Friday, July 15, 2016

With Regards to Funerals and Forgetting

“The funeral was yesterday. It was a beautiful day; the kind of day that would’ve motivated you to pull me outside so that we could set up an impromptu picnic and experience it in its entirety.  It felt wrong, Kate. You know how in the movies, whenever there’s a funeral, it’s always pouring rain? Obviously that’s not how it happens. People die every day. The world can’t stop what it’s doing to mourn every person. The sun wouldn’t find any time to shine. Still, I wish it had stopped for you. Just for an hour or two, you know? Ha… You’d probably hate it if that had happened.

“The service was – I don’t know; standard I guess? This was the first one I’ve attended. It felt… lacking. Probably because you weren’t there. Everything feels sort of lacking.

“Your mother and father spoke.  Sammy spoke. I spoke. We just talked for as long as we could feasibly manage. I think we were afraid to stop. Despite the sorrow, each story gave us a chance to keep you here a few minutes more. With each word that passed through our lips, you stood next to us, the left side of your mouth curled into that mischievous smirk. When the words began to fade, you went along with them. We were not ready for that. I was not ready for that. I’m still not ready for it. I don’t think I ever will be.

“I’m scared, Kate. I’m scared that your features are going to fade in my mind. I imagine them being an old Polaroid beaten and weathered to hell over a decade, only barely recognizable by the photographer. I don’t want to forget your face; to forget the taste of your lips; to forget the feeling of your head resting on my chest when we lay together; the sound of your voice. Oh god. I’m never going to hear it again. The sweetness created with each word you spoke into the world will never be tasted by my ears again. They say that a person’s voice is the first thing that you forget about a person. I’m terrified that they’re right.

“The list of things I’m afraid to forget is too long to remember. What do I do? I panic. That’s what I do. The anxiety and pain eats away at me. I can feel it clawing into my chest. The fear opens me up and lets the darkness in. How do I fight that, Kate? I’m defenseless. I’m a little boy again, afraid of the dark. I’m losing my grip on the hand that pulls me through it; that shows me the path through the pain: your hand. What do I do?

“I think I have to write. I have to write like I’m my time is running out. I have to write like the darkness is about to tear a hole right through my chest and engulf me. I need to tell a story, your story. I need to grip tight on what’s left of you and move forward. I need to remember you. I need to write the story of the woman who changed my life; the woman who saved me; the woman who has done more good for and cared more about this world than anyone else I’ve known. You deserve better than to be forgotten. You deserve so much more than that…

“I’m sorry, Kate. I’m sure you’d tell me I’m talking too much. That I’m thinking too much. That I just need to shut the hell up and listen.”

And so I do. I look up from her tombstone and look around. Off in the distance a young couple kneels in front of a set of graves and rests a single rose in front of each one.

An older woman a few yards away stands next to her husband’s grave. She seems to be mid-conversation. I’m unable to make out any of the words.

Behind me a few paces back, a young man sits cross-legged, explaining in detail to his mother’s tombstone the bullshit that he has to deal with at work. He laughs aloud. “Yeah, that’s Tim. As thick as always.” After a few minutes, he stands up to leave. “Love you, Mom… Yeah, of course! I’ll give him a hug from you. I’ll see you next week.”

Rain begins to fall. It starts slowly, only a few drops here and there at first. But within a minute or two it begins to pour. I turn back to her once more and hold my hands up towards the sky.

“Ha… I guess I’ll take it. It might be a day late, but it’s something. I think you’re right Kate. I think things will be okay so long as I just stop and listen. I won’t lose my way if I just listen. I will not forget your voice if I just stop and listen. Thank you, Kate. I’ll stop by tomorrow. Be good while I’m gone. I love you.”

I head back to my car, letting the rain soak into the thin layer of clothes I have on. I pass by a man in a coat and hat bending down, placing a single flower in front of a grave. Just over the sound of the rain I make out his last words to his wife. “Happy four years, darling. I love you.” He straightens back up, pulls his hat down and coat up, and walks back toward the parking lot.

I walk a few paces behind him, admiring the man's commitment. A slight smile spreads across my face, as a feel a small fire lit in my chest, keeping the darkness at bay. I will not forget. If nothing else, I will not forget.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Silver Coins and Dragon Eggs

The peddler rolled a silver coin between his knuckles, counting the number of times he could get across and back. “Five…” The day was long and customers were a rarity. As such, he had little else to do. Besides, he’d been practicing. “Six…” He had yet to break his current record of nine laps, and a determination to surpass himself had taken over his mind. With a focus and care far greater than any silver coin warranted, he followed the movement with bewitched eyes. “Seven…”  With each lap he leaned closer in, as though he were the spectator to some captivating event his hand was competing in. Due to all this, you can understand why he failed to hear the small group of 4 approach his modest selection of wares.
The tall one tapped his foot with annoyance. As his annoyance grew, so did the rate at which he tapped. This, in combination with the peddler’s slow, stilted counting (“Eight…”) threw his rhythm off, causing him to step on his other foot. This, of course, only made him all the more furious. The short one giggled gleefully at his companion’s error, resulting in a red-faced glare being shot in his specific direction. “Nine…” Turning back to the peddler, he sucked in a deep breath. The shy one turned away and covered his ears.
“OI. WHAT’S IT TAKE TO GET SOME HELP AROUND HERE?” he shouted, giving the table leg a swift kick, causing the peddler to lose control of his hand. In that moment between the coin leaving his hand and hitting the table, the peddler’s world crumbled into minuscule pieces. This was it. There was no point to life any longer. His dreams, hopes, and ambitions just a sham. Why was he a peddler? He hated traveling, got terrible anxiety when having to talk to people, and could barely manage to sell a glass of water to a woman dying of thirst in the desert. By all accounts he was a failure. He blamed his mother, to be quite frank. She babied him during his childhood, never letting him get a scratch or have play-dates with his friends. Heaven forbid her little boy get his knees dirty or catch a cold. Maybe if he had been allowed to be a normal kid he’d have toughened up and done something with his life. He could have been a world-renowned actor, an athlete, an astronaut! Perhaps even a wizard had he stayed in school. Yes, if only he caught cold growing up. Everything would have been different.
After all that had occurred, the silver coin hit the table. With that first smack against the wood, the peddler realized that he was, in fact, lamenting about his life due to an inability to reach lap ten of silver coin knuckle-rolling. What a moron.  He pressed his forefinger and thumb against the bridge of his nose and let out a sigh. He needed to get his priorities in order. “My apologies”, he began. “Good afternoon. How can I…” He had finally looked up at the group in front of him. Upon seeing them, the corners of his mouth curled into a frown and he furrowed his brow. “Oh. Dwarves. Great.”
“What the hell do you mean by that?” The tall one who also was keen to shout more often than not began to get red in the face. The shy one refused to look up and kicked his foot back-and-forth at nothing in particular on the ground. The chipper one with strikingly good looks was distracted, looking at his reflection in the one of the pots hanging next to peddler. The short one who others noted was also daft stared at the silver coin, wondering why it had stopped rolling on the peddler’s knuckles.
“Oh, nothing. Nothing at all.” It was a half-hearted response for a reason. And a good reason at that, he told himself.
Before the one who was irritable often could respond, the gleeful, handsome one had broken from his own reflection and stepped in front of his tall friend. He flashed a quick grin before speaking. “Hello, good sir. My friends and I –“
“’Oi. ’Friends’ is a bit strong”, cut in the tall, irritable one from behind and slightly above the handsome one.
“My friends and I”, repeated the chipper, handsome one “were wondering if you’d be interested in purchasing something from us”.
Now, this seems like the type of thing that would be odd to here as a peddler. After all it is the job of the peddler to sell to customers, not the other way around. And you’d be right in assuming that this was an odd question. In fact, had this been a group of humans or elves, the peddler might have been so intrigued that he would have been tempted to inquire further about the item that was up for sale. However, these were dwarves. As a peddler, one must always be wary of dwarves.
                The reasons for this are numerous. Dwarves are collectors by all accounts. What they collect varies from region to region. This ranges from lumber dwarves, stamp dwarves, coin dwarves, seashell dwarves, etc. The most popular of the dwarves, as one might guess, were the ore dwarves. Though the reason for the popularity of the ore dwarves is technically unknown by any non-dwarf, human scholars have theorized that it’s due to the harsh working conditions that the mining dwarves must endure. This ability to live such a strenuous lifestyle exhibited the tenacity of the Dwarf race, and was a respectable trait that all others should aspire to. This was entirely untrue, but far be it from the dwarves to not use such a silly idea to their advantage.
Another much smaller school of thought, held by those who were considered inferior by scholars, maintained that the reason for the popularity was a result of a small group of miner dwarves striking more gold than any individual could possibly imagine. With this gold, the dwarves did what anyone would do: they built a kingdom. Rumors of the origin of the kingdom spread throughout the land, and all that anyone could guess was that the miners were responsible for it. This was much closer to the truth, but still, no dwarf in their right mind would admit to anything of the sorts.
A third thought was held by only one person, but he couldn’t quite remember what it was. He was preoccupied with a silver coin on a table.
What is important, however, is not that the dwarves are collectors. Far more crucial to why the peddler possessed such a blatant disdain for the dwarves was due to their incessant need to try and sell anything they collected that they considered “extraordinary”. These things include (but by no means are limited to. Some believe the list to be infinite in length. They are wrong, but not by much.) rocks that are perfectly oblong aside from the occasional jagged edge or bump, black string, leaves that have started to turn orange in preparation for the fall, moss that “absolutely grew on the south side of a tree”, 5-legged spider corpses, and so on. The peddler could not care less about purchasing any of these things. He was tired. The day had been spent on knuckle-rolling coins. An exhausting feat to say the least.
“Listen, I’m not interested. I haven’t been interested ever. I don’t want string. I don’t want dead spiders. I don’t want half-eaten moldy bread. It’s getting late. I just want to go home.” The peddler stared at the group, hoping that at least one of them would be understanding. Not the tall one, obviously, but one of the other three perhaps. Surely, someone had to understand.
The shy one who was always blushing looked up as though he were about to speak. His gaze met the peddler’s and he returned to his previous task of staring intently at his own feet.
“You’re going to love what we’ve got for you today”, started the vain one. The peddler’s pleas didn’t even begin to penetrate past his constant grin. “Believe me. With this in your possession, the entire world will be at your fingertips.”
“No, listen. I don’t –“
“It is exceedingly rare. Quite literally one of kind. You will become the sole owner –“
“Please. Stop. I just –“
“Oi. Shut it,” piped the one wearing an angry frown. “Let cheek bones over there do his spiel.”
“Like I said,” cheek bones continued with a smile, “You will become the sole owner of the very last dragon!” He thrust one arm up in the air, striking something of a victory pose. He looked and his peers, waiting for them to applaud him. When they did not, he cheered himself and held the pose.
The peddler was slightly confused, but mostly just exhausted. “You all are having a laugh, aren’t you? Very funny. Mess with the guy who hasn’t sold anything all day and just wants to go home. Dragons aren’t real; not these days at least. They’ve been extinct for almost three centuries. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be leaving now.”
“Wait! I can prove it, right now.” The good looking one reached into his coat pocket. The peddler snorted. A dragon in a coat pocket? That was quite possibly the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard. Oh well. At least he had gotten a decent laugh out of today, if nothing else. He turned and started heading in the general direction of his home. He took four steps before hearing a loud bang behind him. He turned to see whatever joke the dwarves were clearly trying to play on him.
On the table was a white egg, roughly the size of an ostrich egg. There was also a silver coin and the nose of the short, silly dwarf who was staring intently at said coin, but that’s not terribly important. The egg didn’t look special, outside of being slightly larger than an egg one might expect to find in a dwarf’s coat pocket.
“That’s an egg,” the peddler said.
“Of course it’s an egg, you idiot. What, you thought he had an adult dragon in his pocket?” the short-tempered one spouted. “You might be dumber than he is,” he pointed towards the dwarf you would expect him to be pointing at.
“Errm. Why exactly, is there an egg on my table?”
“It’s a dragon egg!” exclaimed the one who couldn’t help but smile constantly. “The last dragon egg in the world!”
Now, all the peddler wanted to do was to go home. His day had been ruined a number of times, and he certainly wasn’t in the mood for any more nonsense. The dwarves clearly weren’t going to let him be until they had gotten rid of the “dragon” egg. This left him with only feasible option.
“How much for the ‘dragon’ egg?”
“Aha! I knew you were interested,” responded the one with perfect skin – for a dwarf that is. “It’ll only cost you –“
“Silver coin.”
The words were followed by the turning of two dwarf heads towards the table. They stopped once they got to the simple one, who was now pointing at the silver coin. The nervous one continued to stare at the ground in order to avoid catching any rogue glances that might end up in his direction. Once was already too much for today.
“WHAT?” shouted the one who always woke up on the wrong side of the bed, “WHADD’YA THINK YER DOING?”
“Hey, relax buddy. You know you start to slur when you get angry. Everything is going to be fine,” the chipper one said, trying to keep everyone as cheery as possible. He turned to the one who had attempted to sell a priceless item for next to nothing. “Listen. We can get more than one silver coin. We can get more silver coins than you’d ever be able to use all on your own. You could have a whole room of silver coins!” He threw his fist back into the air to emphasize the obvious awesomeness that he had just explained.
This excited the short, daft one. With a room full of silver coins, he expected them all to move and play with each other. Maybe the silver coin here wasn’t moving anymore because it was shy. If the coin had some friends to play with, it would be willing to move again. It was a brilliant plan, he thought.
The three of them turned back to the peddler to renegotiate the terms of the transaction. What they saw, however, was a missing egg and the lack of a peddler.

The peddler slept well that night. The dwarves were no longer in sight, and the thought of having an egg that large for breakfast the following morning put him right to sleep.