Still Spring
by Ray Fowler, MD
Copyright Jan 1, 1997

(Time in Space Home)

            In the afternoon the sunlight was acute, a clear sharpness that struck the eye with an intensity that at the very first caused a tiny moment of pain, but then an instant later was so full of warmth and color that the brain translated the sense into a sedating wave that took one over, away, to another level. To that place that Spring memories always mix with Fall memories: New oldness; or maybe a reflection of youth even as life is fleeting; or, perhaps just Thursday.

            It was on that warm late week's day that the old man found himself lost in his back yard. On the acres where he'd tilled for roots and pulled up hyacinth in full flower to twist into fine wreathes for her bosom: Somewhere between the new wheat and the mint garden, he could no longer find his way.

            The reality took hold slowly. He was fine when he saw the Cherokee rosebud new on the vine, evident first by the sweet syrup he felt in his nose. And, leaning down to pluck it up, he was thinking about how Emma loved the small, round edges of the white blossom, and how she would make that little throaty giggle that had always stirred him when he handed her a clutch of the blooms.

            But, when he rose from his crouch and steadied himself from that wavy moment that seemed insignificant; as he glanced round at the fence and the dried streambed and the whirling loops of flies glinting in the sun; when he took that first step up the path, his lined and callused hands closed around a half-dozen buds, it was then he realized for the first time that nothing around him was familiar. Not the place, nor the path, or even the moment: He was alone, and he was afraid.

            Not that this feeling loosed him from his memories long past. Like that time coming back from the show, when he'd turned by the high school to take a short cut by the big hole and turned left on Selman Drive and crossed the hill only to realize he'd taken some other road: And he'd run and cried and even tripped; where he'd lain and shaken in the summer dust, until the fear didn't have enough energy to poison his sense; and, he'd realized that he had simply taken the turnoff by the new golf course road, and that the road to home was a quarter mile away over the hill. Then the fear had softened and washed away with the morning dew.

            This late afternoon in the life of the old man grew to a crescendo more slowly. He didn't know his way, or where he was, or why he'd come to where he was. He had a pretty good idea WHO he was, but he could make no sense of any of it; or of the trampled nest of white flowers on the ground behind him; or why he'd wet his pants and felt uncomfortable there.

            Now he was thinking in blurry circles. Early thoughts of being lost and being found flashed into his mind. Between episodes of memories he'd stumble forward and scruff the tip of his shoe on a piece of stone here and a bit of turf elsewhere. A glimpse of the ditch by the trail flowed him into that long-repressed memory of falling from the bank of the new expressway, jumping really, and rolling headlong down the heaped-up wall to crash to a stop against the rip-rap at the bottom, stunned; with a sharp pain in the shinbone that brought him quickly around, and the later memories of his brothers half-carrying and half-dragging him home with his splinted leg to the doctor who'd wrapped it up for him. And, still he was lost.

            "Hey there!" he heard in the distance. It was ... who? Familiar maybe. Yes, it was... somebody he should know. The path caught his heel this time and then he was again on his knees, in pain now from the fall. And, he lay there half kneeling and leaning onto his hands, starting to cry and shake, and rubbing his face with his hand only to find one small white flower still between his fingers, and seeing with such sorrow the first glimpses of the end of his life, he wept hard for the sadness of it.

            When, up the trail came a deep-throated giggle, and as he looked up, he saw the first sight of the face of smiles and white hair pulled back, and she exclaimed, "Are you playing hide and seek with me, Ray?" And, he saw Emma float up over the path to the house, and the bench to the left that he'd put there because the way had seemed to become overlong as the years had passed; and, in the very horizon of the hour he could hear the distant wail of the four o'clock train passing Chicago Avenue and the barbecue house.

            As he tried to rise, her strong hands lifted him the rest of the way. And, as she took the last white rose from his trembling fingers, she kissed him, and he leaned on her as she led him home to dinner.

R. Fowler

(For Berry, in asking forgiveness for my editing)