by A.S. Coomer
The sirens woke me. I opened my eyes to the flashing red lights coming in through the closed blinds. My first conscious breath was painful, something spiked and bristled in my chest and I couldn’t complete it. I sputtered and coughed and tried to swing my feet over the side of the bed to sit up but couldn’t.
I looked over and my wife was standing there. Deep pockets of weary concern on her face.
How many times had this moment occurred?
“They just got here,” she said, placing a cold hand on my shoulder. “Don’t move. Sit still.”
I tried to let myself fall back onto the bed but anything other than holding myself completely rigid sent the painbirds fluttering. They’re finicky creatures.
From somewhere below and off to the left, the front door opened. I didn’t hear it but I felt the change in the house’s pressure. It was new enough, still not really settled, that you could feel things like that.
She had her arms wrapped around herself now. Her frail hands, an old woman’s hands I could see now, were stroking her naked arms. Consoling herself. The hands and slight enfolding embrace an attempt to tell herself it was going to be ok.
I tried to find her eyes.
I opened my mouth to call her name.
Nothing came out.
Two women came through the bedroom door, official and stone-faced. I thought I recognized one of them from another time, another lesser visit.
There was a fresh fluttering of the wings in my chest and I couldn’t help but close my eyes. Tears snuck past the corners of my closed eyelids and streaked down both of my hot, fevered cheeks; icy slalom skiers making one last run.
When I could open my eyes again, she was talking to them. She had stepped further away from the bed, back against the wall, another enclosure giving her a sense of herself alone, confined and self-contained, her lips moving and eyes bright with anxiety, with uselessness, with time.
I tried to say her name again but couldn’t. A soft avian chitter in the night followed by the flock unseen’s full response. The birds were really singing now.
They came and threw back the sheets. I felt a wave of chill thrill across my wasted legs, my half-exposed stomach poking out from under the ruffled pajama shirt, the folds of my weather-beaten neck pulling back a bit, just a fraction tighter.
The understanding that the cold slowly sucked you back in time dawned on me like the first glimpse of clear-skied December sunrise. Seconds began to flash backwards, abandoning their forward march as if it had all just been another training exercise, a fire drill, a cursory, fretless, feckless thing.
I tried to look toward my wife but my eyes were not the eyes I closed the late April night before. They were not even the eyes of my seventy-sixth year.
I saw her through eyes ten years younger, misting around the edges; all slightly out of focus but in a very nice Coppola sort of way. She was smiling in earnest–not realizing I was watching–at the rising Minnesotan sun, her first poured cup of sugary black coffee steaming up in swirls around her chin, giving her the appearance of some beautifully aged, asiatic sage.
“What is it?”
I must’ve blinked because then I saw her through eyes at least twenty-five years younger, sepia-toned and warmly hazy. She was coming in through the door of the old house we used to live in downtown, her arms laden with plastic grocery bags, her face flushed from the summer heat. Little hairs were stuck to her forehead and her dark hair looked frizzled and wild. Her smooth face was florid but content. She unloaded herself onto the kitchen table and wiped her forehead with her forearm then saw me. The smile streaked across her face like heat lightning, late evenings in early August.
My stomach dropped. The birds sang louder.
I saw her, again, through eyes I’ve had at least fifty years since. She was sitting across from me in a little booth for two at a Mexican restaurant somewhere in the flaxen wastes of Kansas, ballcap on her head, tinted lipbalm colored in slightly outside the lines of her mouth, beautiful and famished after a long day in the car. Her large eyes, anchored wonderfully in her smooth, sun kissed cheeks, were scanning the sticky, plastic shrouded menu. I watched them bloom as they lighted on what she wanted.
“Ma’am, I need you to step back.”
The birds sang another note, it surrounded me, and I felt the feathers ruffle against my chest. I opened my eyes but everything was dark. They nestled closer and I, too, began to sing.
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A.S. Coomer is a writer. He likes cats, tacos, books & comics. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in issues of Red Fez, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Literary Orphans Journal, The Quill, Blotterature, Flash Fiction Magazine, Oxford Magazine, The Poets Without Limits, The Broadkill Review, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Thirteen Myna Birds, 101 Words, Intrinsick Magazine and Serving House Journal, to name a few. You can find him at http://www.ascoomer.wordpress.com. He also runs a “record label” for poetry that can be found here: http://www.lostlonggoneforgottenrecords.wordpress.com.
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