Monday, May 16, 2011

Almost Never

His breath today is noisier than he remembers it ever being before, and he notes this with all due significance. The crackling wheeze feels like it's rolling in a ball between his nasal cavity and throat.

His daughter's first day of school; her standing at the bottom of the stairs, big yellow bow covering her head as fully as her smile does her face. Years later (or the blink of an eye), he opens the envelope and sees the pictures of her daughter's first day. Just like her mother.

He leans against one of the six small trees lining the walkway, his chest drawing into one spot in an agonizing crunch. His scant white hair vanishes as every inch of his pale bust reddens and sprouts beads of sweat. His car isn't far, his office just as close, but distance is relative. Everyone else has been gone for at least an hour. He shouldn't have even been here today. He should've been retired years ago; this is exactly why everyone has been telling him so for better than a decade now. He thinks quickly of the OnStar commercials, that blue button above his windshield is his beacon.

He's been on the football team for four years before his first snap. It's the last play of the last game of his senior year and all he does is run into some other kid from Troy High, but it feels -- so -- good.

Two steps and he stumbles, his breaths now come in skin-crawling gulps only. He pushes up from his knees as well as he can.

Christmas Eve 1964, he's Santa for the first time. He hasn't giggled like this since he was a boy.

His car is maybe ten feet away. He stares at the panel hanging above his dash, thinks of that button. Tries to see it. His vision fails him. Everything is black.

Grits, just cool enough that they start to harden, mixed with sausage gravy.

Lying on his back, he consciously accepts this is the last time he'll do so, and parts his eyelids.

The way the shoreline sand disintegrates between your toes as the waves wash over your feet.

The night isn't here yet but the stars have made an early appearance just for him, and in concert with the waning sunset and swaying treetops, they seem to sing him on his way.

His first wife. She is so sweet, so exciting, so perfect as she stares out the window, sipping a root-beer float on a Saturday morning in their booth at Hannigan's.

It's all there. In him, around him. There was no purpose to seek, the seeking was the purpose; his elusive goal achieved all along. He realizes it now. "Better late than never," he thinks with the same satisfied smirk he has worn in every posed picture since he can remember. In the same way one nods off in front of the television, a sort of trance sneaking over him, the picture fades as the sky sings its last note.

You'd have to see it to believe it.

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