Chapter One: The House of Light
Donnell had not slept much that night. After watching the swift drama of the wreck he had wept quietly; wept for Jeffrey, for all the pain of life, and for his own eighty-one years. It was a catharsis of weeping, there on his back deck overlooking the river. It was the river of tears that had remained at a distance since he'd learned, almost a year ago, that he was terminal. And now the brutality of life emerged again with a little boy, dying of cancer, who dies from a car wreck instead. Donnell had not cried that hard since his wife died.
The sky was a bright blue this morning, a few stray high clouds off to the east. This was a blue like Donnell had seen so often in the turquoise water of the Indian Ocean, the blue just before it splashes toward white. Donnell's mind was clearer this morning, and he knew that Jeffrey's death was also his own. He was an old man dying of colon cancer who would die, like Jeffrey, before the cancer took him, today. Watching death's bloody bath, Donnell realized that during his nine months of very painful decay, the cancer eating him alive, he had forgotten the brutality of life -- brutality he had known in two wars, and as a doctor, and as a man. He had observed his own decay so closely -- his constant pain, his emaciation from lack of appetite, his bald, liver-splotched head, his hairless arms and legs, tiny as sticks, his trembling hands, his deliriums -- that he had forgotten the real and quick randomness of life. Watching Jeffrey and the many people around the boy, then seeing that beautiful light, Donnell sensed suddenly that he had reawakened to life itself, like a dying soldier gets a last passionate vision before death.
Donnell Wight, now a widower for a decade, had been married fifty-two years. He and Mary Ann had two children, six grandchildren, and now three great-grandchildren. With his white hair and long white beard, living as he did on his huge house on the cliff above the river, isolating himself with no trespassing signs and few invitations, Donnell had long ago, even before his terminal illness, passed beyond communal murmurs about his character or state of mind. He had, in old age, become what he had yearned to be in his boyhood -- a part of the land, not a tree but not a talisman either, a human portion of Earth, attentive and stewardly.
His father and mother had bought this land after World War I. Donnell wasn't even ten, but he had felt the land enter him like an invisible breath. For three decades he'd been away in college, medical school, then private practice in Napa Valley; but thirty years ago when his father died and his mother moved into a condominium care facility, Donnell had moved back with Mary Ann; received from his grown son, Sandy, invaluable help in building a new place; lived with Mary Ann here; and felt the land grasp him again.
Donnell had always known that he would die here. For the last few months he'd known that he would die on his own initiative. When a grandchild would say, "Popper, you should be in a hospital," he would think, "Yes, I should," and then he would remember the hospital world in which he had done so much of his work. He always held a special feeling for the hospital. He knew spirits there others did not. But still, it was not where he wished to die. He wanted to die in the world of foals, moths, osprey, bats, and herons, and in the margin of the small neighborhood of people across the river who had become, through his telescope, a second family.
Donnell recalled all the arrivals to Lucia Court a few years before. He had resented them at first. Though he lived far across river, the noise and the smell of diesel fuel from the bulldozers, were like an invasion. He recalled being thankful that Mary Ann, an even more private person than he, had already died. Yet, invasion aside, the development was after all quite far away, and he lived peacefully in bereaved loneliness. Gradually, he came to enjoy his vision of the subdevelopment from far up on the plateau in his huge home, which to the new interlopers must have seemed eternal. He had even come to feel a personal resonance with each of the families across the way, as if his own life, pieces of it long forgotten, was now being reviewed in the lives of young families. Sometimes he found himself talking to them aloud from his back deck, carrying on conversations with Jeffrey's parents about what to do for their sick boy; with Greta Sarbaugh, whom he had met once, an elderly woman who, like himself, had seen much of the world; with Harry Svoboda, nearly Donnell's contemporary, so inflexible in his posture; with the younger teenagers, Sammy and Sally, encouraging them to become friends in an old man's voice that perhaps the children heard like a whisper on the wind.
Over the last few months, Donnell had spoken to them all about his cancer. He told them about preparations he had made -- his living will; a long letter to his nurse, a young man of thirty or so who had befriended him and his land; letters to each of his children; his memoirs. He told them he would take death into his own hands if need be, and probably soon. He told them he had been preparing his son, Sandy, to help him. Sandy, he knew, often walked in the door thinking this day was the day he would help his father die. Today, he would learn that it was.
"Dad," he had said a few weeks before, "you know I'll help, but I'll never feel completely right. I don't think a son can."
Donnell thought his son one of the most courageous men in the world, for Donnell himself could not imagine having to assist his own father die. Yet Sandy would help because he, like his father, believed in assisted suicide, and would always put love and truth above fear and guilt. Donnell told the young people across the river about his son and daughter and his own long life, his time in the second world war, the long marches in the snow. He told them about Mary Ann and what it had been like to watch her die. "And soon I, too, will rejoin the Universal," he had murmured across the river. He told them about his life with Mary Ann and the children, years ago, in New Delhi, and his more recent travels, as an old man, back to the teeming country of India.
"I have lived my life always hoping to justify my existence," he told his yogi, Muti Barunanda, a dark Punjabi half his age, at the ashram in Rajasthan on his last visit to India, at seventy-nine years old. "I have always worked to be acceptable to society and to God. Now I see that I no longer need to justify my existence on the Earth. I'm an old man, much closer to death than you. I have finished the fight that life is. I wonder what my purpose is now?" The yogi, an immensely gifted sensitive, and generous beyond the bounds of his youth, told the wealthy old American to watch out for a young American saint in India who would give him the answer to his questions before this life was done. "He is our little Krishna," the Yogi said. Soon Donnell went to the ashram near the seashore south of Madras and found Ben Brickman, thirty-two, his blond hair long and curly, his eyes a deep brown and eternal, a young man boyish in his enthusiasm for his elderly guest. "Yes, yes, I know you!" the saint cried. "You live in America in a house high up over a river. I see it very clearly. Let me describe it." He described it perfectly, down to the wood roof.
"My God!" Donnell thought. Even after all the years in India, all the squalor, all the people who were not saints, he was always shocked by the visionary gifts of some of these mystics.
"I see the day you will rejoin the Universal there," Brickman told him. "On that day, there will be a light that shivers through your world. I see a river dam far to your left. There is a wilderness all before you, a special place for animal life and animal spirits. I see a cemetery to your right. Your city has been surprised by the deaths of children, children of great promise. On the day you die will be another significant death, a boy, and the animals will speak; then there will be a significant spiritual birth, a woman. Your death, combined with the death of the boy and the woman's new visionary life, will be very special, my friend, more special that I understand. Good and evil will merge. Everything will be encased in death, and therefore awakened to hope. And a teacher will come."
"The woman of that day will know. Though yours will be a valley of pain and disease, she will become fearless. Many mysteries will become clear. This is what you live for now, sir. For that day. You will complete your life on that day."
"I will die?"
"I think so. Yes."
"When will this be? How many years from now?" Donnell asked.
"I don't know. But you will be very sick."
"How can you be sure?"
"I don't know."
The young guru smiled the eternal smile of the mystic, and became silent. Donnell stayed at the ashram another week, but "the young American saint" had no more visions for him, only questions about how things were going back home in the U.S.
Brickman's description, those years ago in India -- of the river valley, the houses, Donnell's land, the little boy, who must be Jeffrey -- so accurate. And Donnell had read in the news, as had everyone else in Spokane, about the killer who captured and killed several children over on the south side of town. Brickman had even seen those deaths, his eyes stretching through time. Donnell almost thought Brickman could be reading this morning's newspaper, in which the disappearance of a young child on the south side of town, transpiring a few weeks ago, was still a constant source of front-page news. For a few weeks, watching the terrible news unfold, Sandy talking about it, so many people worried, Donnell fantasized himself catching the killer -- a fantasy perhaps everyone able-bodied might be having now.
Looking over the river valley as the sun heated his cold face and hands, Donnell was not sure what Ben had meant by the woman, but as Ben predicted, animal spirits had spoken to Donnell today -- the great blue heron, the deer, the osprey, coming around to his house in the last few hours. Even the insects had come around in hordes -- moths everywhere, butterflies, horseflies -- coming around to say goodbye? At dawn, a beautiful doe and fawn had come to his back door. Though Donnell owned the hundred-acre wildlife refuge surrounding his house, no deer had come right to his door in fifteen years. And never a fawn. He tried to speak to the deer; he asked them what they needed. They stared, then walked off. With a sense of joy, he watched them go. A few hours later, a great blue heron startled into the air; instead of remaining away from the human, as it usually would do once in flight, it circled back and alighted on a branch twenty feet up and only a tree away. It looked directly into the human's eyes. Then, for ten minutes, the heron stared at the river without moving or, Donnell was sure, even blinking, as if clear in its vision, and heaven sent, sharing its life with an old man. And as Donnell ate a piece of soft bread on the deck just an hour ago, a flock of some fifty moths came to the deck's edge, fluttered there, flew off. Donnell found himself on his knees, in terrible pain, repeating a mantra to the Universal by which to focus himself toward his final hour.
In no time, Sandy would be here. Everything was in order. Donnell bowed and prayed and then sat back on the deck chair, near his telescope. He was in no hurry to be anywhere but here, in this place of refuge, afraid of the end of his life, and yet longing for it to unfold. He pushed his newspaper aside and continued writing the letter he'd begun to Sandy.
"Often we hear, ¿Is there a right time to die?' Of course there is: when one has been invited back home. When the Universal is waiting. The Light will invite you. The Doorway will open. You will know this with either your senses or your intuition or both. You will look outward at the world and experience a sense of peace that only the opened Doorway and the Light can provide.
"If you have fulfilled your destiny in this lifetime, and have experienced the invitation, know that there is no moral boundary worthy of keeping you from the next step in your spiritual journey."
Donnell woke up with a painful jolt. He looked at his watch. It was 10:05. He'd taken a twenty-minute catnap. He pushed up, using the lounge chair and deck table as ballast to get him to the back door of his house. Entering the kitchen hallway, he used the walls to hold himself, padding in his socks, food-stained sweat pants, and gray V-neck T-shirt to the kitchen cabinet. Downing a Darvon on top of the morphine, he looked out the kitchen window for a moment, leaning there, then felt weak again, and moved to the wheelchair that sat by the back door. For a second, he felt the momentum of a body swan-diving off the cliff into the river.
As he leaned on the wheelchair, he was startled to hear knocking at the back deck door. No one ever came up the cliff-ridge to the back. Donnell was not expecting anyone until Sandy anyway. But there was someone. Donnell pushed the wheelchair into the hallway and saw a disheveled-looking man and woman, both in their late twenties or so. The young man had piercing eyes that twinkled in the light. His hair was blond-gray. He had a cherry-red birthmark along his neck and up under his hair, and a camper's early beard. He was dressed in jeans and a brown shirt. The young woman was short, large-breasted, overweight. Her brown hair was greasy and matted, her olive skin pockmarked. The man wore no glasses, but hers were thick, black-rimmed. Donnell recognized them. He'd seen them through the binoculars. They had ministered to Jeffrey last evening.
They smiled and peered in through the windows. Only the screen door was closed, so once they saw him pushing the chair, the man called out, "Hello, sir, we were walking down at the river and, well, we felt we had to come up here. It's very strange. You may kick us out. But we have a story to tell you."
Donnell got to the door and looked into the very serious eyes of young people who live for the mission of life. The woman chimed in, "It's hard to get up here. It was a heck of a climb." Indeed, the knees of their jeans, their hands, their cheeks, their forearms all looked silted in the red rock that comprised much of the cliff below Donnell's house. Donnell murmured -- "human visitors too, from the river, along with all the rest?"
"Excuse me?" the young man asked politely, hearing but not hearing. Donnell pushed at the screen door as the young man opened it for him and helped him cross the threshold. The young woman, too, let him lean on her corpulent body as they moved to the back table and chairs.
"I'm afraid I'm rather occupied right now," he said a little breathlessly, unused to strange company. "But let's sit a minute and you can tell me why you would risk that perilous climb." In thirty years very few people had climbed up the tiny trail along the cliff mainly because one section of it -- about thirty feet -- was nearly straight up.
"I'm Beth," the woman said, going for his blanket on the wheelchair and offering it to his lap.
"I'm Nathan," the man said. Once the old man was stationed, they sat too.
"Donnell Wight. I own this place. Generally I don't like trespassers. You must have seen the signs." He had enjoyed sounding grumpy for about ten years now, but knew his face showed welcome.
"We saw your signs," Nathan continued evenly, "But...have you noticed there's been a kind of light pulsating near your house?"
"Has there?" Donnell asked, his heart beating like a drum. Then he had not been the only one to notice it. Just as he was about to say that, he realized they did not mean just the light last evening; they meant this morning as well. "You've seen a light recently? Up here?"
"Yes. Even just minutes ago." Beth spread her arms. "We thought it was some illusion from the sunlight, but even as we moved closer it was there. Like it was on every animal and every tree. It didn't matter where we stood. But just now, as we started up the cliffside and came over the rim, the light was gone. So I don't get it." She looked at Nathan. "We don't get it. And yesterday...I don't know if you heard about the boy killed yesterday?"
"Yes." She and Nathan had decided they could mention the miracle at Jeffrey's accident to this Donnell Wight, even despite Greta's admonitions. His house, after all, was somehow part of it.
Beth explained, "Well, there was a kind of light...a light that rose and spread over toward your house, then kind of shattered away. Then it was up here again today. It was so strong for all the time we were walking here, like for the last hour. Then when we got to the bottom of the ridge, it disappeared."
It was this woman, not the man, who seemed an open-hearted soul to Donnell. She seemed radiant -- like when he had first met his guru and felt a mysterious radiance. It was she whom he found himself looking at, feeling comfortable with. The man, Nathan, seemed a little remote, as if in a faraway world, but Beth leaned in when she talked, and even touched his hand. He found himself thinking he had known her a long time.
"A light," he mused aloud, as they fell silent, waiting for him. "A light." He wanted to close his eyes, to enjoy this warm woman's presence. The couple stared at him.
Donnell shook himself. "Do you want something to drink? You must be thirsty." They confessed they were. Nathan rose, insisting that he would go inside and get something. Donnell told Nathan where the bottle of cranberry juice would be, and the glasses.
While Nathan went inside, Beth told him how she and Nathan were camping out by the river, and how the morning felt -- filled with new experiences but sad too, confusing. She said she was finding herself embarrassingly "opened wide" today and last night, and hoped he wouldn't think her strange.
"No, I don't," he said, smiling.
"I feel like I'm awakening, or being born."
Donnell thought for a moment that he'd stopped breathing. "Who are you?" he asked silently, looking into the young woman's eyes. This must be the woman the young American guru in India had spoken of.
She told him about strange little things that had been happening -- visions, premonitions, insights.
Donnell yearned to tell her about Ben Brickman's prophetic words. Would she believe him? She probably would.
Nathan returned with the juice, Beth saying, "We're not on drugs, really. We have to follow that light, like we followed it up here to your house. Something's happening. We don't understand, but we know it's real somehow. Real like I've never seen things be real."
Donnell thanked Nathan for the juice, and raised it to his lips. For a moment there was nature's silence between them, then Donnell decided to open a little to this woman. It must be part of what he was meant to do.
"I too have been affected. I have felt Reality, as it is." He told the young people about the heron's visit, the moths, the deer. He did not mention that he had seen the light last evening through his binoculars, nor had seen them. He wanted to keep at least some dignity; not confess to being a kind of voyeur over Lucia Court. Thankfully, neither of the young people had said anything about the telescope and binoculars sitting just fifteen feet away. Instead, Donnell saw on their faces looks of relief, perhaps, that he shared their experience, and also, on Beth's, some other look -- as if her face were not wholly her own, but servant of some other image. A shiver went through Donnell, a voice speaking at his ear, and a breath chilling down his neck.
"Something happened two years ago," Donnell said, kneading his painful left abdomen with his hand. He explained about the American guru, falling short of saying, "He told me I would meet you, talk to you, then be free." To speak the last part was too much revelation to these strangers who were not strangers, and yet they were. Nathan and Beth waited for more.
"The light you saw," Donnell continued. "Mystics would probably call it an electromagnetic phenomenon, one that needs certain kinds of optical faculties in certain people at certain times if it is to be seen. What has allowed you and others to see it last evening? You may never know."
"It's like the light is always around us," Beth said. "Near us, within us, but we just can't always see it. Only at certain times."
"This field surrounds us," Donnell agreed. "At least, that's what the Hindus say. We're immersed in it. At various times in human history, the Field in which we all live, a field we have come to call ¿God,' becomes manifest to human sensory reality, usually as light. In Yugoslavia, pilgrims go by the thousands to see the eerily pulsing sun."
"You're talking about at Mahjudderke, right?" Nathan confirmed. "We were thinking about it last night."
"Yes. I have not been there, but I have talked to others who have seen the light there, like a color of cream, undulating against the eye. In Mecca, late in the seventeenth century, this same kind of phenomenon was reported over a three-day period. In ancient Greece, the light from the mountain known as Olympus pulsed so heavily that the Hellenic people saw gods there. What they were seeing was the electromagnetic field made visible for some reason, unknown. Moses saw the Light Field in the burning bush.
"Just a few years ago, a light coursed through a small town in northern Japan so completely that residents were unable to account for five minutes of a Saturday."
"Yes." Nathan nodded.
"The saints in India have been saying for centuries that people are evolving with each generation -- more and more people -- who can see this Light. Humans are just now evolving into populations that can actually see things like this, actually experience them, as ordinary people, over and over. One of my gurus in India taught me that ¿a new human' is emerging in the new millennium. One of these millennial mystics taught me that we are evolving as a race from Homo sapiens to an unlimited human he calls Homo infiniens. He told me to live until I shared that knowledge. Have you been to India before?" he asked Beth.
The big head and camp-dirty black hair and black horn-rimmed glasses moved side to side, gesturing "no."
"You've made me happy by pushing your way up here. Because of you and your eyes, I see not only the animals that came, but that there is a light all around me right now. Thank you for that."
"There is definitely light around you," Beth assured him. Donnell found himself silenced by emotion, his eyes tearing up and his chin creasing. Beth's eyes became teary with empathy.
"Freedom and free will," Donnell coughed, "these are to be beloved no matter the form they take, especially in circumstances such as mine. Nathan, I think you are a doctor of some kind, is that right?"
The young man nodded. "Resident. Neurology."
"I was a urologist. Let me ask you: Would you want to die in a hospital? You have gathered by now that I am terminal."
"Yes," Nathan admitted. "I'm sorry." He thought a moment and said, "Not if I could avoid it."
"And you won't die in a hospital, will you, Mr. Wight?" Beth said.
"Who is to say?" Donnell temporized, again avoiding her eyes. But Beth put her hand out across the patio table. She clasped his small hand, her hand warm with life. She was speaking into his eyes, clasping him with such sudden affection that he felt flushed. She filled him with something passionate and loving. It was almost as if he saw through her translucent spirit to the interior world where Mary Ann was. Mary Ann was on her face, in her eyes, on her flesh, like a shroud. Donnell held her hand and drank her gaze deeply. He experienced a rare clarity. He felt as if the young woman were healing him somehow -- not his flesh, but the soul behind the mask.
Then, suddenly, it was too much. He pulled out of Beth's hand. "My son is coming soon, and I must ask you to go," he said to Nathan, avoiding Beth's eyes but knowing she would go too, and missing her already.
"I think I have seen the new human. I'm sure you both will participate in stripping away some of the veils of consciousness."
As Donnell began to stand, the young people pushed up immediately. Nathan asked if he could help. No, no, Donnell assured him. It was time for them to go.
Beth's eyes were moist. "May we hug?" she asked Donnell.
They hugged tightly, and he felt her beautiful soul's warmth on his skin. Again, unbidden, Donnell felt Mary Ann's presence. She was suddenly here, close, perched on Beth, effacing all else that was real. Had she had come for her beloved? Could this be? Was this the morphine? What was this -- it was like a jolt of energy from Beth, like a shock. He did not want to let go of her.
"Are you sure we should go?" she asked, holding him hands to shoulders now, peering into him.
He said nothing for a moment, wondering if Mary Ann would go too. But he knew she would not. She had come to take him.
"Who are you, really?" he wanted to ask Beth, yet he wanted to be free of strangers.
He said, "Good luck to you both." Nathan gave him a crisp hug, and then a look touched with longing. Donnell saw Nathan as himself years ago. "You, like me, will have to search long and hard to regain your innocence," he thought silently into the young man's eyes.
"Please take care of yourself," Beth said. "Will you?"
"I will." Donnell smiled. "Go now. You must both enjoy the light while you can. And you, Beth, don't be afraid. You are like my Mary Ann. She shouldn't ever have been afraid. Neither should you."
"Thank you," she sighed, a tear dropping off her left eyelid. "You're the second person in twenty-four hours to tell me that, Mr. Wight, thank you."
Donnell breathed deeply as he watched the young people walk toward the cliff's edge and the small, barely passable trail. Beth turned, as if to speak or come back, but she kept on. Soon the two heads disappeared over the ridge and Donnell turned back, looking upward, at the tops of pine trees. Only sunlight shown on them now. He saw a blue jay, a sparrow, then a squirrel.
Donnell found himself trembling, and found his wheelchair. A sudden, immense fear of the reality of death swooped over him, like a dark shadow. He tried to divert it. It was almost as if they had never come, the muscular man and the big woman. But Mary Ann was definitely here. That feeling, so strange, distracted him from the trembling shadow of what he was now going to do. But then he trembled again, as if he were sitting beside a train track and a train rushed by. Donnell felt himself resisting the vibrations, then gave over to them. He opened his eyes and heart to the shadow, the great and terrible fear of losing even his broken, battered, diseased body. Donnell Wight swooned with the darkness and the vibrations of the locomotive death and looked for a light of some kind in the center. He did not see any light of a spiritual kind, now at this moment; but he felt something, something very warm, like the warm wake after the locomotive passes. "I'm afraid to die," he mumbled. "I'm afraid to die." He found his eyes tearing up, his body, though unmoving in its chair, nonetheless falling toward a deep hole. "But Mary Ann...you're here now." As he peered into the hole, he thought he saw Jeffrey now, that little boy, with Mary Ann, both bathed in light, reaching upward toward him. A swamp of tiredness overran him, and he drifted into the hidden world again, murmuring to his wife, who had, it seemed, never really left him.
Donnell was already in bed when Sandy arrived -- jolly, red-haired Sandy, a balding, smiling son of fifty-two, coming as he did nearly every day -- to find that his father had decided that today it was time to die. Donnell told him about the visitors, and that Mother was here.
For months, his emaciated father had talked about the end of life, absorbing Sandy in debates on the morality of suicide for the terminally ill. Sandy, an ear-nose-and-throat surgeon, took the con position, but knew that in his father's shoes he would not have chosen even to live this long. Then today his father talked about does, fawns, moths -- and after quixotic explanations, including his mother's presence, he said he would end his life today, using two thousand milligrams of Darvon, which he took in his son's presence now. He asked that his son give the gift of his assistance. Donnell confessed to being afraid, but confessed also to hope in the form of a large woman who had visited, and been predicted in India. Sandy had heard so many things from his father since the morphine began that he did not try anymore to sort them out. And he had been girding for this day since the previous Christmas, seven months before, when he realized his father would ultimately ask for his help in opening death's door.
"Dad, you could have called me at least, prepared me," Sandy said. "I have a cellular phone. You know the number." Sandy had decided months ago that when the moment came, he would assist his father, for the pain his father succumbed to, all day and night, was like a terrible disease all its own -- but now that the moment was here, Sandy was scared and sad and angry.
Yet the course had been set. Sandy knew this clearly. "I love you, Dad," Sandy said, hugging him. "I'll keep good memories alive. I'll take good care of your home. You'll never be far from our hearts. You're very brave."
I think I do know that, Donnell thought. Are you still here, Mary Ann? "I could not have a better son," Donnell said plainly to his oldest child. Sandy knew he meant it, and for this reason did not respond.
Donnell lay propped up on the bed, Sandy beside him now, facing him. Donnell reached for his son's left cheek -- he ran his finger along the old chainsaw wound that cut Sandy's face even now, the initial cut filled with that hard, wounded scar tissue that give spirits a place on which to perch.
"I remember the day it happened," Donnell said, remembering the roof work fifteen years ago, the buzz saw Sandy held, its blade hitting a wood-knot, then bounding into Sandy's flesh and cutting with a dull skin-tight roar down to his son's jawbone.
"You know, son" -- Donnell closed his eyes -- "you can't change the past. The cat gets its tail wet. It just happens."
What do we talk about now? Sandy wondered. He said nothing, maintaining a silence in which voices spoke that were more important than his. Should he also have given his father two Seconal, he wondered, which would have put him to sleep before termination from Darvon actually came. No, he would want to be awake to the last moment.
"I don't want our lives to run out of words," he said to his father, holding the bony hand. He busied himself checking his father's pulse.
"I know," Donnell murmured. "Your mother always admonished me for not saying how much I loved you kids. I love you, son. I love you all."
"I know. Jennifer...we all know. Have a safe journey, Dad," Sandy whispered, trying to hold on to his own confusing feelings. "You always were way ahead of all the rest of us." Donnell recalled a time when Sandy thought he was the worst father -- but that had passed long ago.
"A bunch of wildlife came to see me," Donnell whispered, forgetting he had said this already. "We're not alone," he whispered. "The movies make spirits out to be scary, angry ghosts. No. They aren't usually scary." Then Donnell thought he saw Jeffrey where his son was sitting. Jeffrey was bathed in light, saying something. And there was Mary Ann.
"That Coeur d'Alene Indian who used to come up here, forty years ago. Sandy, do you remember?"
Sandy remembered someone vaguely. "Sure, Dad."
"His people used to live up here. Had ¿home spirits' here. Dead people he needed to talk to. I understand now."
"Yes." Donnell's eyes were shut and his pale face seemed to his son to have lost its life already. Old, more fragile than a baby, he broke his son's heart.
"Okay, Dad," Sandy said, his voice cracking. "I'm with you, Dad." He thought his father was going now, but Donnell seemed to be sleeping, not dying. Then he woke again, looking into Sandy's eyes without saying anything.
"A clean break. My clean break." His voice trailed off into imperceptible words.
For a few seconds, his father's breath stopped.
"This is it," Sandy thought. He checked the pulse again, touched along the skin of the arm, and he melted into tears, holding his father's hand.
Donnell Wight did not speak again. He died in his own bed, in his own home, surrounded by the light of the river valley, and all the invisible encounters held there. His son could not see all the worlds of light right then, as they are seen by the dying; he simply experienced Donnell breathing, stertorous, his hand bony and limp, getting colder. The heat that comes with light was diminishing in the body, like rain drying. The son saw significance in the father's life, and powerlessness too. So suddenly it had all happened, and yet it was right -- it was okay. His father, shaped for many months by the indignities of dying, had found dignity again. Had Sandy known it, he would have thanked Jeffrey, Beth, his mother, and all the spirits who were at play today in his father's life; but Sandy Wight just held the old man's hand.
Copyright © 2003 by Michael Gurian