That Mortal Coil: A little fiction.

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents reside only in the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is completely coincidental.

Chapter 5

The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

William Wordsworth

Intimations on Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood

I like the day. Times past I worked most at night; the time on my beat as a street cop, the night-set cases I was assigned when I made shield. I learned a great deal. I found that the night hosts things that scrape the walls of a conscience and abrade the soul.

Under the dome of the daytime world, I reach my hand to the sky and touch the clouds. I close my right eye and puncture a passing cloud with my index finger. There it is; I feel blueness through the white and fluffy gauze. No dark shadows that blocks a streetlight, no evil to flavor the wind.

The hum of bees in my few remaining rose blooms draw me back to the warm musty loam baking in the late summer sun. The bush roses are in need of trimming; unpruned blossoms have dried on the stalks. I mix the crushed old, dried petals into mulch with the grass clippings and leaf debris that I’ve fermented. I’ll clean the trimmed rose leaves and shoots from the ground; to leave them in the bed beckons pests and plant rot that can infect a healthy bush.

I’ve found that, as in most things, pruning with the sharpest tool is best. My late wife, Annie, purchased a finely honed Felco secateur – pruning shear to most Americans – for me on our final anniversary and there have been many afternoons over the past two years that I while away hours clipping branch after branch. There is significant investment in those shears. I’ve found that the satisfaction of a clean snip of a new bud from the waxy green skin of the stem cannot be overstated. Propagating the bud on another stalk successfully is icing on a cake, but not so thrilling as it used to be. I think I’m tired of starting things anew.

A canny psychologist would have a field day with my obsessive fascination with the Felco. Annie gave me the shears on the day of her death.

Annie and I met at Cactus for an early evening anniversary celebration. Cactus is a tending-towards-too chic, overpriced Mexican cuisine place on Madison, just up from the lake.  I like the grilled jalapenos, and when Annie suggested that we should go, I was willing.

It was a fine meal, slowly eaten. We watched the other patrons and suffered the slightly elitist demeanor of an on again, off again attentive waiter. I nursed one single Negro Modelo until the end of dinner; as we debated dessert, Annie rose from the table. I had yet to find that perfect 10 year anniversary gift, but she had found one for me. “I’ll be right back – I left your gift in the car.”

And that was that.

I watched her retreating back as she walked to front of the restaurant, admiring the view from the rear, and thought again that it was time for a weekend at the beach. Just she and I and the ocean and vast expanses of private sand and chilled Pinot Gris. The door swung shut behind her, a strange and rustic heavy wood airlock. I challenged the laggard waiter with a request for a fresh spoon and one order of Cuban flan to share.

The next thing. It’s always the next thing. Surely there is a space before the next thing, like a space between words in a sentence? A moment where there is a chance to change course, to take back a thought, to unhear bad news, to repel an evil? That gap, that hole between the last thing and the next thing cannot be measured by any yardstick, or in a density that anticipates the size of upcoming pain, or love, or fear, or need, or hate.  Emotions bond together and become an angry, violent leaking packet of bile, and the next thing you know, the manager of the restaurant is at the table, assuring you that the ambulance is on the way. Such service.

Annie had gone to the back of her car, parked on the diagonal as it was in front of the restaurant with the rear extended a bit into the street.

The next thing. As she lifted the lid on the trunk, the next thing hit Annie violently from the side; a car out of control and traveling far faster than it seems even possible on that packed and cozy street. Hit and run. Her body was flung some thirty feet, ribs crushed, back broken, skull smashed against the pavement in such a way that her face was unrecognizable as she was loaded in the ambulance. To me; her face was lost to me. My Brittania rose, crushed petals, red petals.

When the EMT secured the back doors of the ambulance from the outside, I glimpsed the figure through the rear window, a figure dressed in dark on that warm night of death, in the street a few feet south of Annie’s last moments. Each time I see him now, I recall him standing there; that first recognition of something, somebody, hailing death like calling a cab. His hip slightly canted to the side, his right arm partially lifted. I remember now. He wasn’t waving, he was reaching to the sky.

His name is Latham. He’s no longer human.


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  1. Just playing around a bit. Let me know what you think.

    This is a draft. This is only a draft.


  2. Soon, please.

  3. I’ve never really written much fiction before. Not sure if I can do it or even get close.

    I have about 10 chapters, give or take. Problem is, I haven’t created that connective tissue between them yet – they read like standalone vignettes at this point, so I’m not so satisfied. Plus they’re a bit stiff I think.

    • kj on August 10, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    and that’s a good thing!!!

    • exmearden on August 11, 2008 at 12:30 am

    at least for today. Need to go mow my yard for a few hours before the rain comes again. This is the Puget Sound, and 66 degrees with intermittent showers.

    I love summer in the PNW.


  4. …as one of our other local writers likes to say :}

    Like the next thing and last thing gap.  With the shears and the death, it sort of introduces Atropos.  

  5. I’m looking forward to more.

    Thank you, exmearden.

  6. What did I miss? I would really like to see this as a series here exmearden.  Please post more!  

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