Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Just a story

*Today I was thinking about getting old. I am not old, but as there is longevity on my mother's side of the family, I may get the honor of growing old. So I was thinking about it. It made me remember my great uncle Gabe. He died when he was one hundred and two. This isn't so extraordinary in my family. He died quietly at hospice and he was at peace. But still... I am a story teller, and so I thought I might take the wonderful character that he was, and recreate his death the way I wish it happened. I am going to write the story my own way. Names have been changed, places skewed. I hope you all enjoy it.

Rafael Fortunata was old. He knew it. He felt it. The world began passing him by, in its great swift motion forward, years ago. Rafael accepted being one of the army of the elderly. Sure, it was sad watching members of his family, (especially his wife Irene) die. And it was disheartening to see the world around him, once so magnificent and well kept, corrode. But the bubble of old age encapsulated him now and every year his world got smaller. Currently his existence was limited to the tiny, second floor apartment of the house his immigrant mother scrapped and saved to buy. The house in which most of his nephews and nieces were born. The house that became a home to his young bride. The house she died in fifty years later. His house now.

He was sitting at his kitchen table eating a ham sandwich when it happened. He loved ham sandwiches. He liked them on soft, American bread, and he liked to put pickled vegetables on them. This concoction made most of the children in his family turn their nose in disgust, but what did the wee folk know about good things anymore? Not much. He had to admit, however, that the respect his family still gave to him was extraordinary. He was an unlikely patriarch. Though the oldest of his eight siblings, he was quiet. Most of the bossing around and gluing together of the family fell to his younger, scrappier brothers. But Rafael was still alive, and though he and his wife Irene hadn't been blessed with any children, the children of his siblings were very good to him. They brought him everything he needed, checked on him, and their children even came around to introduce him to new babies and fiances.

He bit into the gooey sandwich and he felt the pain. He put the sandwich down in the china dish. It was his wedding china. He took to using it on a regular basis a few years earlier, after Irene died. And why not? It reminded him of her. How she loved the roses intertwining on the iridescent white background. She was his wild Irish rose. He liked the china too. The pain exploded in his chest. He got up and made his way into the pantry area of the kitchen and leaned over the deep porcelain sink. They didn't make them like this anymore. The world really had become a sad and sorry place of disposable goods. He looked out the window. This street used to be beautiful, now the houses were falling apart, and the trees were gone, and people wandered around thinking violent things. He could feel it... and then the pain shot down his arm. This was it. He was going now. He laughed a little thinking about all of his trips to Havana before Castro took over. How his friends would wave to him from the boat they took from the Keys as he lazed at the dockside bar wearing a panama hat and drinking a cold beer. They would yell, "Time to go Raf! Time to go!"

He stumbled around the corner into his bedroom. Small, but sunny. Tidy. Irene picked out the wallpaper in 1940. Roses, again the roses.....He looked at the pictures littering his dresser. His wedding picture, Irene laughing, his mother, his siblings. And then newer pictures of babies and children he would never get to see grow up. It was alright. His visit on this planet had been a long one.

He sat on the edge of the bed and waited to die. He felt his breath grow tight and he looked at his hands in his lap. Rafael took in a deep breath of shock. Those were not his hands. They were young hands. Capable hands with a shiny gold watch on the left wrist. He knew that watch, it was old now, and in the top drawer of his dresser with the other things an old man doesn't need, but once loved.

He stood up. A warm feeling came from his fingertips. He touched the wall. His fingers gave off a golden light and all of a sudden the dull, worn wallpaper was new again. The roses looked fresh. He could almost smell them. Raf began to feel giddy. He stood in the center of the room and stretched out his arms, he began to spin around. His hands threw out the past like paint. As he turned the light radiated out making everything new again.

He felt strong. He went through the apartment touching everything, bringing it all back to life. Fixing the worn holes in the oil cloth that covered the table, uncracking window panes, shining up the chrome of the 1950's appliances. He was running now. He ran down the front steps..(when was the last time he was outside?) and he ran like he had when he was a boy, with his arms stretched out, his fingers touching the walls, leaving brilliant newness in his wake.

And then he was on his street. He ran the length and as he went the trees, the elms that died during the dutch elm outbreak, the elms that made his mother want to buy a house on this particular street regrew and unfurled their green canopy once again. He stopped at the corner, out of breath, and turned to look at his masterpiece. It was just as he remembered it. He stood up tall and sauntered back to his own sweet house, and back to his apartment. There was something that he wanted.

He didn't' need to look in the hallway mirror. He felt his youth restored. His jaw was firm, his shoulders sturdy. He went back into his kitchen, opened the refrigerator and said "Voila!" there it was. A glass bottle of milk. He poured the milk into a glass (his favorite that broke years earlier, one with blue diamonds painted on the outside) and he took a long, creamy, cool sip. Yes. How he missed this. Not a trace of plastic to linger on his tongue. Progress is the thief of simple pleasures.

He put the glass in the sink and went down the back steps. He sat on the back porch, amazed by the garden, now restored to it's former glory. High summer. Peaches and figs ripening, tomatoes overgrown on the vines, a thick green carpet of lawn. He noticed there were no sounds. No birds, no cars or people. The quiet was odd, yet nice. And the sun was shining. There was that. He tilted his head up and closed his eyes letting the sun beat down on his face.

"Raf!." She giggled. "Wake up!" He put his hand against his brow to shield his eyes and looked across the yard. There she was. She was wearing that blue dress he liked so much, the one that made her blue eyes bluer. Her hair, blown by some heavenly wind, was coming out of an already messy bun. Her freckled nose crinkled and she was holding out her arms. Irene. And then he knew. He ran to her and picked her up. Oh the smell of her! And they cried and held on to each other for a very long time, and when he looked at her face again, he asked her, with his mind, where do we go now? and she exclaimed, "Havana!"


  1. As always, you make me cry with the emotion of your words! Fantastic and altogether brilliant! I saw every tiny detail and felt Raf's joy. You are a very talented writer!

  2. Splendid, my dear! I love the part when Raf touches the wallpaper and it becomes new. I can see the roses blooming and vines intertwining on the wall. Great description!

  3. And the milk? Did you nitice the milk! Like in your poem....