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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fiction: In the Fullness of Time


Summer Meadow



In the Fullness of Time©

P. J. Grath


The air was sweet with the heavy scent of roses, reminding her of her grandmother’s house, especially the front porch of that simple little house, a porch all but hidden beneath a wild forest of climbing crimson blooms, screening a child dreaming over a book from the eyes of passers-by. Full-blown, she thought. Then, to bloom, to blow, the archaic verb coming to mind like a petal on the breeze, as it had every spring and summer since she had first learned of the old usage.
The plum trees were also in blossom, but the oddity of plum and rose blooming simultaneously escaped her attention because she had eyes only for the man coming toward her from the barn with quick steps, his eyes bright and hair tousled. “Time to mow soon,” he said, adding, “as it always is.” And he was enfolding her in his strong arms, and at the same time she was in some other space, light and white and clear and open and bare, and a different voice was explaining a new world to her.
“But who are you?” she asked the stranger, searching for even a single comprehensible fact to counter an impossible reality her mind could not compass.
“You may call me Michael, if you need a name for me. It doesn’t matter.”
She couldn’t see him and could barely distinguish his voice from her own, the only apparent difference being that he was the teller and she the questioner ... for now. Who said, “for now”? Had either of them spoken those words?
“Give me the basic outline one more time, please,” she requested, knowing he would comply. “We have all the time in the world, don’t we?”
“One more time, a thousand times, it’s all the same,” Michael answered. “Because there is no more time. There are no more ‘times.’ No more events, nothing happening or changing or growing or sickening or suffering or dying. Do you remember your ancient and medieval philosophy? The concept of perfection? A circle complete, with nothing more to be added. Well, time is complete. And so, it ceases to exist.”
“Perfection and nonexistence – that’s contradiction,” she objected.
“Think of it, rather, as a paradox,” he suggested gently.
She looked around her. The white light contained, as she could now see, all colors, some of them quite new to her eyes, and she pushed Michael further with her questions. “When did it happen?” she asked. “When did time become complete?” Her thoughts whirled, and her heart beat like a pow-wow drum, colors flashing by her eyes like the lights of a city seen at night, close-up, from the window of a speeding train. And yet all was calm and still.
“There is no ‘when’ to fullness,” Michael replied patiently, and she seemed to hear a smile in his voice.
“Well, am I dead then?” she demanded. You would question St. Peter himself, she heard her mother say, and she was nine years old, insisting on answers her mother gently urged her to “take on faith,” something else she had never managed to do, either as a girl in seersucker pajamas or a woman with more practical concerns. Home was the classroom where the subject was philosophy, where questions were demanded as urgently as answers. Home? But home, too, the woods in spring and autumn, the wildflowers and mushrooms and fall colors, her dog bounding eagerly ahead and then turning to wait for her. Home that bedroom in Paris, with the cooing of pigeons echoing in the airshaft every morning. And home every evening, wherever they might be, the marriage bed, the perfect circle of her husband’s arms around her.
“Do you feel dead?” Michael’s voice asked.
“No, not at all.”
“Do you have a memory of dying?”
“What? Would I remember anything at all if I were dead?”
“What do you think? Do you think the dead have memories? Or, ask yourself this: do the dead have sensations...?” His voice faded off, and there was no more white, bare space but green grass and blue sky again, and clean, white sheets blowing on the clothesline in the bright sunshine, and her grandmother – her mother’s mother, it was – pushing back and forth, with her feet, a metal glider bench in the shade, a bowl of green beans in her ample lap, fresh from the garden, her hands busy snapping the ends of the beans, stripping the "strings," while out beyond, behind the garden, her grandfather – her mother’s stepfather, he was – went about his slow, steady work of pruning back raspberry canes, bees lazily humming about his head, and all around rose the sweet smell of earth and growing things. In the distance a train whistle sounded, and she knew it to be her other grandfather, coming to the crossing where they often drove in the car to wave at him as his engine sped by, and she knew his second wife, her other grandmother, was making a salad of the bright, ripe, red tomatoes from his tiny garden behind their old, brick, two-story house on the tree-shaded street in Ohio.
“And with time complete,” she said aloud, addressing herself to Michael and trusting that he would be wherever she was, “there is no more dying, is that right?”
“No more change of any kind,” he confirmed.
“But those who died, in time – that is, before completion -- ?”
Again she heard a smile in his reply. “They live in your memory, as they always have and always will.”
At tables under the sheltering maples, on blankets spread on the grass, on the porch swing and strolling at the edge of the meadow, and in the halls of old university buildings and in the streets of cities and on quiet country roadsides, they were all with her, but not seeming at all a crowd. Instead she saw only one or two or three at a time, as they had been together in time. And she was also onstage with her high school orchestra and standing on a bridge in Paris, looking down the Seine, and singing blues in a dim, smoky club.
“But it wasn’t all good....”
“Again, recall the older philosophies. Did evil have substance? No, it was but a turning away from good, from God. All pain and suffering were temporary results of the absence of perfection. Hence -- .”
“That’s too simple!” she objected.
“So think of it another way: the bad parts simply don’t bear remembering. And in the fullness of time, whatever you are experiencing you are, in reality, remembering.”
“But then I’m selecting and leaving out -- .”
“So go back to the first explanation. Why turn away from perfection?”
Another problem formed in her thoughts. The very fact of my failure of understanding implies a lack, an imperfection. Furthermore, this very conversation implies ongoing thought, by definition incomplete at every step....
“Do you think we are having this conversation for the first time?” Michael asked her, although she had not spoken aloud. “You are remembering it. You are, in fact, remembering many conversations, and you are remembering them, reliving them, because you have always loved such conversations, because you have always felt most alive when asking such questions of yourself and others. There is no contradiction. With the fullness of time, love also is complete, including your love of argumentation, with no one telling you any longer to cease from questioning or arguing....”
Again Michael’s voice faded, lost on the breeze. Where he had seemed to stand, off to her side, appeared frolicking dogs, entering into her field of vision joyously, ears flapping, tails wagging, eyes shining bright. There was the first Ginger, their first family dog, as spry as Ginger II, a puppy now and always, as well as canine companions of later years, joining the Gingers, all of them alive and healthy and happy and playing together.
It is all quite impossible, she mused. Perhaps all of it might exist in one brief millisecond of her conscious imagination. Perhaps there was nothing more to it than that. 
But she saw no sense in rejecting any part of it. Not the gardens, any of them, and certainly not the old friends and dogs all come back, or her grandparents, the train whistle, the scent of roses on the breeze, laundry on the line. Not the soft cheeping of baby chicks and contented sounds of hens hovering nearby that she heard now, along with the neighing of a horse from the pasture. Her horse. Her chickens.
No, it only made sense for her to take her comfortable ease in a cushiony chaise recliner beneath her grandfather’s old standard apple tree, where there in dappled shade someone handed her baby son to her, and she took him again in her arms and gazed down at that beautiful child. He was miraculously complete and perfect, from the downy, sweet-smelling crown of his head to his tiny, pearly pink shells of toenails, and nothing was wanting, truly, nothing missing in all the world.

Northport, Michigan
March 26, 2014

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Pamela, this story took me to bright, beautiful, and believable places. Thank you for posting it.

Trudy

P. J. Grath said...

You are very welcome, and I thank you for reading, Trudy. My take on even questionable results is that it's all practice, and practice is always good.

Kathie said...

Very beautiful.
Kathie

Steve said...

Pamela,
You captured, beautifully, a wonderful life.
Steve

P. J. Grath said...

To those who wondered about my word choice with the verb 'to compass,' it is an archaic usage and suggested itself to me following 'to blow' for 'to bloom.' I like the way it suggests (at least, to me) timelessness.

Thanks to anyone challenged by getting a comment to stick, and even more thanks to those of you who are still determined to get over that hurdle. Also to a couple of people who sent e-mails with corrections, questions, and suggestions. Just what I was hoping for.

Marilyn Zimmerman said...

Pamela,
This is a lovely piece. It took me to a dreamy place you captured beautifully. And the weaving in and out of the narrator's memories are well done, I think, although I would like to read more detail about the Paris time, some descriptions that would be hers alone, not as generic perhaps? And I would move the phrase "from the eyes of passers-by" so that it follows the word screening. It sounded like it was referencing the book rather than the vegetation. But I liked this piece alot.

Dawn said...

My Mom used to look at us and say she wished she could make time stand still. When we got older I would look the same at her. Timelessness exists, I guess, inside all of us.

P. J. Grath said...

Marilyn, your desire for specific rather than generic descriptions is important to me. It's what I tried for with the cooing of pigeons in the airshaft, but certainly there could be more of that. I'm still considering the sentence about the girl reading on the front porch....

Dawn, I remarked to my husband yesterday, as we were driving in the countryside, that I continue to look for deer or foxes or horses in places where I saw them once only, many years ago, as if they are going to be there again. He said he's the same about cars he's seen. And we agreed that although we know differently, perfectly well, this getting-older business feels like something temporary, like some kind of setback from which we'll recover and be "our old selves," i.e., younger, again.

Here's something I replied to a friend who asked in an e-mail if Michael is real or not: "I don't know if Michael is 'real' or not myself! I don't know if time
is complete or if the main character is seeing her life in a last-minute flashback before death. In other words, not only have we no omniscient narrator, we don't even have an omniscient
author!" This isn't a newspaper story and is not concerned with facts but with impressions, memories, sensations, feelings, and all the -- what did William James call it? The stuff that goes on inside us that can't be pinned down with precision....

P. J. Grath said...

Ah, what William James wanted his psychology and philosophy to do was to restore the "vague and inarticulate" to our story of mental processes.

Gerry said...

I liked it. A lot.

I might even have an idea about the sentence (reading the book . . . ) but I'd rather noodle it around over a cup of tea than otherwise.

I liked it.

You did have me worried that you or David might be Not Doing Well but then I was reassured so I felt better. After that I liked it some more.

(Have we discussed Ruth Ozecki? I forget everydoggonething.)

Did I mention that I liked it? Oh yes, I see I did. Good.

P. J. Grath said...

Gerry! No, we are FINE! And I don't think we've discussed Ruth Ozecki, but did you read my review of her 2013 novel? TIME....

One friend said, in response to my reply to her about what "message" I was trying to send the reader (none, really; not clear in my own mind; etc.), that "it works as philosophical lit (a new genre?), more than a mood piece, something that defies rigid interpretation, or, better yet, is open to various interpretations." I thought again this morning, on my way to Northport, about William James wanting to restore the "vague and inarticulate" to its proper place in our mental life. How that warms my heart!

Thank you for reading and commenting. You raise my spirits, already high on this sunny morning!

Laurie said...

Suggested movie title:
It's A Wonderful Afterlife

I felt so dreamy and warm and hopeful and happy reading this: what a great way to transition to what's next ...

Love always,
Laurie

P. J. Grath said...

Laurita!!! Great title! You've got the magic, dear -- and I say that remembering David's story of "a cake in a dream."

Kathie S. said...

Pamela, a second reading is even better. The end especially catches me, for you have moved me into a nostalgic opening of my mind, and the remembrance of my child in my arms as you have described so beautifully reaches into me deeply.
I found myself realizing that the photo would have resonated more if it had been of the roses. Your descriptions are tactile and rich, Paris works for me, the last sentence in first paragraph read smoothly.
I also found myself trying to follow the logic, especially when M. said there is no change---but just gave it up, because it was all logical enough.
The word "compass" I looked up--and knew already it related to "blow" and that you knew what you were doing. However there is something about it that stops one, so it may interrupt the flow and so I too love it, but am not sure of its full success.
The sentence which mentions "home was where questions were demanded as urgently as answers" threw me because I read it as referring to the home with the mother. On rereading, I realized you had jumped to a true classroom.
Simple but complex, beautifully and lyrically expressed. Thank you for this.

P. J. Grath said...

Kathie, thank you for persevering in the face of difficulty to leave such a detailed comment! I'm sure you're right about roses vs. meadow. Ideally, there would be no images except in readers' minds, but I couldn't resist adding my beloved meadow. "Compass" will probably be a break in the flow for most readers, too. I'm sure you're right. I am, however, wedded to that word in that sentence.

Thank you so much for reading TWICE!