Written by Kerry Elizabeth Blickenderfer Black
From a beautiful picture presented by Ms. Diana Matisz for the Daytime Writers Group, Springdale, PA
Loss affects people profoundly, but there is an especially deep agony when it is a child that is called home. This young mother wakes every morning unable to come to terms with the loss of her six year old. For a brief moment in the morning, she feels as though there is promise in the world, that she will go to the next door bedroom and find him there, safely tucked in and dreaming instead of untouchably and unreachably exploring the mysteries of the afterlife. Crushing, the realization presses upon her. Never again will she hear her son’s giggles, feel his chubby arms encircle her neck in a precious embrace.
She is 26 years of age. Her voice used to rise in song regularly, but she barely speaks since the loss. When she found that strands of her long hair had greyed after Peter died, she randomly chose a dye at the corner pharmacy with little regard for matching her usual ebony, and the result was a darker, flatter shade lacking the natural warmth of mahogany and copper highlights and undertones. Her warm-welcome brown eyes, so indigenously filled with compassion, are ever red-rimmed and swollen. Makeup could not disguise the sadness that permeated her soul.
The eldest of three children, Miranda was used to being in charge. However, she felt rudderless, a boat at stormy sea, no lighthouse to welcome her safely to shore. She had nothing to inspire her organizational skills. No need to call on the PTA, since she would not find pleasure in seeing the other children engaged in her activities while her son’s seat sat empty. No one would fill that desk in the third row, fourth from the front, in her mind. If Peter was not there, then no one should be. Like a jersey of a beloved retired player, Peter’s desk should be displayed in the hallway. “Here sat an ideal student beloved by all who knew him, especially his devoted mother. His promise was cut short by a careless teen driver who was emotionally compromised and did not see him in the cross walk near his home.” Apparently Harry, the young driver, was running late for picking up his girlfriend at work and feared her wrath so much that a little speeding through a residential community did not seem unreasonable, especially since she was already annoyed at him for some unknown reason.
Miranda’s husband buried himself deeper into work, unable to deal with the depth of his wife’s grief. Impersonal numbers at an accounting firm were preferable to observing the changes brought to her young face by the tragedy. With the money that he brought home, he hoped to buy something to help her forget, to bury the memory of their dead son under a pile of distracting acquisitions. Perfumes and jewelry, clothing and flowers, even china and kitchen appliances he bought for her pleasure. Miranda was not to be distracted, though. In fact, she was somewhat caught in the dangerous loop, replaying her son’s every moment of life, consumed by thoughts of his afterlife.
Miranda married at nineteen, and her mother died shortly thereafter, and so she never met Peter, the brightest joy of Miranda’s life. Miranda was always close to her mother, and their bond became even tighter when her father left when Miranda was a young teen. There was never a truly contentious teenage for Miranda, because she was too sympathetic toward her mother. She blamed her father entirely, and became her mother’s helper. Miranda felt her mother’s loss keenly when she yielded after a five-year struggle with cancer, yet somehow she found a comfort in imagining her mother an appointed guardian angel to watch over her newborn Peter.
Worried about their sister, Miranda’s siblings did their best to provide comfort for the woman who was instrumental in their up-bringing. John, the youngest of her siblings, brought Miranda books to divert her attentions, books by many trendy authors, classics, even some Avant-guard works, but none would catch or hold Miranda’s attention. She couldn’t even manage a wan smile of appreciation, and yet John continued to stop by her ranch suburban home on evenings at least once a week, sharing a cup of herbal tea from one of her English tea services. He would prepare the tea, as their mother used to when there was something to be discussed, be it a happy or an unpleasant topic. Their conversations were mostly one-sided, and his stays were brief.
Her sister, Suzanne, brought the vicar by for coffee many afternoons. With a caring heart, spiritual guidance and a psychology degree, this excellent man was able, with Suzanne’s help, to convince Miranda to change up her circumstances a bit, take in some of the beauty of nature at least once every day. As a part of a walk to healing, Miranda began a morning ritual, a stroll through the woods near her home. The path became easily distinguished, her size 7 ½ shoes or boots wearing a path through the foliage as the sun rose. Mourning in the morning became a bit more bearable when surrounded by the sounds and scents of a semi-wild environment. Late spring yielded its newness to a mature and lush summer, and then summer bowed to the glories of autumn. But to Miranda, most of the wonders were lost, as she herself was lost in the winter-like landscape of her grief. Eventually, the topography seemed to sigh and bow its golden boughs and autumn array, skeletal branches standing stark against gray skies and clouded and misty mornings.
Miranda, in a black night gown that reached the ground, donned a matching, long-sleeved, light-weight, midnight wrap trimmed in purples and pinks, a heart of similar hues about her neck, a present from her mostly-absent husband. She pushed her hand through sleeves that were too long for her, and she was amused to observe the contrast of her pale skin against the dark material. She wiggled her thumbs, and found a hole in the sleeves, making a sort of fingerless glove. She pulled the wrap over her head and set off through the woods to a stand of birch trees with a large black rock. She would often sit upon the rock, close her eyes, and pray for her son.
With eyes closed, she did just that, pray for Peter’s gentle soul. A soft sound did not distract her, a rustling near her right side. A scent like cinnamon drifted by, and Miranda smiled a half smile. Peter loved cinnamon toast as a breakfast treat, with oranges and chocolate milk. The rustling came closer, but Miranda did not notice the sound, did not realize that she’d smiled for the first time in many months. Her heart beat, but it was not the labored, mechanical thud to which she’d become accustomed.
A little black bird, not as large as a crow, built more like a starling, but dark as a raven, came to rest beside this grieving woman. Many days this delicate bird watched Miranda from its nearby nest. Today, the bird made a cautious approach. It was some time before she realized it was there, to her right, little head angled so that its glittering eye could best behold her.
Perhaps the bird mourned as well, missed its own mother and thus donned a black feathery cloak. Perhaps it saw in this woman a death of joy and hoped for its return. Thus the two contemplated each other for a long moment before the bird spread its wings and landed upon Miranda’s delicate, thin fingers. The bird weighed little, its twiggy feet encircling, ringing. It hopped to the top of her hand, spreading its wings and moving in a gentle dance. She was fascinated. The bird’s feet did not scratch her, as the material from her wrap covered her hand. Not a sound was uttered, and in truth, the whole clearing was oddly without noise. Just the woman and the bird surrounded by leafless trees, contemplating the mortality of souls.