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And This One, Too

September 22, 2008 by · 2 comments

Lauren Shows

Photo: peasap

Sadness, it is said, is a kind motivator, and happiness its languid sibling. Sadness pushes you from your lonely chair at night, to wander halls, to run hands along walls, to make phone calls. To arrange and rearrange stacks of books. To write books of your own. Happiness keeps you in your chair until dawn, wrapped up in quilts of many color, in the long, sweet hair and hands of a lover.

And Aaron sits unmoving in his chair, in this, his happiest second to date. A tiny girl, slipped just this moment from the land of wakeful into the place behind her eyes, is breathing slowly on a pillow. Her fingers curl around his own single extended finger, a rose’s bloom in reverse; a bud closing for the day. His daughter, sleeping.

In the pale dark of the room, with the half-formed moon watching from the edge of the window, Aaron feels heavy on his chest the authority of sadness, too. He acknowledges it, remembers it. Even in this minute, swelling deep, he feels its delicate ability to break open without notice. Happiness alights, a kiss, and sadness swirls as breathable air, overhead and under, between the fingers and toes.

His mind wanders. When Aaron had hands as small and curious as his own daughter’s, he stood in his backyard in summer. It was the time of day when the light of the sun was just signaling its farewell, reigning in its heat again and making way for the coming night, and he stood facing the crest of a little hill. It was an unnatural hill, growing oddly from the ground beside the white shed, near the fence at the outermost limits of the yard.

It was a lump, really, next to the rusted metal can where his father burned the trash twice a month. It was a grave, a mass burial place for animals he once fed and ran the length of the hidden road with, but whose names he had mostly forgotten. It was grown over with grass now, so long had it been since he’d cried in his mother’s sleeve for the loss of one.

Still, he stood and looked. There was a breeze that came in with the sky’s yellow-pink, and it rustled his hair like a grandfather’s fingers. It moved his shirt, too. And beneath that, beneath shirt and chest and ribcage and into where he imagined his very heart was beating, the breeze stirred something else. He felt the air in his lungs ballooning up, and sighing out, and thought of the happiness of all the preceding moments of the day. The morning’s familiar smells, carried into his fresh yellow-lit room on the sounds of spoons against porcelain, newscaster casting news, mother and father laughing.

The austere collision of the day’s heat and the cold water at once on his skin and in his ears and into his nostrils in a neighbor’s flimsy above-ground pool, not so deep or wide, but good enough. The allowance of things which, come fall months and bus rides and sweaters, would suddenly and inexplicably be not allowed, like candy, and multiple root beers, and shouting out loud. It had been a good day, as far as Aaron understood it, standing with his bare feet in the dry grass, at the base of that unusual, unnatural little hill.

Even so, something was rustling in his very heart. The end of the day was coming, and this day, Aaron was unexpectedly aware, would never be back. He could try it all again tomorrow, he thought, and looked down at his dirt-shadowed toes, but still the day would be different. He walked a circle around the hill, the lump, the grave, and was surprised at the notion: there is no way to tell what will happen next. It could be something wonderful, he thought, and crouched down to inspect what was lying at his feet.

It was a rusted coffee can, knocked to its side with a dried and brittle tiger lily resting in it. It could be terrible, he thought next, and sat the coffee can upright. He walked up the little hill, stood at its top, which increased his height only by a few feet. He looked out at the passing of the day, knowing full well about the bones beneath his feet and the ground, and felt the first stirrings in his heart of sadness. There are endings, he thought, to everything. To summer. To dogs and cats and hamsters. To this day that happened today. To this thought that I am thinking. And this one. And this one. And to me, too, probably. But I hope not.

In the happiness of his day, he had been still, unwilling to move from the moment. He had lied in bed and listened until called from his blankets and into breakfast by his mother. In the water, he had floated and felt, not moving an elbow or knee until it was necessary to keep from sinking. But on the top of the hill, with the breeze and the sinking sun, and his little heart swelling, filling up with the silver-grey beauty of the knowledge of endings, he closed his eyes and felt the credence and the meaning of endings to come. Oh, the things that would end for him. Things would begin again, of course, but would always end. And Aaron found his feet moving off that parched little hill. Aaron found that he could not keep still. Out of the yard, into the road.

It was the sadness that sent him running, out onto the road and into the stretch of days and nights, longer than his line of sight, to land him here, in his daughter’s blessed room. To lay hands on her hallowed head. Her tiny, holy head, which will wake up with the daylight and one day discover, all on its own, the capricious temperament of a moment.

And with his hands, now full-grown, on her head, Aaron finds that he must move again, out of her room and into the dull orange glow of the hallway. At the other end of this hall, his wife waits wrapped in cotton and reading a book, which must also end, with a weight of her own settling down over her chest, as she remembers, too. Aaron counts his steps, walking slowly, thinking how this moment begins and ends; is happy, is sad.

Still he is thankful for the moment anyway, the space of the universe in the space of a breath, knowing sad and happy to be the sides of a coin; friends linking hands, a pair of shoes. And he is thankful for this moment, too. And this one. And this one.

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