Belated Urgency- Kathleen Langstroth


Well, I’m waiting for your surprise.  All right, I’m not entirely in denial.  I know you’re gone.  Mike said it was true because he saw you.  Otherwise, he would still side with me on this one.  He still doesn’t believe it either.  Not really.  And so, I will say that I would not fall down in a swoon if you walked through the front door right now.  Alternatively, you could always email me.  I do not consider it out of the realm of possibility.

Apparently, you are dead.  Apparently, I have no say in the matter.  No way to comment, question or alter this.  No complaints to file.  All is past due.

I know you said that you wanted a party of obscene proportions and you know we haven’t been able to do that just yet.  There just wasn’t time to get everyone involved.  We will.  But we did have the memorial/wake thing?  Did you catch that? Can you watch?  It was at Mike’s place.  Good turnout.  Of course, I didn’t know many people.  There was that swirl of your devoted followers who made it to your funeral.  But no one thought to call me.  To be fair, I suppose no one knew about me.

I only learned about your end six hours after the funeral service at Mount Pleasant.  Keith called me.  I remember saying, “My Reg?”, repeatedly as though I have a whole collection of friends named Reg and it needed to be clarified that it was indeed you that we were talking about. He sent me pictures of your coffin in that awful mausoleum.  You were in a pine box in your underwear.  She took everything, even your clothes.  Not that the box was open.  And there was a single red rose on top, which I know you hated.  You know who made that decision. The whole scenario betrayed some kind of Dickensian asperity.  And then they just burned you up.

Do you remember how we used to talk about those houses that are going to be torn down for the airport?  I wanted to document them with a series of photos.  You really liked the idea and told me to get going on it before they were gone.  They are still there but the numbers are halved.  Massive machinery just started tearing them down last month.  Pulling and smashing, grinding and pummelling until there was nothing but dust. Lots of rubble, dark earth, orange plastic fencing draped half-heartedly around the scenes of endings.  Afterwards, they clean up to the extent that it looks as though nothing had ever been there.  Nothing.  I didn’t take the pictures.

But I was talking about your memorial.  I went with Keith and Ian.  We were not going to miss this event after the funeral fiasco.  We weren’t sure if we were in the right place but Charles welcomed us in.  Up on the piano, there you were.  Also, over on the fireplace mantel.  A couple in the dining room.  Colour 8x10s, framed in glass.  Tasteful.  There was that distinctive acrid aroma floating through the rooms.  Thick in the tiny house.  Out back, the barbeque was working on a pork roast and a couple of chickens.  Lots more food on the tables everywhere.  Could have been a wedding.  I didn’t even think of bringing food.  I didn’t think that there was much point in eating.

What do you think of me picking one of my favourite of those old houses?  Go back and actually open it up.  It’s a bit risky.  After all, it is private property.  This is trespassing.  But…imagine taking a crowbar to that weathered plywood sealing the tired front door.  The light and fresh air rushing in as I force the stoic door over the aching pine planks.

On a bright and sunny day.  Always careful to plan my priorities ahead.  We, well I, should take a methodical approach.  The front door is the first step. It’s utterly black inside and it smells cold.  I will go back outside to attack some windows.  In the long dried grass, I will avoid tripping on the antique wire fencing with the repeating maple leaf motif.  Crowbar off sheets of laminate wood already beginning to peel apart from the accumulation of time and weather.  Stumbling from one window sill to another.  This may take longer than I first expected.  Without help, there is more than one perfect day’s work needed to open everything.  Maybe six windows downstairs, only three or four upstairs, if I remember correctly.  This is a small place but I will need a serious, professional-type ladder.  Perhaps I will salvage enough time to clear off the dust-caked banister, examine the remnants of furniture that saw the last people nest here.  Gawk at the dripping tap.  How can they have forgotten to turn off the water?  That makes this home more alive.  It is not over yet.

Then, imagine the satisfaction.  All is radiant but I am paranoid.  Worried about the inevitable interference from unnamed people from the outside. From the world where there are issues, like ownership and repossession without reason.  But for my moment, this tiny house shall be drowned in light again, take in all that fresh country air but with a reluctance to take on any responsibility that comes with being a house.  The grim veil lifting just a little bit.  Mostly there would be a kind of ‘sigh of relief’ quality to the place.  Just a trifling segment of time more.  Granted.

Then night time and darkness would drop.  The open house would be slightly warmer from a day of summer sun but still hollow waiting for someone to come with more assistance with renewal.  You’d like the place.  The size and layout would suit your needs.  Anyway, I’m certainly not undertaking this without you.  Turns out, this is quite the gargantuan task.  I really do need you for this.

Did you know that it is darker inside those abandoned houses at night than it is outside?  I’m pretty certain of that.  Out in the rolling countryside, the darkness has weight.  You can see its heft.  But jet black, end of experience, ‘oh no I’ve been buried alive’ type black… that is only found inside those boarded up houses streaked with mourning.  Smudged lives.  Erased.  Are you there?

At the memorial, I just kept waiting for you to arrive.  We make our way through the house meeting people at every turn.  There was some confusion about the toilet.  Several of us gathered to solve that riddle before we ended up in the backyard again.  Drinks continued to be passed, chips dipped and time slowed to a distant blur.

We brought beer of course.  I won’t tell you what brand but I believe you repeatedly referred to it as ‘swill’.  I quickly downed one and was poised to drink the second as we entered the crowd flanked by heavy foliage.  The curdling humidity combined with intense sunlight meant all effects from alcohol would work that much more efficiently.  The sun followed very dramatic rains this morning.  As I insisted on wearing my black leather jacket, I was destined to be physically uncomfortable.  This matched my sociability.  We didn’t know you for as long as some of the others here if you use number of years as a gauge.  However, I always felt like I knew you for ages and I add that I planned on knowing you for a lot longer.  Well, I will always know you now.  I just can’t see you… at the moment.

So, there is this sense of belated urgency.  I want to get to know these people before we leave.  They associated with you so I need to absorb all they have of you to take home with me.  It’s a bit like collecting more snapshots.  But I’m getting pretty relaxed now, courageous enough to talk to too many.  That swill calls me to action.  Although I have become slightly askew, I resolve to move forward. Absurdly, I try to get shelter from the intense light and back into what turned out to be a very thorny bush.  Very pretty little red flowers though.  At this point, I wobbled a bit and laughed more than was prudent.

It really is possible for me to take some of those pictures still.  I will show you the shots but I won’t touch the houses.  No crowbars.  No empty spaces with invisible stories.  I think it is just too much for me.  Is that okay with you?  Not all the houses have been flattened but when I am near them my stomach gets tight and I pretty much forget why I came.  You’re probably not interested in this anymore.  I won’t discuss it further.

It felt a bit hard to breathe with the dripping heat.  It wasn’t just the humidity that hung in the air.  Your name. Just like at school with YOUR NAME at the top of every worksheet. Everywhere I positioned myself:  your name.   It hung in the spaces between conversations.  It repeatedly dropped into stories.  Stop talking and I hear it again, two people over from me.  At certain moments, it was reassuring.

I was getting a bit dizzy but I waited.  I waited for you to arrive.  I was ready for you to poke your head around the gate, vault into the yard, arms outstretched to the puffy white clouds.  You’d let out a sizable guffaw as the sun lit up your silhouette.  Everyone would laugh and shift over in their seats to make room for you, your huge smile and your long legs.  No questions asked.  I knew that you would make it, that you could make it.  I won’t think about those empty houses with their drooping sadness anymore.  Okay?

We are all poised for your story now.


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