Rodney wrote poems that nobody read. His heart ached for them, left all alone, like a child on a sandy seashore, longing to feel the wild ocean waves and be embraced by the hugeness of marine life, but he could go no further, and they could never reach out far enough to touch the whole world.
Sighing, he pushed away from his old oak desk and, with achy joints, rose to his feet. He padded to the window overlooking the backyard. A mid-September breeze blew through the treetops, ruffling the leaves, but the creek that meandered behind the apple tree was still and silent.
A farm truck rumbled down the lane in front of the house, and he could tell that it needed work. Despite the fact that the automotive industry had changed in unfathomable ways since his youth, he still knew the sound of an engine in trouble when he heard it. A faint scent of hot oil and old grease wafted through his mind. Race cars were his passion, but he loved anything that moved on wheels. If only I’d ignored that stupid advice and tried anyway…
He shook himself.
A sharp, ragged voice called from the downstairs entryway. Rod? You home?
His sister, Jessica, must’ve gotten off work early. Unusual. A head nurse at the local hospital, she was always working—they were that understaffed—and the people they got in these days…well, she hated to complain. Though, in the end, she couldn’t help herself. There was so much to complain about. Her face showed it. The stoop in her shoulders and even the way she peered vacantly into the air screamed of ravaging discontent.
Rodney lumbered down the steps and found her rummaging through the refrigerator. “You’re home early.”
Jessica didn’t bother to confirm the obvious. She shuffled plastic containers of leftovers from one side to another, her motions sharp, warning of her usual after-work irritation.
“I made a ham and Swiss sandwich and even got a little bag of those kettle chips you like so much.” He nodded to a plate on the countertop, next to a package of peanut butter crackers and a basket of ripe bananas.
Her eyes brightened as she pulled off her gray sweater and flung it over the back of the kitchen chair. “Thanks, Rod. That was thoughtful of you. Especially after the crummy day I’ve had. Got called in extra early cause that new hire never showed up. Turned out that she went on a bit of a binge, celebrating her good fortune and, like an idiot, didn’t even set her alarm. I hope Jones fires her, and we can move on to the next fool. But, at least, I got to come home at a decent hour. Small favors, eh?”
Rodney plucked the pickle jar from the refrigerator door and managed to unscrew it with minimal struggle. He fished out a neat slice, the way Jess liked them, plopped it on her plate, and then caught a whole one for himself. He scraped a stool closer and sat in companionable silence while she ate.
He studied her face as she chewed and swallowed, her gaze inward, still trying to process something she’d seen at work but couldn’t talk about yet. Sometimes it took her days to spit out a particularly ugly experience she’d had to deal with. Human beings could be damaged in so many ways, and there was only so much a nurse could do. Occasionally, it was the nurses who did the damage—to themselves and others.
Halfway through her meal, she got up, retrieved a glass out of the cabinet, and filled it with water. She eyed him over the brim. “Did you go to Mass this morning?”
He nodded. He wanted to say “And I prayed for you,” but he knew that would just set her off again. She had no need for religion and wasn’t even sure that God existed. She liked things that she could count on, and faith was just too vague in her mind. Though Rodney couldn’t imagine anything more material—a lot like his poems—rarely read and practically never loved.
“Well, at least you can rest this afternoon. The sun is warm, and we can take a drive to the lake later and watch the fishing boats for a bit.”
She dabbed her mouth with a paper napkin and shook her head. “I’ve got a date with someone Jules picked out. He’s just an intern, but it might be a fun night. I’m meeting him in town around six.”
Rodney’s heart sank. Like any addiction, Jessica seemed to think that the next time everything would turn out differently. She always insisted that she was just going to relax and have a good time, but she always ended up sleeping with the guy, then furiously insisted that it didn’t bother her if he never returned her calls. If he did call, it was just a few more dates; then it would be over. For a week, she’d look miserable but snappishly insist that she was fine. He glanced at the wall calendar. Exactly one month since the last guy.
Not again, Lord. Please, spare us.
“I’ve got a new poem.” He swallowed back choking nervousness. Jess was ten years his junior and far more advanced socially, but he liked to believe that he could write poetry better than anyone in the family. And considering the fact that his late parents had preferred sports to literature, and Jess didn’t read anything beyond Facebook posts and what work required, he wasn’t far wrong.
“Yeah? What’s it about?”
Surprise thrilling through him, Rodney cleared his throat. “You want to hear it?”
She shrugged. “I was going to take a nap before I get ready, but sure, I got a minute to waste.”
Scurrying like a child afraid he was going to be too late for a special treat, Rodney hurried upstairs, grabbed the printed copy of his recent efforts, and made it back to the kitchen just as his sister finished washing her plate and glass.
She picked up a towel and proceeded to dry. “Go on and read what you’ve got while I clean up.”
Shoving away a nudge of disappointment, Rodney hesitated between the stool and the kitchen chair. It didn’t seem right to sit down while she was standing, so he took a deep breath, held the paper steady before his face, and began to read.
Nourish Life Mysteriously
Majestic, snow-white, mountain-clouds edged with wispy gray threads morph across the world-encircling sky.
Ever changing—bulging, slimming, rounded knobs towering into the blue, twisty peaks reaching like skinny fingers for the endless expanse across our glorious upper landscape—
A phone chime rang.
His stomach growing tight, Rodney started on the next line.
Fronds of black-green plants prickle the window box, overlapping tiny round tendrils and wide palms, each demanding…
“Oh, yeah? Well, that sounds like a blast. Let’s go for it.”
Rodney looked up. Jessica was talking on her phone, her eyes shining for the first time in weeks. So happy. A jubilant little girl going to a party.
After a few more enthusiastic remarks, Jessica ended the call and draped her sweater over her arm. She headed into the hall. “Love it, Rod! But remember, you’ve got a new construction job early tomorrow, so you’d best get a good night’s rest.” She started up to her room. “I’m meeting a few friends in St. Louis, and we’re going to relax a bit.”
He stopped at the foot of the steps. “I thought you had a date.”
“I’ll meet him there.” She smiled down from the fourth step. “I know what I’m doing; don’t worry.” She bustled off on her newest adventure.
She didn’t want him to wait up. And he wouldn’t. But he’d be around, making dinner, tomorrow and the next day, when the expected call never comes.
Rodney returned to the kitchen, laid his poem on the table, and sat down. His stomach rumbled. He looked over to the counter where he had prepared his lunch: a ham and Swiss sandwich with a little bag of the chips he liked so much. He tugged at his slightly tight waistband. Bone thin, Jessica had surely needed it more than he had.
Almost of their own accord, his fingers found his poem and drew it closer. He read it through once again…lingering on the last words.
Then silence and stillness reign.
We are left to single me.
No landscape to repair the barren desert of life unlived.
Yet, the sun does shine, a wispy cloud floats by, soon to fade, a white heart in a blue field, amid a world that can see, hear, smell, and taste life’s glory—if it will.
He could not say that his sister was not living. She was. But the tempest of her storms splashed icy rain over him, rather than the gentle waves of love he longed to enjoy.
The house shook as the front door slammed shut. It soon settled in the wake of Jessica’s departed whirlwind.
Rodney pocketed the crackers and a banana. I’ll head out to the lake and stroll around a bit.
It was a lovely poem. Even if no one else read it.