Love Letter

We’ll see summer come again
Darkness fall and seasons change*

 

In the early afternoon he sat down to write a letter, having skipped lunch out of boredom with eating and the realization that preparing a meal would require too much effort. It was a warm day and the fans were humming, lulling him into a state of torpor. But he thought probably writing was still possible. It was worth a try because he had to finally say what needed to be said.

“I’m sorry I said that I loved you,” he wrote. “It was uncalled-for.” He raised the tip of the pencil and turned the barrel in his fingertips. “You always said that I don’t speak the way I think and I can’t think the way I ought to think, so I think you should have seen this coming and been prepared with something passing as tolerance, even pity. After all, you knew my limitations better than anyone, especially me.”

He paused and looked out the open window where the sun was high and bright on a single cypress tree in the distance, on a hill. He wasn’t hungry yet.

“I remember when we met at college and after class I saw you by the elevator, dressed in purple. We rode down together and went for coffee, to talk about philosophy. Spring came and rainy days and nights but little time to stop and think. The time went by so fast. There were things I thought I wanted and what I thought I wanted from you I didn’t want and never got. What you wanted from me, you took. But your purple dress was beautiful.”

Hunger caught up with him and he went out of the room and down the stairs, past the slotted windows shaped like pears that revealed only the climbing wisteria. In the kitchen were garden tomatoes and cheese, chilled water in a canning jar. He sat for a while and looked at the pictures in a catalog: Flannel shirts, jackets of quilted down, sturdy boots.

Autumn was coming and he would be alone. In solitude, he always said, there was less friction. So his life should have been like an oiled sheet of ice, except for all his memories. They would never leave him entirely alone.

He put the catalog down when he remembered the pencil he had left upstairs. It was bright yellow, waiting in the light on the unfinished page. He climbed the stairs slowly, thinking about how the letter should end. It was a long time coming and maybe the letter should be about time. She would have gray hair by now. Grandchildren. She was living or not, somewhere in the turning world. So for years he’d been writing the letter, again and again, watching as graphite filled the page with pain he couldn’t remember if he ever felt.

At the third turning of the twisted stairs, an odd old bellied window showed the wisteria was blooming lavender and purple in the late summer light. “If the blossoms are purple, what color was her dress?” It worried him for a few steps but the thought was gone before he reached the desk. He picked up the pumpkin-colored pencil and started again.

“Please forgive me for saying I loved you but I was overwhelmed by your wine-colored dress and all the darkness in your eyes, and the white shorts you wore at the lake. I was stunned by your courage with the boat and your soft brown hair. I saw that you would live forever, always nineteen, and the only things that frightened you were what I said and a boring life. Come back so I can never say it again, not for another forty years.”

In time he looked up from the paper to the window but the sun had set and the old oak tree was gone from view. Inside the room, everything was tinted faintly orange by the shade of his lamp. He crossed the room and looked out again but there was nothing to see and all of the friction of others was gone from his life. Below on the trellis, the wisteria was climbing up to him with flowers black as night. He pressed his forehead to the glass and said to evening, “I love you.”

 

 

J. Kyle Kimberlin
Creative Commons Licensed

*The Grateful Dead

 

******

I wrote this flash fiction piece after reading an article about the writings on memory of neurologist Oliver Sacks, on the subjectivity and communal interdependence of memory. My idea was to create a piece in which the present seems to change memory and memories seem to color the present. The inconsistencies in recollection and color are intentional. There are allusions to the Kafka quote I posted recently, and to Ash Wednesday by Eliot,which is basically an allusion to Dante. And while I was writing, I was listening to The Weather Report Suite by The Dead.

There is, it seems, no mechanism in the mind or the brain for ensuring the truth, or at least the veridical character, of our recollections. We have no direct access to historical truth, and what we feel or assert to be true … depends as much on our imagination as our senses. There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way, which is different in every individual to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or reexperienced whenever they are recollected. . . . Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory, and follows from its basis and mechanisms in the human brain. [Link]

 

A Flock of Birds

The sun had been up for an hour, hidden above the clouds that brought rain to their Sunday morning. She made oatmeal with honey and two percent milk. He made the coffee and toast. They sat across from each other at the oak table at the end of the kitchen. The bay window admitted a view of the gathering storm. He had the comics section, culled from the Sunday paper, folded beside his plate. She had nothing to read, and stared out the window at the back garden while she ate.

“Everything is like a flock of birds,” she said, taking a last sip of her coffee. A little more remained but it had gone tepid and bitter. She set the cup down and pushed it away.

“They settled here a while and ate seeds and bathed in the fountain, she said.” “Then one by one flittered up and flew away.”

“Everything is?” he said, but did not look up from the comic strip that was making him smile.

“What?”

He stirred the coffee in his cup and finally looked up at her. “You said everything is like birds. You can’t mean this house is like a flock of birds, or this table, or me. You can’t say everything is like anything because some things are not. Some things are like other things or nothing makes any sense. So what do you mean by everything?”

“I mean life. Life as I thought life was and would be. Life got startled and flew away. Nothing is quite right anymore, and I don’t understand.”

“I see,” he said. “The birds are an existential metaphor; at breakfast, no less.”

“If you insist.”

“I do.” He held the newspaper in front of him and snapped it like a great pair of wings and folded it to see the next page. “Life saw the great cosmic cat in the yard and scattered, took to the trees.”

“You’re mocking me.”

“No, no. Yes. Teasing a bit. So what kind of birds?”

“What?”

“What kind of birds flew away and left nothing but memories?”

“Not real birds.”

“I know,” he said. “But since you’re imagining them, what kind of birds do you see?”

“Little ones. Sparrows.”

“Hungry, nervous little things. No mockingbirds, no hawks or gulls? Nothing more formidable?”

“Just the little birds, like I said. They’re gone and it makes me sad.”

“Well, it’s not quite spring yet, and pretty soon …”

“I realize they come and go and I might blink and see them all returned, or just a few, or many more than ever. I’m talking about how I feel. They’re gone forever, every one of them.”

“And took away the waters of the birdbath, the withered petals and the yellow leaves? I think you need another cup of coffee, Dear.”

“Maybe so. I’m still tired. But it threatens to sour my stomach.”

“I never digest anything well anymore,” he said.

She ignored this, remembering the day when she was four or five and her mother took her to the pond. They had half a loaf of stale bread, to feed the ducks. The large, demanding goose frightened her, and she wept.

“We still have the summer, the memories of it. And it was wonderful. I should be grateful to God for my memories.”

“I understand. And then, you also still have me,” he said.

He pushed away from the table, picked up his bowl and cup and took them to the sink. He started the hot water flowing and went back for her cup and bowl, and the small plate on which they shared the toast. He washed everything in lemony soap while she sat at the table by the window and watched the cold rain fall.

 

 Kyle Kimberlin

Creative Commons Licensed

The Larger Death

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. You were probably aware; I believe it was announced. So last night I sat here at my desk and read a few lines from Ripening by Wendell Berry:

The longer we are together
the larger death grows around us.
How many we know by now
who are dead!*

Ol’ Wendell knows a thing or two about the human heart. So in keeping with the spirit of romance and earthly love, here’s a vignette, a bit of love story fiction by me. I wrote it and it’s mine and the author of it is me. (I’m teasing a someone who thinks I post too much stuff by other people.)

Park 2013-05-26 17.19.13

An After Dinner Walk

There was a day – late summer because the days were still long and warm – when we decided to go for a walk after dinner. I thought it was a poor idea, being full and sleepy. I wanted to sit and watch a game or the news, to have the cat ju­mp up in my lap and fall asleep, purring.

We started out briskly. She was in the lead as always, with her quick clipped steps. By the time we passed the gray bungalow with white window frames, two doors down, she was pulling ahead. She walked like a grade school principal on her way to break up a fight.

Hey, after dinner walks are customarily taken at a more leisurely pace.

Oh, you have the book of customs for taking walks. I’ve been looking everywhere for that. You need exercise. 

Madam, I will not have you walk me like a dog. Slow down and enjoy the stroll, or forge ahead alone.

No need to get mad.

I’m not. I’m just saying.

The bird bath in Mrs. Aldernecht’s front yard was full of fir tree needles again. The morning paper was gone from her drive, which meant she was getting too old to care for the birds, but not too sick to go outdoors. I was relieved.

Two doors farther and across the street, Charlie Harmon stood in his open garage, polishing his Yamaha. His wife left him, took the kids, but he kept those tires black and the chrome bright. He had a new satellite dish, bolted to the chimney high above the roof.  Reaching from the corporeal to the divine. We waved to him.

We reached the end of the block and turned, went on and turned again, circling back to the house. In the kitchen, she poured a glass of wine. She offered me the bottle but I shook my head.

You didn’t want to go on? I said.

What?

We went around the block, and didn’t go on to the park.

No.

She went to watch Jeopardy on the bedroom TV, to change her clothes, to drink the wine. I sat at the table and watched the last light from the window strike a metal rooster trivet hanging by the stove.

I wish we had gone on to the park, so I could pick a flower for her to have. Someone would be playing Frisbee with a dog.

Everything would be different if she had held the flower I picked for her and watched the dog running and jumping. We would have gone on to the playground, and seeing the children playing there, we would have gone home to make one of our own. Charlie would have sold the motorcycle and got his wife and family back, and I could have cleared the needles and filled the birdbath with water, to keep Mrs. Aldernecht out of the nursing home.

We turned and turned and the dog never played. The children never played and the sun went down. Then there was a day after dinner when she wasn’t there. Then neither was I. But sometimes I pick a flower, hold it for a while. When nothing happens, I let it drop.

An After Dinner Walk
by J. Kyle Kimberlin
Is Creative Commons Licensed

Once There Was A Man

I was just thinking. If my life was a book, what kind would it be? Not a novel, I think. Not a phone book, a pretty blank journal, or a coffee table book of surreal watercolors. Possibly a crafting book: 101 Things to Make with Macaroni and Elmer’s Glue. More likely, a chapbook of disjointed poems, printed on plain paper, galleys partly assembled and dedication unwritten. You would find it in a desk drawer, under a collection of old birthday cards.

And if that’s true, metaphorically, shouldn’t I do something about it? Life should be a travel book of images: Kyle’s Amazing Walkabout Through Time and Space.

Scary, isn’t it? This mortality business, I mean. This urge to do something and be something in our brief passage. And it doesn’t make it easier that life turns out to be memory and that memory is fragments. It all makes plot conjectural at best.

Once there was a man
who failed at everything he tried
but wrote it all down
before he died.

– from Good Stories by William Greenway, in today’s Writer’s Almanac.

Anyhoo, here’s a flash fiction piece I wrote a few years back; a story about a story. It was fun to write.

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What She Said

Here’s a bit of flash fiction, a scene of departure. Someone I love said the first sentence to me once, years ago, in a much different context. I wrote it in my notebook and in time it morphed into this small piece. An earlier version was previously posted in this space. I think it has improved. 


“You have no idea how much you’ll miss me. Just so you know, you really have no idea.” That’s what she said.

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Garden Window

roses_delano_1960s_1

I always loved music. Trumpets and guitars especially, or a nice clear piano. Dance music or grave ballads, it didn’t matter. But here, only scratching sounds come through my window, like when the record ends and the needle skips against the label. Rats’ feet on dry boards. Not so much sound as the impression of it, the idea of someone whispering about me in a faraway room, about my problems and how I am nothing. So if a sound like music came through, perhaps two or three notes as from a tuba or a vibrating pipe, I could try to have hope.

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