Awake My Soul
By Bruce Hennigan
A Short Story based on a storypraxis prompt.
I do not move.
I am quiescent and still.
Movement for me is pain. Life is pain.
The trees outside are harsh and bare. Winter has stripped them of vigor and life. Gray fingers claw at the even grayer sky. Even the clouds do not move. The air is still. No wind. No breeze. No life. My daughter has placed me here on the porch. I feel the sting of cold on my cheeks but I can ignore it. I have ignored all feeling for months now. Since Tom died, I have had no reason to move; no reason to feel.
My daughter has wrapped a scarf around my neck and tucked it into the woolen sweater Tom gave me last year for Christmas. I can still smell him on it when I choose to acknowledge my sense of smell.
“Why is she out there on the porch?” That is my son-in-law inside the warm house.
“I’m tired of her, Richard. I can’t take this anymore.” My daughter has tears in her voice. I cannot feel them. I cannot touch them. The tears mean nothing to me.
“She’ll freeze to death.” Richard says.
“That’s the idea.”
There is a profound silence. And then, subdued sobbing; quiet, subtle. A white flake shimmies down the still air and lands on my nose. I choose not to feel it melt. So intricate, so beautiful in its design — one of a kind — it dies on my cold skin. It dies on the already dead. For, she has left me to die out here alone; cold; still; frozen.
The sliding door opens behind me and a waft of warm air bathes the back of my head. I cannot feel it on my neck for the scarf. Richard’s shadow falls over me from the lights inside the house; lights that try in vain to chase away the gray.
“You’ll have to forgive your daughter, Mom.” He says behind me. “She is very frustrated and wants to leave you out here to die.”
“I’m already frozen.” I whisper and he leans over me. His breath touches my forehead.
“Did you say something?”
“I’m already frozen.” I say more strongly. “Let me finish dying.”
My lips pull apart and I realize they have frozen together. I feel the pain as the first real sensation I have experienced in months. Richard squats beside my wheelchair and for a second, I choose to notice the strong profile of his face; his angular cheekbones; his gently stubbled chin; his clear eyes. He is watching the trees.
“Winter is hard for all of us, Mom. Spring is coming. I want to tell you a secret. It is a deep and abiding secret that no one can know.”
More flakes are falling now and caressing my cheeks. I choose not to feel their gentle touch. One lands on my cornea and I blink involuntarily. I must not do that again. But, try as I might to ignore his statement, the attraction is there. What secret is he talking about? “What secret?” My voice is a bare whisper.
“Virginia is stressed out because we have chosen to take a journey. It is a long and tedious journey and we will be gone for weeks. She doesn’t know what to do with you during that time. She can’t leave you alone. And, she isn’t going to leave you out here to die.” His breath streams away from him, a living thing full of warmth and moisture and the snowflakes eddy and swirl.
“Rawanda. In Africa. There is a little girl. She needs a family.” He turns his head to me and his gaze is full and hot on my face. Tears mingle with the snowflakes. “She needs to know her grandfather. She needs to know what he was like. Only you can tell her that.”
Another snowflake hits my eye and melts. The moisture runs along my eyelid and I feel a hot tear trickle down my cheek. No! I cannot let this happen! I cannot feel!
“Will you come with us to Rawanda? Will you come with us to get your granddaughter?” His eyes are full and round and wet and the snow is covering his bare head, peppering his shoulders.
I feel something deep within stir from a slumber of unforgiving anger and frustration. The black dregs of my depression begin to drift away as the warmth stokes itself in my heart. No! I want to scream. No! I want to hold onto the stillness; the inertia; the coming of winter’s death. I try to ignore Richard’s gleaming eyes and his warm breath and when I subtly avert my gaze a flash of bright red burns my retinas. A lone flower dares to challenge the grayness from my camellia bush. The snowflakes are covering it now and it wants to be seen; it wants to look upward to the hidden sun for life and warmth; it wants to live.
The chair creaks; the ice breaks across my knees and I push, push, push up and out of the heaviness of my crypt of sorrow and I stumble to the flower. I brush away the snow with shaking hands and my tears anoint the petals with life. With life!
Awake my soul!
I turn to my son-in-law who is standing with his mouth wide open and the snow covering his head and my daughter stumbles through the open door with her hands pressed to her tear streaked face and I feel the ice crack as I smile. “When do we leave?”