A Short Story by Ellen Sollinger Walker
Full moons were good omens for David and me. One night, when we had started dating, he spread out a blanket in the meadow. We held each other, under a veil of stars, tracking the ball as it floated above us like a bright beacon, like a harbinger of good fortune.
“That’s our lucky moon,” he said, pointing. Two years later we were married, under a full moon.
With David, I felt reborn and alive. He said to me, “Hey, girl, you look so good,” a line he stole from a cowboy movie. On Saturdays in his truck, we meandered down country roads, buying fake turquoise jewelry and cheap Depression glass from back woods thrift shops.
The feel of his skin under my fingers was soft and warm as kid-glove leather. When it rained, we stayed in, made love for hours, watched three movies in a row, and sipped greyhounds from cracked ceramic coffee mugs.
He had a great talent for charming people into doing things for him. One day, he asked to borrow a garden tiller from a neighbor and next thing I knew, the neighbor was tilling our soil. In a big-brimmed gardener’s hat, David watched, spouting comical stories as he leaned against a pole for sugar peas.
Once, when two bald eagles were circling above our house, he lay with me in the grass watching their graceful waltz on a bright blue dance floor.
After one year of marriage, my new job took us to a remote Native American village on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. It was then David remarked he had a direct line to the spiritual world.
“When my father died,” he said, “I saw his spirit rise up from his body.”
“I think that happens a lot,” I retorted, not believing him.One weekend, driving through the majestic rain forest on the Pacific coast, we stopped to locate a hidden spring we had read about. Walking a path through fir trees, red cedar, spruce and western hemlock, we searched for the outlet pipe carved into a hill where supposedly, the stream of crystal-clear glacier runoff from Mount Rainier flowed.
“Maybe we’re in the wrong place,” I said after some time, as we walked through the deep, pungent forest, ferns up to our knees, hanging curtains of moss above our heads. But he assured me we were in the right spot. Disappointed in our failure to locate the spring, we headed back in the direction of the car and there, to our amazement, was a white pipe protruding from the embankment, with water flowing out in a clear stream.
“I swear, that pipe wasn’t there when we first walked by,” David said and I agreed. We filled twenty jugs of the magical water, the sweetest we’d ever tasted.
In a serious tone, he said, “The spirits are messing with us.” I was still skeptical.
A few weeks later, though, I became convinced David had an inroad with the supernatural.
I was stepping out of the shower one morning before work when I heard a crash.
“What was that?” I yelled. David had already been diagnosed with a terminal lung disease. Pushing the cannula connected to his oxygen machine into his nostrils, he turned on the light. An antique painting of Mount Rainier had broken its string and crashed down onto the glass dog bowl below it, smashing it and spewing water everywhere.
“Wow, the spirits must be angry about something this morning,” I quipped, combing my wet hair.
I drove to work, through a dense forest of ancient cedars covered with bright green moss. When I walked into the office, my cell phone rang. It was David.
His voice sounded shaky and serious. “My nephew Danny was killed in a car accident last night.”
“Oh, my God, no,” I whispered. I felt my heart dip like a kite that has lost its air, all breathless and flimsy. Then, I remembered the spirits had sent us a message that morning.
David was hospitalized in December. The terminal disease was clogging the delicate membranes of his lungs; the tissues were becoming damaged and scarred. He was slowly suffocating.
He looked sweet in his green hospital gown. A few days before he died, the nurse put him in a recliner like he was royalty, accepting guests. Friends came to visit, old railroad buddies and their kids. The sparkle in David’s gray-blue eyes faded like a chameleon loses color on drab, gray stone.
When all his guests left, I climbed into his hospital bed with him; he had lost so much weight, we both fit easily. As we held each other, the cannula pushed oxygen into his nostrils, and his hands felt cold and lifeless. “Cannula,” we laughed. “Sounds like a tasty Italian pasta dish.”
“Look,” he said, pointing out the window. I twisted my head to see what it was. “There’s our moon,” he said and then in a croaky voice, “our lucky moon.”
He was going to die and no one, not even his doctors or nurses, had told him. So, that night, in his bed, I tried to tell him.
“You’ll be with God soon, you know,” I said, tracing the wrinkles on his hand with my fingers. “You’ll get to see your Mom and Dad again.” What a stupid thing to say. How did I know he would be with God and see his parents? How could I know what would happen to him after he died? And there was still time for a miracle.
He looked at me, dumbfounded.
In the middle of the night, my phone rang. It was David’s pulmonologist.
“You should come right away,” he said. “We need to put your husband on a ventilator.” I threw on clothes and rushed to the hospital. The road was lit by the gleaming globe. Are you our lucky moon? I whispered.
When I arrived, David was sedated and asleep. I said my good-byes to his closed eyes and wept, holding his lifeless hand. Then the ventilator was thrust down his throat and we never spoke to each other again.
David died at Christmastime and, as a result, we hadn’t been able to give each other presents. The gift he never received was a photograph I snapped on our trip to Glacier National Park, reprinted on canvas. Thin slices of glaciers in the process of disappearing were nestled between the crevices of steely mountain peaks. I unwrapped the picture and hung it by the fireplace. Alone in the house now and a widow, I hoped this photo would bring back happy memories.
When I got home from work that night, the picture had fallen off the wall and was right-side up on the floor. I rehung it firmly planted on the hook. The next night after work, it was on the floor again. Disquieted but determined, I hung it on a different hook. The third night it had remained stationary, but a larger photograph of a hidden waterfall framed in glass had lost its grip and fallen to the floor. It too, was face up, directly below its hook, the glass intact. It was as if someone, had carefully lifted it off the wall and, with great love, set it down. I wondered, Is David trying to tell me something?
A few weeks later, BNSF Railroad, David’s former employer, contacted me by phone. The woman said he had been defrauding the railroad for years, even before we got together, and I needed to repay the $45,000 he embezzled.
I hung up. My brain froze. I grabbed a small pillow from the couch and put it over my mouth. A scream crawled up my spine and I howled as the rage boiled through my body. I could have killed someone. But I was alone, just me and my fury. How long did I scream? Hours, certainly hours. Then, I hurled dishes against walls. The Carnival-glass bowl David had given me shattered into a million small shards; the wine glasses we had toasted each other became dust; the plates for our new home splintered into tiny ceramic arrowheads; the Vaseline glass collection he was so proud of, thousands of dollars worth, smashed to the hardwood floor, firing glowing green fragments into the air. The pile of orange, green, lilac and fuchsia glass looked like the remains of a destroyed kaleidoscope.
I collapsed on the floor, stared at the TV, went to bed, couldn’t sleep. In the morning, I reluctantly went to work.
After work, I walked into the house, stopped in my tracks and gasped. The glacier picture lay upside down on the floor in the middle of the room, like it had been flung, Frisbee-style. The canvas, as if in a rage, had been mutilated with a sharp object, possibly a knife or a scalpel. This time, I was sure it was David. He had carved out the glaciers from the steely mountains that once protected them, leaving holes in the photo like many missing eyes.
I talked to a work colleague who was Native American, about pictures falling off my walls. He listened intently and said, “You need to perform a smudging ceremony.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“The smoke will wash away dark thoughts and unwanted energy or emotion that clings to a space after someone’s death. David has not yet left your house.”
I agreed to try it. I was ready to try anything. Before the end of the workday, my colleague had given me a bunch of dried sage, wrapped with cotton string and small brass finger cymbals.
That evening, following his detailed instructions, I lit the dried sage like a cigar and walked around my house, allowing the smoke, which smelled like ancient cedar, to float into all the corners of all the rooms. Tibetan finger chimes were also part of my ceremony, their ethereal, heavenly sounds rising to the ceiling with the smoke.
“Please, David,” I said gently, “Please find peace and leave this house.”
The next day, my best friend, Paula came to the house for dinner. I reached into the cabinet where I kept my favorite dishes and there, hidden away behind the plates, to my astonishment, was my unwrapped Christmas present from David. Shaking, I sat down with Paula and laid the gift on the table.
“Wow,” she said.
It was a stunning silver necklace with a cross of bright white opals, each stone luminous and oval-shaped, like a waning, disappearing moon.
Ellen Sollinger Walker self-published a memoir/travelogue titled Just Where They Wanted to Be: The Story of My Amazing Parents (2nd Edition). The book chronicles her parents’ circumnavigation in their own 36-foot sailboat and is available on Amazon. She also writes fiction and creative non-fiction. Ms. Walker’s first career was as a classical pianist and teacher. She returned to school at age 42 and earned a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. She worked as a counselor and psychometrist for 20 years before retiring and moving to sunny Florida.