Out of Nothing
By Micki Peluso
Rated "PG13" by the Author
This is a multi-layered story about coming through to the other side of grief.
I sit and stare through the small french window overlooking a seedy, neglected yard. It is my only pastime, this gaze into nothing, awaiting the day when I will join this emptiness that whispers my name, that teases my weakened senses. My soul is winter yearning for the spring that will never come. .
Fierce, high-pitched screams interrupt my stupor. It's been going on for days, perhaps weeks. I do not recall the passage of time, except the change from daylight's brightness to the dark of night. First the scratching begins, like nails upon a blackboard, gentle at the onset, rising to a crescendo matching the elevation of my terror. The yowling starts soon after--a soul-wrenching discord that accelerates a slow and aching heart.
The assault continues for what seems like forever, repelling, yet alluring and somehow familiar. I must not yield to it. It will be the death of me, an unpleasant death, unlike the repose of the beckoning abyss. The old house adds its creaking and shifting to the sounds of imminent dread. We shudder together, the house and I, in apprehension of an unknown peril.
The wailing and clawing cease abruptly, as it always does, although each episode seems amplified and of greater length. The afghan pulled up around my shoulders soothes the chill brought on by the unheated house and the fear that has no name. As the aftermath of adrenaline recedes from my shaken body, a sweet languor causes me to doze. .
The doorbell rings, jarring me awake. Cranking the window open a crack, I call down, "Who is it?"
"It's only me, Mrs. Romano. Meals on Wheels. Can I come in?"
"Come right on up."
This door should be kept locked," says the man, as he reaches the top of the stairs.
I say nothing, for I know the thing from which I cringe will not walk upright through my unlocked door The man sets my dinner on a tray in front of my chair. The same old fare -- watery instant mashed potatoes, a gray slab of meat, some bread, and an apple to challenge my dentures.
"Why, thank you, John," I say, managing a slight smile.
"I'm not John, Mrs. Romano."
"I know, I know," I answer, mechanically biting into the cardboard passing as white bread.
"It's cold in here," he mutters in exasperation, checking the old gun-metal radiator for some sign of heat. "Did you forget to pay your gas bill?"
"My husband pays the bills," I answer, pulling the afghan up to my chin.
"Mrs .Romano, your husband's been dead a month now.
"Don't look at me like that. I know you remember."
His words thrust stabbing pain into the pit of my stomach. John and I were married nearly forty years, years of oneness and intertwined love. He was my stability in an unstable world. We raised one son, our finest achievement, only to lose him from a tainted blood transfusion. How ironic of God to spare his life after being struck by a car, only to take it in an twist of fate.
John followed him a year later, never recovering from his sorrow. Only our grandson, Jonathan, carries on the legacy of those I loved.
I need to be with John, to replenish the part of me that is missing. I cannot exist in an empty world lighted only by the trusting smile of a four-year-old boy. A boy whose face reflects my loss, a face I can no longer bear to look upon.
My heart is a century cactus, its outside barbed and safe, the inside soft, vulnerable to the mockery of death. Somewhere beneath the layers of grief, anger lies ready to lash out. John had no right to leave me alone, denying the focus of my existence. It isn't fair.
"You'll have heat in a few minutes," the man said, snapping me back to the present. "The thermostat was set too low. Will you be all right now?"
"Of course, dear, I'm always all right when you're near me."
He shakes his head somberly and walks down the stairway to the front door, locking it behind him. My husband is such a thoughtful man.
My mind tries again to embrace the limbo that holds insanity at bay, that shuts down the mind. If only the noise would stay away, I might empty my soul of the anguish of consciousness.
The telephone rings until I can no longer ignore it, another intrusion keeping me from the vacancy of eternal slumber. Jonathan's mother asks me how I am doing. She means my mental health, but cannot say it. I leave her to her speculations. I know too well that I am sane. It is the sanity that is unbearable. We have little to say to one another. The common threads of our life lie buried in parallel graves in a cemetery not three blocks from my home.It is not a place I choose to visit, for my loves are not there, only the shells that housed their splendor.
She wants to bring Jonathan to visit. "Not yet," I say. I do not tell her the pain still pulses like an open wound. Jonathan will survive. He will learn to call another man, father, and the memory of the lean, white-haired grandfather that he called 'Pa' will slip from his young mind like the tenuous leaves of autumn.
"He cries for you," she tells me. I harden my heart and block the picture of the cherubic reminder of better days. The howls seem more intense today.The intervals of numbing silence grow less frequent. The hellish racket, demanding in tone, reverberates throughout the house, vibrating within my body, lodging in my mind. Whatever hideous entity capable of such ungodly cries now hurls itself against my door. Again and Again.I can bear no more.
The sun has slipped below the horizon and the room grows dim in anticipation of nightfall. I rise slowly to confront this relentless intrusion, this formidable being that prevents me from embracing the timelessness of grief.
Another screech sends me reeling back to my chair. This thing will not let me go. Desperation lifts me to my feet.
I take one step down the narrow staircase and nearly fall. The railing braces my frail weight. My legs tremble, my heart rapidly beats what must be its final serenade. Hands, gnarled from arthritis and shaky from a touch of palsy, dance like mimes along the banister. The dizziness in my head settles into a persistent fog as I try another step. And another. Some time later, I find myself on the landing facing the front door.
The scratching reaches a frenzy. Something wants me, wants to come in. I almost welcome this brutal end to loneliness, the dulling sensation of being the only person alive on Earth. The next howl rocks me back against the wall. Dear God, I cannot face it. Some other hand than mine reaches for the doorknob and turns it slowly.
The door groans and opens a crack, then a little more. Something fierce and quick slinks through the door and leans against my tremulous legs. Gray fur, standing upright in indignation, relaxes as the warm body entwines about my feet, emitting soft contented mews. I don't remember owning a cat.
I follow the animal's insistent trail up the stairs toward the kitchen. It seems to know the layout of the house. My gait is slow, but there is a levity to my step, and a spark, just a spark, illuminating my heart. Tomorrow, I must call Jonathan.