I sleep, adrift on the rolling surface of darkness. Dispassionately, the tide swings me to and fro as I float at the edge of a world within a world.
I sleep in a bedroom on the second floor. Equipped with blackout shades, the evening version of our room remains devoid of light. The lack of light nurtures a viscous slab of black in which I sleep. The palpable blackness extends from a soothing world of dreams to the edge of an unforgiving canyon.
Disrupting this world of dreams, my bedroom door cracks open with a gentle ‘click.’ White light steps sideways to rush through a slender seam. The light lances through the meaty darkness to reach across a California king. Creeping over a disheveled comforter, the light falls upon a sleeping couple. Legs and arms are thrown askew in an unruly tangle.
Illuminated by the curious light the room appears poised to accept an uninvited guest; the light acting the part of a shimmering welcome mat.
And, in fact, a visitor’s arrival is imminent.
Without a sound she approaches the outside of the bedroom door. She stops. From the hallway she listens for the telltale signs of awakening.
As she cocks her ear she does not realize she’s wringing her hands.
Listening to nothing more than a sing-song of soft breaths drifting from the other side of the door she inhales deeply. She enjoys the scent of the sleeping couple. She feels their warmth as it pours past the edge of the door. Holding her breath, she waits for a lifetime of moments to march by. Satisfied, she leans forward and peeks through the door’s slender seam. Nudging the door open, alert eyes shift this way and that.
She casts no shadow. And without the blemish of her shadow the room remains bathed in light. She stands captivated as a constellation of dust specs slumber within what looks like a liquid triangle floating above the sleeping couple.
For the first time in ages she speaks. “So very beautiful.”
The words are whispered so gently she wonders if she said them aloud.
“It doesn’t matter,” she sighs.
She pauses, fearful of the slippery slope poised at the edge of the seam; fearful of the fertile ground of a slipping mind.
Resigned to her current course she closes her eyes and gives thanks for her moment in this world of beauty. She knows it’s a selfish moment. Nervously, she scans the bed below the hovering dust specs.
She watches as the reaching beam of light graces my cheek. Her lips purse as I roll away from the light to face darkness.
With light draped across my back I unknowingly curl the sheets under my chin.
In the distance a church bell chimes, penetrating this world within a world.
Biting her lip, she hesitates before wading into this moment of beauty.
She looks to the ceiling in search of strength. Closing her eyes she shakes her head in self-admonishment.
But she does.
In bare feet she tiptoes through a door opened perhaps an inch or so. As she glides forward she’s careful to avoid the drifting world of dust specs. And in taking such care to avoid a disturbance of the specs she considers herself a hypocrite.
On the bed Liz stirs, startled from her slumber. From her sleep she sits and squints at the tiny sliver of light peeking through a barely opened door. Rubbing her eye she scans the perimeter of her empty room. She mumbles about the door being ajar before falling back to her pillow. Sleep returns in an instant.
The visitor slows and stands still, uncertain if this is fair. She shakes her head. “It’s not. It’s selfish.”
Still, though, she continues forward.
Her steps are silent.
And upon reaching the far side of the bed she kneels.
On bent knee she prays for strength. She prays for forgiveness.
From an unmeasurable distance I hear her whispered words as they drift across an ill-defined border to find me.
“I know this isn’t right, Lord. And I know I’m being selfish but I want to see him. Just tonight. Please, Lord, give me strength. And please my Lord, forgive me.”
She crosses herself and, placing two hands on the warm bed she stares at a man teetering at the edge of an unforgiving canyon.
She begins to cry. Silently, mind you as she does not wish to disturb her son.
The smell of perfume joins her whispered words to drift among the dust specs. The scent collects at the perimeter of my world.
With the back of my hand I rub my nose.
Smiling at my little movement she tilts her head to the side and hopes I remain asleep. “Please, don’t see me,” she suggest to her son. “Stay within your dreams.”
I roll away from her voice, from her scent, to face the center of the bed. Behind me warmth radiates from an indentation in the shape of my body. The depression is simply too tempting for the visitor.
She stands tall and straightens a long flowing skirt with the palms of her milky white hands. Her simple action emits an otherworldly grace. And satisfied with the lines of her skirt she steps forward to sit on the edge of the bed.
She bites her lip. She quivers, asking her Lord a question. “He’ll think I’m real, won’t he?”
With no answer forthcoming she wipes a tear with the back of her left hand, the hand closest to her son.
Exhaling slowly she answers the unanswered question. “He won’t know the difference.”
She, however, knows the difference.
She knows what’s happening to her son.
Still, the warmth of the bed, the scent of her son, his slumber under a blanket of light forces a smile across her face.
“My boy,” she murmurs.
Under her slender frame the comforter and the sheets are not pulled away from her sleeping son. Nor does the mattress depress under the weight of her presence.
She watches as her son rolls away and falls into an unforgiving canyon.
And just like that I am awake.
I roll toward the edge of the bed expecting to see her and, settling on my side, I face away from the door. I sense a tingling in the air; the warmth of a summer breeze. It is the tide of adoration and it flows across my sleep-swelled cheeks.
I mumble, “Mom? Is that you?”
Upon hearing my voice she leans over to softly adjust the sheets under my chin. She tucks me in like a baby. Gently, she places a kiss upon my forehead.
Blinking slowly, my eyes peer through blackness. The door must be ajar as light creeps from the hallway to find me next to Liz. My eyes adjust as the light finds my mother on the edge of the bed.
I shiver at the clarity of her profile. “Hey,” I whisper. “You’re here…”
Her heart breaks under a swelling tide of guilt. She starts to stand – to run from the room – but stops herself. Returning to her seat at the edge of my world she lets herself enjoy the sight of her waking son. Patiently, she waits for his voice.
“Oh, Mom. I missed you. You know that, right?”
Nodding solemnly she forces a smile. “I know, honey. I know.”
“But, I don’t understand. How’d you get here?”
“Shhhh. You called for me. And I’m visiting; just for a bit, though. I really shouldn’t be here. But … I had to see you.”
Propping myself on an elbow I start to sit. She stops me, placing a hand on my shoulder. A pulse of warmth flows through my upper torso.
“Rest, honey. You need your rest.”
Slowly I fall backward to my pillow.
I look to my shoulder, expecting it to glow. “Your hand’s so warm. How? How’s any of this possible?”
She smiles weakly. Her voice is so quiet I have to lean across my pillow to catch words that sound like an echo.
“Well, it’s not really possible, Beasley. And, if I was stronger, I wouldn’t even be here with you. You wouldn’t see me; if I were stronger.”
She looks away. “You called. And I just couldn’t help myself; the chance to see you. The chance to… and, I wanted to say I’m sorry for what’s happening to you.”
“What’s happening to me? What’re you talking about?”
Her chest rises and falls with a deep sigh. As she exhales her warm breath and the scent of Lipton tea bathe my face and neck. Her right hand moves from her lap toward my arm. Her hand lingers over my forearm before it is withdrawn, returned to her lap untouched. Her breathing quickens.
Her eyebrows buckle.
“Honey, things are about to get harder for you.” She purses her lips before continuing, “Much harder.”
I ignore her words. Confused, I smile; like a little boy I smile. “Mom, can I have some tea?”
I reach for her but she stands and steps away from the bed. “Milk and sugar?”
Under my covers I whisper like a child, “Yes, please.”
She gives me her last smile before stepping into the shaft of light. “Of course. Your tea will be downstairs. I’ll leave it on the back porch.”
My gaze follows her path to the door; her shape floats past Liz’s sleeping figure. “But Mom, wait…”
She stops at the edge of darkness. Turning, she hushes me with an index finger to her lips.
And taking a final step she disappears into the beam of light.
On the other side of the bedroom door the dog barks. The sound echoes in the hallway, startling me.
I jerk to a sitting position and clutch my chest. My tee shirt is moist.
Looking about our quiet bedroom my gaze falls upon Liz as she sleeps. Tiny baby-like snores serenade me. My wife’s chest rises and falls before she rolls to her side. I enjoy the silhouette of her figure.
“Tea…” I remind myself. I nod. “My tea; it’ll be on the porch.”
I leave a trail of footprints past the resting dog as I make my way downstairs to the kitchen. And though the room smells of Lipton tea I don’t see my mom.
From the backyard I hear church bells. Displacing silence, the bells begin to sing a ‘ding-dong’ serenade much like the opening of The Carol of the Bells.
The soft serenade lures me. A string of moments filled with bells pass before I hear her voice.
“Out here, honey.”
Scooting to the rear window I lean over the sink and peak into the backyard.
The backyard is quiet, vacant. I look for my tea at the end of an elongated porch.
The sound of the bells persists.
“There!” On the table sits a steaming cup of tea. I watch from afar as cartoon like wisps of smoke rise and curl from the lip of the cup.
I rush outside to find myself on my mother’s porch. Weather stained wood stings my feet as I make my way across an uncovered porch in search of tea.
And there, in the early morning light, winter’s dark tide consumes me.
Reaching the spot at which I expect to find piping hot tea I lose my bearings.
“Hey tea, where’d you go?” I ask playfully.
With the table no longer in sight I stop. I shiver and drift like a drunk to my left. Catching myself I nearly fall over, dizzy.
My toes throb.
I close my eyes. “Concentrate,” I tell myself. “Now, think; where were you going?”
And as the sound of bells swells to a crescendo fear engulfs me.
Startled I turn around and see Liz standing, arms crossed, at the open back door of our Massachusetts house.
I stammer, “Huh? Where’d the porch go…?”
“What are you doing in the snow, Beasley?”
Joining the ding-dong of the bells my heart pounds.
“Liz? Liz, what’s going on?”
I step toward the house and, catching my bare foot on a piece of hardened snow, I fall to the ground, my hands and knees lost under a blanket of new fallen snow.
Throwing on a pair of boots Liz rushes from the back door to the center of the yard. She bends down to face me and as her forehead approaches mine I see fear in her eyes.
“Beasley! Are you OK? What’s going on? I mean, it’s 6AM. What’re you doing out here?”
My words spill out in confusion, tumbling into the snow. “I, I … I was getting tea; on the porch.” My voice drops to a whisper. “I saw it there…”
Grabbing my waist, Liz pulls me to my feet. She brushes snow from my arms and legs.
Her eyes dart across my face as I continue, “I was gonna have tea; with my mom.”
Shaking her head in disbelief Liz looks down to the snow. “Oh my god, Beasley! You’re barefoot! Jesus Christ, let’s get you inside.”
I stammer, “Snow? Did you say snow?”
I resist her tug toward the house. “Liz, what’s happening?”
Her eyebrows heave.
“Liz, how’d I get out here?”
She strokes my hair. “Shhh. Come on. Let’s go inside and get you warmed up, OK?”
She puts her arm over my shoulder and pulls me to toward the future.
“Liz, I was with mom. She was here. I saw her. We were gonna have tea.”
Once inside Liz sits me down. She nods politely as she rubs the circulation back into my feet. Drying me off she hugs me tightly before walking me upstairs.
She returns me to bed.
She kisses my forehead before heading downstairs.
In the kitchen she makes coffee.
And with a fresh cup of coffee in hand she retires to the living room and cries.
She considers calling a friend but opts to wait for her children. She’ll speak to them first. She waits for Gee, visiting from college, and DJ to wake.
“Let them sleep,” she tells herself.
Soon thereafter our children wake and make their way downstairs. Their steps are quiet as they follow the scent of coffee to the kitchen.
With blotchy eyes Liz finds them at the counter. “Hey, you two, come here; in the living room. I want to speak with you, OK?”
They sense her concern and follow silently, each with a cup of coffee.
Together they sit on the sofa facing the fireplace.
Liz starts slowly, “You know I love you right?”
Confused, her children nod.
She looks away and swallows before continuing. She wipes her eyes.
Leaning forward DJ asks, “Where’s Dad?”
“He’s upstairs resting.”
Gee grows nervous. “Mom, what is it? Come on, what’s going on?”
And as winter’s dark tide draws me to the edge, Liz collects herself.
“It’s about your dad.”