Story by R.F. Grant
Art by Clinton Van Inman
That night, after lying in bed, Grace Thompson placed her head on her husband’s chest. She did this in the same manner a child places an ear to wall, heeding what lies beyond. Positing a palm upon his sternum, she outspread her fingers, listening to his beating heart.
For years, Grace did this every night. She sought her husband’s cadence because her own was fragile. Because the crimson angels of triumph did not play their trumpets for her when she was born. Grace hadn’t a heart blessed with fortuity, and was as intimate with the fact as her own face in the mirror. Listening to his heart, however, the oppressive reality of her own abated. She watched his ribs widen and fall, cage of marrow cradling the phoenix within. Indeed, Grace thought his heart a fiery bird. One which soared above war drums into a red, blazing horizon, whilst hers, fluttering and small, felt more like a hummingbird. Unpredictable, it darted from place to place. She never knew what it was going to do next.
As Grace listened, head undulating like a raft upon the sea, her eyes wandered across his sleeping portrait; the Adam's apple distending from his throat like the curled shell of a snail. His facial hair, rough as a forest of steel wool. His skin, dark as the olives from Nyon. Even his eyes, umber and opalescent like petrified wood, splinters cincturing their inner pupils. The qualities which made him, she adored. But his heart, knocking on his chest like a grandfather clock, was her favorite. Every night, it lulled her to sleep, her eyelids pulled by little anchors. It was a heart which insured safety, for Grace was a fragile being, knowing the fragility of life.
On that particular night, however, even her husband’s heart could not count the stepping stones into Grace’s dreams. Wrapping a nightgown around her body, Grace parted ways from the warmth of her sheets and approached the window overlooking the backyard.
Outside, a spotlight cast its lone ray across the greenery. It illuminated the stark-white paint of their tool shed, paint chipping away in portions. The rusted automobile parts, hiding in high patches of grass. The raggedy dog toys, devoid of stuffing. Through the window, she could hear the lamp buzzing, the chirping of crickets joining in a chorus of oddity. And as she listened, something caused her to pause. Something evoked the need to reflect, to remember.
There was a time when the veil of youth dissembled Grace’s sensibility. When the wrinkles on her husband’s body weren’t as salient, drawn down his figure like the ridges of a tree. When he didn’t appear as an old, abdicated oak staggering across the earth, the scent of oil and petrol on his clothes a permanency. Money is energy, it’s said. And in those days, the love which came from her husband—a life-long mechanic—metamorphosed into an energy Grace knew well. A hard-working man, the dollars he earned became the polished hardwood beneath her feet. They became the food which nourished the red streams inside her body, the soft clothing which nuzzled her skin, or the keepsakes dotting the rooms of their home. Even the radiator, as if cantankerous, grumbling heat from its metal columns on winter nights.
Because she paid attention to such things, Grace accustomed herself to the meaning of gratitude. How heeding gratitude as it flourished in one’s life caused blessings to increase. How spiritual feelings burgeoned the more they were acknowledged. But mostly, she witnessed a higher power working through her husband, and she cherished the fact like a closely-guarded secret. A treasure she hid in the attic of her mind.
On that night, however, above all else, Grace remembered her husband’s songs. By word-of-mouth, they had passed down to him in his youth. Every evening, their lyrics would flute through his throat. Jacket thrown over his shoulder, he would sing through through dry, cracked lips, voice dancing in echoes between the neighborhood houses.
Ooh, the sun is goin’ down, and I won't be here long.
Not on this earth, no, no.
Ooh, I’m goin’ home and
Can't let this dark cloud pass over me.
Can't stay here long.
Not on this earth, no, no.
Ooh, for I’m already home,
And the sun is goin’ down…
To this day, when Grace was alone, quiet evenings reaching a point of stillness, his voice breathed across her candles’ flames, haunting and resolute. At such moments, Grace could hear him singing; there, in her mind. And yet, outside of her mind, singing of the world and its sufferings. Of folks who had so much more than them, yet so little on the inside. This, above all else, she remembered.
Presently, Grace peered into her yard, illumined from the lone floodlight. Her gaze took in automobile parts no longer useable, sitting like hollowed oaks or giant shells on a mossy shore. It shifted to the dog toys, ragged and dead from the jaws of an unfortunate life. To the door of the tool shed, trinkets lying past the lock. All of these objects reminded her of him and his sacrifice. That eternal, beating heart of his, still teaching her the subconscious lessons of the soul. It was a heart which seemingly would never stop. And yet, if it did, would be the one thing granting him eternal life, for he spent his earthly life magnanimously.
Turning back to the bedroom, Grace lowered her eyes to his body, breathing in peace. She wanted to wake him and spill her musings, but refrained. She would return to bed instead. She would lie upon his chest and listen to his wonderful heart. And in the morning, she would wake to another day in the life of a sixty-year-old woman. She would tell him that she loved him. And that, somehow, was enough.
R. F. Grant is a published author. He was a Top 10 Finalist in the 2014 TIFERET: A Journal of Spiritual Literature's International Writing Contest and has been published extensively. A list of publications include the YSU Student Literary Arts Association | the Cold Mountain Review, Appalachian State University's MFA Literary Journal | Gravel Magazine: The University of Arkansas' MFA Literary Journal | Foliate Oak Literary Magazine | Ruminate Magazine | & Lalitamba: Journal of International Writings for Spiritual Liberation among others. For more, visit www.RFGRANT.com.
Clinton Van Inman grew up in North Carolina, graduated from San Diego State University in 1977, taught in South Carolina and is currently a high school teacher in Tampa Bay where he lives in Sun City Center, Florida with his wife, Elba.
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Books by the Editors
Passionately Ran, Compassionately Fed.