Ring the Bell
by Jason Warden
I ring the bell, but my life remains a shriveled, blackened husk. An eggplant left to rot, the soft mushy portion of my soul liquefies, collapses in on itself, splits wide, spreads and engulfs everything within reach of the putrescence.
She could have saved me. If only . . . She did; for a little while, I was happy. A feeling I knew nothing about before, a thing I don’t expect to know again, but still, I ring the bell.
Death is funny. In deep space, it comes in the form of an explosion. Rock, gas and light are flung wide, vaporizing everything in their path at one-hundred and eighty six thousand two-hundred eighty two miles per second. There is no time for regret, no time to wonder if things could be different, and yet by our time standard death takes nearly forever in space. Our own star will eat us before it dies, but not for a few billion years. My star died; I don’t have forever to wait.
After the end, the pieces are gathered by gravity, the gasses combine, everything is pulled together to create something new, as if even inanimate matter in space knows that being nothing is no way to live. Death in space is only a collection of births, new planets, new stars, new life. I believe this is what happened to her.
I ring the bell, but those pale grey orbs still elude me, and yet I still feel her, smell her, hear her whispering, “Find me.” There are those who turn away; the ones that run from me, I don’t chase. I know when I find her I won’t need to. In my dreams, what remains of her clings, and steers her new self to me. I close my eyes at night and see her running down the sidewalk, her tiny feet pattering as one of them chases after her. I hold out my arms; kneel down to catch her. She lowers her head; a final burst of speed, finally, she barrels into my arms, we embrace. Her small heart is beating at double speed, in time with my own, I lift her head to kiss her, to see her, but . . .
Alone, I’m always alone. Before I even register where I am, before the anger, loss, or even the tears, before any of that, I understand I’m all alone.
I ring the bell and hope. The rush never lasts long, it’s like aspirin for an amputation, but it’s what I have. It’s been five years and I still remember her smell, her laugh, the way her left ear hung lower than her right. Her love. I look for these things in their faces; I reach out with my heart trying to sense her within them, but mostly, they are dead inside. Hope is an illusion, a few minutes and it’s no more inside me than they are. Meanwhile, I ring the bell, and fight to keep my eyes open. If they close now, I’ll see her, and sometimes seeing only makes it harder.
But then, more come, enticed by the sound of the bell. I look into each pair of eyes trying to see inside. They tell me what they want, I give, and then they scatter. They leave laughing, giggling, some of them casting back nervous glances. I smile, wave and try not to cry. A few of them cry too, but only when what they want isn’t necessarily what I’m allowed to give them. The crying ones always remind me of our last conversation.
“I’m sorry Bobby,” she said, not meaning it. “I can’t see you anymore.” The words stung, but only a little; I saw past the lie. She was only trying to protect me. “I never meant to hurt you.” Her words were barely understandable, but I knew what she meant.
I can only assume she mistook the unbridled love that must have been evident on my face for shock or anger, but maybe there was just a little of that. Then I smiled and held out my arms to her.
“Catherine dear, it’s ok. Come here.”
She leaned across the seat of my Grand Am and I held her while she cried. It took a long time for her to stop. I held her with all my strength, pushing against the universal forces that threatened to drive a wedge between us, willing all my love out from my heart and into my arms, my hands, anywhere my skin met hers, knowing that she felt it, because the more I gave her, the less intense were her sobs. At the end, she looked up at me speechless, as a single tear fell from her eye. I thought again of how beautiful she was, and how I would miss her.
If I had only known how much, maybe I would have stopped; perhaps her last expression wouldn’t have been panic. If I had let go, it’s possible she would have come back to me in time. Instead, I’m here, everyday, looking into the faces of a thousand five year olds, searching for my sunshine, my light. She’s out there. The universe and I have an understanding. The end, death, it’s only a beginning. There are always dark times before the light, sadness before the reunion, growth and expansion before the explosion. This time when I find her, her with the pale grey eyes and radiant glow that can only be true love, things will be different, better.
Until then, I’ll ring the bell and when another rush comes, perhaps one of them will look into me and see me looking back, perhaps there will be more than hope then, but even if I only sell a couple of Mississippi Muds, and a few Orange Push-ups, I’ll still have my dreams . . . and the next rush.
I ring the bell . . .