I visited my parents last November. I knew I was risking being seen there, HE had agents everywhere, walking amongst us, plotting his return, but I felt I owed it to them. I wanted to say goodbye, to apologize and tell them the truth, lay the whole story out, just as I am doing for you.
But I just stood there.
The skeletal trees, that in summer were so majestic, rattled in the sporadic gusts of wind and the cold greyness of the early autumn morning seeped through my coat and drawn up collar. I stood there none the less and stared at the tombstones. Even after death I couldn’t talk to them. Those same old feelings welled up in me.
I looked down at the picture in my hand again.
In the picture I’m laughing to beat the band, arms in the air, wind whipping my hair and yet the picture has a surreal, almost fake quality to it. The thing that looks out-of-place to me, besides the woman in the back of the cart, whose crossed arms and scowl bespoke a dire fate for those who talked her into the ride in the first place, is the genuine smile on my father’s face.
I could almost smell the chlorine in the air, the burnt popcorn or even the candy floss as the Log ride at Centre Island put aside egos and differences, crashing me, my father and the other occupants of the cart into the pool at the bottom of the hill. The slight chill to that warm June day added to the excitement, the anticipation of that final splash. In fact, you could almost sense from the picture, the relaxed ease of my mother whose hands cradled the camera. She didn’t fuss once that day. Even the car trip home had an afterglow. The next day, everything was back to normal. But this picture, faded and bent, was like a brief glimpse at how things could have been, should have been. That is how I would always remember them.
Don’t get me wrong, I never forgot how my father was, how my mother always supported him, took his side whether he was right or not.
It wasn’t always that way. There were good times, but when my little brother Paul died, they changed, I guess we all changed. Dad threw himself into his work and mom retreated. Her hands became little birds, constantly fighting and it was all she could do to keep them otherwise occupied lest they wring each other into paste.
Dad, well I suppose he blamed himself. He was a doctor after all, they were supposed to fix anything and yet my brother remained in a vegetative state due to a brain tumour. He was only four years old at the time.
Dad’s work was in a new experimental procedure to map the brain. His theory was that with the proper electrical current, he could access things like memory or even dreams. Ultimately he believed that the brain, like a massive computer, controlled everything in your body and if one could program it to send the right commands, one could not only retrieve long-lost memories but cure disease, or even prolong life.
He wasn’t able to save Paul, even with me to test his theories and procedures on. To this day I bear the scars on my scalp.
I never told him about the side effects, the headaches, the dizzy spells, the blackouts or… the visions.
All these thoughts backed up in an unruly line on my tongue, and pushed on my lips for release as I stared down at the three tombstones.
“I’m sorry Pauly…” was all I could manage.
A few straggling snow flakes rode the wind currents, neither falling nor rising but instead dancing to some unheard rhythm. One errant snowflake found my cheek, ending its waltz and it’s then that I realize the stark contrast to the hot moisture leaking from the corner of my eye. I raised my hand and tentatively touched the fluid, examining the wetness on my fingers.
The lonesome call of the clock tower bell signalling the end of the half hour, struck me as a death toll not only for the snowflake but also signalling that my time was coming to a close.
It seems to me these cursed bells are always signalling and calling, calling and signalling. They call the devout to church and signal its conclusion. They mark the passage of time, once a fantastic concept to be molded by science fiction writers, now a malevolent thing that offers false hope and brings crushing guilt. They mark the passage of life by supposedly offering solace, but I’ve come to know them for what they are… harbingers of doom.