I set out this morning with my large dictionary to find the perfect word to describe the sky, the sun just peering over the roof of a distant house, the few clouds aflame in a silent fire.
I knew there was a word for what I saw in the dictionary, for there is a word for everything if you search long and hard enough, but after a while I gave up when I realized I could no longer recall what I had seen that set me off on this search.
I was born the same day, in a much later year as Thornton Wilder, a fact that had no impact at all on my life, since I discovered our common birthday long after my life’s path was half tread.
I read him in my youth, and must admit I can recall nothing of what I read, which I attribute to all that I have read since, and not as any criticism of Wilder’s writing, for his talent is beyond question.
But what was disconcerting was to learn that Nick Hornby was born five years to the day after me and has penned works that I love but cannot hope to equal despite my having lived longer if not more fully than he has.
I speak to my father every week or so our conversations are as long as ever but we are rapidly becoming little more than a skipping record. He mostly recalls my name and the various parts one with the other of us has had rebuilt but even that is quickly slipping into the fog that is rapidly settling over him and we both know of the one part for which there is no repair or replacement.
He will be 90 in a few weeks. He doesn’t think this is possible. He says he wasn’t supposed to live this long. He asks again how old he is. You’re still 89, I tell him. He has a relieved look on his face. Then he smiles at me, says, that means you are pretty old yourself. I begrudgingly agree, though only out of necessity. Two weeks ago he was certain he was on the verge of death. Today he says he is fine, says he heard someone claim to be dying but can’t imagine who it was. Perhaps it was in his dreams, he says. He goes back to watching television intently. Tomorrow he won’t recall what he watched, or perhaps that he watched. But he knows he will be 90 soon, or something like it.
Dreams are a place where the dead are free to walk about, where they speak in voices barely recalled, but which seem so familiar to the ear. They are willing to engage you in conversations left unfinished, you are always surprised at what they have to say, at how it is not at all what you expected or wished from them. You tolerate this in your dreams because you know that you will soon awaken, and the dead will retreat from the sun to await the dark night’s return.
There are nights when the song of a single cricket can pull you away from sleep. She says that she has heard that not all Angels have wings and neither of them is sure how you would know if you met a bodhisattva. He searches the mail every day, for a letter from an unknown birth father, but none of the credit cards he ought to carry offers to rebate his dreams. Each night they lie back pressed to back and slip into dreams. She records hers in the journal she keeps with the pen, by the bed. He struggles to recall his and places what shards he can in the burlap sack of his memory.