Monday, July 29, 2013

The Donor

Andrew knocked on the door and pushed his hair out of his eyes irritably. It was too long. He should cut it. His mother had commented to the same effect, and he now felt he was morally obligated as a teenager to not get it cut now. He was not so myopic that he could not see the irony in himself holding it against his mother to suggest such a thing, thus preventing him from accomplishing the task. However, he pushed most of the thoughts away brusquely with his hair. He had other things to consider.

A woman with graying hair tied back into a fraying braid opened the door. She was a few inches shorter than him, but her steely, authoritative blue gaze made her seem half a foot taller. Her skin was relatively smooth for her years, softened slightly by wrinkles but without blemishes or makeup. She wore a blouse that at one time might have been nice but had since accumulated small holes, which she seemed to neither notice nor care about.

“Hello. May I help you?” she asked, just quickly enough to show that she had no desire to entertain visitors without reason.

“Uh, are you Lucetta Holden?” Andrew asked, smoothing his hair back again.

“Yes,” she said. It was a single syllable expressing an unstated but clearly understood idea: What do you want?

“Did you donate your eggs eighteen years ago?” Andrew asked, in that particular tone of a person who had practiced a line many time, seeking out the perfect iteration of not only words but also stress on the syllables and enunciation.

“Yes,” she said simply. Her eyes quickly glanced over, as if cataloging him as a newly discovered scientific specimen. She did not state what was so obviously implied. Neither did he. Several long moments passed where nary a word was exchanged, only glances, as if each expected the other to somehow broach the topic and harness the elephant in the room. Andrew was very uncomfortable.

“I suppose you should come inside. Would like a cup or tea, or water?” she asked. She opened the door more widely.

“Um, no thanks,” Andrew said. He pushed back his hair again. Her home was Spartan. It smelt very clean, faintly of vinegar and lemon juice. No whiff of dog, cat, or even human odor. Andrew wondered if she lived alone.

She seated herself on one of the two chairs in the sitting rooms whose only ornamentation was a single upright piano, whose reams of music stacked on top of the instrument revealed it too had a utilitarian purpose.

“Am I correct in assuming your parents do not know you are here? And if I am not mistaken, you learned about me recently,” she said, segueing roughly into the subject matter. She was keen and sharp, and it seemed like she was trying to remember the social mores she had flushed from her memory to make way for other things.

“Yeah,” Andrew said awkwardly. “It was kinda an accident that my dad let slip.”

“I would like to remind you that while I am a contributor to half your chromosomes, there is still substantial epigenetic changes that occur within the womb, which your mother would be all responsible for. In addition, the environment cues pre and post partum are known to be extremely influential in the characteristics we have as individuals. Thus, your mother is very much still your mother. Any deep, philosophical conversation about who you are may be best reserved for her. If you wish to have any knowledge of myself that might affect your life, it would be limited to the medical history of my ancestors, which I assure you, is quite fine. My parents are still alive and my grandparents lived well into their eighties. No heart disease, no diabetes, no depression, no cancer besides early stage prostate cancer in my paternal grandfather at eighty three,” she said quickly.

This was not quite the conversation Andrew was expecting. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting, just not this. He sat back on the edge of his seat, wondering if he was about to be booted out from the living room of his progenitor so quickly. He had driven all the way here.

“What are your college plans?” she asked, more softly. “You are going to college, yes?”

“Uh, yeah. I got a scholarship to the University of Arkansas,” Andrew said.

“And what will you be studying?” she asked.

“Chemistry, I think. I mean, you don’t have to declare a major until later, but I think chemistry,” Andrew said. There was a faint nod of approval.

“I have yet to hear that academic preference is a genetic trait. Any particular reason for chemistry?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I mean, it’s kinda like a puzzle, right? Our lives are made of chemistry. It’s not quite so esoteric as physics or as inexact as biology. You do chemistry, right?” Andrew asked, inelegantly wavering between crude vernacular and more refined eloquence.

“Yes, I study the application of carbon allotropes in solar cells,” she stated factually. She paused before adding, “Perhaps if you live up to the potential I believe possible of you considering your genetic makeup, you may be a graduate student in my lab.”

Andrew laughed, the only thing possible when being introduced to such forward and unhidden declaration of conditional love. “Haha, no nepotism?” he asked.

“I am afraid that is frowned upon in my academic field,” she said with a sly smile of someone who did not display emotion with any regularity, did not often indulge in the communal pleasure of light-hearted banter, but had a fine mind which was more than capable of wit.

Another moment of silence rasped on. She did not seem uncomfortable with it. She looked out the window with her thumb to her chin, as if considering some intellectual conundrum without any concern as to how else might be in the room.

“Why did you do it?” Andrew blurted. “Donate your eggs, I mean. My parents don’t know you. I asked. So why did you just give your eggs to strangers.”

“When I was in graduate school, the associate professor who ran the lab next to mine discovered that she was infertile. She had waited for tenure attempting to have children, and she then realized that an earlier surgery to remove a few ovarian cysts she had permanently scarred her ovaries to the extent that she could no longer produce eggs. They eventually found an egg donor, and their healthy baby girl was born nine months later,” she said.

“So, you like wanted to do it in their honor or something?” Andrew asked.

“Or something.” She nodded.

Another silent moment passed. Suddenly, she stood up. “I must be going into lab. One of my graduate students needed additional assistance in setting up an experiment and I have a grant to write,” she said.

“Oh, yeah, sure,” Andrew said, standing uncomfortably. He pushed the hair out of his eyes. The pair made their way to the front door again, which she opened.

“Well, it’s been nice talking to you,” Andrew said, attempting to tie up the unconventional, abbreviated conversation.

“Likewise,” she said with a curt nod. Andrew turned to leave, glancing at his watch. The dialogue had been much shorter than expected.

“I do not believe I caught your name,” she said. He turned back.

“It’s Andrew. Andrew Solis,” he said.

“My grandfather, your great-grandfather, was named Andrew,” she remarked. “I would recommend either growing your hair out to the extent it can be a restrained by a ponytail or similar mechanism over the summer or else cutting it short. The state that it is at now, you risk being balded by a Bunsen burner in your chemistry lab next year, Andrew.”

“I will keep that in mind,” Andrew smiled. He had driven two hours for a ten-minute conversation, and, strangely, he did not regret it.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Poking Holes

I learned a long time ago to poke holes through me and let the furies whistle through. Forces far greater than I, tsunamis, typhoons, and hurricanes surge like barbarian battalions toward me, but they scream on past. They posture and pound, rage and roar. They rattle through my body and shake my sinews, but they do not move me, for they rattle out all the same. I stand tall and watch while the world rushes on.
I once crouched in the face of storms. I tilted my chin to my chest, enraptured my knees with all my strength, and hugged the ground beneath me as a friend. The storms did not hurt me, but neither could it touch me. Nothing could. I could not taste the breath of a thousand new flurries or hear the cacophonous music of a thousand contradictory passions clashing and bending and rebranding a new against an ever-changing landscape. I knew nothing but the words painted on my sleeves, and thought there was nothing more than that within. The world rushed on, but I did not.
Then, I stood. I turned my face toward the heavens and embraced the gale. I let the winds carry me. I surrendered my body and soul to the tempests and was flung farther than the eye can see. I could not see the trajectory of my journey. I could not see where I would land, but I knew in my travels mirth of exploration but also fear and terror of the land slipping away beneath me never to be seen again. I found that the winds have no concern of us small people but as simple decorations for pulsating, vehement creeds which have lined the skies for as long as memory spans. As a leaf in the wind, the world rushed me on.
Now, I fracture myself against the forces. I let it greet me as its own. I let it trace the contours of my body and welcome it into me. Then, I exhale, and it passes through, and I emerge renewed.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Fall of a Sparrow

Jay blinked slowly. The world seemed to swim in some viscous substance, slowing time, making every movement forced. It hurt to breathe, yet his chest rattled in dim concurrence with the beeping machines at his right. Just beyond those mechanical sentinels, his sister sat. Wren had been there since yesterday morning where their father had dropped her to attend to some work-related task. The girl had curled up silently with a book and had not spoken, but merely offered her presence as succor. There was not much to say now. All true words had already passed between the two, and what were left were dull platitudes that the two would never indulge in. She was drowsing as the sun set, her eyes half closed and her book lulling in her half-relaxed grasp.

The next breath came not so easily for Jay. It hung against his lungs, refusing to free itself, the breath dying where it lay. The machines beeped irritably against the intrusion. The book slipped from Wren’s hands as she awoke. She looked around in shock like a frightened dove before finding the source of her confusion. The words of her books still twisted sleepily around her mind.

Thou know’st ‘tis common; all that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity.

“Jay?” she whispered. “Jay, it’s Wren. I’m here.”

Jay was afraid. Even after so long of viewing that approaching specter of mortality, it did not help. He was afraid, even as his sister held him. He did not want to die, and he clung desperately to life, even when it was filled with passive doctors and foul treatments.

To die; to sleep; no more. And by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks.

Her brother trembled, air escaping through a tight throat in despair. He was crying, tears running down eyes open to desolation. And hers as well, the salt water comingling on their cheeks as she held pressed her lips to her cheek. A nurse poked her head in and promised to call their father and no more, for there was no more. Not for Jay.

To die, to sleep; To sleep perchance to dream.

Jay wanted to believe in heaven, in angels, and in God, but his short life had stolen from him such faith. It was but him and Wren in a bleak, dark world, and even now, he was fading. He could see it reflected in Wren’s clear, liquid eyes. He was melting, into oblivion.

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come.

Wren and Jay had been the closest of friends. Their home was often empty besides the two of them, with their father working most of the time. They grew up teasing, chasing, playing with, and fighting against each other. In every childhood moment, there was a touch of Jay, as equal parts compatriot and conspirator. Wren felt as if she could not breathe.

There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.

The panic was fading now. The world grew still, but not dim. The borders of objects blurred. Wren’s face disappeared amongst the ceiling and walls. He could still hear her, just barely. She was whispering some lullaby from when they were young, when there was no one but her to tuck him in at night. He was not so scared now. It was calm. There was a peace he had not known since his first doctor’s appointment. It was just him and his sister’s song, which was fading even now, quietly stretching into infinity.

The rest, is silence.

Her brother did not breathe. No heartbeat murmured within his chest. His body had lost its warmth many months ago, but somehow it seemed colder; it seemed heavier. She couldn’t breathe; she couldn’t breathe. She forcefully relaxed her arms around him, lying him back on the pillow. She pulled the covers to his chin. His eyes were closed, as if asleep. It was as if she was but tucking him in to bed, one last time. She kissed his forehead.

Goodnight, sweet prince; and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Her father came an hour later, after they had already removed her brother. Her book sat on her lap as she stared past the world into eternity. It was wrong that life could be wrest from those so young. It was wrong. The world was wrong. Life was wrong. Her father had to touch her shoulder to wake her to his presence. She jumped; the book fell to the floor to which it was already well acquainted. Her father picked it up and noted its title.

“There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow,” he said.

She looked up at her oft absent father with hollow eyes. His face was gray and thin, but such was the norm. She could not remember the last time she had seen her father smile. She could not remember the last time she had done the same. “No. There is no providence in death. I defy augury,” Wren said fiercely, wrenching away from him. She shouted silent accusation with a glance. They need not leaver he lips to sting him. Where was he? Why had she been alone in facing this? How come he could not save her brother? Did he not care? She had her mother’s ferocity, but a tear still clung to the young cheek.

A countenance more in sorrow than in anger

He collapsed, onto his knees, suddenly the child once more. His tears came swiftly with his sobs. All tragedy broke forth as if from a dam. He could not help himself. Each denunciation met its mark.

O! What a rogue and peasant slave am I!

For the first time, Wren saw her father’s resemblance to her brother who had been heretofore all memorialization of their mother. The curve of their cheeks was the same, the crinkle at the edge of their eye, the shape of their ears. The man, suddenly shrunken before her so that she now towered over him, was as much kin as her brother was. He was more than that. He was her father, and he grieved deeply. He felt the pinch of death just as sharply. She hugged him.

Doubt that the stars are fire; Doubt that the sun doth move; Doubt truth to be a liar; But never doubt I love.

When father and daughter left, the sun was brimming across the mountains into the valley, filling the bowl of land in red rays like tomato soup. Their hands were enlinked, their expressions, solemn. Nothing could replace the void within their hearts. Nothing could stop the pain. There existed no shield against the grief, the torment of loss that clawed viciously into every thought and moment. Yet, even though poor recompense for what they suffered, they had one another.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Those Gray Doors

There is a castle by the sea
And its gray doors I’ll never see
Long it’s been since they fled from me
And I now fear I’ve lost the key

Across the glinting sands like jewels
Amongst the crystal clear blue pools
And where the salt breeze whisper cools
Lay those gray doors of happy fools

Time and fortune did strip me from
That merry place of bells and drum
Where singers serenade to dumb
Where those gray doors have left me numb

It slipped from eye and fled so fast
As if it were some story past
And as if some dark spell was cast
Without those gray doors, the pains last

And once without, not once within
A once pure soul now plagued with sin
A dirty chest holds now to chin
My back to those gray doors and kin

And with time past my memories fade
As dew drops in a sunny glade
Bright visions sully as I wade
But those gray doors have always stayed

And I return to open sea
Where land or home I will not see
For those gray doors do call to me
A siren’s song without a key