You drop everything and go. It’s what you do when someone you love is dying. The distance between, suddenly a feasible illusion. In the gray drab of the airport garage, you drive in circles, an ascending spiral towards…. nirvana, you hope, but just one lousy parking spot will do. Your stomach contents somersault with each passing floor when you finally reach the top. Heaven?

The radio comes on as you park in G44, sudden and loud, Mendelssohn you recognize just before an unyielding fugue blankets you. Staring at the cement wall through your spotty windshield, you think of him, and how he moved so slowly, so haltingly through the last hard days of his life. Alone. The Violin Concerto gets louder, faster, more urgent and you can’t stop crying. When you arrive at the ticket counter, you have to shut your brain off, stop thinking. Switching to auto-pilot mode in 3…2…1.

You provide all the essentials to the agent, indifferent to her sympathetic eyes and kind smile, her hair ablaze a sunset red. Have a nice flight, ma’am, she says, handing you your boarding pass. Thanks, you too, you answer, feeling like an idiot before making your way to the gate.

The concerto continues even now, months later, hitting a crescendo when you least expect it. Eating a salad for lunch. Folding still-warm towels out of the dryer. Washing your body in the shower, imagining how corroded the inside of his body had gotten, his lungs so badly scarred it was agony with each inhale and exhale, something you do 22,000 times a day with unblinking ease.

Death is gruesome. A fact that is severe and dangerous, like a refrain in E Minor. Your hands are cold, but not as cold as his, and you hate this music now as it continues to flood the confined insides of your consciousness. Memories, tenacious and abundant like the Boston ivy growing on the side of the house, cling to you like the scaling notes, ascending upwards, upwards, past your being, past your existence, blooming into a lenticular cloud in another universe.
Finally, nirvana.

5 Comments

  1. MaxieJane Frazier

    Renuka, tying death to the danger of a refrain in E Minor as well as returning to the upward spiral and nirvana were all such nice moves!

  2. Sarah Freligh

    Renuka, I love this, love how the second person is working tonally here and how it really underscores the conflict here: how we tick on and go about the dailiness of things even as we lug around these enormous griefs. That’s so beautifully illustrated in the rote exchange at the ticket counter, the usual routine amidst the great sorrow. And I love, love, love how the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto acts as objective correlative FOR that grief, cropping up — just as grief does — for months afterward.

    Two suggestions: Go ahead and lean on that metaphor, your OC, a little more, especially in the aftermath of the death. A crescendo — especially in THIS particular concerto (which I long ago attempted to play, gah) — signals the beginning of the end, but here it just keeps crescendoing. Is you cognizant of that? And that mournful beginning, does that play on and on?

    Thinking that because he’s not dead yet, change the verb tense in the second graf, how “he’s moved so slowly. . .” Or another way, there are a couple ways to hit this.

    Just beautiful work, Renuka!!!!!

  3. Catherine Parnell

    The controlling metaphor is spot on! This: “an unyielding fugue blankets you”! I wonder if the conclusion might be trimmed a bit so that we get the concept of nirvana sooner? Thank you!

  4. Suzanne van de Velde

    Hi Renuka – thank you for this beautiful, compressed and furious lament. The concrete car park: relentless, mundane and essential, where the best outcome is to stop, itself almost like a mini-death. My sense is that death has already occurred — is that correct? — which makes this journey so much lonelier still.
    I love how your description of the mind pitching in grief, how our senses can sabotage, immerse us in “the confined insides of your consciousness.” When memories of my mother returned, it was like a spiral, each turn exposing a fresh seam of pain. Please keep going with this.

  5. Kathryn Kulpa

    Talk about beginning in medias res–this is the textbook on doing just that. I love how this piece alternates between hurrying and waiting, between an almost unbearable tension and what Sarah called “the dailiness of things.”

    I’m not sure if I’m reading this correctly, but I saw the story as taking place in two distinct times, before and after. The shift happens after paragraph 3, when the main character gets on the airplane, and the next scene happens “months later” (after the death), when life has outwardly gotten back to “normal,” but grief is still there, close to the surface. I love “your hands are cold, but not as cold as his.” The inescapable memories caught in that music.

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