It is that moment when the moon is a glaring crescent, slowly engulfed by the impending night— when the few clouds give out their fading glow in the jaundiced light of the sodium arc street lamp. It nestles the curb—at first a small bird— when touched, a twisted piece of root.
I want to walk into the weed-strewn aging cemetery, stand in the shadow of the expressway, peel the uncut grass from around her headstone. I remember her arthritic hands clutching mine, in her dark, morgueish apartment, smelling of vinyl camphor borsht. I saw her last in a hospital bed where they catalog and store those awaiting death, stared at the well-tubed skeleton barely indenting starched white sheets. She smiled wanly and whispershouted my name—I held my ground unable to cross the river of years unwilling to touch her outstretched hand. She had no face then, no face now, only an even fainter smell of age of camphor of lilac of must.
Next to the polished headstone lies a small, twisted root. I wish it were a bird I could place gently on the lowest branch of the old maple that oversees her slow departure.
Night has swallowed the city and in the laundromat, dryer 42 decries her loose drive belt. The young girl turns, “can you see it the Virgin Mary, in the glass porthole”. No, I think, only white cotton panties and several pair of jeans in endless rotation. “She speaks to me, asking for my forgiveness for the burden she has delivered to us and though I try to give her absolution she will not listen. Talk to her, maybe it is a male voice she needs to ease her mourning.” I stare fixedly at the washer as the light for final rinse snaps on, “she knows you, she is waiting, so talk into the camera, that one with the red light, and tell her that you forgive, as your forgave the other Mary, who you redeemed.” The dryer slowly grinds to a halt and the young girl grimaces, “she is gone, so perhaps she heard what I could not, and I thank you”. She wanders out onto the street and fades into the shadow outside the penumbra of the streetlight.
First published in Prairie Winds (1999)
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The streetlight is a nocturnal Sentinel staring down. In some cities in other parts of this it could tell of the cries of drunks stumbling from closing bars, ambulances flashing in its cast shadows. On the street with sleeping homes it tells only of the snow that cradles its base.