Here’s a brief post, as I struggle along, my own journey fading into my characters’ lives, like laundry-time colors and crumpled whites in the hot wash. And while I thought about it, surveying the coffee cups, Arthur interrupted us with an idea. And evidence of his own hesitant pen on paper. As usual, five hundred words framing his own five hundred word stab. You will hear my attempts to disentangle thoughts and fears. I share much with my characters in these dim yet hopeful days.
Another voice. From the living room.
“Let’s write it as we go. Even if we’re not sure. Even if we’re not well.” Newcomb shuffled toward the table from the living room, where he had gone to sit, alone. “To rest up,” he had said. His ashen cheeks had regained some color, but he held his left arm close to his body and limped slightly, one eye nearly closed. A darkness above the eye. Newcomb had tripped and fallen in the garden the day before, bruising his right arm and somehow hitting his forehead on a fence slat as he fell to the ground, minor scratches. His accident. He had referred to it several times since, how he could have easily broken his arm. Or had a concussion. “Things happen so quickly. And suddenly, there we are. A concussion requires rest.”
“OK. But. What do you mean, write it as we go?” Two or three voices.
“Well, we can’t go back. And we don’t know what to do. Why not make it up?” Newcomb’s face brightened, his good eyebrow lifting. “Fiction. To make it better. And we have two people we could ask, hear their side of the story.”
“What story?” Elizabeth shook her head. “And who? Who do you mean?”
“Your story. And Billy told us. Your mother. Old, but still alive, at least she was, last we heard.” He waited. Silence around the table. “And Rita,” he said.
“What story, Arthur?” Elizabeth asked, incredulous wide eyes. “What damned story?”
“Well, it’s still your story. But we left it. Incomplete. Questions,” he said.
“We? What questions?”
“Well, like anybody’s story. There are lots of questions in anyone’s story.” He shrugged and then grimaced. “Don’t take this wrong, Elizabeth, but why would a person leave? I mean, well, leave another person? A lover or a family?” Newcomb could see Elizabeth’s eyes widen.
“Or a child? Maybe you mean that, a child?” Elizabeth pushed her chair back from the table, then closed her eyes and shook her head.
“No, Elizabeth, no, that’s not what I am getting at. What I am trying to say is that we might have chances to re-write our stories. If we are careful, and kind. Loving. And creative. We could rewrite our stories.” He hesitated. “I’ve been writing. I mean, I wrote something last night. My arm was hurting and I had a headache. And I wanted to say something and I didn’t know what.” He slid two folded sheets of lined notebook paper onto the table. Scrawled ink, longhand. “Here.” He stood back.
Elizabeth picked up the papers and read silently. When she reached the bottom of the first page she glanced back up the page, and then up at Newcomb. Her face had softened as she mouthed words, silently. She handed the first sheet to Billy, and scanned the second one, whispering a word or two, barely audible, “shadows of aging,” and even more softly, “Forever etched within the arc,” and then “echoes in the hallway.”
Here is the text of Arthur’s writing, unedited and barely revised:
My accident has left me seeking comfort and quiet. Reports and consultations. They say that the broken bone in my left forearm is not “knitting” as it should, and longer sentences still seem to end in stammering confusion as I speak. Especially when I am excited or angry. Thoughts so smoothly imagined flowing over the tongue and jaw, words clashing forth in disarray. I wonder how much of my recovery will be masked by other shadows of aging. And worry. At odd moments, the singular tone ringing in my ears transforms into the squeal of water in a steel pipe in the basement ceiling, rushing toward a half-open valve at the front of the house. Watering the garden. Perhaps I am similarly bound, perhaps into gentler arms of old age. The future. I have wasted too many days trying to capture the past. Memoir. Memoir has become too painful. And final. The fading reference points, less pronounced. Fleeting. Missing.
I scanned the obituaries in a school bulletin. A name. A place. A date. Two lines, no mention of family or profession or final chapter. The briefest obituary of a once upon a time lover. The news arriving five years cold. Anonymous contributor. To remind me that I had been wondering too long about this love. Wondering and imagining possibility. In vain. The message of horizon-ending news contained no mention of the ring, Forever etched within its arc. Yet we slipped away, quiet padding footsteps, without goodbyes. Just thoughts about what might be regained. Growing, then fading, and gone. Echoes in the hallway. Scarcely one or two of us remaining in the waiting room. No one left to notice. And finally. No witnesses.
Or perhaps I will take one last journey, while there is still time. And there is still time, until the final moment. One last journey. Or make it a pilgrimage, for meaning. Or a search, for anticipation. Or a blessing, for peace. Or start with a story. Possibility, as the actual journey’s travel will be too cruel. At least at first. And more terrifying, the arrivals along the way, the unknown, or the changes. So I will make it a story. I will make it a mostly true story. Only the fewest pages from the past, whether real or simply possible. And chapters growing, concocted out of dust and dreams. Invented. Recreated. Reinvented, the poet said to me. About love. Intentional nourishment of the heart. And soul.
I will make a plan. In secret. Nonchalant gestures and preparations. No one will take notice as I prepare. Inconsequential stockpiles of necessities. The caricature bandana tied to the end of a stick. Barest nuts and berries to nibble, a tiny fire beside railroad tracks. Words and sentiments mixed with time and possibility. My plan. If asked, I will simply say that I do not know. Brief smiles and finally. Just a whisper and I will be gone. I will be gone. It will be fiction. But it will be me.
Arthur Newcomb, Carmer Hill, CA 2017