It is a shocking blue. Clean and clear, in a way that days upon days of thick clouds and rainshadow leave you incapable of believing possible. Has the sky ever known this shade of blue before? Was it always like this, and we simply never noticed? Perhaps it's the sharp chill of the morning; an acknowledgement that autumn has passed and a new season has arrived. Winter.
A fat crow settles into the tree above me as I walk out to start the car, its wings a lustrous blur of oily black. It barks its ragged crow caw, announcing its presence, the branch swaying and straining beneath its weight. "Good morning," I respond. It seems the appropriate thing to say. I turn the key and the engine strains to life, coughing with bluster and exhaust. I ease the door closed and walk back to the house, knowing that from somewhere on high black eyes peer from a maze of dark feathers, following me along this path.
• • •
They move quickly up the small hill, their brightly-colored backpacks bobbing like buoys on a choppy sea. I pull away, glancing into the rearview as I watch them recede into the woods, to the promise beyond of safety in numbers, in structure, in rigored days of small desks and the slow, steady, watchful tick of wall clocks. It's not long since they asked to be dropped off rather than led by hand: to be abandoned to the tender mercies and frantic rituals - hopscotch and tag, the dizzying blur of tire swings whipping through cold air at breakneck speeds - of morning.
They adapt so quickly to life without us.
At the end of the block I step on the brakes, and the inertia lifts one of my daughters' plush snowmen out of the safety of a booster seat and into the back of my chair. I hear the blunt force trauma as it collides, and I smile as I imagine the impact blunted by its fluffy Santa hat. Better - and more stylish - than a bike helmet.
I pull into traffic, the transmission shifting into higher and higher gears, the engine humming and purring with warmth and fuel, and my mind shifts with it. The day ahead. Places that must be seen. Things that must be done. Words that must be exchanged.
There is no sense in delay.
My smile fading, I take a deep breath and pull my phone from my pocket. I glance down, find the right number, hit redial. Stare out through the windshield and wait for the ring.
Was the sky ever this blue before?
• • •
Hi. It's me.
One and the same. So...
So. Do you want me to come today?
Well. That's up to you, really.
Well, no. It's up to you. I want... I wanted to guage your comfort level. With me coming, me being there.
That would be fine, but I don't think it's necessary.
I know, but... we talked about this. About what needs to be discussed.
We've spent a lot of time not talking about this. We can't do that any more.
I mean... correct me if I'm wrong, but it's my impression that when you've met with the neurologist before, it's only been to discuss the walking thing, right? The lack of mobility, balance, motor planning?
And you haven't... you haven't really talked about the other stuff.
Well, I've mentioned he gets a little foggy sometimes...
So... you've... understated things, more or less.
We probably have.
And maybe haven't given the doctor a full picture of what's going on. The memory issues. The lack of socialization. The withdrawal.
These are important things.
And the fact that things seem to be... accelerating.
I know. You're right.
It's just... really, if she's going to help us understand what's going on, and maybe help him - and you - figure out a plan of action, or some strategies... she can't do that if you're not totally clear about what's happening with him.
I know. I know. You're right.
I'm not trying to make things uncomfortable. For you, for him... but. We can't... we have to start figuring things out.
I know. And I'm ready to talk to the doctor about it.
Okay. Well, that's why I wanted to call. It's not that I want to impose my presence on you, or on the meeting, but today is when we need to start asking these questions and figuring out some answers.
I know. I think I'll be fine. You don't have to come.
Are you sure? Because I can put off work. I can come. This is important.
No. I'll talk to her, and then I'll let you know what comes out of the talk.
All right. I just... I'm just trying to help, here.
I'm just trying to help you. This all falls on you.
I know. And I appreciate it.
Alright. So. You'll call me later?
Yes. Now get to work. Try not to get pulled over.
Any day without a moving violation is a good day.
We taught you well.
Okay. Talk to you soon.
• • •
(there are things we do not say.)
(words we try not to think. terms that whisper of loss. and finality.)
(of fluids, building within the column and flooding the caverns. exerting pressure. crushing the tender folds and muting even their simplest wonders.)
(or of plaques, cleansing a rough and rugged landscape into something smooth, featureless. silenced. tabula rasa. cities lost beneath the shifting sands.)
(some things cannot be reclaimed.)
(we both know this.)
• • •
I sit in a small office. A small keyboard, and a small screen. I type, in my own fashion, doing the work they pay me to do. It is not difficult, and I do it quickly. I glance toward the corner of the screen and note the time.
This is the law of the hourly wage: pace yourself appropriately.
I slow my typing. Go back. Rework, massage. Double-check a detail. Complete a section, then lose my train of thought. My fingers dance, and I'm online — following conversations I am not a part of. I listen, but do not participate. Wondering if I should contribute. Doubting my instincts. Determining the interruption would be unwelcome, unwanted, unnecessary. Knowing it does not matter.
The world moves so easily without us.
The office has a slender window, and from my desk I can see a sliver of sky and a tangle of leafless branches. They look so brittle, suspended against that infinite sea of blue. Abandoned. Undefended. They shiver and sway, and while I do not hear it I know there is a cold wind brushing against the wood. A whisper of days to come, when the full press of winter descends and the air turns crystalline, the branches aching and groaning against the slow passage of months. The grooves in the bark filling with frost and ice. The fingerprints smoothing, then vanishing.
A slumber that stretches onward to forever.