NICK

MONTE

To my friend

 

To me, there was always something evocative about the way the sunset ravens flew from the mountain toward the valley. They moved briskly with the breeze that split those long summer days from their flipside nights, that familiar and unassuming motion that pulled the clinging heat from shingles, streets, car hoods and foreheads. They moved in that silent time, that evanescent lull between day’s din and dusk; soon crickets may tune by section, soon frogs may croak and sirens sound, but then — when those shapes took quietly to the sky and moved toward the valley — the place and the people were silent.

 

Silent, save the breeze; save that unassuming, sundown breeze you’ve long known well, for you’ve heard it before whisper sweetly and swiftly something of “passing” as it swept the summer’s day dust from the deck beneath your chair. “This one is done,” it seemed to say before carrying forth; but did you hear the rest? Monte did; he had sat there quietly beside you so surely he had heard it; but did he ever tell you what he heard? Perhaps not. It whispered something of “passing,” you knew, and then pushed onward; it pushed the last of the long day’s soft heat past your face and skated the contours of his ear; perhaps he smiled at the words he heard; perhaps you smiled to see the sunflower silhouettes reflecting in his eyes; perhaps he watched the backlit birds in the sunset sky; perhaps it was nearly time to go. Eventide.

 

I wonder if he was watching them, when he stood there at the door and looked toward the sky; maybe he watched them move from the mountain toward the valley. Could it be they pull the shroud? Perhaps. I take my seat and pluck a string; is it the cricket who’s out of tune? Perhaps its me. He turned and smiled gently in my direction; and so the compline bells tolled in our town’s distant spire. Night’s cacophony ensued; he walked inside to be with you.

 

___

 

 

I bought a dulcimer cheap because the state of his arm ruled out guitar. A friendly couple met me in the parking lot of a bagel shop; it was late; I ran with the instrument under my arm from there to your door; the lights were on inside. You answered and Monte sat at the dining room table; you invited me in with warmth. “Monte is speechless,” you said, “He’s not used to people doing nice things for him.” I just wanted to hear him play. “Perhaps another day.” Perhaps. Can I take your picture, Monte; can you hold it up? Sure; flash; Thanks; seeya soon. I left feeling contented and rounded the corner of the fence; a swift nighttime breeze blew apples off the backyard tree; it was August and lovely; this night smelled like honeysuckle and summer squash; it was thick; it waxed thinner. With each gust fruit fell and landed with thuds on the crumbling roof of the old garage. I climbed the steps to my attic apartment; each groaned under my weight and its own expansion; it was still hot inside; it was dark; my sweat mixed with gritty stardust and stained my shirt. A firm bump up and a twist to the left, I remembered and executed, so the shower ran cold and fast and loudly; I forced my hand into the stream. From my window I could see into your dining room; you sat together at the wooden table; Monte fingered his dulcimer and his music sounded like rushing water; you pointed at a string and smiled slightly; you were lovely, the two of you were always lovely.

 

Four months before that dog-day’s dulcimer night the ravens tended nests in the pines, out of sight. None of us noticed them, except for the day of the Whitefish funeral, and even then only peripherally; they flew low on our margins of our lives. — Pots? Perhaps. But they’ll need to be big ol’ pots for pumpkins, you told me. — Will the sunflowers grow on the shady side? — Oh I think so; they’re good at finding the Light. You know, you said, Monte loves sunflowers. — You know, Janet, Monte loves you; but, of course, I never said this aloud. Instead I talked of Spring. This empty northern hemisphere tipped daily toward the sun; each passing moment our world grew more hopeful, more nurturing. — I think the last big frost has come and gone, I said; you warned me not to jump the gun. — It can surprise you. I rolled up a sleeve and touched the soil at my feet; leaves of grass grew up green; a wayward blade lodged between my big toe and its nearest neighbor; it was warm April Sunday, so I’d worn sandals; the ravens tended nests in the pines, out of sight. 

 

You told me once, during the latest days of Spring, that he could no longer mow the lawn; I knew I should never have believed you. The July sun melted my popsicle and I dripped cherry syrup on shirt; a grass clipping wafted toward me on a wayward breeze and landed near the stain; another got in my eye and I certainly inhaled a number more. Monte smiled gently as he passed; he didn’t wave, for his hands gripped tightly the lawnmower. I looked toward your garden; the sun reflected brightly off your white fence; the finches perched in an arc upon the wagon wheel; what a beautiful garden; from where I sat, everything looked so alive.

 

___

 

And so August arrived, and with it the flames; they were the warmest days of the year; darkness would pale for the light; birds would sing long and loudly; rabbits would scurry between the pellet dish and the deck shade; neighbors would come and go; perhaps you plucked a cucumber from the vine; the cats chased one another ‘round the house; perhaps Monte turned up the music; or perhaps it was the air conditioner. Regardless, brightly upon all of these the Light shone long and well. They were — after all — the warmest days of the year.

 

And beautiful days, too, you may have thought to yourself as you sat beside Monte in the sunset silence. But darkness would still come, you knew, for you could see the ravens take flight. And the breeze whispered sweetly and swiftly something of “passing” as it swept the summer’s day dust from the deck beneath your chair. “This one is done,” it seemed to say, and though you weren’t sure, you thought you heard something more. The breeze pushed onward, though; it pushed the last of the long day’s soft heat past your face and skated the contours of his ear; he smiled gently at the words he heard; you smiled to see the sunflower silhouettes reflecting in his eyes; you were lovely; you two were always lovely.

 

I wonder if he was watching them, when he stood there at the door and looked toward the sky; maybe he watched them take flight and move from the mountain toward the valley. Or maybe he saw something beyond the shadows.  “This one is done,” he knew full well, “And you’re closer to Heaven than you’ve ever been.”

 

Perhaps it was nearly time to go. He turned and smiled gently in my direction; and so the compline bells tolled in our town’s distant spire. Night’s cacophony ensued; he walked inside to be with you.

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