Written by Kerry Elizabeth Blickendefer Black for her high school friend, Glenn D., in the hopes that it will please him.
26 June, 2013
Stuart moved to the rural area at the foot of the Laurel Mountains to seek the silence that he required for introspection. He had ever yearned for a deeper connection to the Creator, who he fondly called his Everything. He studied with theologians from every religion that he could find, but although he found portions made sense, none of the doctrines or beliefs entirely resonated within him. He took classes offered by neo-pagans eager to increase their numbers, spent time with shamans and voodoo doctors, and danced about Beltane fires with Wiccans. Still, his personal beliefs encompassed some of many of these, but not one in particular.
He studied, read, and contemplated, consumed with the desire to know his Everything in the profound and molecular level of his imagining. As part of Everything, Stuart reasoned that he should be able to sense the presence of Everything in – well – everything! His relationships with people tended to be peripheral, however, since friends did not have the same passion to know and connect with Everything. Nor did they understand Stuart’s overwhelming need to be a part of this miraculous aspect of the universe, to the exclusion of what they deemed to be “real life.” His few good friends were intellectuals who occasionally engaged in “what if” sessions. “What if we are all just aspects of the dreams of Everything?” “What if the Big Bang has not occurred at all, but instead we are elements swirling in the cosmic black hole, awaiting the resonating sound that will declare our place in the natural order?” Mostly, however, this zealot lived a solitary existence, one reminiscent of age-old hermits, with the surrounding wildlife and a gray and white cat for quiet companionship.
Stuart woke on the 13th of September in an unusually light mood. His normal state was one of heavy thoughts that disallowed the intrusion of the fanciful, but today was different. He could almost hear his mother’s rich, alto voice reading to his sisters and him from compilations of fairy tales. A thin smile stretched upon his lips at the recollection of such an innocent time. His sisters and mother were gone, and Stuart could only suppose that their rest was peaceful, though the women never understood Stuart’s rejection of the organized church they all attended. Stuart did not believe that there was only one name for God, that there was only one path to the blessed rest, which prompted his obsession. His father passed when Stuart was very young, and his association with his dad was only a faded black and white photograph.
Some cultures do not believe that a soul can move on if there is a photograph of the person still in existence. How difficult it must be for celebrities to move on if that were the case! However, Stuart took the photo of his father in its leather bi-folded portfolio into his hands. It was, to his knowledge, the only remaining image of Zachary Binns, his father. On a whim, Stuart laid a fire in the hearth. Once it was crackling merrily, Stuart laid the image on the golden flames, praying all the while for the peaceful repose of a man that he never truly knew, but whose memory his mother captured through glowing tales of his upstanding character, intellect, and charm.
Stuart lovingly placed a photograph of his mother alongside that of his dad. He did not personally own any other photographs of his family save one hanging on the wall which depicted himself and his three sisters, their curly blond heads pressed together.
With a crash, that very photograph fell from its post, the gilt frame cracking, the glass shattering. Stuart jumped initially, startled by the sudden noise, but then gathered his dust pan and broom to tidy up, wondering if he should burn the photo that depicted his sisters as well. He decided to do so, lovingly placing it atop the flames that eagerly engulfed and consumed the dry, chemically treated page.
He stepped away, wiping the soot from his hands on the backs of his blue jeans. A tapping drew his attention to the window, where a starling was relentlessly pecking at the window frame. Stuart’s cat, Artimetis, jumped at the door handle, apparently eager to conquer the avian invader and defend his home territory. With an indulgent sigh, Stuart set his little companion into the wilds, admonishing her not to eat the little bird.
He made his way to the small wooden-paneled kitchen, knotty pine heady in scent. He put away the tea things and tidied up what was already a well-kept space. His book shelf did not seem to hold anything that would occupy his mind, and his laundry was already up to date, except for the tedious matching of some socks. Little tasks as well as great feats can bring pleasure to the Lord, he thought, since to Everything, in His many dimensions, it all mattered.
Racking his fingers through hair paler in color since the inclusion of so much gray, Stuart pulled on a red flannel and decided to go for a walk in the surrounding woods. Nature had a healing, a contact with Everything that gave peace to so many, including Stuart. He did not notice the crack in the tiny mirror that hung on the wall opposite the space vacated by his fallen family portrait.
The air possessed the pleasant crispness of autumn in the mountains. Twilight lent its eerie grace to the foliage, disguising the riots of colors found this time of year. The smell of a frightened skunk blended with the sharp scent of leaves freshly crushing under his hiking boots. An owl hooted, sounding almost to say “Stu, Stu.” Lending their harmony to the owl’s melody, frogs seemed to call “Stu-art. Stu-art.” He made his way down a deer path that lead past a small, uncared-for cemetery to a tributary of the Loyalhanna Stream. As he walked past the mostly forgotten resting place, a scruffy, black dog bounded over, brushing his matted head against Stuart’s hand. Stuart walked on, with the dog orbiting about.
An animal screamed in some evident pain, but the sound was short and sharp, like a doctor’s inoculation of a child. The dog whimpered, though, and walked quietly beside Stuart for a little way. The leaves shuffled under Stuart’s feet, creating new patterns in the pathway. A beetle clicked, and crickets sounded mournful this late in the season. Invisible eyes watched their progress, the denizens of the woods silently aware of their passage.
Down a steep hill, around a bend, and there was the stream, but instead of seeing only the silvery rivulets, Stuart came upon a woman with long, flowing black hair, dressed in a white night gown, crying as she washed a shirt in the water. Her moans were so low that the trickling of the stream nearly drowned them out.
The dog nudged Stuart in a friendly way, pushing him toward the woman who did not seem to be aware of his presence. Stuart cleared his throat, so as not to startle her, but she continued her task without interruption. A falling star shot through the darkening sky, and Stuart paused to make a wish. When he looked back to the lady, he saw instead four women across the stream, smiling at him. One was his mother as she was in her middling years, ruddy with health, and his sisters, young and vibrant, not thin from cancer and age. Just beyond them, a man fiddled with glasses like his own, shuffling his feet and running his hand through shoulder-length blonde hair. Stuart recognized him as his father. This apparition spoke, gently, as one might to a child during a thunder storm, “It is time to come home now, son, and you will become a part of Everything.”
Stuart smiled. He walked across the waters into what would no longer be unknown.