able to contain the implosion of mass that they guess is spread across the thin black fabric of space. Creation will re-explode in a massive counter-reaction. Time and matter will reverse itself.
I stand at the window and sigh.
I watch the workmen in the yard undig holes as they take the pipes and tiles back out of the ground.
It will still be two weeks before the van will arrive on the first day and the engineer will step out onto the grass with his helmet partially pulled down to cover the sunlight from his eyes.
He will smile and make an offer of $10,000 less than any of the other bidders for the contract that I put in the notice for .
I had wanted the pool very badly.
It was a chance to have a bit of the good life. An indulgence really.
Hannah rarely has dinner with me anymore as we begin our evenings. She is busy with other things.
I think it is an affair, that she will eventually tire of, and by the time that it is over I will have discovered that I don't care as much as I fear I do now.
But I must remember that.
The days pass in a blur.
I open my eyes and I am in my mid-Twenties.
I am sitting at a bar in West Covina trying to sip a rum and coke and appear a little more casual and unimpressed than I can actually manage.
Hannah and I have been dating for several months and I'm set to pop the question tonight. It is late, after 3:00 a.m. And the place is nearly empty.
I sit and nurse my drink and am distracted by thinking about being nervous. I forget to be nervous.
The evening turns back and the crowds filter in.
The room fills with sound and smoke and laughter that is sometimes too perfect to be real.
I move from the bar to a booth against the outside wall as 9 o'clock rolls into view.
She will appear at 8:30 with a carnation on the lapel of her dress and she will stand in the doorway for exactly 30 seconds.
I remember because I timed it.
It will be difficult, I know.
As the years go by I will be unfaithful. I will spend a great deal of time at work or making money or buying things. I will ignore her and the children. And when I am old enough, then I will regret it all. But that knowledge comes only after already living my life.
She will have one affair after another and will come close to attempting suicide after my stroke.
But she won't .
I remember that she loved me.
After all our lives.
She still loved me.
When I was dying she held my hand, her tears fell down the wrinkled plains of her face. We were both in our 70s.
I had lain there and all the world had faded down to a single point and the sound of her voice.
She kept me for small moments from remembering to be afraid.
And reminded me that I love her.
That is reason enough to sit here in the booth and watch the sky fade from black back to a reddish orange tint. And wait for her.
Others will of course bail out and change things when their lives reach the crux points. Their lives become unbalanced mechanisms of contradictions and short-lived desires.
Their futures have no correlation or continuity with their presents.
They live their lives out of sync.
But I stay seated in the booth and sip my rum and coke and wait for 8:30. And smile and don't say a word.
The years rush by. I move through them one at a time and get younger. My face fades from its drawn and sometimes pinched expression into a slow plumpness. A bland inexperience spreads out from my eyes.
I forget things.
My life is slipping between my fingers and I sit on a beach when I am 18 and try to remember the name of my wife. The names of our children, but I can't remember.
The memories slip away and are gone.
The surface of my brain is smoother.
The memories fade back. Disappear in crevices of gray matter that unfold and reform.
There are poisons you can take that will of course change that. They will kill you. But they say it brings back the memories just before you die. Though, it isn't guaranteed.
I had come to the beach at sundown and sat in silence. By mid-afternoon when the crowds are filling the sand dunes with sound and the smell of exhaust fumes and suntan lotion, I have forgotten why I have come here.
I eat a hot-dog on the pier and watch the girls play volleyball in their bikinis and dream of dating.
But I am too young.
I blink my eyes and I am barely 15.
I carry the tray of Cokes back down to the beach where Mom and Dad and David and the girls are playing. Kimmy and Steph are making sand castles and David is making a moat around them.
When I am 5 I start school.
I am excited at going to school to learn. At first I am afraid. But then there are friends and Mama always comes in the afternoon, so I am not afraid anymore when we go in the mornings and she kisses my cheek and goes out of the room and I stay.
I lay on my back and watch the brightly colored toy that floats above me on the string. It is yellow and red and blue and makes a sound high and tinny and sounds like tink - tonk - tink.
Mother holds me and I am tired. The light is bright and the room is cold, but I can feel the warmth of Mother through the thin wrapping of the blanket.
I am full and tired.
The sack is warm and the fluid flows into me and out of me as I breath, but it is not yet really breathing. Only the reflexes that will become breathing. My body is practicing. Even though my mind is unaware of it, my body is practicing.
I put my thumb into my mouth and suck it.
For just a moment I am afraid of rushing into oblivion. Into uncreation.
A child's thought.
But the thought blinks by and is gone.
Carolyn untangles her arms from around his neck and draws her lips away. He is getting her hot. He kisses her again and runs his hands over her blouse and toward her skirt but she catches his hands.
"Not yet." She whispers and her voice is husky. Full of want, but not yet.
Bill leans back then against the seat of the car and tries to smile. It would be easy to be mad. But not really fair.
He grins through the moment and lets his blood pressure drop. Lets his breath return to some semblance of normal.
Carolyn kisses him quickly and leans her head against his chest.
"Don't be mad at me." She says
"I won't," he answers, and moves his arm around and holds her. He unrolls the window and lets some cool air into the car.
"I love you." She says.
And he holds her and squeezes her for a moment.
"I love you too." He says.
Story copyright © 1999 by Christopher Clagg <email@example.com>
Artwork copyright © 1996-99 by Romeo Esparrago <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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