Did I Keep You Waiting?
by Jonathan Richard Cring
It’s not really the tears. Privacy can be found for them.
It’s more the sense of vacancy—the emptiness, like a deep, dark cave, where the growl of agony echoes against the walls.
Eleanor counted the days. Forty-three. It had been forty-three days since the death of her soul, Jack.
Although she tried to remember, all that came to her was a wave of hopelessness which drenched her, leaving behind nothing but angry frustration.
She could barely remember the circumstances. An accident. A sleepy truck driver.
That’s what they told her. It was supposed to comfort her—that at least, her Jack did not suffer. No, all the suffering was left for her.
Somehow or another, she’d expected more empathy. It had been little more than a month and people were already moving on—perhaps wondering when she would be able to “compartmentalize” her grief.
To push on.
Somehow, she survived the funeral. But continuing life after Jack was not something she had planned for nor could any preparation have left her understanding the sense of incompletion that swept over her entire being.
She spent her days staring at his last razor, rubbing her hands across the top of his deodorant, using his washcloth and never rinsing it out, peering at the six-pack of beer in the corner of the kitchen he hadn’t finished.
And mostly—yes, mostly—indulging herself in smelling everything he had touched and everything that had been his.
Everybody had called them “Jack and Eleanor—the perfect couple.”
But if a coupling is perfect, what does it become minus one of its links? Especially if that joining has been ripped away, leaving the devastation on the other.
There was no relief for her grief. She didn’t want any. Not only was she unwilling to move on but found the whole idea blasphemous to a divine union which had been squelched by the demon of chance.
At first, Eleanor feared sleep. For it was peppered with flashes of Jack—some distorted and many violent. But gradually, the dreams tempered. They became an aching journey through images—almost like a photo album.
They were visions of firsts: first meeting, first kiss, first lovemaking, first child.
Ah, yes. The children. There were two—much too young to be talking about their dad in the past tense. Eleanor needed to tend to them, like a shepherd to sheep, but she was frighteningly put off by their presence. They were the evidence of Jack and Eleanor’s love—and now that their love was gone, only the needy evidence remained.
She was ashamed. She wanted to criticize the kids for not caring enough about their father—simply because they no longer broke down at the sound of his name or the sight of his picture.
Then, in her dream life the photo album of memories changed. She was given sights she couldn’t remember. She recognized herself—the children, old friends, and even Jack—but she held no recollection of the event or the scene or the time.
And then, on Tuesday night, October 25th, she met a visitor. Yes, a new image appeared in her dreams—a man. Part American Indian, athletic, eyes like her mother’s and a tender voice, deep and basal, like warm maple syrup.
She had never been visited in a dream before. But the apparition spoke to her. “What if you’re wrong?” he asked.
It was a simple question. She was surprised that her dream self was offended, and immediately spat back, “I’m not wrong.”
“My name is Saralis,” he said, pointing to himself.
Eleanor didn’t care. It was a dream. She wasn’t really interested in carrying on a conversation with something that was not going to last. She had already committed to eternally being in love with Jack, only to have it snatched away after fifteen short years.
But Saralis continued. “Why are you so upset?”
“He is gone!” Eleanor screamed, feeling it completely unnecessary to explain who the “he” was. He was the only he she was interested in or would ever consider.
Saralis smiled. “Jack is not gone,” he said. “You are gone.”
Eleanor became immediately angry. Maybe it was the tone of voice, or the flippancy of the comment. It was rude. Meaningless statements uttered in dreams were not going to fill the hole in her soul.
Saralis, seeing her rage, continued, “If you can be calm, I will explain to you that Jack is alive and waiting.”
Eleanor laughed. She now understood. All her religious training, heavenly schooling and church foolishness was trying to take over and replace her vacuum.
Her laughter quickly turned to scorn. “I am not going to wait for heaven!” she snarled at Saralis. “I am not going to believe in something that isn’t nearly as promising as what I possessed with Jack.”
Saralis interrupted. “Nor would I ask you to. I would merely suggest that your ignorance keeps you from the truth that would free you of your obsession.”
“Jack is not my obsession,” Eleanor said. “He is my love. He and I shared a breath. We shared a purpose. We conformed to each other’s needs. We became gloriously ecstatic when we were able to meet them.”
Saralis walked across the dreamscape and sat down on what appeared to be a glowing pile of logs, prepared for him and his perch. “My dear,” he said, “you just don’t know where you are, so how could you be expected to know where to go? You are in the middle of a mortalation. And before you ask me what that is, let me tell you. A mortalation is when our dreams mercifully evolve into our reality, as God, in his grace and wisdom, grants us the blessing without us having to consciously struggle with the transformation.”
Eleanor was unimpressed. Saralis asked, “Did you understand anything I said?”
“Not a word,” snapped Eleanor, “because there was no sense in it. It’s the jumbled language people use to pretend they’re spiritual when they really have nothing to say.”
Saralis chuckled. “Yes,” he retorted. “It would be impossible to comprehend what I’m saying. But what I would like you to do is just listen to my voice. What I’m about to speak will be very familiar to you. Remain still. Don’t allow yourself to attack or be insulted. Just listen.”
As Saralis stopped, Eleanor took a breath to speak. Then Saralis began sharing again—louder. Maybe not louder, but it filled the space surrounding her.
“The first time I met her, I did not fall in love with her. But I liked her so much that I hoped I would have the good fortune to love her someday. I didn’t think my prospects were good, for she was much more lovely than I was handsome. Much smarter than I was intelligent. And so much better than my simple good.”
Eleanor held her breath, frozen, shocked. These were the exact words Jack had spoken at the altar so many years ago when they exchanged vows. Saralis continued.
“And then, one night, or one moment—just some speckle in time—she looked at me with a gleam in her eye that communicated that I had a chance. That’s all I needed—just an opportunity to try to convince her that her time would not be wasted on us blending our lives together.”
As Eleanor listened, the basal tones of Saralis melted away. It was an amazing evolution—like bitter salt turning into the sweetest sugar. Emerging through the voice of the apparition of her dream came the familiar, gentle and less assured sound of her beloved Jack.
“So,” he went on, “when she decided to let me touch her, kiss her—to unite with her, I was so fumbling bad. I thought she would surely think better of giving me another chance. But she not only gave me another chance, she told me I did well. That I made her happy, and that she, too, wanted to do it again and again and again, with only me.”
The voice began to lose its dreamy quality, sounding more normal. More human. More present.
“So that’s why I read this to you each and every day, with the hopes that one day you will remember when I said it the first time, at the church we chose because it was so pretty on the outside.”
The voice finished. Eleanor slowly opened her eyes, and with cloudy vision, saw the form of her lover and friend, Jack. She tried to move toward him—to put her arms around him, but she was much too weak. Apparently, the dream had drained her of all power.
Jack, looking into her open eyes and realizing she was moving, squeezed her hand and she weakly squeezed his. Without saying another word, Jack ran out of the room, and quickly returned with a man in a white coat, wearing a stethoscope.
Eleanor looked around the room and realized she was in a hospital. Her face was filled with distress, so the doctor firmly laid his hand on her shoulder, holding her down.
“Don’t move,” he said, with a convincing tone. “You’re fine. But I need to check you over.”
That he did, reviewing all her vital signs while Eleanor desperately looked past him at Jack, who was darting right and then left, attempting to maintain visual contact.
Eleanor opened her mouth to speak, but no words came forth. The doctor patted her on the head, took a washcloth lying nearby and soothed her brow.
“I need you to relax and be quiet,” he instructed. “I will explain everything to you soon.”
Eleanor looked at Jack. She hadn’t really taken in his entire appearance. He was much thinner than she remembered. His clothes looked cheap, like they had been purchased at Goodwill. And though she would never tell him and hurt his feelings, he had aged.
But obedient, and too exhausted to say a thing, she lay her head back and closed her eyes. The doctor slipped out of the room, motioning for Jack to follow him.
In the hallway, the doctor looked for a private area and finally ducked into an examination room. Jack was gleeful, grabbing the doctor and pulling him in close for a bullish embrace.
The doctor held up a hand. “We’re not out of the woods,” he said.
Jack interrupted. “I know, doc—but it’s been five years. I never thought I would even see her eyes light up again, or… I don’t know. I gave up on any progress. I spent all my money. The kids and I are back living with my parents. I finally found a job that would accept that I needed to be at the hospital four hours a day. But the money’s terrible!”
The doctor broke in. “I understand all of that, Jack. What I am telling you is, she has come from someplace we don’t understand, so her grasp of the place we’re in may be twisted…”
Jack frowned. “What do you mean by twisted?”
“I don’t know,” said the doctor. “We think we’re so smart, but the human brain is so much smarter. She’s back. But her story may be much different than yours.”
“You mean she may not know she was struck by an eighteen-wheeler and suffered a severe brain injury?” Jack asked.
The doctor chuckled. “No. She won’t know any of that, more than likely. But don’t be afraid of her story. Don’t be afraid of her telling.”
He put his hand on Jack’s shoulder. “The universe is so much larger than we are that her version may be the accurate one. We may be the ones having an illusion.”
Jack stared at him like he had sprouted a second head. The doctor smiled. “Don’t worry about it, Jack. It doesn’t matter who’s been waiting for who. All that matters is, somewhere in that darkness, you found each other.”
Published by Jonathan Cring