Breath & Shadow
A Journal of Disability Culture and Literature
By Tony Caterina
She lived in the apartment most of her adult life. Memories that had been forgotten waited to be thought of again there in the one bedroom, third floor dwelling. She would occasionally stumble across something that would invoke the past, bringing a picture to her mind and a smile. Thoughts of happier times when the apartment was full of life, when memories were being made, when there was laughter and when there was love, were distant. The one bedroom collected dust as she moved about slowly and alone. With the passing of her spouse, solitude was the only answer. It was there in the morning upon waking and it was there in the evening when the lights were turned off. It was not an easy existence, as anyone who has been alone knows. It was there, the call, the sadness, the longing.
Her view of the world came from watching the people pass by in the living room window. The window to the world became a minor connection to life with others, a life that escaped her. She looked out at the passersby and a story with each followed in her imagination. A couple pushing their baby in a carriage brought a smile and warm feelings. A group of wild teens would make her be sure that the door was locked each night. Across the way was a bodega. For hours she watched people go in and out. The store was robbed one summer many years ago, and she had identified the men, for she watched as if she needed too. When she identified the men, she wasn’t in fear or panic. But this was many years ago, and she often wondered if she could do the same today, a question she would never answer but always ask.
Each passing year became heavier. The sadness became something that she had grown accustomed to, a weight she carried. The burden of life was the cross she bore. She went through her day’s routine with a light barely lit. There was no song in her heart anymore, not like when she was younger, with her husband and friends. They were all gone. Tears had flowed for many years, but that was all behind her. She accepted her fate with a slight dose of dignity and grace. Some days were better than others, though, because of the sadness, the solitude, the longing.
Tomorrow, her heart would break a little more, as it did every year on that day. She could never forget the day. It was a part of who she was, a day that always brought back memories. She recalled him as the years passed, but on this day he always filled her mind and soul. She smelled his essence and felt close to him, like he was there with her, and in her mind, he was. Tomorrow, tomorrow would have been their forty- ninth anniversary.
Emotion filled her as she went to bed. She turned off the light and ran through what needed to be done. She locked the door, turned off the stove and made sure the windows were closed. Thoughts of him entered her mind, how they laughed together and how they loved. It was him from the beginning; it was always him. From the moment of their first meeting she knew he was going to be the man she would grow old with. Thoughts of their first kiss consumed her, how her world exploded when their lips met. She was his and he was hers. A firm embrace, a simple hug. The thoughts brought heaviness to her heart. How she needed him. A single tear fell and she closed her eyes.
She rose early, as she always did, walked to the dresser and kissed the wedding picture. Making her way, she performed her morning ritual, the light ever so dim in her heart. After the morning she went to the window and opened the blinds. She positioned her chair and stared out into the street. Clouds covered the land and rain was called for by mid-afternoon. With the threat of rain people would stay indoors, making her afternoon less eventful. Her mind was on her husband so it didn’t matter a great deal. Their last anniversary played in her mind like a show, an old tape, and an old beautiful story.
She woke in his arms that morning as he kissed her ever so gently. He began singing her song. Lost in his voice she smiled and glowed. After he finished he began to tell her the story of a man who couldn’t be happier with his life, his love and his wife. He told of this man and how complete he was, and that nothing else mattered in the world, for a man without love was only half alive. He told her of this man wishing to spend the rest of his days with the woman of his heart. She smiled and a teardrop fell. She told him that this man sounded wonderful and that she would love to meet him someday. They smiled and laughed, embracing each other.
After an early brunch they started to go back over the past, recalling the years and remembering their wedding day. A beautiful summer day with family and friends and everything turned out to be perfect. He told her that seeing her in her dress brought tears to his eyes as she was, and still is, the loveliest woman he had ever seen. They laughed, recalling their friends on that day. They rejoiced, thinking over the years. They deeply respected each other and told each other everything. They were soul mates after that night. Recalling her wedding night she became tearful, she saddened, she longed. She closed her eyes and drifted off to the sounds of the street.
She awoke to the sound of a horn from below. It was late afternoon and time to prepare an early meal. She thought of him, because he would always make dinner. She chopped and boiled and roasted, remembering his smile and how his face lit up with his boyish grin, how it brought a smile to her then, as it did in the present. The spark of light inside her grew with the picture of his smile. She remembered a silly joke he told and she laughed out loud, putting down the knife. How hard they laughed then, from the inside, from the depths. She began laughing out loud and hard, remembering. She needed to brace herself as she reached for the kitchen chair. She held her stomach, remembering laughing and with that the tears started to flow. She wept for the man she loved and for her loneliness. This day was always an emotional one, like no other.
She decided to go to bed early, as she did every year on this day. She performed her nightly ritual and ran through her mind what needed to be done. Thoughts of her husband drifted to the back of her mind, and for some odd reason she thought of tomorrow. There was a feeling of unease about the day. Was there something that needed to be done, an appointment, a birthday? The answer was no. There was nothing she could think of, but it was there, something about tomorrow. It stayed with her as she closed her eyes. And she was right. There was something about the next day. There was something extraordinary, something magical.
It came in the night while she slept: A light, a spark, and a change. It was there when she woke. She felt years younger as she rose from her bed, and with her was a song. She went about the day not thinking as she usually did. After having something to eat she was excited about going to the window, but it wasn’t just the window. It was the day; she was full of wonder. Inside her there was peace.
She looked out the window in a mild state of relaxation with the sun beaming and the people plentiful. All was right, the people were in their place, the sun in its, and she in hers. Everything was exactly where it should be, aligned. She smiled at seeing the couple across the way showing off their newborn, and smiled again seeing a young boy beg his mother for money for candy. She laughed out loud when a young woman pulled away from her boyfriend. He grabbed her arm, and she slapped him across the face. Meekly, she turned after she laughed and thought of her husband. And there it was again, inside her, the song. She began humming the tune and then she decided to turn on the radio. And with that decision came the real magic.
“Willow, weep for me.” She said out loud, singing as she made her way to the radio. Thoughts of dancing with her husband came to mind. In the hall with their friends every Friday night, they would dance and sing. The lights were bright and the band was as crisp as the night air. Each Friday turned into a memorable one, and she cherished every moment of it. She turned around in the living room thinking of him, dressed in his fine suit and she in her best dress. She smiled and sang, “Willow, weep for me, Willow, weep for me.” She turned on the radio, and to her amazement, there playing was the song, “Willow, weep for me.” She smiled and laughed out loud, clapping her hands together there in the living room. All was right in the world. It was there: magic.
Thinking back to last night, she was right. There was something about the day. She felt younger and alive. She said a small prayer thanking God, and she smiled as she sat back by the window. She could feel the muscles in her face; she wasn’t used to smiling so much. It turned into late afternoon and the sun shifted to cast a ray on her side of the street and her window. She let her face absorb the sun’s rays. She felt like she was at the beach. With the music playing and hearing the voices from the street, she kept her eyes closed as she let the day unfold: Time for more magic. Time to be pleasantly surprised, yet again.
Recalling a summer day back in her youth, she visited the past one last time. The beach was crowded and her husband and friends were having a grand time. They laughed and frolicked in the water as people’s spirits were as high as could be. With her eyes closed she saw the past, dripping from her imagination alive and vibrant. She saw him, running up and down the beach, going into the water and out, tail wagging, tongue hanging from his mouth. It was her old dog, Max. Max was a small terrier, brown with a black tail, loyal and friendly. And then the magic came. In her imagination she could hear Max’s bark, loud and clear. Too loud and clear. She opened her eyes and to her amazement yet again, there in the street was a small dog. The same size as Max, same coloring, same breed and the same distinctive bark. She clapped her hands together, smiled and she wanted to call out, but she didn’t. It was a gift and she appreciated what now came her way. But the reality of the present called her back to the now, to her loneliness, her sadness, her longing. She turned away from the sun.
The spark that was there and the light gave way to her solitude. She rose from the chair and went to the radio. She turned it off. With the feeling that she didn’t matter in the world anymore, she went back to the chair and closed the drapes part of the way. Looking out like an observer of life, she sighed as if death was growing inside of her. She wouldn’t mind, she told herself over the years. When it came she wouldn’t mind. It would be a reunion, she thought, with her husband, her family, her friends. She’d turned back time for a brief moment and she was alive, but that had passed and she had returned to the present. However, the day was not over and there was still something in the air. There was still magic.
Returning one last time, she thought of a gentleman she had met several months back. She didn’t dare compare him to her husband in any way, but he was a fine man, a man with good manners. He knew how to treat a lady, learned and wise, comical and genuine, he made an impression on her then and for some odd reason his face came to her now. Maybe he passed, she thought as sadness consumed her heart. But there was something about the day, there was something in the air. There was magic in the air, and with magic anything was possible.
The bell rang. Someone was at the door.
Tony Caterina is a paranoid schizophrenic, self-taught writer, painter and musician. He has published two books of short stories, a book of poetry, two novellas and a novel. Two were reviewed positively by Kirkus, calling his book of short stories, " A Standout, frequently profound story collection." Also a review by Kirkus called his novellas, "Fresh and original horror." All of his books are available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.