The Fire in Your Eyes
It was so terribly cold. Snow was falling, and it was almost dark. The snow fell past the one window of the room, whose only light was the blinking of red and green that counted down your time. You lay, a moments rest, respite from your vigil. You fear the end so you feel your watchfulness will delay it, might thwart the eternal embrace of death. I sit in the room on a chair next to your bed. I hesitate to lay my hand on yours, not that I might feel the blood weakly pulsing through your paper-thin veins, but that I may not.
You speak and when I turn to look at you your eyes catch the last light from outside and seem to glow with a flame within.
“Tim, so glad that you could come and visit me.”
I blinked away tears that didn’t say “I’ve been here for two hours and now you notice?”, but instead, “Oh my God, you remember my name! If only for one last time, you remember my name!”, as I leaned over her to kiss her forehead.
“Do you remember that circus wagon we got you for Christmas? The one with the monkeys with little hooked hands so they could swing on the trapeze?” she asked me.
Memories came falling like dusty cardboard boxes from a closet shelf, spilling their contents for me to see.
“Mom, that’s really…specific. I do remember that, now that you mention it. I haven’t thought about that in, say, fifty years. What else do you remember about that Christmas?”
“The tinsel that we threw on the tree that ended up on the floor. Threading a needle through popcorn until we had yards and yards of it. Singing carols around the piano. Your father putting an angel on top of the tree because he was the only one who could reach. Your brothers…”
Your voice drifted away on a whisper as the flame in your eyes sputtered, then disappeared. I couldn’t see what you were seeing, but it carried your eyes up towards the ceiling for a moment before they fell. Your heavy lids closed me off from any explanation.
I use the quiet to pick up the dusty memories from the floor one by one. My amazement at how you would ziiiiiiip the scissors along the roll of wrapping paper without opening or closing them at all. That feeling of unrestrained wonder and excitement as the four of us sat at the top of the stairs, singing “Happy Birthday” lest we forget. Stockings with the four brothers’ names stitched on them were first, always first, before the temptations piled under the tree could be touched. Father played Santa Claus, but we knew who had purchased all the presents with care.
“Gene? Gene is that you?” You struggle against the bonds of your weakness to sit, but they held fast. Your eyes flicker lit by love lost. A weary smile adds to their flame. You must have forgotten that Dad died six years ago.
“No Mom. Mom, Dad’s not here. He’s gone now, remember?”
“No silly, I just saw him. He said he’s going to go home and put the tree up. You will be home in time for dinner won’t you? We’re going to decorate the tree after.” Your eyes gleamed bright and your smile lingered, but your breath labored to convey so many words.
The door opens and the light in your eyes is stolen by the light from the hallway. The door swings shut, and your eyelids wearily succumb. I ignore the intrusion of the keepers of your health, a futile nuisance out of obligation, not hope. I think you might be faking to keep them from pestering you any further. I wait for them to leave, hoping to resume our conversation.
“Mom?” Hopeful, but greedy for more of the memories that she had just shared. “Mom, are you awake?
You lifted a hand and I saw your fingers dance slowly through the air, playing a song I would never hear. I listen closely for the lyrics heard by only you. Like a butterfly your hand followed the beat, floating erratically above your chest. When your eyes open the gleam of a little girl’s first love sparkled inside them.
“Your father has asked me to dance. Do you remember how he loved to dance?”
“I do Mom. You two sure could dance.“ Looking at the scattered memories that lay on the floor I was transported. I could see Mom and Dad were dancing in the kitchen. It was warm and I felt cozy and drowsy watching them sway to a song on the radio. I realized this memory was from when I was an infant, and it was tattered and worn, having been laying at the bottom of it’s box for so long. I saw her happy youthful face buried deep within the weathered folds that lay on her pillow now.
“Can you hear it? Can you hear the music son?” her voice came from far away. “I do so love to dance.”
“I hear it, Mom. It’s beautiful.” I assured her.
Her dancing hand fluttered to her chest like an oak leaf that has held on long into the winter, brittle and crisp. My eyes held hers. I watched as the wick finally burned to its end, so the fire in her eyes, having nothing to hold on to, simply drifted away. The song had merely ended. I knew that no one would understand the final dance that she had danced. I bent and set to the task of stuffing all those old dusty memories back in their boxes, and back up on their shelf.
As I walked away alone, my vigil ended, I could almost hear the band strike up another song, but it was muffled by the falling snow. The night was darker and colder than I had imagined. I drove away into the night, wondering…where could I pick up a Christmas tree this late?