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Slipping away

Emptiness is an illusion

By JBazPublished 3 months ago 11 min read
Top Story - November 2023
39
Slipping away
Photo by Stephanie Greene on Unsplash

I fell asleep again, this time while tying a Windsor knot. It is one of the trickier ones to do, that is why I normally wrap a single knot for my tie. However, this day deserves a full Windsor.

I concentrate, fighting to stay awake. Perhaps awake isn’t the correct word, alert is closer to the truth. Lately, I find myself fading away. It has been happening more often.

Staring into the mirror I see a face I no longer recognize. I do catch the reflection of early morning light as it filters through our faded bedroom curtains. For a moment I am transfixed, watching dust particles dance and flow among translucent beams of gold, creating a lighted path to heaven. Beyond the light are shadows, waving me forward, enticing me to approach. I follow the trail in a dream-like state, pulling back the curtain I gaze out hoping to view angels welcoming me to paradise. Instead, it is the great weeping willow on my front lawn, lazily swaying in the breeze.

I am slipping away.

I know I am seeing things that others do not, but they are real to me. I cannot just shut them off or tune them out, that is like saying everything you see is no longer a reality. How can one discern the difference.

Suddenly I am overwhelmed, and quickly sit on the edge of our bed, burying my face into both hands, dry sobs rack my body and soul. Just as quickly I stand and say, ‘not today old man.'

I hear Beth, my wife’s voice. “Don’t forget the bottle…”

“I got it sweetheart.” My memory may be diminishing, but I will not forget this. Opening her jewelry box, which has never held a single piece of jewelry, is an assortment of tiny glass bottles, with labels and dates, organized in chronological order.

My fingers dance along the various vials. An assortment of colors greets my eyes and makes me smile because each one holds a secret. Picking the oldest one. I secure it, in the inside pocket of my suit jacket.

Exiting the room, I enter the hallway and pause for a moment as I see Beth bathed in a halo, silently facing the outside world. She stole my breath the very first time I saw her and ever since my heart beats a little faster when she is around.

Opening the door, I glance down, offer her my arm, and ask. “Are you ready?”

Walking outside the air is crisp and cool, the April sun is warm upon my face. I have energy in my step.

They wanted to send a car, but the church is only two blocks away and we walked there every Sunday, today is no different. I told them that I would prefer it this way.

The melodic sounds of free-spirited birds greet us as we stand in the morning sun, brightening an otherwise dark day. Proceeding onward, I begin to sing our song, the one we sang when the days got long, and we needed a reprieve from our everyday hum drum life. It was our way of hinting to the other we were ready to take another trip. It also reminded us of our honeymoon.

I feel her squeeze my arm and lean against me as I hear her sing her part.

'All the leaves are brown ….(all the leaves are brown)'

'And the sky is gray….(and the sky is gray)'

'I've been for a walk …on a winter's day ….(on a winter's day)'

Of course, it isn’t winter, its spring. A scent of fresh cut grass floats within the air, a sprinkler sputters as it comes to life. You can almost be fooled by the false imagery. We live on an oasis which fights with the true rulers of this land. Every year the dunes creep a little closer, until one day the sand will take back this man-made paradise. For now, I watch a rainbow form in the mist of drifting drops of water. An archway of color leading to the great beyond and uplifting the soul. My eyes remain glued to it until I hear the church bells chime, echoing their sorrowful sound throughout the neighborhood. Up ahead people are milling about like lost strays, waiting to be let inside. As one, they pause and glance my way.

I look down once more and see beautiful hazel eyes staring up at me. I whisper. “Well, my love, we are all here for you.”

Her smile lights up my soul, like the first time I saw her, and just like that, her image vanishes.

I stand alone on the sidewalk.

These next steps I must do on my own. My hand tightens, longing for the familiar warmth, but there is only emptiness.

My feet begin the journey alone.

A sense of calm always caresses me when I am on this holy ground, today is no different. They wonder why I smile, should tears not dominate today’s proceedings? I reach across and place my hand over my heart. I feel the vial within and know I am coming home.

People approach and speak words of comfort, for their sake more than mine, but I appreciate the sentiments, they are all good people.

Once more my mind wanders as I look upon the wide stone stairs that lead inside. The very steps Beth and I skipped down the day we were married. The same steps we carried our two children up to be baptized. The same stairs I stood upon while I watched both our children gleefully drive away on their own wedding days.

Those were wonderful memories, today is not so joyful.

“Grandfather?”

My granddaughter Lailah is standing in front of me, a mother hen at fifteen. It was her who stayed with me while others organized and took care of the details. She comforted me, fed me, and even picked out this suit.

“Hey sprite.”

Taking my hand, she begins to lead me towards the inevitable. “You look very handsome. No wonder grandma fell in love with you.”

Leaning down I whisper, “Is your father still behind me?” We both glance back and see my son on the other side of the road leaning on a tree, trying to look casual.

Lailah chuckles. “Yeah, he was following you. He was just nervous about you walking alone.”

“Well, he’s not a very good spy, I spotted him hiding behind the hedge.” More to myself I say. “He is a good boy….man. Your father is a good man.”

Her tiny hand squeezes mine, she looks away, but I catch a tear flowing down her cheek. I say nothing.

My daughter joins us, taking my other arm she leads me inside. Her eyes are red, and I can tell she is wishing to say something to comfort me, but the words are lost in sorrow. I draw her closer to me and we ease each others pain in silence.

The mass is a blur, I tire of listening to the regurgitated rhetoric with truly little substance. I do, however, sit tall when our children say a few words, then Lailah speaks, and my heart is torn. I realize that this child was a blessing to me, while at the same time I should have been stronger for her. When she is done, she sits beside me, I hold her in my arms while she cries.

My eyes roam about, and I am caught off guard by the beauty within the stained-glass windows. Pictures depicting life and death. I become mesmerized by the one of Mary holding the limp form of Jesus, her son. It reminded me of our trip to Italy, where we saw Michelangelo’s famous sculpture, Pieta Notre Dame. It was the first time I wept in public.

I am brought back to this world when Lailah begins to chuckle, I look down, she quietly speaks. “Do you remember when grandma…. passed gas during Christmas mass?”

I manage to hold the laughter in as I nod. Then at the same time we both say. “She blamed the Thompson kid.” Which brought on another bout of pent-up giggles.

Not the best decorum, but it got us through the rest of the service.

The car ride was difficult, my anxiety was rising, I could not stop my legs from bouncing and people could tell my mind was elsewhere.

I am slipping away.

We finally arrive and my son helps me out of the car, Lailah stays with me. We stand and listen to another round of prayers meant to soothe and heal. I smile knowing I have the vial with its own form of healing.

It is almost time.

I reach inside my suite jacket once more; this time I pull out the vial and hide it in my hand. We watch as one by one everyone takes their turn and sprinkles soil upon the casket. When it is my turn, they all step back to give me a moment of privacy. I place one hand and feel the cool smooth wood, where inside is my wife. The other I raise high; the glass bottle sparkles and shines as the sun’s rays illuminate my hand like the golden nectar of life.

Turning to our friends and family, I will miss them, especially my little sprite.

I debated on saying something, I even rehearsed a speech, but forgo it. Instead, I smile and remove the cork. Turning the vial over, a mix of red and golden grains of sand fall on the ground at my feet, I save a little and sprinkle the casket with the last. The very sands we collected on our honeymoon. I wanted to walk the beaches on the California coast, she wished to see the Great Basin Desert, we did both. Strolling along the sand dunes, hand in hand, two kids in love planning our lives. There was no finite in our future.

Throughout our travels, Beth would collect soil and sand from every holiday. But this one was special, that is the reason I chose it.

I gaze upon their faces; everyone has this bewildered look.

He is slipping away.

I step upon the sand and immediately I feel my body fade from this world and transport me back to those days of our youth. To the place our journey began. The land spins out of control I fight to stay upright. I am caught in a tornado of sand, swirling around and around. When it stops, I am on a beach, the roar of the surf and the smell of the salt welcomes me. In the distance a figure approaches, bathed in an ethereal light, I cannot see her face, but I know it is my Beth. My heart beats that much faster when she is around.

She is wearing a robe of white that billows as the warm wind tugs playfully on her body, whipping her long brown hair with careless abandon. Beth is surrounded by a tranquil glow filling her with a sense of peace. I stand in silence as a light breeze caress’s us.

Tears of joy cover my cheeks, as she approaches. Cupping my face in her loving hands, she stands on her toes and kisses me. We are once more one, no longer alone. I gaze into her eyes; no words are needed. We stay like this for forever, for a moment, for an eternity, for a second. I am lost in her arms, there is no world, no tomorrow, only now.

Life is finite, perhaps in death there is infinity. Slowly, Beth steps back. I watch as she fades, blowing away like the grains of sand we are. Our souls caught in a force beyond our control. I want to cry out for her to return to me but cannot.

There is only me, the water is gone. I am now standing alone among an ocean of sand, staring at the vast beauty of the desert basin. Lost once more, trapped in a world that is barren to me. The emptiness is an illusion, even the wind sounds far away.

“Grandfather?”

My mind wakes. Lailah is holding my hands, with eyes full of love she smiles and repeats her word. ”Grandfather?”

I see her, and all my loved ones gather around me. The desert fills with every person I have ever loved, spirit forms standing among the living. Realizing the gift Beth has given me, I am alive and no longer alone, I was never alone. Engulfed in the desert’s parched silence, I was nothing but another grain of sand in the wind.

LovePsychological
39

About the Creator

JBaz

I have enjoyed writing for most of my life, never professionally.

I wish to now share my stories with others, lets see where it goes.

Born and raised on the Canadian Prairies, I currently reside on the West Coast. I call both places home.

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

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Comments (29)

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  • Naveed about a month ago

    Awesome story, JBaz! Congrats!!!💖

  • Dana Stewart2 months ago

    I hoped to see your name on the short list with this one today. This was my favorite entry - really great work Jason.

  • Phil Flannery3 months ago

    That was amazing.

  • Dana Crandell3 months ago

    Wow, Jason! This had the heartstrings thrumming! What a unique and beautifully written entry! A definite contender, in my humble opinion.

  • ROCK 3 months ago

    A real heart tugger; well done:)

  • Heather Hubler3 months ago

    Goodness, that hit me in all the right ways. What a beautiful and emotional story. Loved this one, Jason :) Congrats on Top Story! I hope this one places.

  • KJ Aartila3 months ago

    This is such a beautiful story! Very well done!

  • Caroline Jane3 months ago

    How creative! The flavour of it reminds me of the international best selling book "before the coffee gets cold" What an imaginative tale. Really well done!

  • Naveed 3 months ago

    Well-deserved congratulations for your work—keep it up!

  • Rachel Deeming3 months ago

    A moving love story, Jason, beautifully told. Spiritual and magical.

  • Your story touched the deepest parts of my soul. I keep typing and backspacing because I can't seem to find the write words to say what I feel. I'll tell you this though. I have no idea why but I thought he was gonna climb into the coffin with Beth 😅 Your story was so poignant and beautiful! Congratulations on your Top Story!

  • Penelope Jane3 months ago

    Incredible 🥺

  • Lamar Wiggins3 months ago

    This is so well done. You created real feelings conveyed by your characters for us readers to experience. Hats off, my friend!!! And congrats!!!

  • Babs Iverson3 months ago

    Congratulations on Top Story!!!💕❤️❤️

  • Donna Fox (HKB)3 months ago

    Jason... this was everything!! I am in love with the entry to the challenge!! I cried, I smiled, I chuckled and I fell in love! I'm at a loss for words to truly tell you how amazing this story was and what an honour it was to read it! Thank you for this and congrats on Top Story!!

  • Melissa Ingoldsby3 months ago

    I really love this evocative and artful style especially this: Of course, it isn’t winter, its spring. A scent of fresh cut grass floats within the air, a sprinkler sputters as it comes to life. You can almost be fooled by the false imagery. A very deceptively simple piece with rich and powerful imagery and emotion

  • Cathy holmes3 months ago

    Congrats on the TS

  • Gerald Holmes3 months ago

    Yes!!!!!!!! Congrats on a brilliant Top STORY.

  • Kristen Balyeat3 months ago

    Jason, all the tears. Beautifully written... just incredible.

  • Spectacular story ❤️

  • Cathy holmes3 months ago

    Oh my. This is a beautiful story and great entry. Well done..

  • Gerald Holmes3 months ago

    Jason, I really don't know what to say! The beauty of this has brought tears to my eyes and left me speechless. An excellent entry for the challenge.

  • Mother Combs3 months ago

    💚💙💚💙

  • Celia in Underland3 months ago

    I have tears. This is just so beautifully done. 🤍

  • Hannah Moore3 months ago

    Ach, I took a sip of tea right before Lilah told him no wonder grandma fell in love with you and even though I knew what was happening, there was something in the line that made my throat close up and I couldn't swallow it. Beautifully done.

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