by Jéanpaul Ferro
Elijah Ransom stood at the edge of his family compound along the bluffs and dunes of Matunuck, R.I. He stared up at this bow of cable television wire hanging loosely between two poles that he was about to splice into, not to steal it, mind you, but to “share” a cable feed that was already being paid for by Clifford Brown his next door neighbor right across the street.
Elijah had known the Brown family for several decades. Clifford Brown was a Narragansett Indian who his people called Lightfoot, because he used to run track barefoot back in high school. The name of the village, Matunuck, was also an Indian name, meaning “look out,” as the Narragansett Indian tribe once kept their summer encampment along these coastal plains before they sold it all to the colonists in 1657 as a part of the Pettaquamscutt purchase.
If Elijah had something to sell on that warm Sunday afternoon in May he would have sold it already. Times had been tough in Rhode Island. The 2008 financial crisis on Wall Street had trickled all the way down to Main Street now. Unemployment hovered in the double-digits, Americans were getting laid off left and right, and everyone, including Elijah, had clinched up their buttocks and wallets and no one was spending a dime that they had.
All of this totally sunk Elijah’s lawn and care service. Nobody cares about lawns and gardens in a recession. In the early Bush years his self-made business had soared to the point where he had to hire twelve employees simply to keep pace. Now his business was down to just him and his new wife, Brooklyn, who he had taught to use a John Deere X300 overnight so they could both go out on the weekend and do those two extra school lawns he had scrounged up from an old buddy of his who was now on the South Kingstown school committee.
For as long as he could remember, Elijah thought of himself as a self-made man. He had waited until he was 53 to get married, chasing his lifelong dream of being a pro golfer until old age, a really pretty girl twenty years his junior, and the reality of his golf handicap all caught up with him almost exactly at the same moment.
Now he was standing there on a ladder, his balding head sweating in the sun as he spliced into his neighbor’s cable line, because he could only afford electricity or cable, one or the other, but not both.
And as he was cutting into the cable and then hooking it up to the wire connected to all the houses on the property where he lived, Elijah looked back across the emerald lawns of his family compound only a stone’s throw from Matunuck Beach. His mother and father, Juliet and Hester, had left their three children five houses on over twenty-six prime acres of coastal Rhode Island land. His brother, Joe, had the small yellow house everyone called Little Beaver. His sister, Maggie, had Big Beaver, which to this day still drew out a laugh out of everyone in the family. He and Brooklyn and their newborn daughter, Paloma, had the small blue house that had no name. The large summer house and the gray cottage next door were the ones they rented out all summer to those New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania types who summered along the gold coast of Rhode Island between May and August of each year.
Of course, it nagged at him that he lived in his house for free, got free heat by burning the wood he had to cut himself for the wood stove, and still drove that twenty year old Volvo with the 356,847 miles on it, and yet he still had to go and tap into his neighbor’s cable so he and the rest of his family could watch a couple of hours of nightly television.
When he returned back to his little blue house he smiled as he went walking past Brooklyn who was outback taking the clothes off the laundry line. After knowing Elijah for over five years now she certainly had learned which battles to pick with him.
“Are you done with your little cable television fiasco?” she asked, taking her whites off the clothes line that the May sun had already warmed dry.
Elijah wiped the sweat off of his half-bald head and nodded a guilty grin. “Hey, I’m off the grid,” he joked. “Haven’t paid income taxes in twelve years. Have no driver’s license. And the Federal government doesn’t even know I exist anymore. So a non-existent person can’t be watching someone else’s cable, right?”
Brooklyn took a deep breath, wiped some of her long brown hair out of her face, and gave Elijah this dour look where her eyes cinched tight and her lips pursed together out of annoyance. He knew that she expected him to help raise their daughter, Paloma, right, making sure she would be someone who grew up to pay her taxes, paid her fifty bucks to get her license renewed every five years, and had a steady job so she would never have to relay on any man, or anyone else for that matter, unless that was something she decided to do.
Elijah saw the frustration on his wife’s face. He felt guilty right then. Brooklyn, who ironically was born in the Bronx, a 32-year old brunette with green eyes and a diploma from New York University, had been working double-time at her photography job, filming weddings, graduations, and anniversary parties all over southern New England, and then she would come home and take care of Paloma and then help her husband with his business on the weekends on top of that.
He went over, kissed her gently on the top of her brunette hair, and held her against him as her weary head fell against his chest as though she had to listen to his heart to make sure that he was okay.
He leaned back and held her face with both of his hands. “My heart’s fine. He said. I haven’t touched a cookie or a chip in three months. I’ve been taking my medication. And the doc said at my last visit that my heart was functioning up to sixty-percent now.”
Brooklyn’s green eyes stared at him as though she couldn’t help but be worried. She had married him knowing that he had this severe heart problem. But now every time she looked at her daughter, Paloma, and she witnessed the same blue eyes of Elijah on her sweet and delicate face, she worried whether or not her little girl was going to know the man who had the same beautiful blue eyes as her, a man that her mother had fallen in love with the very first day she met him down at the 84 High Street bar and restaurant in Westerly.
“I know,” she told him. “You’ve been doing great.” Her hand rubbed against Elijah’s heart. “Especially for you.” She said this last part with a bit of a smirk on her face.
“Hey, what does that mean? Especially for you?”
Brooklyn gathered up her whites in the antique wooden box, the one that once housed wine grapes from the vineyard down the street, and she smirked all the way back to the house as Elijah stood there with this silly grin stuck to his face.
Elijah chased her inside, gave her a good whack on the rear end right in the middle of the living room, kissed little Paloma who was sleeping beautifully in her Baby Bouncer inside her bedroom, grabbed his white golf bag full of clubs, and then went to hug Brooklyn goodbye as he passed her going the other way toward the front door.
She dropped the wooden bin of clothes on the couch and gave him a long, endearing hug goodbye.
He kissed her gently on the lips and gave her that charming smile he always had. “Don’t worry,” he told her, “this ain’t the last time you’re gonna see me. I’m too much of a pain in your rear end to go and die on you.”
He laughed as he slapped her on the butt again, dragged his white golf bag over to the doorway, where on his way out he always gave this photograph of the two of them, taken on the beach in South Africa during their honeymoon with Table Mountain in the background, a little touch, like the way Notre Dame football players touch the “Play Like a Champion Today” sign on their way out of the tunnel right before a game.
Brooklyn stood there now in the quiet living room of their little blue house. She walked over, made sure Paloma was sleeping okay, and then collapsed onto the couch next to the clothes she had put down. She listened as Elijah’s Volvo drove down the claim shell driveway and then quietly disappeared into the hush down the road until there was only the calm wind and the sound of the breaking waves off on the beach not far away.
The next thing she knew she was in New Haven Hospital in the critical care unit where Elijah lie on a perfectly pristine and white hospital bed with tubes and wires going into his mouth, nose, and arms every which way.
“He was without oxygen for over thirty minutes,” the gray haired female doctor told her quite gravely. Her name was Eugena Peverley and she had this look of concern on her cracked old face as she spoke. “We never know how these patients are going to respond. He could be fine. Or he could never wake up.”
Brooklyn nervously held a sobbing Paloma as her husband’s brother and sister, Joe and Maggie, looked on through the glass of the room from outside.
“And what about his heart?” Brooklyn asked.
She watched as the gray haired doctor’s eyes turned and stared off at the wall for a second before returning straight back at her intense and concerned looking green eyes.
“He could not have been taking his medication,” the doctor told her. “His heart is down to functioning at only sixteen percent. It’s a miracle he’s even alive at this point.”
Brooklyn looked down at her young daughter who was quieting now. She kissed Paloma on her head, that was somewhat still barren of the dark hair that she could see was still coming in, and she leaned her up against her chest feeling that perhaps it would only be the two of them going forward.
For the next two weeks Brooklyn had Joe and Maggie take turns watching Paloma back in Rhode Island while she slept curled up with a blanket and pillow that a kind, old German nurse had given her so she could sleep next to her husband’s bed curled up on the floor.
On the first day of the third week she stood there next to Elijah’s bed when with her own eyes she watched as he took a deep breath and opened his half-startled eyes.
He looked right in her eyes.
“Who are you?” he asked her.
There was this blank expression on his face like he was someone else.
“You’re wife—” she said somewhat confused.
A blond haired nurse she had never met before came rushing in, pulled her outside, where she had to wait for an hour as all these doctors and nurses and hospital folks walked in and out of Elijah’s room with these astonished looks on their faces as though they were all witnessing something they had only read about in text books.
When Doctor Peverley arrived and took Brooklyn aside she almost couldn’t fathom what she was told.
“He has no memory of you or your daughter,” Doctor Peverley told her with this determined look on her face. “We’re in a real bind,” she was told now. “If we try to operate on his heart now he might not ever regain his memory. Anesthesia can really have an effect on memory loss, especially existing memory loss due to trauma. It’s a Catch-22.”
“But I can’t live if the person I have isn’t Elijah,” Brooklyn tried to tell her. “What should I do?”
Doctor Peverley got this compassionate look on her face. “Only you can decide that.”
Later that same evening, Brooklyn talked it over with Joe and Maggie and they all decided as a family to let Elijah try and regain some of his memory before they tried to perform open heart surgery.
The next week Brooklyn sat beside her husband on his bed and patiently tried to make him remember. She showed him photographs of them together; places that he would have known by heart. She brought in one of his golf clubs one day; a piece of sod he had stolen from Fenway Park once that he planted in their front yard. He wouldn’t even let anyone walk near that patch of grass.
But Elijah lie there in bed with this angry look on his face like all these people who kept visiting him and the brunette constantly sitting beside him there by his bed were all annoying the hell out of him.
“Is that my wife?” he said, as he pointed at this attractive blond walking by right outside his room.
“No. I’m you’re wife,” Brooklyn told him, storming out of the room, losing her patience and composure for the first time since her husband had the heart attack.
By the next day she had to convince Elijah that he was a man and not a woman. “It’s obvious why I’m here in the hospital,” he told Brooklyn with this very I-got-it-figured-out look on his face.
“Oh, yeah,” she said, sort of getting a laugh out of his antics now. “Why are you here Elijah?”
He stared down at his somewhat bloated stomach that was all swollen from all the drugs, beta blockers, and bad hospital food they had been giving him.
“I’m pregnant!” he yelled out loud.
Brooklyn’s hand went up to her mouth and she began to laugh. “You think you’re pregnant?” she asked. “But Elijah, you’re a man.”
“If I were a man I’d think I’d know about it.”
Brooklyn took a deep breath, patiently walked over to his bed, lifted up her husband’s hospital gown, and nodded for him to look down between his own legs.
“Oh, Jesus,” he said. “Now that’s a problem.”
Brooklyn rushed in and kissed him gently on the cheek, leaning onto his bed and beginning to softly cry as this stranger in her husband’s body awkwardly held her and let her cry even though she could tell by the look on his face that he, she, whoever it was in there, had no idea who she was from anyone else in the world.
The next morning she came in holding that photograph of her and Elijah on the beach in South Africa while they had been on their honeymoon.
She walked straight into his hospital room, sat down beside him on the bed, and placed the photograph right onto his lap.
Elijah stared down at it with this suspicious look on his exhausted face. His blue eyes moved from side to side as he looked at himself and Brooklyn in that photograph.
Suddenly he looked up and uttered: “Brooklyn?”
She watched as his soul literally began to fly back into his eyes. She threw her arms around Elijah and cried for the next twenty minutes as he kept wiping the tears out of her eyes and asking her over and over: “What happened? Why am I here?”
That night she drove the long distance back up Route 95 from New Haven to Matunuck. With Paloma fast asleep by her side she slept right through the entire night for the first time since her husband had walked out the door and she found him in critical condition at the hospital later that evening.
When she arrived back at New Haven Hospital the next morning she rushed into Elijah’s room only to find an empty bed that was perfectly made like her husband had never been there.
She ran out into the hall and she overheard one nurse say, “Oh, Lord, didn’t someone tell her first? Someone downstairs should have told her.”
The next few days were a complete blur to Brooklyn.
She sat on a chair in front of a hole on her husband’s property with his coffin already in the ground. In her arms sat the photograph of her and Elijah in South Africa on their honeymoon. All his friends and family and high school buddies and girl friends and customers and the mail man and the Brown’s next door and just about everyone Elijah ever knew, all stood there in line; and one by one they began to take this brand new silver shovel that his older brother, Joe, had bought down at the Home Depot earlier that day and they each threw one shovel full of dirt onto his grave.
There was a beautiful grayish-black mockingbird dancing on a branch of laurel that sang throughout the afternoon service, which seemingly got truncated by a musician they hired to play “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes. After his performance so many guests were overcome by grief that many of them had to leave.
Later that evening, Brooklyn, Joe, and Maggie all stood there by Elijah’s grave. There was this cloudy starlight trailing across the sky from the Milky Way as Brooklyn took one final shovelful of dirt and cast if over Elijah’s plot. She heard Paloma begin to cry back at the house as she was being watched by her mother, Elena, who had flown in from Iowa two days earlier.
Brooklyn looked at Joe and Maggie and then the three of them began to hug each other.
“He loved you,” Maggie said, weeping for the first time since it all happened.
“I’ll look after you. You always have me to look after you,” Joe kept telling her as though he needed to tell her this as many times as it took for her to believe him.
Brooklyn wiped the tears from her eyes, stood back from her brother and sister-in-law, and looked back at the grave that she knew was completely illegal to have on the property, but she had allowed it to be put there, because Elijah had always told her quite clearly that he wanted to be buried on his families’ property near the ocean if anything ever happened to him.
“See,” Brooklyn said talking to the grave as though Elijah were still alive. “One last time you got to poke ‘em in the eye,” she said; and then she collapsed, Joe and Maggie helping her back up to the house, where she didn’t wake up for another two days.
The following summer was this blur of blue torturous skies and world events that never touched Brooklyn’s mind.
There was Elijah’s death, a $250k hospital bill for which she had no insurance, this realization that Elijah had no life insurance either, and she didn’t know how to run his old business by herself. There were these people questioning her thought process on knowingly marrying someone who was ill. And then there was this realization that she was going to have to raise a child on her own now.
The candy colored blossoms of August soon turned into these dark reds, yellows, and grays of autumn, which in turn changed into the skeleton trees that stood there amid the tall winter snows of Rhode Island.
Soon the pain in Brooklyn’s heart turned to rage. This eventually turned into great sadness until one day the following spring, not long after Paloma said “da-da” after seeing her father’s picture on the refrigerator, she said, yes, to a date with a boy for the first time since Elijah had died.
His name was Robert Ridgeway, but everyone called him Bobby. He was a professional fisherman out of Galilee, but he had gone to Emerson College, studied Shakespeare, and he had this infinite love for photography exactly the way Brooklyn did. Tom Chambers was even his favorite photographer exactly like her.
Two months into their courtship Brooklyn and Bobby sat there in her living room on a hot summer night, drinking some sangria that she had chocked full of oranges rinds, lemons, peaches, and honey. They had spent the day at Green Hill Beach; and with their bright tanned faces and glowing eyes and their stomachs full of claim cakes, Brooklyn began to relax, lying backwards onto Bobby who was sitting there perfectly quiet with her now.
When she stared up into his dark brown eyes that looked as though they would never hurt her, she leaned her torso up, the outline of her breasts slightly touching against his chest as she hesitated for a second and then kissed him for the very first time.
She smiled when she saw the elated and surprised look that came to his face.
“I can’t believe you just did that,” he said.
“See, I’m full of surprises.”
When she sat up and began to caress his day old beard with her hand she was surprised by the look on his delighted, shocked, and bewildered face.
“Aren’t you happy I kissed you?”
As Brooklyn slid off of him his hands fell onto his lap.
“No. No. I mean— We’ve said goodnight twenty times and never kissed. I reconciled myself that you’d do it when you were ready.”
His face began to nod toward the photograph of Elijah and Brooklyn on their honeymoon along the beach in South Africa that was still hanging over by the front door.
“Oh,” she said.
She immediately felt terrible.
Brooklyn quickly went over and took the photograph off the wall. She rushed with it into her bedroom, and when she came back out she stood there next to the couch looking very proud of herself.
He surprised her though by getting up, going right by where she stood, and over to the threshold of her bedroom door.
She stood there feeling terribly embarrassed now.
“You put the photograph up on your bedroom wall?” he asked.
Her hands nervously slid down into the front pockets of her jeans. Her shoulders shrugged. These tense lines came up into her forehead as her mouth suddenly became dry.
“Yes,” she said. “I put it where my photograph of the Old Man and the Mountain used to be. Look— Bobby— I’m really sorry.”
When she looked at him his face didn’t look upset at all. But then he said: “You’d take it down if we were married, right?”
Brooklyn stood there silent as her eyes opened wide. She knew Elijah would always be a part of her. She couldn’t just stand there and pretend that she had exorcized him out of her DNA and that she had no feelings for him at all like all those old feelings could simply evaporate on command. It was as though she was suppose to take his memory and put it down in the cellar with the dust, the old records, the daguerreotypes, and the pain that was still there in her heart that no one else wanted to look at anymore.
“I don’t know,” she said quite honestly.
Bobby politely nodded like he understood. He went over and kissed her on the cheek, hugged her for a long time, and then told her that he would call her in the morning.
She went outside and watched as his old pickup truck drove away down the clamshell driveway and off into the darkness of the rest of the night.
Exactly one year went by.
People like to say, Time heals all wounds, but this is utter nonsense. What really happens is that the living who are left behind by the departed simply begin to fill their lives up with these other objects, these other routines, these prescriptions for the pain they can’t get rid of: nights out on the town, having kids, building homes, and pushing the years gathering up behind them like waves as far back as they can push them.
Moving forward and keeping busy seemed to be the thing that helped Brooklyn the most. She came to an agreement with the hospital in New Haven that as long as she paid something down, even twenty dollars a month, on her enormous hospital bill that they would not come after her through the courts. Social security began to send Paloma social security benefits in order to help stabilize the family. Brooklyn worked as hard as she had ever worked in her photography business until one day she came home and Bobby was waiting there down along her long driveway in front of the little blue house that she used to live in with Elijah.
He got down on one knee, proposed, and two weeks later they eloped in Niagara Falls, New York.
When they returned after a week long honeymoon, Bobby worked something out with Joe and Maggie so that he and Brooklyn would pay them some sort of rent—he just didn’t feel right living in their brother’s old house without paying them something. He brought in some of his own furniture and they repainted the entire inside of the house the very first day they returned from Niagara Falls. Not once did he ever mention to Brooklyn that she should take down that photograph of her and Elijah that was still hanging there on the bedroom wall.
He was being so sweet about it all. It even got to the point where he insisted on painting around the photograph when he went to paint the new egg-white hue over the faded white that had been there before.
It was right before they were going to go to bed, Bobby looking exhausted from all the hard work he had done around the house that day, that Brooklyn began to change into her nightclothes, shorts and a T-shirt, having already kissed Paloma goodnight in the other room, when she looked over at Bobby already lying there in bed; and she went over to the old photograph of her and Elijah still hanging there on the wall, and she quietly took it down, walking over to her closet and carefully tucking it under some old boxes of shoes that she had never worn.
The moonlight came through the bedroom window in these illustrious whites and grays as Brooklyn turned down the bedroom light and walked over and slid into the arms of Bobby who almost immediately fell asleep from fatigue. She held her arms around him tight and knew that she was luckier than most who had lost someone, and she prayed to God that night to make her never forget Elijah no matter what happened in the future.
She lie there in bed watching the moon glow twist and turn like body parts moving on the wall every time the wind would move the branches of the spruce and cedar that were right outside the bedroom window. Brooklyn exhaled, expecting this transcendent moment when the pain would stop. But the longer she lie there, staring up at the faded spot on the wall where that photograph used to hang, its old outline a different shade of white than in the rest of the room, the more she began to realize that the lack of loneliness that she had just traded in for all the other problems that are the grist of life left her with nothing to trade after that.
She thought about this for a long time that night, watching the shadows of the tree branches waver back and forth on the walls as though it were Elijah finally saying goodbye. And then she closed her eyes and fell asleep and forced herself to dream of something else.
An 8-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Jéanpaul Ferro’s work has appeared on National Public Radio, Contemporary American Voices, Columbia Review, Emerson Review, Connecticut Review, Portland Monthly, Arts & Understanding Magazine, The Providence Journal, Saltsburg Review, Hawaii Review, and others. He is the author of All The Good Promises (Plowman Press, 1994), Becoming X (BlazeVox Books, 2008), You Know Too Much About Flying Saucers (Thumbscrew Press, 2009), Hemispheres (Maverick Duck Press, 2009) Essendo Morti – Being Dead (Goldfish Press, 2009), nominated for the 2010 Griffin Prize in Poetry; and Jazz (Honest Publishing, 2011), nominated for both the 2012 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize and the 2012 Griffin Prize in Poetry. He is represented by the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency. Website: www.jeanpaulferro.com * E-mail: email@example.com