Yet even then I also understood the duality of human nature and the interplay between the divine and the profane that battle for control in every human heart and in every human soul. We have our feet firmly planted in clay while our heads look to the heavens and yearn to soar among the angels. We are like the ostrich, an unattractive earth-bound bird that may also only dream of flight.
The angst of existentialism haunted me even in my teens, long before I wrote this story. But the hopeless romantic in me (then and now) made me believe I had the antidote for existentialist despair. Then and now, it is the only antidote I know, but it needs to be taken before it's too late. For Keats, "'beauty is truth, truth beauty,' – that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." For me, if I were to reduce this fairly long short story to a stanza that echoes "Ode on a Grecian Urn" it might be "Love is truth, truth love--that is all/Ye know on earth and all ye need to know."
The full version of this short story can be downloaded free of charge for a limited time from Smashwords here. For a listing of my fiction, poetry and intellectual property books on Smashwords, you can visit my Author's Page here.
An excerpt of Eternal Quest follows below.
Eternal Quest - Excerpt
The scent of a freshly cut lawn lingered softly in the air, floating upward with the light haze formed by the morning dew warmed by a rising sun. The sound of a riding mower gently buzzed in the distance as the grounds keeper, an elderly black man dressed in clean, well-worn coveralls, and sporting a frayed, too-large straw hat, slowly wound his way around the expertly and lovingly maintained grounds. Occasionally, he stopped the old mower to uproot an intruding weed that caught his eye.
As the man stopped momentarily to retrieve a small fallen apple tree branch, a tiny wren sang tentatively a short distance away. The grounds keeper looked up, wiping his glistening brow with a large, soft cotton handkerchief, smiled, and whistled a short melody in the bird’s direction; it was answered almost immediately by a long, undulating song. The man again replied in kind while continuing his work, and gained an even louder retort from the bird, which might be answering the call or simply trying to attract a mate.
After a short while of point and counter point between the two, the man resumed his work as several new voices joined in from various places in the grounds, their songs and calls resulting in a chorus of somewhat dissonant sounds, as other birds joined the impromptu chorus undaunted by the mower’s discordant hum.
In the center of the grounds stood a large, square building, its walls a composite of reddish brown brick and weathered, gray flat stones rising to the height of three stories, with its small, dark-tinted windows and sharp edges striking an incongruous, dissonant note amidst the otherwise pastoral setting. Inside the structure, in a small, private corner room on the uppermost floor, sat an obviously tired yet alert woman in her early thirties. Next to her, in a bed with raised, gleaming steel railings that seemed too large for its current occupant, lay a man who appeared to be several years her senior.
The walls were clean, brightly white and spotless, although the paint was somewhat faded in a few places, and hairline cracks and small areas of chipped paint were discernible upon close inspection, particularly on the ceiling. The floor, though freshly polished, showed numerous old scars over its black and white checkerboard pattern tiles in places over which heavy equipment had been moved for many years. A hint of ammonia and alcohol hung in the air, along with more diffuse and less familiar scents which, while not of themselves unpleasant, were somewhat disquieting in their lingering, unnatural presence.
The woman was lean, neither beautiful nor plain, with soft, light-brown hair which fell haphazardly about her shoulders in contrast to her spotless, if somewhat wrinkled, tan silk suit. She sat erect, despite being in obvious need of rest, both feet on the ground, palms resting on her knees. Her hazel eyes, bright and alert if somewhat reddened from lack of sleep, were fixed unblinking upon the man in bed whose eyes were open but unseeing, as he lay connected to a respirator, with wires slithering outwards from his chest, arms, legs and forehead. A number of clear plastic tubes carried fluids to and from his body.
The woman looked up, startled, as the door to the room abruptly opened; she had been too deep in thought to hear a set of approaching footsteps hastily clattering over the marble floor. A man, perhaps two or three years her junior, stood in the doorway. He was dressed in faded blue jeans and sported a pale-blue, sleeveless cotton shirt. He was rather handsome, if a bit portly, with a slightly receding blondish hair and large, clear brown eyes.
“Phil,” she exclaimed upon seeing the man walk in while rising to meet him. She greeted him with a warm embrace. “I’m so very glad you’re here. I was afraid you wouldn’t get my message.”
“I came as soon as I heard. What happened, Chrissie? You said Tom was in a coma. What are they...”
“Nobody knows yet, Phil,” she interrupted, gently pulling away from her friend and slowly turning towards the man in bed. Phil followed her glance, taking in the frail figure for the first time. He winced visibly, and barely heard Christine’s voice over the raw wave of emotions that washed over him.
“At first the doctors thought it was a drug overdose. They asked me all kinds of questions about what medication he might be taking. They seemed not to believe that he didn’t even drink or smoke--that ingesting any chemicals that might affect his mental processes would be unthinkable to him. The toxicology results verified that fairly quickly, though.”
“Of course not,” Phil interjected impatiently, turning his attention back to Christine. “What else did they find?”
“Not much, really,” she continued, taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly. “All of his bodily functions are fine. Despite his physical appearance and obvious dehydration, they can’t find anything wrong with him. His vital signs are normal, and his mental activity as evidenced by the EEGs they’ve run seems, if anything, abnormally high.”
“Wait a minute,” Phil again interrupted, “How can he be in a coma and have high levels of brain activity? And why the hell is he in this state of near starvation? God, he looks like he hasn’t eaten in weeks.” Phil’s voice rose in keeping with his growing frustration and anger. “What kind of hick quacks are examining him? How can they . . .”
“Calm down, Phil,” Chrissie interrupted in a soothing, gently admonishing tone, fighting her own weariness while struggling to remain in control of her emotions. “He’s in good hands here, and they’ve already called in two specialists--neurosurgeons, I think--from New York City. They should be here later on tonight. Since last night, they’ve run all sorts of tests on him to try to determine what’s wrong. So far they’ve come up empty, but we’ve got to be patient; they’re doing everything they can for him with very little to go on. “
“But they must have some idea of what might be wrong with him, at least,” he pressed, still angry, but a bit calmer.
“No they don’t. They simply have never seen a case like this. He will not respond to stimuli, and his body will not even carry out its autonomic functions unassisted; he will not breathe without the respirator, his pupils will not dilate, and even his kidneys have shut down, yet his brain appears to be hyperactive--and they can find no physiological reason for his condition.”
“How did they find him,” Phil asked. “And why wasn’t he dead if he needs a respirator and a dialysis machine to live?”
“I found him, Phil,” she replied, looking back at the figure in bed, then continuing with some difficulty in a strained voice. “It’s strange, really. I hadn’t seen him in years, not since . . .”
“I know, Chrissie,” Phil interrupted, the harshness and anger gone as quickly as they had arisen, displaced by a growing tenderness. He gently placed his hands on the woman’s shoulders, and helped her sit down on a chair by Tom’s bed, pulling a chair for himself from several feet away while continuing to speak in a softer tone. “Next to you, I’m the closest friend Tom had, and I hadn’t seen him in at least five years. He was too busy with his work to socialize. Nothing personal, of course--he just had no time for friendship or other distractions,” he trailed off, a touch of bitterness returning to his voice. Then, softly brushing a tuft of hair from Christine’s eyes, he added, “I’m just surprised you stuck around so long.”
Chrissie’s eyes narrowed for an instant, but she held Phil’s gaze and quickly replied in even, restrained tones, “He was the gentlest, kindest friend that you or I have ever had. There was nothing in this world he would not do for us, or for any of his many friends. Have you forgotten the time of your motorcycle accident, how he stayed by your side for ten days while you were near death? They wouldn’t let your father stay, but he alternately pleaded with and threatened first the head nurse, then the doctors and finally the hospital administrator until they let him stay. He slept by your side, strung out over two wooden chairs until they discharged you, and watched over you every minute he could stay awake like an overzealous bodyguard. And that was by no means the first time he’d proven his friendship to you.”
“I know, I know” Phil replied, mollified and somewhat embarrassed. “I guess I just resent his having cast us aside. It’s not easy being told that you’re a distraction. I’m sorry, Chrissie. Please go on. How did you find him?”
“I was driving home from work when I got an urge to see him. I can’t explain it; you know I’m not impulsive. I simply knew that he needed me. It’s as if he had called out to me, drawn me to him. I had thought of him often, but had never felt that way before. I was several miles from his house, down by I88, but I got there very quickly. When I arrived, he wouldn’t answer the door. I knew he had to be in; you know he was a virtual shut-in—he even had his groceries delivered and his dirty laundry picked up by a service. But more importantly, I felt that he was there. When he did not answer the doorbell, I did not ring again. I found his spare key in its usual hidey-hole by the front door and let myself in. I called out to him again, but there was no answer. I could see his study light was on and made my way to the study quickly. He was slumped over his desk, his face on an open book. I touched him; he was warm, but I could not see him breathe, and could not feel his pulse. I dragged him to the floor, laid him on his back and began administering CPR. I couldn’t yell for help, since his nearest neighbor lives about a quarter mile away, but I managed to call for help on my cell phone and continued CPR until an ambulance arrived about 25 minutes later. I rode here with him and called you, leaving you voicemail messages at home, work, and on your cell.”
“Did you see anything while you were there that might explain his condition?”
“No, but I didn’t have much of a chance to look around under the circumstances. But that’s an idea, though. Maybe one of us should go back; we might come up with something that could be of help to his doctors.”
“I’ll go and bring back anything that might offer a clue on his condition.”
With that he rose and waited for his friend to fish out Tom’s key from her purse. After taking the key, he gently half stroked, half petted the back of her head, trying to reassure her that all would be well. He then turned to Tom, grabbed the railing of the bed, and tried to mouth something, but no words would come. The cold, gleaming steel against his sweaty palms sent a shiver through him. Fighting back his emotions again, he turned towards the door and rushed out.
As he exited the hospital, the scent of cut grass and flowers flowed through him, as did the warmth of the sun on his face, letting him realize for the first time that he had been very cold within. The gentle breeze, the sounds of birds, the puffs of white clouds lazily floating high in the sky, the sculptured hedges and carefully tended flower beds with their symphony of color and delightful perfume all helped to soothe his frayed nerves and lift his spirits. He took a moment to take it all in and, for an instant, was transported back to his college days. He could almost hear Professor Greenberg reading from Blake’s Songs of Innocence. Behind him, he knew, were the Songs of Experience--the decay, death, and disappointment of real life, of unfulfilled dreams that are the inevitable legacy of childhood’s end. But if he did not turn around, he could almost deny the unkinder side of nature he was leaving behind, and dwell, if only for a moment, in the calming warmth of his surroundings which evoked a happier, more innocent time. The verdant boughs of heartwarming memories had long ago turned to brown, but he was both surprised and pleased to learn that they were not beyond sprouting tender shoots if he cared to turn his attention there—if he was willing to look beyond the pain and turn his mind to happier times.
As he neared his car, walking down a winding path, he continued reminiscing about the simpler, happier time of his college days, where, in a campus not unlike these pastoral grounds, Tom, Chrissie and he had spent the best years of their lives. Seeing Chrissie again had begun in him a faint welling of emotions he thought he had left behind, or at least learned to keep submerged by years of practice taught by necessity. But she was still the same woman he had loved in silence, never voicing his feelings, knowing that her heart was not and could not be his. Yet he had shared countless dreams and memories far more intimate than the sexual relationship they would never have, and that he could not even fantasize about without engendering strong feelings of guilt and betrayal towards his best friend. Despite the still remembered pain of his secret, unrequited love, and despite his best friend’s withdrawing into an inner world that left no place for him, those years had left him with memories he would not have traded for anything in this or any other world.
Phil reached his car, entered it, mechanically turned it on and began to drive away, his mind still floating in mist of tenebrous recollections. A half hour later, as he approached Tom’s house, Phil felt as if he were awaking from a troubled dream; he became aware of his driving, or the wind rushing through his hair and the soft guttural sounds of his uncharacteristically under-revved Porsche. He shook his head, trying to dispel the fragments of his haunting recollections. Looking at his speedometer, he noticed he was traveling at only 35 miles per hour in a 55 zone--a bit unusual for someone who’d had his license twice suspended for having accumulated an excessive number of speeding tickets.
“Damn, I must be getting old,” he snickered out loud as he turned into Tom’s driveway. He stopped abruptly and gazed around him in disbelief at the want of care evidenced by what had once been painstakingly well tended grounds. Gone were the white rosebushes that had flanked the driveway, and the cherry, apple and peach trees in the orchard to the right were all bereft of foliage, sporting instead dozens of large, ash colored gypsy moth cocoons bulging with the gorged bearers of doom for all nearby vegetation. The lawn had long ago gone to seed, and tall grasses grew from what had been impeccable flower beds. Everything was overrun by weeds, some nearly five-feet tall with dandelions and a wide range of other weeds giving the front lawn a spectral appearance despite the bright sunshine. Sap oozed like honeyed, amber blood from trees whose fallen dead limbs littered the small orchard, some of which had fallen on the driveway and impeded his passage. Gypsy moths were not the only unwelcome guests; Carpenter ants had found a haven here, leaving behind a cankerous wound and gaping hole in a large oak at the end of the driveway, by the front door. Nor had the house been spared; a shutter hung at nearly a 45 degree angle framing a large picture window with an extensive crack running along it diagonally from left to right; this had, at least, been temporarily repaired with several layers of three-inch wide transparent tape. The work of termites could also be observed around the windows and the door frame.
Phil got out of his car, still dazed by the striking change in the surroundings since his last visit some five years ago. He strolled slowly towards the back of the house, noticing a thick coat of dusty grime covering Tom’s ‘63 Corvette, making its red color seem a mottled brown. Behind the house, nearly ten acres of woods were visible, as was a large natural pond. This had been Tom’s private picnic grounds, always open to his friends some of whom could perpetually be found swimming in the pond, fussing around the large hardwood-fired barbeque, or simply laying in the sun most every weekend in the late spring, summer and early fall. Gone was the white sand Tom had carefully carted in for the small beach; only mud and mud-stained sand of a uniform brown color remained. Tall weeds and grass now covered most of the landscape, with the majority of the trees faring only slightly better than the oak and fruit trees in the front of the house. The pond overflowed its banks with murky water from recent rains--a haven for mosquitoes, gnats and sundry other flying pests which hovered near its dark surface, drawn by the pond scum and the stench of slow decay.
The house was a modest and unassuming three-bedroom ranch, but the grounds had always been maintained by a gardener--the only luxury Tom had allowed himself despite his considerable inherited wealth--and had been his most prized possession for the joy it brought both him and his friends. Phil could not imagine why Tom had allowed it to sink to such a level of neglect, and felt an oppressive pang of loss that seemed to grow more powerful with every breath he took. After surveying the grounds for a brief interval, he shuddered, blinked back the tears burning the corners of his eyes, and quickly paced back towards the house, unable to further endure the surroundings.
After fumbling in his pocket for the key, he found it and slowly opened the front door. Walking in after a moment’s hesitation, he found the inside blanketed in darkness despite the bright sunshine outside. He groped to his right for the light switch, found it and flicked on the lights. Dark, heavy drapes hung over every window, and all the blinds were drawn. He glanced about and found the furniture much as he remembered it. In all, it was rather Spartan: a large, thickly cushioned wood-framed sofa with ample throw pillows with a matching love seat, a rustic lamp table with a burnished bronze lamp on it, a coffee table and a 25-inch old-style wood console television set that could only be seen today in movies set in the 1970’s. A layer of dust covered everything in an ashen thin blanket, making the television’s remote control unit on the coffee table look like a flattened, tailless dead mouse.
To the right of the living room, at the end of a short hallway, Phil could see some light bleeding out of a nearly closed door in Tom’s study. He walked there with growing trepidation, drawn by the pressing need to help his friend, yet impeded by his strong emotions and the ghosts of memories both fresh and faded. The room was exactly as he remembered it: a small desk in its center with book shelves covering every available inch of wall space. He knew the bedrooms would be the same. Only the living room had escaped the advancing bookcases that branched out from the study like appendages from some monstrous octopus, slithering relentlessly towards the world outside. Unlike the living room, this room was free of dust and was obviously well used. Phil could detect nothing out of the ordinary. At Tom’s desk, he noticed various hand written notes and an open book, an old volume of Plato’s Republic, bound in tooled leather, heavily annotated in Tom’s crisp, clear handwriting and rather worn from use. A notebook computer sat atop Tom’s desk, next to the open book. It was still on but Phil did not have the time to try to guess the password to bring it out of sleep mode and display whatever Tom had been working on. In any case, he was sure it would only show whatever academic paper or book Tom was currently working on. Turning his attention away from the computer, Phil opened the top drawer of the desk and found it full of numerous writing implements and blank sheets of paper. The second drawer contained a stack of various manuscripts, all bearing Tom’s name. The first one bore the title “Western Philosophy: An Ongoing Reaction to Plato’s and Aristotle’s Epistemologies.” Phil grimaced, and thumbed through several other papers underneath it with equally useless titles. These represented an eclectic mix of scholarly work in a range of disciplines that included philosophy, physics, mathematics and biology. He wrinkled his nose at these as well and slammed the drawer shut with a mixture of distaste and frustration. In the last and largest drawer at the bottom of the desk he found a curious mixture of artifacts, books and papers. Most seemed trivial, and some were unexplainable--candy wrappers, old movie ticket stubs, theater programs, concert tickets, a couple of college literature and poetry anthologies, and sundry other items that could hold meaning only for Tom. Underneath these, Phil found and extracted a small metal box; this he placed on top of the desk and opened, it struggling briefly with a somewhat rusty latch. It contained some sheets of paper with writing, and assorted snapshots. It was the latter he looked at first; his hands trembled slightly as he looked through pieces of his own past, their shared past now so seemingly distant and irretrievable. All their old friends were there, as well as dozens of pictures of Chrissie, Tom and Phil taken over a period of more than a decade, many around this very house and grounds, some at college, and a few of the many trips they’d taken together. Tom had, after all, kept these. This fact deeply moved him for reasons he could not easily understand. He finally lost control of the emotions he’d been unsuccessfully trying to rein in and wept, sobbing quietly for some time.
After a while, having regained control of his always volatile emotions, Phil put down the photos and turned his attention to the papers in the box. Some were letters; he recognized Chrissie’s handwriting and his own on several. These he did not read. Finally, he found a carefully folded sheet of paper at the very bottom of the box inside a smaller tooled wooden jewelry box. He carefully unfolded it and began to read a poem in Tom’s own hand on a half sheet of paper torn from a spiral-bound notebook:
Oh half remembered, fleeting, happy time,
When nothing mattered more than love and play,
Imagination was then in its prime,
And life began anew with every day.
A flower was then a joy, a mystery,
And not a petal, root and simple stem,
And life was full of wondrous fantasy,
Untainted by the intellect of man.
That time is gone now, It cannot return,
The fruit’s been swallowed, its slow poison kills,
And yet my fallen heart will always yearn,
For that ephemeral time of unknown skills.
Oh false god, knowledge, daily you destroy,
All that was holy in me as a boy!
Eyes glistening, he folded the piece of paper and replaced it in the small, wooden box in which he’d found it, then placed the small box inside the larger metal box and took the box with him out of the room. A close inspection of every room in the house turned up no clue such as might help unravel the mystery of Tom’s present condition. He dutifully checked all other drawers and cabinets, paying close attention to the bathroom medicine cabinet for hopeful signs of any substance Tom might have purposely or inadvertently ingested that might explain his condition, but none was found. His medicine cabinet contained only a fresh bottle of Mylanta, a half-empty bottle of aspirin and nothing else.
In the kitchen, all Phil could find was a brown, half-desiccated half head of iceberg lettuce and several half-liter bottles of spring water. He even searched the spider-infested unfinished basement for clues, but Tom had clearly not been there in quite some time. Aside from some large and complex cobwebs, all he could find there were dozens of filing cabinets stuffed with scholarly papers, both published and unpublished works, not unlike the dozens of similar manuscripts in Tom’s desk drawer in his study. Although philosophical treatises were clearly the dominant field represented here, there were also published works on a mind boggling range of subjects from Anthropology to Zoology. There were also hundreds of dusty journals lining bookcases along every wall covering nearly an equally dazzling range of disciplines. Inspecting several at random, he found that they contained articles published by Tom. If Tom had devoted his life to the pursuit of knowledge, he had certainly not squandered it away in idle thought.
Finding nothing in the house that might help to explain Tom’s condition, Phil made his way outside again, taking with him the metal box he’d extracted from Tom’s desk with the intention of giving it to Chrissie in the hope that it might bring her some pleasure--and some validation for her loyalty and love for Tom through the years. After locking the door, he allowed the warmth of the sun to wash over him for a few moments before getting into his car and making his way back to the hospital; he immediately began to feel a better as if the sun were cleansing away the sepulchral chill and mustiness he’d experienced inside, burning away the fogginess in his mind.
* * *
Tom was unaware of his present condition and would not have been much troubled were he to have known it. Every minute of every day for more than a decade had been spent in trying to disassociate himself from the distractions of the flesh, in attempting to obtain the Platonic ideal of striving for truth through introspection--of trying to see past the imperfect shadows of the physical world into the realm of the true forms. He was neither bitter nor troubled by the currents of criticism which sought for years to carry him away, branding him at first as misguided, then as a reactionary fool clinging with mindless tenacity to obsolete notions of reality, and finally as an amusing anachronism not needing to be acknowledged or explained away. He was only mildly annoyed when his scholarly treatises were no longer published by the leading peer-reviewed journals of philosophy; if they could not validate his views, it was not a reflection on his work, only on the fatuousness of what passed for referees in academia these days. He had not obtained his Ph.D. in philosophy for anyone’s benefit but his own, and did not need the approval of his peers to legitimize his theories. And, in any case, his work in other fields where he also held terminal; degrees—physics, mathematics and biology—was published regularly. He had learned long ago to cast off his emotions, to develop and enhance the power of his mind by shedding off the yoke of the body’s destructive, distracting influence on the quest for truth. And his self-denial had paid off handsomely. His body had, of course, suffered in the process, but that was of little consequence. The ancient Greeks, he felt, were misguided in pursuing the ideal of a healthy body and a healthy mind. To treat the body and the mind as equals was sheer folly. Certainly an infirm body would interfere with mental processes; the body must be given rudimentary nourishment and care, else it would die. But what is the logic in devoting endless hours in selecting one’s diet, in exercise, or, worse, in leisure? Who but a fool would add five years of life through constant pampering, exercise, and perfect nutrition while wasting ten years of life in the process? Flesh is the primordial enemy of the mind; its needs, wants and constant yearnings are an intolerable distraction which, far from being encouraged, must be eradicated through studied self-denial. Surely anyone could see that. But it is far easier to deny an obvious fact than it is to admit it and then lack the fortitude to implement its logical conclusions. Such is the destructive power of the flesh, that it will obfuscate the mind, not only clouding reason, but making it serve its purpose through endless rationalization, ignoring anything that threatens its narrow, hedonistically defined comfort zone. How sad, he thought, that the old sophists, those cursed foes of truth, had finally won over the minds of modern humanity which prizes expediency, pragmatism, political correctness and the comfort of the status quo above its very soul.
Tom floated motionlessly in an endless void. He was deprived of sensory information, but his mind was keen and sharply focused. While he could not touch, hear, see, smell or speak in his present condition, he was not in a state of complete sensory deprivation, for his mind could sense its surroundings, though not quite clearly, as if he were watching a poorly tuned old analog television set through oil-stained glasses. Though incorporeal, he was self-aware. He recognized his state as one of preparation for entering into a new realm of consciousness, a communion with the realm of the true forms--of absolute truth.
He’d been so close before so many times to attaining true enlightenment; but every time, some accursed facet of his appetites would drag him down to earth again, the profane weakness of the flesh damning him to the shadowy realms of the pedantic existence we call life. He knew the signs well by now; he recognized the halfway place between shadow and light wherein he’d dwelt so many times before--a higher plane of existence leading to absolute truth. Even now, he felt the power of the true forms, newly draped in evanescent shadows, thinly veiling their true essence this close to their source. Absolute truth, absolute beauty, absolute knowledge were all tantalizingly close, within his grasp. If he could only sustain his mental strength a bit longer, he would be able to lift the cursed blinders of the flesh.
He was not a religious person; this was not for him a chance to commune with God. He did not, in fact, believe in God, at least not in the traditional sense. Religion, for him, was no different than all the institutions and ideas derived from the minds of men and women: it represents only an imperfect vision of a higher reality as filtered by the imperfect perceptions, conceit and self interest of humanity. He believed in Plato’s view of the soul as perfect and all knowing before making its journey to the material world. There may not be a physical River Styx for the soul to swim across on its way to the earthly plane--a river whose waters bring forgetfulness of the absolute truth with which the soul begins its earth-bound journey--but the principle is certainly accurate: in being born we forget all that we knew when our spirits were free and existed in the plane of the true forms. Through introspection, though, we reverse the mind numbing effects of our physical existence and recapture the glory of our preexistence. This was Tom’s lifelong quest: to regain the glory that his soul had lost in melding with the flesh—to perceive good and evil, absolute beauty, and absolute truth.
As he neared the final stage of his life-long journey, he floated like a weightless, shapeless cloud through which flowed many shadows on their trek from the realm of the forms into that of the material world. As they flowed through him, they left behind the faintest hint of their true essence, not unlike the intoxicating waft of a good perfume worn by a beautiful woman that gently suffuses itself on a bystander long moments after she has passed by.
“Chrissie,” Tom thought, or rather felt, for just a moment, but then the moment passed, and he pressed on.
Yes, he knew this path quite well. He also knew that the mental power necessary to push onward towards the final veil in this halfway place would be great indeed, and would require a colossal effort. But he was patient, and determined to utilize the last reserve of energy in his dying soul, if need be, to push onward towards the light.
* * *
Chrissie sat by Tom’s side, her left hand on his, gently brushing his brow with a small moist towel with her right hand. She had been speaking to him incessantly throughout the past two hours, alternating between running her fingers through his thinning, prematurely gray hair and gently caressing his face, his arms, and his shoulders. She had related to him every story that came to mind from their college days and had cried and laughed many times in the retelling. He had not responded, but she persevered undaunted; she felt certain that a part of him could hear her and hoped that the emotionally charged stories of past shared experiences might help to bring him out of the murky depths of his coma.
When Phil arrived, she looked up anxiously, but saw at once in his face that he had nothing useful to report. Phil fixed his eyes on her, noticing for the first time the dark circles that welled beneath her eyes, the disheveled hair and the redness in her hazel eyes. He also noticed the faint lines that time had begun to sculpt upon her face, a face which once had been--and still was, for him--most beautiful. She looked alert and sat with an erect posture that belied the extent of a physical and emotional exhaustion too great for her to fully hide. He looked away after a few silent moments, a bit too quickly, perhaps, afraid of looking in her eyes any longer, afraid...”
“Did you find anything?” she queried, trying to sound hopeful, but knowing the answer.
“Nothing of use, I’m afraid. But look, I found something I thought you might like to see,” he answered, handing her the metal box he’d taken from Tom’s home. “It’s full of pictures and personal letters.”
Chrissie took the box and immediately opened it. She first opened the small tooled wood box which Phil had left on top of the papers and photographs. She opened the folded sonnet that Phil had read. She recognized it immediately as a poem Tom had penned in class in response to Professor Miller’s statement that despite its apparent simplicity, writing a Shakespearean sonnet was a task that most of the students would find very difficult to complete. He had smiled broadly, torn a piece of paper from his notebook and handed her the sonnet less than fifteen minutes later, before the class ended. “He’d only laughed at us when we liked it, said it was just a joke; but he had kept it after all,” she noted more to herself than to Phil in a low voice. Then, bending over Tom’s body, she read the poem to him out loud through glistening eyes and in a tremulous voice, hoping that he could hear, and might remember.
* * *