Monday, September 28, 2009

The Light of The World

He went upstairs to Françoise’s old room. He turned on the desk lamp and sat down in the chair. On the wall above the desk was a Christmas card she drew. Yellowed along the edges, the card showed two snow figures wearing black top hats and holding hands at the foot of a hill, one taller than the other. Green pines dotted with white flakes covered the hillside. Children in bright colored scarves and mittens sledded down the hill. She colored the background pale blue, and the scene framed the greeting.

Très cher Parrain et Marraine
Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année!

Other than the card, the walls were bare. The desk too was bare, except for a rectangular tin box on one corner. It could have been a box of chocolates stripped of its wrapping. He opened it. Inside were stamps of different shapes and sizes arranged neatly in layers. The stamps had come a long way and were all there, collected, safe—but she was not. He looked for one from Vietnam but found none. Then he looked up at the Christmas card, at her handwriting, neat and beautiful, just like her handwriting on the classroom blackboard. Such beautiful handwriting from a young person was surprising. Her writing hadn’t changed much since she wrote the card. What would it have looked like as she aged, as her hands grew tired and old?

The bed was cold when he slipped between the sheets. The pillowcase was cold, too, and smelled fresh. He thought of her lying alone in the coffin, scented with roses. Her brown hair was combed neatly, the part sharp. Her lips rouged, her cheeks lightly blushed. He had gazed as if from behind a one-way mirror into her absolute privacy that had no doors, no barriers, no self-consciousness. From here, no more turmoil. Only peace and eternity. He bent and kissed her forehead and found himself so shaken he had to leave the room and go outside. Perhaps they should have closed the coffin. Yet her serene expression followed him to the graveyard and now into her bed.

Dear God, chase these images away, he pled, and so he turned his mind to what was waiting for him when he returned. Her replacement for the class was a Vietnamese man in his late forties. On the day Jonathan went to give notice of his absence to attend her funeral, he saw that Françoise’s handwriting on the board had not been erased. Tôi mong gặp lại anh. I hope to see you again.

At the corner where he parked his car that day, the Chinese Tarot woman was at her usual spot and smiled at him.

“Where is your friend today?”

Jonathan hesitated. “She’s somewhere else.”

“Can I read for you today?”

Jonathan smiled, shook his head and walked to the car. He did not want to hear any more about visions. Still he felt sorry for the poor woman sitting on the windswept corner. Once, when Françoise had her fortune read on a windy afternoon, they stood between the wind and the cards so the cards wouldn’t blow away.

Now the bed was warm. The steam radiator clanged in the stillness. Rain tapped the window. Rain on the red earth in the cemetery. Would the wind blow away the flowers at the grave? He heard the wind and closed his eyes, tried not to think. She slept in this bed. Dearest Françoise. He turned on his side and pressed his cheek against the pillow. The fresh scent of linen lingered. What did you dream in this bed?

A while later the rain stopped. He got up, went to the window and sat looking out between the parted curtains. Raindrops veined the glass, clinging with a tenacious viscosity that defied wind. The street was dark. A single streetlamp cast a shining white glow in the night. As he looked at the solitary light he thought of a children’s story about the boy who lived in a house on a hilltop. One snowy night his mother became very sick, so his father had to go to town to fetch a doctor. Outside snow fell so thick it looked like white rain. The boy lit a lamp and left it at the window where he knelt and prayed. Have faith in angels and they will come to your aid. That was what the storybook said to do when a child needed help. His father returned through the storm, bringing with him the town doctor. The doctor gave the mother injections and said she was out of danger. Then he came to the boy and patted his head and thanked him. He said the road was impassable. They had to leave the car and walk. The blinding snow caused them to drift in the dark until they saw the light on the hill. Without the light, they wouldn’t have come in time to save his mother.

In the blue light of darkness, Jonathan made out the picket fence and inside the fence a white rose poised on its tall curving stem like a sleeping crane. He thought of angels and faith, and though he hadn’t said a prayer at her grave, he believed in the faith she spoke of. He thought about the angelic being who came to comfort her in unbearable moments. He looked at the white street light—a warm, bright light, steady and reassuring—until his eyes tired. He called to her in his heart and closed his eyes, holding that light in them.

[Image from]

No comments:

Post a Comment