By the light of a single lamp, Tom types his way into another day.
Not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse at 4 a.m.
There’s only the comforting clickety-click of a computer keyboard as a dysfunctional muse with a hair-trigger, multiple personality whispers, screams, or refuses to say anything at all. This morning, however, Tom’s ears are attentive to an unexpected arrival of a powerful storm. Strong, gusty waves of wind mimic the ocean’s surf. A powerful, roaring, invisible tide slams against the house, rattles the windows and eaves, topples the outdoor furniture, litters the flooded yard.
A flash flood warning, sudden and shrill, lights Tom’s iPhone with six alarming bursts of electronic tinnitus (LONG–short–short–LONG–short–short). The sound startles him. He jumps as if he’s touched a live-wire fence. Turning his face from a blinding splash of unedited thoughts, he rubs his eyes and examines the ceiling as if it might collapse at any moment.
His imagination is alive and well and transforms the old house into a tugboat struggling at sea. Rising, rocking, rolling. A rescuer. An icebreaker. A salvage boat.
Tom’s right leg is asleep.
He staggers on sea legs to the kitchen which has now become the vessel’s cozy quarterdeck. Tom pictures the warm yellow light of a cabin bobbing violently on the gray, battered but dry behind the salty spray. He approaches the mahogany Wheelhouse. The strong scent of coffee wakens his mind. Golden Cavendish pipe smoke comforts his soul.
Thomas Canon—an unanchored, unpublished, and often unstable writer —faces the uncertainty of a new year, recovering, disoriented, and disconnected in the wake of a devastating personal tsunami. He’s searching for something. Salvation in a string of words—barges of them—connected and pulled to shore by mighty tugboats of conjunctions: coordinating, subordinating, and correlative.
November 28, 2019. He remembers a conjunction of another kind. Bright in the Thanksgiving sky. Venus and Jupiter aligned with a crescent moon.
On that night, Thomas visited his two daughters for the first time in a long time. He barely recognized them. They had matured into beautiful women overnight. They were happy, humorous and—forgiving.
They were the breathtaking planets, he thought—two evening stars —and he the lesser moon, looking up at them, glowing. He embraced them. Strong arms formed a crescent of love and light around their perfumed shoulders as they walked together into a diner whose doors remained open to the lost and lonely every holiday. There they were—a broken family aligned for a few magical moments —until their inescapable orbital paths bid them farewell.
After the milkshake date, at the appointed time, Tom dropped the lovely darlings at a house he will never enter and kissed them goodbye. “Bye, daddy. I love you,” said the one, “Me, too,” said the other. Both ran inside and closed the front door. They didn’t look back. He lingered for a few moments longer, shuffling, staring, waiting, shivering, longing for a curtain to part, a face to peek, a hand to wave.
The next conjunction won’t happen again until February 2021.
Tom sips his coffee. Turns back to a novel in progress. Lights his pipe. Attempts to ignore the accusatory implications of the wind as it wails, howls, and moans like a mother refusing to be comforted, bereft of her children.
Or the children their father.
Or a father his children.
Tom remembers climbing back into his truck that night, closing the door, and listening to the silence. Was it all just a pleasant dream? The back seat of the extended cab provided heartbreaking evidence that the two girls had really been there: gum wrappers, two plastic bottles of water, a “to go” box of cold fries (leftovers from the brilliant Venus), and traces of flowery perfume (a dissipating cloud from the ladylike neck of Jupiter).
It would be months before he threw those remnants away. Their trash had become sacred relics.
After the girls disappeared, Tom didn’t put the truck in reverse immediately but idled there, stalling for a minute or two, revving the engine, building the courage to reenter an icy atmosphere without stars. Pulling out, he would be pulling back into the lonely black hole of his selfish soul.
He turned on the radio. Found an old-timey preacher. After their date, the girls had scanned for music and stopped at a religious station, giggling with innocent delight at the passionate, screaming alter call of a bellowing country preacher with poor grammar—a carnival showman —come one, come all. This time another raspy, exhausted voice was winding to a close with a strange, hypnotic power. Pastor Billy preached a thanksgiving-themed sermon taken from the twenty-third psalm—which surprised Tom because he had only ever known it as a graveside passage.
“Thou preparest a table before me…”
Tom sat in the driveway listening and picturing a feast he couldn’t see behind the newly constructed walls of someone else’s home. But he discovered that he was happy that his daughters were happy and safe in a protective circle of love. Sitting down to eat. Holding hands to pray. At a bountiful table.
“…in the presence of mine enemies.”
He was the enemy.
Tom backed out of the driveway and retraced the exact route to the diner. His old Dodge Dakota, a barely functioning silver satellite, drifted aimlessly through soundless space, orbiting a world completely unaware of his presence.
He reentered the diner. He passed the women’s restroom where his girls had washed their hands with pink liquid soap and hot water.
Tom approached the table where the three had temporarily aligned in heavenly conjunction. The surface and seats hadn’t yet been cleaned (likely due to limited staff and customers, he guessed), where further evidence revealed that the evening had indeed happened. He remembered how Jupiter had torn the paper off the mouth end of a long straw and blew the remaining wrapper at Venus like a dart—a direct hit that ricocheted off the smooth forehead of her younger sister and landed in a sticky puddle of blueberry milkshake. Where it remained. He pondered the messy trail—their precious prints and DNA —leaning in for a closer look and listening to their ghostly laughter. Crumbs of memories are better than nothing, he thought. For this he was truly thankful.
A chubby boy with kind eyes and a constellation of zits that formed the Little Dipper on his oily face, pushed Tom aside and said, “Excuse me, sir.”
Young eighteen-year-old Roger in a paper cap erased the table with a sour washcloth.