Jeremy

Part Two

It has been a few weeks since that fat crow swooped in and cut off the squirrels’ retreat from my dogs. After Gracie killed one of the squirrels, ‘Fatso’ crow proceeded to dismember it and dish it out to a murder of other crows. That’s right, a murder. Since that day, I’ve found out a lot about crows and that’s what a bunch of them are called; a murder. How fitting. I can’t think of anything more premeditated than what I witnessed last month.

I also learned that crows, in fact, do have a language. Three caws are thought to mean either all clear when they are short and crisp, or varying degrees of danger depending on the pitch, volume and the duration. Crows are thought to be monogamous, and generations live together in colonies in groves, like the patch behind my neighbor’s house.

All this I learned and mostly forgot since that episode, but for some reason it comes back to me today. I’m working on my computer but my mind keeps drifting. The windows are open and the morning sun warms my face when suddenly the sky goes dark for an instant and I catch a huge shadow cross my lawn. I look up but too late to see the bird who created it.

A minute later it happens again. I get up and go to the window just in time to see a fat, black bird land on the peak of my neighbor’s roof. It’s Fatso, he’s back, and my heart starts to race. I say to myself, I was just thinking of you.

It sits there and stares at me staring at it, bobbing its head all the while. It’s holding something in its beak.

I never did explore that area behind my neighbor’s house like I promised myself. For one thing, its private property and for another its largely swamp and underbrush. I look off in that direction now to see if there are more crows mulling about. I wonder if Fatso is planning another attack. I don’t see any other crows, but this one, remarkably, swoops down and lands on the birdfeeder fifteen feet from my window.

I can’t quite make out what’s in its beak. It keeps bobbing its head up and down as it looks at me first with one big brown eye and then the other. Its eyes look almost human.

It drops what its holding and the object pings against the planks. The bird flies off.

Staring at the object, I try to make out what it is and don’t notice the crow circle my house. Fatso breaks the sunlight again, and as it does the object seems to wink at me. The crow’s shadow is twenty-feet wide as it glides across the lawn. I hear three short, quick caws as it flies behind my neighbor’s house. Happy calls, if I remember right from my studies.

I rub my palms against my pants. From the window, I can only tell the object was once round and shiny.

Crows have been known to bring gifts to humans that feed them or leave out food for them. I wonder if that’s what this is. I’m thinking that Fatso, who a month ago got me to leave the dead squirrel so it could feed it to its colony, is now rewarding my good behavior. Good human, here’s your treat!

I go out to retrieve it.

It’s a charm. A bracelet’s charm with a broken loop attached to the cleft of a heart.

Dirty, bent and battered, it is hard to tell much else as I pick it up. There is writing on it, on both sides, but I can’t tell what it says. It stinks like a swamp and I take it to the sink to wash it off.

It must have been wherever the crow found it for a long time, judging by all the grime I work out with a nylon scrub brush. One side is engraved bolder than the other and I make out the name Jeremy. The other side is a date, but only the top portions of the middle numeric date are still there. Under stronger light and using a bit of numeral deduction I work it out to be either 5/23/1990 or 5/28/1990.

I take it to the kitchen table and sit. Jeremy? The name taps something in the back of my mind, but it is the date that has me excited; it could be exactly twenty-seven years ago… ‘Today! This is more than a coincidence,’ I say out loud.

I remember that feeling I had this morning; thinking about Fatso crow and then there he is. ‘This bird is playing with my mind.’ I go back outside to see if it is on my neighbor’s roof. I don’t see or hear it. Or any other crows.

Crows have the intelligence of a small primate but this goes way beyond that. I say, ‘How could a bird know a calendar? It has to be pure coincidence… and stop talking to yourself!’ Then add under my breath, ‘bird’s making me crazy.’ My heart for some odd reason is racing.

Jeremy? The name does mean something, but I can’t place what.

I put the charm on top of my wife’s mail. That way I’ll be sure to remember to tell her about what happened today, and four weeks ago. I still haven’t told her about the first episode. I don’t want to admit to her that I tried to talk to a crow, and anyway, she would not have been impressed with Gracie’s and Joker’s behavior that day… Once, after Gracie brought the head of a rabbit into the kitchen, she went after the dog with a broom! My wife is a nurse. She has no appreciation for battle trophies, or delusional husbands.

‘What’s this?’ she asks as soon as she gets home, picking up the charm. She reads the name. ‘Jeremy?’

‘That came special delivery,’ I say. ‘Read the date.’

‘Special delivery?’ She turns it over. ‘What’s the date? I can’t read it. Who sent it?’

‘It’s today’s date. May 23rd, only 1990. Or maybe it’s the 28th; it’s hard to tell. A crow dropped it off.’

She looks at me.

‘Seriously,’ I say. ‘A crow literally dropped it off.’ She rolls her eyes.

I tell her about the shadow, the crow staring at me from the birdfeeder, and how it dropped the charm on the deck. But I decide not to tell her about last month’s episode as her expression changes from her cute dear to curious to something else entirely.

She clutches her fist around the charm until her knuckles turn white and she says, ‘Jeremy,’ with a look in her eyes that I’ve only seen two or three times. The last time was the day her sister passed after a long illness. It is the look of closure, the look of final resolve; there is nothing more she, or any nurse, can do.

She starts to break down and cry and I go to her and hug her but not understanding. I can only think she must have a patient with that name. She calms down in my arms, then says after a moment, ‘You don’t remember?’ She backs away and looks at me with steel-grey eyes torn red at the seams. ‘Jeremy? Julia?’

Suddenly, I do remember!

The second name triggers it; Jeremy was going to be the name of our first-born, or Julia, if it was a girl. We made that decision on our Honeymoon in the summer of ’89, right after my wife told me she was pregnant.

She turns over the charm and says, ‘those middle two aren’t numbers, they’re question marks.’

I flash back to a store we stopped at outside of Las Vegas, where we bought a pair of fluffy baby booties. Seamed together, one shoe was pink and the other was blue with ‘Las Vegas’ stitched in red across the toes. It was specifically designed for expecting couples like us. We had the names ‘Jeremy’ and ‘Julia’ stitched on the sides, and we hung them from the car’s rearview mirror for the rest of our Honeymoon.

But our first-born was not born. My wife had a miscarriage a day or two after we got home.

Coming at the end of a fantastic three-month, 5,000-mile long honeymoon, and eager to start a family, it felt like someone turned off the perfect picture show in mid-frame.

We vowed to try again, and not to use either name after that.

We couldn’t know the sex of the child that soon, but we did work out an approximate due date. My wife had them stitch the heels of the booties with 05/??/1990.

 

 

I Didn’t Know How Special Sunday Afternoon Could Be…

Sunday, May 7, at 4 o’clock, the Ann Arbor Symphony played its final concert of the season at Hill Auditorium. It was one of their finest concerts! The music was magical. It just carried me away.

 

Arie Lipsky is a wonderful conductor. He knows how to bring the best out of every musician. It doesn’t matter what instrument he or she plays. He seems to know how to reach into each one’s soul and ignite that magic spark.

 

The program opened with the Overture to William Tell and the Overture to Semiramide by Gioacchino Rossini. This was followed by the Opera Choruses by Giuseppe Verdi. The choruses were sung by the Carillon Women’s Chorale, the Livingston County Chorale, the Livingston County Chorale Women’s Chorus and Measure for Measure, the men’s choir of Ann Arbor.

 

The acoustics at Hill Auditorium are perfect. You can hear every note that is played or sung no matter where you are sitting. It was an excellent choice for the performance.

 

The stage is very wide and goes completely across the front of the auditorium. It is a thrilling sight to see the entire orchestra sitting there and then to watch the four choruses file in and stand on the risers behind them. The womens’ choruses filed in from the left while the men’s filed in from the right. It was a splendid sight once everyone was in place.

 

The choruses sang while the orchestra played. The selections were: The Anvil Chorus from Il trovatore, the Gypsy Chorus and the Matador Chorus from La traviata, Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco and the Triumphal March from Aida.

 

After the intermission, the orchestra played Capriccio Italien, Op. 45 from Tchaikovsky and The Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi. The music was enchanting and the moment seemed to go on forever and then it stopped. The applause was exuberant, heartfelt and passionate. Everyone felt they had experienced something extraordinarily wonderful!

A Friend’s Hot Rod

 

 

By Jon Reed

 

Kenny’s father left Thursday afternoon for a three-day weekend business trip to Chicago, and Kenny said we could change his family’s car into a hot rod for the weekend. He had somehow found a more-powerful, triple-barrel carburetor and racing manifold to install, so we could go street-racing and no one would ever be the wiser. Asking whether he had checked with his parents on this scheme only drew a blank stare. We would change the parts, tune the engine, and put it back like it was before his father returned.

Unfortunately, Kenny knew less about cars than Denny and I, who were supposed to help, but he talked a good game. So, on a cold fall day, we were in his garage Friday night taking the Mercury engine apart, thinking it would only take a few hours, leaving time to still attend a Friday night dance. This was Kenny’s chance to show he knew something about engines, but first removing the hood, followed by the existing air cleaner, carburetor, fuel line, and intake manifold was only the beginning. Installing the new manifold, specialized gaskets, and assembling three two-barrel carburetors and linkage was far more difficult.

Bending and installing new fuel lines so there were no leaks, and adjusting everything to work properly, was a major task for a skilled mechanic much less three neophytes. By 11:30 pm that night, a lot of previously good engine parts lay scattered on the garage floor and we were far from success. A partially-assembled, inoperable triple-barrel carburetor and manifold sat beside a non-functional progressive throttle linkage, all lying on a piece of cardboard, staring up at us. Thoughts of showing off Kenny’s hot-rod Mercury at the Friday dance had been abandoned hours before.

Tired and colder still, we agreed to meet first thing Saturday morning without raising suspicions. Three of us worked all day trying to assemble the new system with fumbling, freezing fingers. Tools didn’t work, parts didn’t fit, tubing connections leaked, linkages were binding, gaskets didn’t seal, and gasket cement was all over the place as we attempted to finish.

Late that night, still under the glare of the garage’s single 60 watt bulb, we had it all together. We were all surprised the engine just wasn’t running right, back-firing and trembling, but we had no idea what to do about it. It had all seemed so simple the day before. Kenny was becoming desperate, and decided a test run was a good idea. Looking back, I’m surprised the engine didn’t explode in a ball of flames, but Kenny said he knew someone in Allen Park who could adjust carburetors. Of course, the test-run would occur without reinstalling the hood, which made sense since we would probably damage another fender in the process. Besides, with the hood off, at least the Mercury looked like a hot rod.

Once the engine started, it surged and misfired all the way south on Schaefer Avenue, raw gasoline spraying back on the windshield so that Kenny had to turn on the windshield wipers to see forward. Continuous use of the washer fluid to clear the gasoline meant, not surprisingly, we soon ran out of washer fluid. But, with the three of us in the front seat, we continued west and down Southfield with Kenny peering through bottle-thick eye-glasses and smearing windshield, wipers frantically clacking back and forth. Still spraying gasoline, bucking and lunging, we neared Allen Road, whereupon the engine expired with a mighty cough and backfire. Unfortunately, it happened in the middle of the Southfield and Allen Road intersection, and we ran the battery down trying to re-start the engine. The three of us frantically jumped out and tried pushing the Mercury, but quickly discovered 150 pound teenagers have some difficulty trying to push a recalcitrant, almost two ton lump of Mercury off the road. It was late, and cold, which made everything a little more desperate.

Making matters more interesting, while still trying to push the Mercury out of the blocked intersection, an Allen Park Officer of the Law pulled up, lights flashing. To our dismay, he responded to our pleas for a push by threatening to ticket all of us if we didn’t get the car out of the way in two minutes flat. Without the slightest degree of sympathy or patience, he must have seen a juvenile delinquent movie the night before or didn’t want to scratch his squad car bumper. He simply watched and waited until we had the Mercury safely off the road, still dribbling gasoline, before driving off.

I found an open service station and called my father, asking if he could drive down and help us get the car started. If only to get me home in one piece, he finally agreed, arriving a half-hour later. It was obvious it wasn’t going to start so he fastened a heavy tow strap with metal hooks that Kenny found in the trunk stretching from the Mercury to our family’s new 1957 Chevrolet’s bumper. Then began the harrowing tow back to Dearborn on less-traveled streets. This was before cars could auto-blink the tail lights signaling others they were nearing a slow vehicle.

Of course, the Mercury’s power brakes didn’t work with a dead engine so, after a long nervous drive with Kenny almost running into the back of our Chevrolet several times, we were only a half-mile from home. After one too many panic braking maneuvers by Kenny, the tow strap end fastened on the Mercury’s front bumper came loose. The metal hook flew forward, smashing out the back window of my father’s Chevrolet station wagon.

My ever-patient father stopped a little further on, got out, sighed, retrieved the tow strap, and, without saying a word, drove home leaving us where we were. We pushed the Mercury into a vacant lot, locked it, and walked the rest of the way in silence. I never found out what happened to the Mercury or Kenny as a result of our adventure, since he was reluctant to share any lessons learned. But I decided I might have to pursue a career in engineering if I was going to continue tinkering with cars.


 

A Fork in the Road

Creed’s fists came down on the steering wheel over and over with enough force he’d have bruises. And if his glare didn’t set the damn piece-of-shit rental car on fire Creed didn’t know what would do it.

“Shit!”

He popped the hood and got out of the car. Wing-tip shoes he wore crunched through the deep, uneven graveled road and the one remaining thousand-dollar suit he hadn’t sold gathered dust. He slapped his legs and suit jacket, but it didn’t really help. The wind swirled around him regardless the desire to keep his suit spotless. He should probably sell the suit. It wouldn’t be needed anyway once he lost his job. He wasn’t even going to be able to afford the dry-cleaning bill after this fuck-up.

Creed’s life had been going south, creeping toward hell and brimstone, but this just topped off his cocktail of disaster. More money he couldn’t afford to lose. And he’d lost a lot of it. A business meeting he’d planned over two months ago to bring him back in with the big boys of investments fell through at the last minute leaving him stranded in bum-fuck-no-where’s-ville. He had no clue why they’d canceled.

Creed counted on the account to get him noticed by the investment firm he works for, making him a partner instead of a drone. It was also supposed to help get his fiancé back. He remembered the surprise and numbness that had come with the confrontation. The last time he’d seen her she had been winding up to throw her engagement ring at his face. At the last second, she’d clenched her fist around it, screamed, “Fuck you, Creed Dalton! I’m keeping the ring.” She’d said she needed something to compensate for the time she’d wasted on him.

But now, stuck on this dirt road because the GPS had sent him the wrong way, Creed could see that his relationship was as dried up as the road. Busy trying to make millions he’d neglected the one person that should have been the most important to him. He ran his hand through his hair. Why had it been so easy for her to walk away? She’d said all the right things. Their sex life had been hot as hell. When he was home. Hadn’t she loved him?

But now looking back at the past few months there were other signs that something was off. The looks she’d given his best friend. The times she wasn’t with him she’d get all decked out in tight-fitting dresses, fuck me heels, with just a touch of perfume that made a guy want to dip his face right into the crease of her neck and linger. He should have known she was looking for something he wasn’t giving her. All the comments his best friend kept blasting at him. “Go home Creed take care of your woman.”, “She’s worth taking care of man.”, “Don’t let her go, man.”

Was his friend taking his place? No, Creed thought. Creed shook his head. His buddy wouldn’t do that. Would he? No. He was just looking out for him. Every indication told Creed he was the one who was the asshole.

“Idiot,” he said, thinking that his reaction to both his fiancé and his friend were all screwed up.

Did he really love Christina? Would he have let her walk away and not gone after her if he had loved her enough? He would have stopped her before she had walked out the door. But what had he done? He’d let her go, went back to work to make the millions that he’d promised himself he’d have before the age of thirty. It had taken him a bit longer than that. At thirty-five, he was multi-millionaire. At thirty-six he was almost broke.

One mistake, one bad choice in investments with his money and clients’ money, and his sure thing had turned into millions lost. No one trusted him. And with the meeting being canceled his last chance to redeem himself was like a check mark in the screw you pile by fate herself.

Creed angled his hand above his brow blocking out the oppressive heat the midday sun beat down on him. He loosened his tie. He looked up and down the road to see if any other lifeform was around that could help him out. Dust swirls danced through the barren field’s as the only sounds were the wind gusts carrying the dirt. He really was out in the middle of nowhere.

Creed opened the car and reached in for his phone to call a tow. He pushed the unlock button. The screen stayed dark. He just stared at it like he couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing. Then he squeezed the dead phone so tight he thought he might break. He clenched his jaw to keep from screaming out his frustrations. It wouldn’t do him any good.

When he was done throwing an inner temper tantrum, he secured his tablet in the trunk, took off his suit coat and lay it over his suitcase. Then he looked to the west and started walking. There had to be something over the hill, what was it, about a mile maybe. He hoped.

What the hell was he going to do now? Creed would just have to hole up in a hotel until he could get himself sorted.

****

Celeste needed the open road. She was desperate for the time to herself. She needed it like she needed an alternate universe. One where friends didn’t die, and she had time and money to fix the mess she was in.

She secured her helmet, got on her Harley Fatboy motorcycle and listened to the engine roar, the rumble settling in her chest replacing some of her pain.

After years of struggling and getting the experience she needed to have her own medical practice she easily slipped into her mentor’s practice and took over.

She’d gone to school in Michigan, but she knew she’d always come home to the little town she grew up in just outside of Austin, Texas.

What she didn’t realize was the mess she’d walk into. Dr. Fellows had had cancer. Celeste hit the accelerator.  She took a breath, sucking it in hard. He hadn’t told her. The thought that he didn’t want to confide in anyone, to lay the burden on anyone else broke her heart. She wouldn’t cry anymore. She squeezed the handle bars harder. Her heart was feeling hollow, like nothing she’d felt before, she pressed harder into the bike and went faster. She had to forget. Just for a little while.

The funeral had nearly split Celeste in two. The pain had been too great. Watching the casket dip past the line of soil at her feet, hearing the cries of pain, the tears the town added to the earth where he would rest, remembering such a great man made her sob even harder. He had been more than just a mentor. He had been like a father to her. More than her own.

Her father had been mired in his grief and bottles and bottles of scotch, swallowed up by his failings. Or what he thought were his failings. Her father had become twisted, pulled apart and thrown away like garbage when his wife, Celeste’s Stepmother, left him.  Celeste’s father had done everything he could to make his second wife happy, but it had never been enough. He’d been left a husk of the man.

When Celeste’s stepmother’s demands had gotten to be too much, Celeste would run to Dr. Fellows house and hang out with him if he was off work, which wasn’t very often. So, when he was, she would spend time with Mrs. Fellows learning as much as she could from the man. The woman had doted on Celeste like she was her grandchild, which she guessed she was since they hadn’t had any children. She learned to cook and sew, and plant flowers. The woman was wonderful, but died too soon. The loss was another layer of pain compounded onto others.

She shook her head to rid herself of the memories and went faster.

Presently, Celeste had other things to worry her.

She had to figure out where all the money had gone. Dr. Fellows’ books weren’t balancing. There were also medical supplies not accounted for in the store room.

Anxiety entrenched Celeste. What would have to happen to correct the situation? The office assistant who’d worked for Dr. Fellows for over ten years had left on vacation right after the funeral, so there was no help there. She didn’t want to go to the police before she looked at the books again. Maybe there was another place he stored supplies that he hadn’t tell her about. The practice was attached to his house. But she hadn’t gone searching for anything. Not yet. She had been distracted with planning the funeral.

 

Cresting over another hill in her journey, to nowhere really, Celeste thought she saw a mirage. The day’s dry heat rippled across the road making the land seem to dance, the illusion getting larger and larger. Was it a lost dog? Closer now, she gasped inside her helmet. She blinked a few times thinking it could be the tears she’d let fall making her see something that was not there. She downshifted and approached with caution. Not a dog. A man sat at the edge of a culvert. Facing away from her. A very dirty man with blood dripping from the side of his head.

With precision only a seasoned biker had, she stopped the bike in quick, efficient movements, took her helmet off and called 911. “This is Dr. Celeste Breckinridge. I’m on Route 1 just West of Old Town. A man looks like he’s fallen into the culvert, possible concussion, lacerations to the arms, back and,” she paused and looked down, “and legs. I’m going to need an ambulance. I’ve got limited supplies with me on my motorcycle.” She heard a tsk from the operator’s voice, and had to hold back a laugh. Trinity Jones was on call it seemed. A friend of Dr. Fellows, she didn’t like Celeste riding the Fat Boy.

“Alright, Celeste. We’ll get a bus out there asap.”

“Thanks, Trinity.” Celeste hung up and put her phone in the back pocket of her leather pants. She grabbed the first aid kit that she always had in her saddle bag.

Approaching the very well dressed dust-covered man, she noticed a lot of things all at once. The suit he wore looked expensive. Now though, the arm of the white dress shirt was torn open and not from the large biceps that stretched the fabric. She could see a dirt covered scratch mixed with blood. Her eyes roamed again. She slowed her steps. The back of the shirt was torn exposing more bloodied skin caked with dirt. He’d fallen into the culvert. “Shit!” She cussed softly, but not soft enough that he wouldn’t have heard her approaching. But he didn’t respond, and the cut oozing blood on his head made her worry rise even more.

“Are you okay?” She said. No response. “Sir?” That got a reaction, but not a fast one. He slowly turned his head and winced, but didn’t do anything else. Just stared at her. Kneeling next to him ignoring the gravel digging into her leathers, she put down the first aid kit and looked into his eyes. They were dilated, but they followed her hands as they opened the first aid kit and then moved toward his head. The color was a brilliant blue that matched the crystalline blue sky. “You’re going to be okay. I’m Dr. Breckinridge, the local doctor.” As she said the words, she felt a pang in her heart. Dr. Fellows was gone. But she needed to focus. As she continued getting out the supplies she needed for clean up, he still followed her movements, but he still hadn’t spoken. “Can you tell me your name?” He licked his plump lips and Celeste couldn’t help but follow the motion. She cleared her throat as he tried to speak. Nothing came out. How long had he been out here? Jesus, he was probably dehydrated too. “I’ll be right back.” She ran to her saddle bag and grabbed a bottle of water. “Here,” she said and uncapped the bottle and put it to his lips. She watched him swallow and had to swallow herself as the motion made her react in an inappropriate way. “Now can you tell me your name?”

He licked his lips, and she almost groaned from the action.

The man cleared his throat and said, “Creed.”

“Good, good.”

Creed lifted his hand to his head, but she grabbed his arm stopping him mid-motion. “Let me clean it first.” He put his arm down, but once again said nothing. She noticed that his hands were all cut up too.

“Did you fall in the culvert?” He obviously had, but she wanted to get him talking. She looked over his legs, his very muscled legs, which she was totally ignoring, and saw the rocks at the bottom of the culvert, the dry environment and sharp objects giving more clues to the evidence that Creed had fallen into the culvert. She rinsed the blood away with a saline bottle catching the excess with a swab of cotton so it wouldn’t go in his eyes. When she wiped across the laceration on his head with alcohol, he hissed and then groaned.

She looked down at his large hands. Very large hands. They were also cut up. “Can you tell me if you’re hurt anywhere else?”

“I’m fine,” he spoke finally and tried to get up. “My meeting.” She ignored whatever nonsense he was spouting because he did not get up on two feet. He nearly buckled to the ground when he put weight on his left leg, but Celeste caught him just before he would have gone over again and sat him down. She noticed his knee, now that he was sitting again, had swelled up like a grapefruit.

She looked over her shoulder when she heard sirens in the distance. Thank God.

“Where were you headed?”

“A meeting,” he said again.

“Well, it doesn’t look like you’ll be making that meeting.”

He blinked a couple of times. She looked at his eyes and lost herself for a couple of seconds which she didn’t have time for but was drawn in anyway.

When his arm started to lift, she froze. His scratched-up fingers tangled with a loose piece of hair that had come out of her braid. He put it behind her ear, and she couldn’t help but suck in a breath when his finger lingered on her cheek.

“You have pretty hair, all brown and chestnut mixed.” he said, the words almost like they were floating across her skin. The words gave her goosebumps even as the heat pressed down on her skin. Holy cow this guy was potent. And he wasn’t even at 100%. His hair was darker than hers, almost black, and almost touching his shoulders. A frown stretched his lips down and accentuated the stern but strong line of the bridge of his nose which only highlighted the strong brow that formed his chiseled face. He was damn gorgeous. Gah! She needed to stop thinking about him and get back to getting him to the hospital.

His frown went even longer, and out of the blue, he said, “That’s alright.

“What’s alright?” she asked confused.

“The meeting was canceled,” he said and then looked away from her.

“What do you do?”

“Investment Banking with an occasional foray into Forensic Accounting.” That had her perking up. He could help her with the mess doc left her. But no, he was from out of town. He wouldn’t be able to stay. But she was curious to see what he might say about it. And what had brought this man to her small town in the middle of nowhere? She didn’t believe in fate because fate usually kicked her in the ass if she granted it too much attention. Just as she was about to ask another question about his job the ambulance had come to a stop alongside her bike.

“Doc, what do we got?”

“Hey Jeremy,” she said, and then gave him a rundown of what she thought was wrong while they worked to get him on the gurney. Which wasn’t easy being that Jeremy was only about two inches shorter than her five foot six and Melanie who was Jeremy’s partner, was as petite as you could get. It probably looked more like a circus than professional medical staff because when Creed stood at his full height, he was more like a giant compared to the three of them. And every time they moved Creed he groaned or hissed at them. And his vocabulary of swear words was inventive. She couldn’t help but laugh a couple of times which caused Creed to glare, which only caused her to laugh more.

“Sorry,” she said finally getting him to a sitting position on the gurney. “I’m not being very professional, am I?”

“Sure, you’re a doctor and not a biker chick?” He flicked his eyes toward her bike and smiled, which caused her heart rate to skyrocket, her hands to get clammy and the other parts she tried to ignore.

“Well, I am right now.” She smiled back, but then she remembered why she had been riding in the first place and her smile disappeared. Melanie and Jeremy glanced over at her knowingly. She looked away right onto Creed whose focus was startling. She didn’t like the attention. It unnerved her, but it turned her on, too. He would have been a nice distraction, but he was sure to go back where he came from.

“Hmm.”

They stared at each other until Jeremy cleared his throat.

“Alright,” she said with a sigh. Let’s get you to the hospital.

“I don’t need the hospital,” Creed grumbled.

“Not your call.” Celeste chimed in as Melanie got Creed to lay down. Not easily.

“But…” Celeste cut him off.

“Nope. You’re going. You could have a concussion and I don’t have the equipment at my office to get an MRI done. Plus, I’m worried about that knee of yours.”

“Can someone get my things out of my rental car?” He flicked his fingers down the road and practically snarled. “If the damned car hadn’t decided to quit I wouldn’t be in this situation, so leave it. The rental place can deal with it.”

“Fine, but we can’t wait any longer.” She nodded to Melanie and Jeremy and they put him in the back. “I’ll have the sheriff get someone on that. Meet you at the hospital, Mel.” She nodded and rounded to the front and got in the ambulance. Jeremy, stayed in the back and nodded and went to shut the doors, but before he could, Creed yelled, “What’s your name?”

“Celeste,” She said.

“Nice to meet you, Celeste.” His head went to the gurney, and Jeremy shut the doors while smiling and shaking his head. The smile that pulled at Celeste’s mouth was the first genuine smile she’d had in days, and it stayed with her for the rest of it as she walked into the hospital and found Creed.

The Tolstoy Zone

The name, Leo Tolstoy, carries a bit of an intimidation factor. Tolstoy lived in the 1800s, and the world has changed since then. Many writers have come and gone, yet Tolstoy continues to be relevant.

At the library, I find several nondescript volumes lacking flashy colors, fonts and modern graphics. Recognizable titles include War and Peace (1400 pages), Anna Karenina (750 pages), The Cossacks (160 pages) and The Death of Ivan Ilyich (53 pages). I weigh my decision because quite literally my book bag is an unhealthy amount of heavy, and the winner is The Death of Ivan Ilyich. I load the three audio disks for my next commute to work and prepare for an easy week of listening to some old guy’s story about a different time and place. Instead, I discover “a dimension as vast as space and timeless as infinity . . . [that] lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.” It is an area called the Tolstoy Zone.1

Within minutes of beginning this novella, I want nothing more than to continue. Often, I stop and marvel at Tolstoy’s timeless words and characters. I bubble the aspects of theme that intrigued me as shown in the photo.

 

The “D” Word

In this novel [spoiler alert] Ivan Ilyich dies. Death is part one of Tolstoy’s two-part story. The author approaches theme like a shark circling its prey. On each pass, the shark takes a closer look at what it will consume. The Death of Ivan Ilyich begins with the outside view of death. How do the living view the dead? By reading the Gazette, Pyotr Ivanovich sees the obituary placed by the widow, Praskovya Fyodorovna Golovin. The shocking news becomes an opportunity for career advance for some and a relief for others. Ivan has died and not me. The friend, Pyotr, is one of only two guests for the funeral.  Uncomfortable realities exist in this time period when the dead remain in the home slowly decomposing for days; when an untimely and early death jeopardizes a family’s finances; and when illness causes long periods of declining health to a miserable end. Tolstoy leads the reader with Pyotr to the next revelation–fear. Next time, it might be me who dies.

Fear and death are universal themes much older than the 1880s. Biblical passages, such as John 11:38-44, have cultural ramifications of Lazarus’ death for Martha and Mary. Also, Ezekiel 37:1-14 symbolizes Israel’s hopelessness with a valley of dry bones. Death is both literal and figurative and represents aloneness, separation, desperation, destruction, loss of relationships and loss of possibilities. Tolstoy’s study of emotion is intimate, realistic and all encompassing. He writes of what modern readers recognize as the stages of grief published roughly a hundred years later by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her famous book On Death and Dying.

Life after Death

Ivan is dead, and Pyotr scuttles off to resume his card game and find a permanent replacement for his friend’s vacant seat. The circling shark has swallowed the prey. So what does Tolstoy do? He analyzes how the subject tastes from beginning to end and resets the clock to show how this terrible situation occurred.

The story changes narrators and pivots to be about life instead of death. If this sounds religious, it is no coincidence. According to Richard Pevear’s introduction for Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Stories, Tolstoy began a personal religious conversion to moral teachings known as “Tolstoyism,” and eventually published What is Art? to receive worldwide recognition.

If I am to read like a writer, I know “what” happens in this story and “why” this novella wrestles with finding meaning in life. The beauty in the story is “how” this message unfolds through Ivan’s thoughts about his life. It feels like a geometric proof written as poetry. Each statement builds upon the next. The narrator wants to live, but, then again, no; he only now considers the lack of meaning and suffering in his life. Although he has tried to be proper and correct, he lived his life wrong and failed to help the people who needed him the most. The transformation of Ivan’s character with only internal monologue is the key to Tolstoy’s mastery. Very clearly, Tolstoy uses Ivan Ilyich as an example of what not to do. Of course, it is an alert to change, but the final message is comforting. If Ivan Ilyich can find peace, so too can everyone else.

Tolstoy is approachable in this timeless novel. All of my earlier fears were wrong. I may never tackle War and Peace, but I appreciate Tolstoy’s writing.

  1. Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone Series 1963.