Thoughts occurring during the quiet before Christmas.

None of us will really go gracefully into that dark night. You should know we will kick and scream and try to stop death. You should know it’s not always visible — the struggle and yearning to stay right here in this very moment. It’s hidden sometimes, just behind the eyes, the fight to remain in this stage and not to transition to the next.

You should know how to tell someone it’s alright to leave. How to say you’ll be fine. How to say good-bye.

Momma used to tell me, “I plan on sticking around a while.” In the darkest of hours, she would massage my neck with fingers made strong from needlepoint and winding woolen thread around spools, sorting it by color and strands. “I’m not going anywhere, Val. Relax… Give yourself a break. Bob will still be there when I get there. He was a patient man.”

She would tell me to close my eyes. “Envision a sheet. A white sheet. Hanging on a clothes line on a still afternoon. No breeze. Think of absolutely nothing else.” The trick, she told me, is to keep the sheet white, not to let anything else onto the sheet. And she would shush my questions with “tsh tsh, keep the sheet white” …

What I couldn’t ask her then is what I can’t ask her now. How do I live without your poetry? And what is Christmas without the stories?

She stayed here with me to stop the silence from covering the house with a deafening shroud, thick and strong, opaque enough to let in sunlight but woven tightly to keep out the noise — of her unsteady footsteps, of her opening a box of cereal, upside down, of her wispy night breaths while she slept a shallow sleep filled with dreams of my brother and father.

You should know there are three dogs here now. Scrambling and barking, wrestling… panting… and challenging each other for top pillow position on the couch nearby. The television gives me Cary Grant, the stereo in the kitchen mumbles Public Radio news, tinny sounds of Andrew Bird come from earphones of an iPod charging, plugged into a laptop chiming with email sounds, the cell phone beeps as a text message arrives, a microwave oven hums as it warms my coffee while the ice maker crashes two dozen cubes into the bin, the washing machine and dryer chug along with domestic efficiency, the dishwasher churns, one neighbor uses a leaf blower while the other mows her lawn, cars drive by, there’s a bi-plane following the Pamlico River, and a pile driver two blocks away slams pylons into the marsh as a new generation replaces a CCC-built bridge over the creek nearby.

And the silence is deafening.

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