The Final Sentence
I never expected Death to show up wearing a gold lamé jacket, red caiman cowboy boots, and silk evening gloves. The shininess of her surfaces made me think of vitality and inspiration, not completion and conclusion. Her cloud of fireflies was also distracting, each fly hovering and blinking on-and-off in the shape of a word, with the overall effect being a staggered and syncopated coming and going of poetic thought. Little and love and see appeared near her neck, disappeared, and then reemerged as little sparks of today and paradise and me at the tips of her fingers.
Certainly, her beauty made me aware of my dullness. I was dusty and scuffed up like a pair of gardener’s galoshes, forgotten and shoved into the back of a hall closet. Move me, and clods of cares crumbled around my feet. I was worn. My daily grain had been rubbed smooth by life’s fine grit. Instead of sparkling, I was fading in a heavy blanket of melancholy. One bare foot lay outside my bed covers, a vane in the still air of weariness.
It was in this cocooned apathy when I first met her. I was roused by what I thought was a waking dream, the kind you catch yourself consciously orchestrating. I felt electric and alert and was fighting for my life. I was on my death bed, and the smallest bit of food or water was causing violent fits of vomiting. With the illusion of control, I forced the taste of bloody iron under my tongue and licked my lips. For some reason, there was a priest in the room, and he was trying to administer the last rites. He kept calling me “Juliana,” and I kept protesting, “No, no, my name is Terrena.” With all her colors and textures and fireflies, Death moved closer to the bed and leaned in close. She held my face in pillowed hands of blue satin.
“My darling Juliana, peace, peace,” she said. The word message walked across her lower lip and was slowly inhaled into her mouth. A moment later, the almost transparent words of maker and lover drifted out of her nostrils like dry ice. She was a rippling mirage, and her gold jacket looked like the surface of a pond when the breeze multiplies the sunlight into a thousand dancing orbs. When she crossed herself, words fell on me like drops of water so that I felt like I had been drenched with an ominous incantation.
“What are you doing?” I shrieked like someone being spit on. “What have you done? Go! For heaven’s sake, go away!” I tried to sit up and push her hands away, but instead, found myself heaving and tasting bile.
“Oh, my Juliana,” she started again while last and past shadowed her eyelids, the blurry bodies of two fluttering fireflies right before a shine. Turning to the priest, and with a gilded gesture of her arm, she drew him to us, enclosing us in a strict privacy. “Since she cannot eat or drink, lay the Host on her chest.”
The priest approached the bed. He placed a corporal over my chest then removed a pyx from the burse hanging around his neck. From it, he took out a Host and held it for a moment, lips moving in a silent prayer. Gently, he laid the Host on my chest. It sank into the corporal, passed through the blanket and my clothes, and touched my skin. A tremendous shock pulsed through my body, and I felt like I had been turned inside-out. Everything around me—the room, the priest, the woman—was pulled into my chest and compressed into a small thorny seed. At the same time, my interior world—my thoughts, my awareness, my memory—was pulled to the surface and exposed like skin. I felt the woman touch my forehead, and I imagined the word burn on my brow. Like bitters in a cocktail glass, I was licked by a faint and wandering blue flame. It was like being a firefly in a jar, beautiful and terrible, and the burn woke me up.
At least that is what I thought. I shook my head to loosen the cloudiness and confusion of such a nonsensical dream. I regretted this immediately and groaned as I became aware of pain in my head and in the middle of my chest. Touching my forehead, I was startled to find my head bandaged. Remembering the lady and the priest and the burning Host, I hesitated then slowly touched my chest. Through my clothes, I felt a bandage there as well. Three times I tested the bandage with the slight pressure of my fingertips. Three times I felt the pain of a tender wound.
After this, a long time passed. I thought I really was dead, but this thought began to deteriorate as I became aware of the physical weight of my breathing. It was a far-away weight, something curiously out of reach. I concluded that I had somehow been separated from my body, and so I settled my awareness into a ceiling corner of the room where I could observe my body below in the bed. I was back in the hospital room. A dry erase board on the wall noted that I, Ms. Viator, was in room number C-118. The space under “My goals for today” was left blank, and my current nurse was Custosia, extension 132.
Time was in a hyper lapse and people scurried around my body like a steady parade of ants. At this speed, their motions looked like an orchestrated ballet, a purposeful dance invisible in the normal passage of time but now amazingly revealed. I must have been cold because I was wrapped up in blankets. Even my head was wrapped so that only my sleeping face was visible. I was a moth watching its cocoon, the only still object amid a hive of hectic activity.
“Should we slow it down?” a voice asked. “Would you like to take a closer look?”
I knew it was the gold woman with the soft and fiery touch. Not seeing her anywhere, I said, “I can’t see you. Where are you?”
“My dearest Juliana. Let me help you.”
And with that, the scene below froze, and a cloud of words started to form below me near my body. Examine and discern flickered near my face and became little scalpels. Before I fully understood what was happening and before I could protest, the words landed on my eyes and commenced their surgical extraction.
I was horrified. There I lay, wrapped in a sea of white linens, and where the calm of sleep once filled my face, two eye sockets now held a deep darkness. At the edge of each black hole, rubied jewels flashed and flickered and fell, small bloody tears. And there, next to my body, the golden woman was smiling and holding my eyes in the middle of a shining paten. One rolled up to the ceiling and fixed me with a stoic gaze.
Incredulous, I said, “What could possibly have possessed you to do such a thing?”
“Juliana, please my love, don’t be alarmed. I belong to you, and you belong to me.” She paused, then looked at me as if I were an invalid. “I’m trying to help you see things more clearly so you can…”
“So I can what?” I interrupted. “How can I see without any eyes?” I paused, then continued, “Why do you keep calling me Juliana?”
“That’s your baptismal name.”
“Why did you burn my forehead?”
“My dear, that was a blessing.”
“Why did you let the priest burn my heart?”
“He did no such thing. That was your maker confirming his mark.”
I stared at her. “Talk about leaving a mark! Look what you’ve done to my face.”
“Hmm. You do have a point.”
Goldie gave my eyes a little swirl on the paten and blew on them as if to test the heat of her breath on the shining surface. She looked pleased as contrition, deserving, and petitions corralled my eyes into the middle of the tray.
She opened one side of her jacket, as if to check on a secret, and then carefully tipped the paten, rolling my eyes into her interior coat pocket. “Fear not, you can use my eyes for a bit.”
From my bodiless perch in the ceiling corner, I saw her satin fingertips pluck out her bloodless wandering eyes and place them on the paten. Again, she swirled the tray, filled the surface with her breath, and stirred up a swarm of words: remember and bind and inscribe danced with flashes of sweet and cautery and arrive. Satisfied, she picked up one eye at a time and pressed them into my eye sockets and then closed each eyelid with a kiss.
I was body and soul once again and too afraid to open my eyes. For a long while, I didn’t. For a long while, I lay as still as possible and just listened to the room. I heard truth singing and felt the breath of a million fluttering voices on my brow.
Creator, maker, shaker, all is greater—
“Whisper, what do you think? Is she ready?”
Conceived, believed, relieved—
“I hope so. I hope to know. I hope.”
Communion, everlasting, long love-lasting—
“Sigh, what do you think?”
Hum heaven hallowed come—
“Close, she’s close. She can contain, she can obtain.”
A feasting Kingdom, kissing holy victim—
“I think she still believes. We should encourage her final sentence.”
At death, on earth, a birth—
“Song, you hear her music, don’t you?”
Into embrace, a resting place, deliver—
Song sighed and then whispered, “I do, I do, I do.”
My eyes are closed, and I venture an inward peek at myself. My surfaces are shiny, my scuffs are brocade, my grain is rich. All those magnificent golden-induced words on my brow are swirling and flying toward the light. A distant song, just barely audible, reminds me of springtime in a garden. The words fly into the heat, into the warmth, into a beckoning buzz where they break into an alphabetic pile of lines and circles and arches. They all fall down, descenders and ascenders all asunder, a pile of thorns and crowns and crosses. Only one golden word remains. Come.
“Juliana, my dear. Can you hear me?”
I don’t answer. Not yet. I linger in the crown of thorns.
“Come, my love. He’s here.”
The mark on my chest is warm. He burns my heartbeat, and I sigh.
“You know I love you.”
Maura H. Harrison is a poetry student in the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at the University of St. Thomas, Houston. She lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
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