Today is dull, listless, as Tuesdays normally are. Above, there’s a light breeze rustling branches too high up to yield any fruit. Below, there’s a mild flurry of activity. People walking in twos and threes, crunching a merger of ice and salt crystals beneath their feet, unhurriedly. You don’t hurry at a funeral.
Jethro is sitting on the corner of a stone path in a troubled solitude, away from the curious glances and polite whispers of his guests.
They say when you are with someone you love, you have no bearing on time. Minutes, hours, seconds – they mean nothing to you. When I was with her, it wasn’t as they say. I felt time. I felt every second burrow its heels into my soul and take a little more from me. I felt the years I was with her, 24 in all, pat me on the back giving in even greater measure their gifts of wisdom and patience. When I was with her, my senses were attuned to the whistle of the breeze, to the touch of the moonlight, to the smell of the summer drizzle. My world collapsed into a vacuum whenever she spoke my name, leaving only my heartbeat and her voice – together an intoxicating rhythm – drugging me. When she laughed, it was as though the universe had never known evil and there was only joy. When I loved her, my life was a panic of contradictions that made perfect sense. I was hers, in the most complete sense of the word. I was hers, and she was mine. I loved Ava.
She loved to write. Ava was that type of girl who was fascinated with typefaces and handwriting. She loved to begin her “f” in the cursive style, with a tight curve moving anti-clockwise from its origin, reaching the crest and then making a sure sudden descent. But instead of continuing the curve, again in the anti-clockwise direction, drawing it to its origin as one would normally do, Ava thought it rebellious to leave it south, straight, unfinished. She was that type of girl. She would write to me, tucking notes of flirty anticipation into the breast-pocket of my shirt before I left for work. She would write to all she knew, notes of encouragement, memos of dissatisfaction, and letters of gratitude. She wrote a letter to me on the night I first made love to her, 23 years ago on Christmas day, telling me how much she loved me and our unborn child. I loved her. I married her.
Then I lost her. She left our home one Friday morning a month ago, determined to snag some overpriced bounty at Black Friday-type discounts for the coming Christmas holiday. I imagine she was complimenting the shop owner as she would typically do, when the commotion began. I lost Ava, first to a thief’s bullet then to a maniac’s grenade. They said it happened all at once, that she felt no pain. What they failed to say was that my life, too, was now suddenly lost all at once, without warning or alarm but with pain. They found Ava with her back torn away from her body, her wedding ring pushed to the first knuckle of her charred ring finger. Her legs were wide apart and slightly charred, but her face was curiously bare – without blemish or crease – as if to say, here was an honest woman, loved and free and true.
I lost her.
We lost her.
I don’t realize I’m crying until I feel the scrunched paper in my fists, wet. I straighten out the letter, regard it for the eighth time that day and for the umpteenth time in 23 years, and watch the words written by my wife bleed into the grain of the paper.
I love you.
“Hey Jethro.” My friend and bestman, Tomiwa, calls from the house, “Coming in soon? Ana’s looking for you.”
Now, there’s Ana. Beautiful, kind Ana. She’s every bit her mother’ daughter – the perfect Christmas gift. How I will continue care for her, how I will show her that the world is both a kind and cruel place, I don’t know. She’s old enough to see the world, old enough to love another the way her mother loved me, but still, she’s now without a mother. I think she’s indoors, entertaining our guests despite her own grief, accepting condolences while holding out a plate of cookies. Ana, putting on a brave face, is definitely her mother’s child. Dare I say, Ana’s a reincarnation and my saving grace.
Thank you Ava. Merry Christmas.
Love, death, and birth. Life, while it lasts, goes on. I’ll remember that.
“Sure, I’m coming in.” I call back to Tomiwa. I groan as I rise, months of pain already settling into my bones. I’ll be strong for my daughter, I’ll live for her. “I’m coming, Ana,” I say to no one in particular. “I’m coming.”
Today is dull but somewhat hopeful, as Tuesdays usually are. Above, Ava smiles down at the last two living parts of her. Below, Jethro and Ana, hearts nearly suffocating with grief, breathe a little easier despite it all. They’ll love each other through the pain. They’ll be okay, this Christmas day.
Author’s Note: This year, many of us have been more aware of death, violence, and madness than any time before. We know the people who die are more than statistics. The others they leave behind, the people who love them, die a little too. This Christmas, please reach out a little, and do what you can to lessen that pain. It might be a visit, a donation, a facebook/twitter msg, or a prayer, but let’s not forget them. Let’s not.