Vision narrows. The mind lets go of the duties of the body. Things such as breathing, beating the heart, making words. Yet a part of the mind is still wide awake. It turns on the silent alarm. The flashing light atop the ship's bridge. We are going down. Mayday. Abandon ship. That small part of the brain, buried in our evolutionary past like some fossil, triggers a little language. I say, I not good. You hear, uh-nuh-guh. Then even that small part of my mind comes to a stop. Your eyes widen, your heart beats a moment sooner, your brain synapses fire lightning without thunder. You reach for me. Catch me, maybe. Help me down to ground. I won't know. You'll have to tell me all this later when I return to the world. My vision coming back. As I look up into the light of concern, a candle flickering in the breeze of my returning breath.
for Ann Moore
My friend and I walk through the night. Winter is coming back. The night sky is clear, no clouds. The night will grow colder. We sip coffee. She knows the stars. I’ve been stuck on the Pleiades. That name. A constellation I knew as a boy. A picture on a page. A story. Seven divine sisters. The Pleiades, I say, to hear the sound and give it life. She points. There, she says. I count aloud one, two, three, four, five and six. The seventh is beyond our ability to see unaided. We walk under Orion. Taurus The Bull steaming at the snout. I ask, how far away is the seventh Pleiade. She says a number beyond my imagination. The night becomes colder. I was once told that each star is someone in heaven. A pinprick in God’s dome. She asks if I’m looking for my father. No, I say. He’s farther than the seventh Pleiade. The farthest star in the cold night’s sky. We hurry. The coffee is always getting cold.
My brother and I disagree. We drive past the house we left thirty eight years before. Out in the sunken backyard stands a tree. He says it’s the same one we knew as kids. I remember that one being taken down. He says, a new tree couldn't grow so tall so soon. But thirty eight years, I say. We drive past. Forgotten in the back seat, my mother doesn’t remember a tree, the house, the backyard, and barely recognizes her sons. She struggles to remember the man who knew these things. Tries to remember that life, the solid feeling that things don’t change. But death has always followed her. She looks through the windshield, past my brother’s angry silence, but can’t really see the intersection ahead. I hear a voice say that none of us can know how fast or slow a tree might grow up or why it ever falls.
When the world ended I was more than a little pissed off. I hadn't been to Spain. Hadn't seen the Grand Canyon. Hadn't read the book waiting on hold for me at the library. And I was right in the middle of a phone call. A woman on the line was about to say something important. I could tell. Then the world ended. Now what? No more Spain. No canyons, grand or otherwise. No phone calls. No woman on the line. I don't even know who I am any more. So I'll call myself Billy, a name I've always liked. It's friendlier than I am. Hopeful. The world doesn't end for a guy like Billy. He's in Spain talking on his phone with a woman standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon. Reception is clear and perfect. She's telling him about a book she just read. It's waiting on hold for him at the library. But take your time, she says. It's not like the world's going to end any time soon. And they laugh and laugh.