A Night Far Away

28 stories above Time Square, in the bed farthest from the window, I rest under crisp white sheets.

In the bed next to mine, sleep embraces my son. She holds him tight, patiently stroking his brow. Unlike me, DJ welcomes the advances of sleep. He’s drained from our day together. Within minutes he tumbles over the edge of a day far away.

As DJ begins to snore, sleep tilts her head and looks my way. Over the din of traffic she sighs. Perched on the edge of my son’s bed, she draws a long breath. Upon exhaling, she sing-songs my name.

Limbs grow heavy as she takes my measure. Shaking my head, I fight to remain awake. Grey hair crinkles against the smoothness of a starched hotel pillow case.

Ignoring the weight of her stare and the sing-song of her words, I whisper into darkness, “Thank you …”

And raising eyebrows high, sleep takes pause.

She appears amused.

She stops her singing as my comment is met by silence.

The sharp edges of distant police sirens soften as silence makes her presence known. As is her custom, she enters the room without a sound. Feet firmly planted, she appears at the foot of my bed. With a finger pressed against red lips, silence draws the room to a hush. Electric hums and mechanical ticks and clicks vanish. Street sounds merge into a background murmur. And within the collecting silence, late night thoughts are left to drift on a tide of memories.

Memories of a day far away.

Under cloak of darkness silence waltzes about our room. Head held high, she radiates a quiet confidence. Her movements are effortless and fluid; as if plucked from the dreams of ballerinas.

I roll my head about the pillow, sinking into a sea of down; a nest of white in which a fractured egg rests. In the swirling silence I grasp onto the waning snores of my son. No matter if he’s a 17 year old man as tall as me; the sound of my child at rest fills me with a sense of comfort.

Approaching the head of my bed, silence nods. Moving noiselessly across clipped carpet she slips past lingering time.

And excusing himself from the room, time offers silence a respectful bow.

From the side of DJ’s bed, sleep turns toward her eternal companion.

Coyly, sleep purrs, “Oh, my lovely pearl, look at you. You’re so beautiful this evening.”

Deflecting the compliment, silence waves her hand across the room. In the wake of her effort remaining sounds take flight.

As silence and sleep work their practiced routine I drift and float 28 stories above Times Square. I float to the edge of a day far away.

Sensing opportunity, sleep stands and moves from DJ’s bed to mine.

Hotel linens are undisturbed as she sits on the edge of my bed. She takes my hand. Pressing my palm to her cheek she begins a lullaby in a long-lost language.

My heartbeat slows as images, sounds, smells, and feelings from a day far away are collected and readied for cataloging within the past. Silence and sleep work hand in glove as dreams draw near.

From their charge they expect nothing short of compliance.

But today, I do not wish to comply.

For today is a day I’m not ready to end.

Today was spent with my boy; just me and my child…

Beginning with a car ride from Massachusetts to New York, we spoke for hours. We shared D&D coffee, plowed through a five page homework assignment, and listened to the music of the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Hiatus Kaiyote. We attended the David Gilmore concert at Radio City Music Hall, shared a midnight snack at the Stardust and danced our way back to the hotel.

I said, ‘I love you.’

And so did he.

Now, at the end of this perfect day, I spurn the solicitations of sleep.

She smiles at my resistance.

She’s patient.

And knowing time is of no concern, sleep resumes her lullaby.

The notes fall softly about my pillowcase.

Momentarily, I doze.

Then, startling silence, I call out, “Let me stay…”

With sleep singing softly, silence lets loose a noiseless gasp. And in that moment, clicks and vibrations and little noises sneak forward. From the street below, the deep rumblings of a passing truck interrupt sleep’s ancient lullaby.

She rolls her eyes at the transgression.

I whisper into the darkness, “I don’t wanna leave…”

Across the darkness my son snores softly.

Concluding her song, sleep asks a final question. “Leave where, my precious?”

“…heaven.”

In response she raises eyebrows high. She smiles before whispering, “Good night.”

Joining her friend on the bed silence takes me in her arms, rocking me slowly. She breathes deep, enjoying the lingering scent of concert smoke and diner coffee and New York City. She looks to sleep and smiles.

Returning her friend’s smile, sleep softly strokes my forehead. Her hand lingers as she whispers, “Did you hear that? This one says he’s in heaven.”

Without a sound silence nods, content to enjoy the moment.

Light drains from the room.

And in the swelling darkness silence stares. Her lips part as if tempted to speak.

Then, catching herself, she shakes her head. Releasing me, she sits straight and gathers her composure. She smooths jet black hair before wiping the moment’s beauty from her eyes.

Seeing her friend struggle, sleep nods knowingly. As I begin to snore she juts her chin toward me.

“You don’t have to say a word, my friend. For I too wonder if it’s true. Can it be we’ve been witness to something divine? That he really did spend this day in heaven?”

Her question goes unanswered.

Rising from my side, silence comes to stand at the foot of my bed. She stares. Her breathing is labored, as if she’s just broken the surface following a too-deep dive. Rhythmically, her bare chest rises and falls. Her soft skin reflects slivers of lancing moon light.

She stands tall and closes eyes tight.

Having experienced an eternity, silence is certain of what’s transpired.

Unashamed of tears, she cries. Slipping from glass-smooth cheeks her tears fall without sound to be gobbled by white hotel carpet.

Smoothing the sheets around my shoulders, sleep leaves my side. She walks to the foot of the bed and assumes a position next to silence. Once more she takes my measure.

She turns to face silence. She takes the hands of her friend and pulls her close. Though she knows the answer, she asks anyway. “I can tell by your tears it’s true; this one really is in heaven, isn’t he?”

Opening eyes wide, silence nods. Her eyes glisten, reflecting all she sees.

And staring at her friend, sleep sees it too, “My God.” She looks from silence toward me. “Such a rare and precious moment.”

Not waiting for a response, sleep continues, “and we witnessed it, my pearl.” She glows with wonder. And speaking the ancient language of her friend she proclaims, “We stand within a flawless moment of beauty.”

Silence works to control herself. Her chest heaves as she calibrates an ageless body. Facing her companion, she delivers the warmest of smiles. Without a word the pair embrace. Foreheads touch as gentle breaths from one warm the face of the other.

And placing warm palms on the cheeks of her friend, silence shares a dream.

It’s not silence’s dream.

Nor mine.

It’s the dream of my mother.

The room pulses and shimmers as sleep understands the meaning of her friend’s message.

Without hesitation she agrees to act.

She steps back, steeled for action, “You are wise, my precious friend.” She glances at the sleeping me. “We must move quickly.”

Standing on tip toes she reaches up and places a kiss upon the forehead of silence.

“You are beautiful. Inside and out.” Tilting her face upward she looks through the ceiling. ”Will you fetch the woman while I keep him from ending this day far away?”

Silence leaves the room. In her absence, horns blare from the streets of Times Square. A thumping bass beat throbs from a passing vehicle 28 stories below. Eyes flicker as I’m startled by the intruding sounds.

Sleep returns to the edge of my bed. She touches my cheek with the back of her hand. A sense of comfort courses through my body. As I murmur into darkness sleep purrs into my ear, “We’re not quite ready to end this day are we, my precious?”

She looks from me to DJ and back to me. “Stay where you are for you, my little non-believer, have entered a place most divine.” She looks about the room, “and for the moment, you’re still here.”

She taps the end of my nose with an extended finger. “And we’re here with you, my little fractured egg.”

A sense of falling jolts me awake. Loosened from the grip of sleep, eyes blink into darkness.

Arching a graceful neck sleep looks up. She sees past the stucco ceiling of our hotel room. Far above Times Square she sees a passing plane and the moon and stars and far off worlds yet to be discovered. She looks past them to worlds never to be discovered. All around, she sees and hears a world of slumber as she orchestrates a universe of dreams.

I shift to my side as she returns attention to the here and now. She strokes my exposed neck before resting her hand upon my shoulder. She leans forward, “You, of all people, have found a hidden door.” She cannot help herself. Tenderly she rests a kiss upon cheek. “Welcome, my precious. Welcome to heaven.”

At the edge of a day far away I stir.

She removes her hand from my shoulder and waves it across the room. Behind her arching arm, dust particles dance and sing, reveling in a moment of shared divinity.

She shakes her head, amused. “For you it’s right here, isn’t it? With your child.”

She sits straight, addressing me with the full authority of her position, “I know your mother. She, my pearl, is a patient soul. And with her patience she’s waited – and hoped and prayed – for you to witness the glory of heaven.” She looks away, more in disbelief than amusement. She closes eyes to picture my mother at prayer. “Your mother has been waiting for you to enter her heaven, hasn’t she?” Sleep doesn’t expect an answer so she continues, “But, she’s been waiting at the wrong door, no? At the entry carved by her Lord, Jesus.” She tilts forward as if in conspiracy, “And I must confess, I was certain your lack of faith would keep the door barred.”

She casts arms wide, “But here you are. You’ve found your own entryway, haven’t you?”

She leans over and presses her cheek against mine, “Today, your patient mother shall be rewarded…”

Sleep closes eyes tight, luxuriating in the moment.

And in that moment silence returns to the room. In her wake, and gasping for breath, is my mother. She trails a train composed of millions of tiny particles, each a component piece of her being. The pieces appear like sparks and wisps of smoke following a burning torch. The room is filled with flickering specs of light, as if fireflies have returned to a favorite field.

Sleep stands to greet the pair. In the moment she appears glorious.

“Patricia!” beams sleep. She spies the wake of scattering elements behind my mother and her brow furrows. “We must hurry as this is a fleeting moment. Your heaven and the heaven of your son will not long overlap.”

Confused, my mother looks around the room. Upon seeing her son she staggers, rocking on the heels of bare feet.

Hand on elbow, silence steadies my teetering mother.

“My son,” Mom gasps. “My precious son.” She lurches toward the bed.

But, with a firm hand, silence bars her way.

And startled at the strength of the grip, Mom turns toward silence.

Placing a delicate finger upon sealed lips silence quiets my mother.

Sleep steps forward to take Mom’s hand. “Your boy; he’s slipping toward sleep and you must not startle him for he stands in the doorway to heaven.”

Mom’s eyes bulge. “But how can this be? He’s alive … not dead. And he’s not a believer in God. Or heaven.” Her eyes swell.

With the back of her hand she wipes cheeks dry. She breathes deep as she looks from me to sleep and silence. Composed, she continues, “It can’t be so. I’d know if he believed. I’d feel it, here.” She places a hand upon her breast; the one not taken by cancer.

Silence squeezes Mom’s free hand as sleep continues. “My dear Patricia, heaven has many doors. It is a house of many rooms. Your boy has discovered an entry presently out of favor.” Sleep looks from Mom to me and back to Mom. “Today your boy spent the day with his son and during this day he entered heaven as a living being.” She casts her arm across the room. “Here, on earth in this moment your boy remains within the boundaries of heaven.”

My mother falls to her knees. From soft white carpet she prays and gives thanks to a God ignored by her son. During the murmurs of prayer, she weeps at the thought of her son so near.

Sleep places a hand on the top of my mother’s head. “In this moment he’s in the same place as you, Patricia. Though, unlike your time here, his time is fleeting.”

Sleep stares at my mother. “And while he remains here, you may see into him. And know what he feels.”

My mother stammers, “But how? How can I see into the living?” She struggles to control tears. “I’d given up hope of ever seeing him again.”

Effortlessly, silence lifts my mother to her feet.

Sleep urges my mother to action, “Patricia, we must move quickly for your son will not remain here long. Tomorrow he’ll wake. And he’ll think of work; not love. He’ll think of tasks and to-dos, and responsibilities, and concerns of the human world. He’ll let slip the beauty of this day far away. And when the mechanics of day to day life return he’ll leave this place.” Sleep casts her hand about the room.

Mom steps forward, “May I touch him?”

Sleep guides my mother to the side of the bed. Bending, she taps a warm spot on crisp white sheets. “Here. Sit here and rest your hand upon his cheek. When you do you’ll see his dreams.”

Silence floats forward. She takes Mom’s hand and places it upon my cheek.

The room grows quiet.

And seeing my dreams, Mom bursts into tears. She chokes out words, “He’s thinking of his day. Of today. I see it! Oh, Jesus, my boy’s not sad. He’s happy! I see it all; in his thoughts. I feel it.”

She casts about, scraping the corners of the container. “After so much darkness …. My boy is filled with love; for DJ, and Gee, and Liz. Oh my Lord, thank you! Thank you.”

Taking pause from my dreams Mom crosses herself and recites the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father, who art in heaven…” Words fade as she continues in silence.

All about the room drifting specs glow and shimmer in a reflection of wonder.

And in the grip of silence, sleep struggles to retain her composure. Seeing her friend buckle, silence squeezes her hand tight, without words seeming to ask, “Are you ok?”

As my mother continues, sleep fills surrounding silence with a whisper, “She takes the time to thank her Lord at the expense of time with her child.” Silence nods. They marvel at the strength of the gesture.

They marvel at the faith of my mother.

Silence nods, as if urging sleep toward an unopen door.

Seeing my mother cross herself, sleep places a finger upon mom’s chin. She turns my mother so they face one another. “Patricia, you may do more than see his dreams.” Mom’s eyes widen as sleep continues, “You may enter them. And speak with him during his time in heaven.”

Mom blinks, confused. “I …I can speak with my son?”

Leaning forward silence nods. Her eyes swell in anticipation of the approaching reunion.

Sleep continues, “Yes. It’s an old trick.” She winks at silence. “Shared among girls.”

Mindful of time’s absence, silence taps her wrist.

Sleep raises eyebrows in response to her friend’s admonishment.

“It’s easy, Patricia. To begin, think of an experience you’ve shared with your son.”

My mother grows anxious, “What do you mean? Something important? Or something like an everyday event?”

Silence rubs my mother’s neck, wicking away anxiety.

Sleep considers the question. “Everyday’s better; easier for him to accept – and remember – as a dream.”

Mom nods. “I used to make him tea. When he was a boy, and then when he was at his worst as a foolish teen … I’d make him tea and sit with him. I’d chip away, pulling him from your arms,” She looks to silence before continuing, “just trying to get him to talk.” My mother bristles at the memory of my lost teen years.

Silence bows her head in acknowledgement of the past.

Mom addresses surrounding silence, “If I am to share tea with my child will you let me speak with him as he is now? I wish to speak to the man he’s become in my absence.”

Nodding, silence offers affirmation.

Sleep clasps hands together. She nods toward the head of my bed, “Go on. Touch your forehead upon his.” She leans forward to demonstrate. “Like this.”

Mom follows her lead. Upon touching my forehead she’s filled with warmth and a rush of sound. She smells coffee and the long forgotten scent of New York; the scent she remembers before 9/11. A torrent of images tumble forward. She gasps, “I see something…”

Silence shimmers with excitement as sleep prompts mom forward, “Go on. Make him some tea. And speak with your child.”

***

As if in a dream, I enter the kitchen through the dining room door. Yellow printed wallpaper and polished counters reflect boundless light. The light skips and dances, illuminating a world of drifting dust specs. They waltz within meaty beams of tumbling sun. The kitchen smells of Lipton Tea and Mr. Clean and Thomas’ English Muffins. The scent of fresh cut grass surfs upon a gust of air spilling through the open window above the sink. (Sleep nudges her friend, “It’s the boy’s favorite.” Silence waves off her friend and leans forward, clutching my mother’s hand). From an AM radio tucked in the corner, Horse with No Name takes the place of silence.

Mom sits at the kitchen table, squarely facing the doorway through which I enter. Her back is to the room’s lone window. Sunlight pours forward, filling the room and enveloping my mother in light. She shimmers.

She’s young.

And beautiful.

And cancer free.

She gasps as I enter the room.

“My boy…” she whispers.

She wipes her eye with the back of a youthful hand.

For the first time in over a decade she hears her child’s voice. “You OK, Mom?”

She nods, “Just happy to see you.”

We beam, sharing a smile years in the making.

“Smells good in here, Mom.” I look around. The room gleams. Reflected light leaps from every surface to form a constellation of sparkles.

Again, she wipes her eyes. First the right, then the left.

“You sure you’re OK?”

She nods, breathless. She tries to speak but can’t gather words.

From behind, and just out of sight, sleep whispers in her ear, “Relax, Patricia. Just speak as you would all those years ago. And enjoy the moment. Remember, this is your heaven too; you’re in charge.”

My mother blinks before continuing, “Please, sit. Let me look at you.”

And sitting across from my mother for the first time in 12 years I watch as she struggles to control herself. She covers her mouth to suppress a giggle. Then, like a school girl, she squeezes eyes tight and raises shoulders toward wiggling ears. As if unable to contain herself she bursts out laughing, bouncing in her chair. She throws her head back and cackles. The sound of my mother’s laughter takes my breath away. And crossing arms over her chest she squeezes shoulders tight.

Finally, she sighs. And placing an elbow on the table she rests her chin upon her palm and stares.

“Wow, Mom. I mean, wow.” I catch her smile as we sit smirking at each other. “You’re in a good mood. Whatever you’re on, I’ll take two!”

She nods, again wiping her eye.

And leaning forward she takes both my hands in hers. Her fingers rub the backs of scarred hands, softly stroking my knuckles. “Please tell me about you.” She draws in a long breath and, exhaling, warms my hands. “Tell me everything!”

“Everything? Like what Mom?”

“Like what you do. How you spend your days. What makes you happy. Just talk with me.”

I pull away my right hand to retrieve the tea. She holds tight to my left hand as I take my first sip.

“Whoa, that’s good, Mom. I mean really good!”

Sleep nudges silence, “We serve the best tea, don’t we?”

Silence rolls her eyes before placing an index finger upon her companion’s lips. Silence juts her chin toward mom as the conversation unfurls. The pair lean forward, listening to a night far away.

“Well, let’s see, Mom. Gee’s at Bates. She’s just so amazing. And she’s in love. And she’s an unbelievable artist.” Soaking in the catalog of memories of a fearless Gee, Mom pulses and vibrates.

“My little Gee,” she whispers. “A woman…”

I shake my head before continuing, “And man, did she inherit your streak of independence. I mean, she’s one tough cookie.” I squeeze Mom’s hand as my head slips forward. Staring into my tea I witness my children swim across the warm surface, racing and splashing and squealing in delight. In my dreams, Mom sees them too.

I continue, “Things weren’t always easy for her. But she got through it. And she’s happy. And an unbelievable worker. And crazy smart.” I smirk, “That trait, I’m guessing she got from Liz.” Mom squeezes my hand and prompts me forward, “And DJ? How’s my little grandson?”

“Well, he’s not so little anymore. He’s a man as tall as me.” Mom looks away, and just beyond the horizon of my dream she takes a measure of DJ as he sleeps in a bed above Time Square. She watches as memories of my son pour forward. She witnesses a slide show of all I recall. “And, Mom, get this; he’s a musician…”

“A musician, really?”

“Yes; a crazy good song writer. I have a bunch of his songs on my phone.” I pull out my phone and press a couple of buttons. “Here listen.”

We close our eyes. Silence and sleep follow suit.

And in this moment heaven is filled with the sounds of my son.

Struggling to contain her composure, sleep arches a graceful neck and once more looks up. She sees past the stucco ceiling. Above Times Square she sees a passing plane and the moon and stars and far off worlds yet to be discovered. She looks past them to worlds never to be discovered. All around, she sees and hears a world of slumber; a universe of dreams. And in this universe my boy’s lullabies fill the dreams of uncountable creatures.

Mom pulls her hand from mine. And opening my eyes I find her crying, both hands covering her face.

I reach across the table, “What is it, Mom?”

She composes herself, smoothing her blouse and dabbing at her eyes.

“My God, it’s beautiful.” She reaches over and takes my hands. “And you and Liz are happy?”

I smirk. “24 years and still in love.” Nodding, I squeeze Mom’s hands tight. “I really do love her, you know?” Mom nods as I shrug, “I guess you and Dad set a good example for us?”

Mom laughs. Then shrugs. “We didn’t get it all right but we did what we had to do.” Her eyes narrow as she studies her son from a perch in heaven. “And from the looks of where you are now, I guess we did OK.”

From the radio, “Horse with No Name” concludes. The song is followed by the crackling sound of needle on vinyl. Then, after a moment of silence, the childish flute and civil war drum sounds of “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” fill the kitchen.

Mom looks away. She spies her husband standing at the shoulder of silence. He pulls at his lower lip with nervous fingers, not wanting to disturb his wife’s night far away.

And returning her gaze to her boy, Mom exhales, basking in the moment.

She smirks. She cocks her head to the right before proceeding. Her words drip like honey. “My little boy, please, tell me what you’re feeling right now…”

***

Rhythmic breaths lap at the shores of slumber, methodically drawing me toward the end of a dream. My breathing thickens as moments drift and disassemble.

And as I take my leave from this day far away the component parts of Mom begin to dissipate, filling the room with a heavenly glow.

Asleep, I begin to snore.

Gentle snores join those of my son as silence and sleep take flight.

And a night far away comes to an end as mother kisses child goodnight.

 

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