Red Sky at Dawn

Several things occurred suddenly and simultaneously as the elderly lady quickly regained consciousness.  Firstly, she was immediately aware the plane was descending much too steeply and swiftly and early to be arriving at their destination.  Secondly, once her mind accepted this fact her bladder decided to release its contents in the sudden terror that gripped her.  She had heard of the fight or flight syndrome but never having experienced it prior was taken by surprise when it happened to her.  Were it not for the seatbelt holding her securely in the seat surely, she would have borne wings and out-flown the very plane itself!  Almost immediately after her bladder released, the third and truly shocking thing was her immediate sense of shame.  This was discarded almost as quickly as it occurred to her.  Because, truly, who would ever know?

Perhaps, she reasoned to herself, they were not crashing after all.  Oddly there seemed to be no sound whatsoever in the cabin of the plane.  Yet her eyes did not fail her.  She could clearly see the other passengers and by the expressions on their faces something must be awry.  A quick glance at the pale face of the young woman in the seat next to hers was confirmation.  She saw her own terror peering back at her from the deep brown depths. To think, she thought, mine are the last eyes to look into hers and hers into mine.

The sunlight filling the cabin seemed to be oddly out of place as well.  A person just didn’t expect to see sunshine…and such bright sunshine…in their final moments.  And why was her life not flashing before her eyes? Wasn’t that what was supposed to be happening? Instead, she was filled with a sense of loss for what she would miss.  Would tomorrow’s sunrise be tenderly yellow and golden with touches of pink in a robin’s egg blue sky? Or would it be filled with massive thunderheads that would release their bellyful of rain somewhere in the vast distances in the east? She recalled a phrase her grandmother had been fond of saying.

"Red sky at night, sailors' delight.
Red sky at morning, sailors take warning"

Strange to think of her grandmother now. It had been fifty years since she passed.  More than half a lifetime ago. Yet the vision of her was as clear in her mind’s eye as if it had been only yesterday.

Her heart suddenly hurt.  Not the hurt of physical pain but of emotional pain…of monumental, irredeemable loss.  To never see another sunrise or sunset.  To never hear her son’s voice or the dulcet tones of her granddaughter. Ah, now there was a precious and cherished memory to focus on.  Her granddaughter was now a young woman, no longer a child, and what a beautiful woman she was developing into.  She sang so beautifully, and it was almost an established fact that she would be hugely successful.  It was so unfair that she would miss what was surely her crowning achievement.

This thought was running simultaneously with the oddly separate version of herself that was standing by and coldly, analytically, evaluating what was occurring to and around her.  The vast discomfort of her now wet clothing.  The ironic thought, Thank God we aren’t landing in water. I surely could not use the seat cushion as a floatation device now! And how could she laugh at a time like this? And yet, a brief chuckle was indeed startled out of her by the immensely funny thought.  I must be in shock, that coldly separate analyst thought.

This allowed her to focus once again on her aching heart and she recalled a show she had once seen about the mysteries of a broken heart and heartache.  Doctors had discovered and it was now an accepted fact that in times of intense sorrow the heart truly did become elongated in the chest cavity and as a result it “ached”.  Prolonged conditions had even led to death. Perhaps I can die before we reach the site of the accident, the lady thought to herself, surprising herself with another little chuckle.

She again glanced at the young woman next to her who was now looking at her oddly. And no wonder, she thought. Who laughs while the plane they are riding on is crashing? The smile she gave the young woman was no doubt incongruous but at this moment who cared? The young woman’s eyes opened even wider…and really, who would have thought it possible?  Her body language spoke with even greater clarity as she leaned as far from the older woman as space and seating restrictions would allow.

The older woman turned her eyes away so she could look once again at the visions in her head. No, her life was not flashing before her, but many people were.  She had always eschewed much human companionship. Of course, there was her husband and her mind settled gladly on the image of him. Ah, it was their wedding day.  He had looked so handsome in his dark suit with the gaily patterned tie. The image of the tie made her fingers itch to reach out and run them lightly under his collar and back under the light fall of his hair that he allowed to grow just over the collar of his shirt yet trimmed neatly enough to not reach beyond to the edge of the folded over collar.  That hair in her memory was almost honey in color…not the white it became later.

She had always hoped to be the one to go first but fate had not been so kind.  If there was anything about the current situation that she found pleasure in it was the possibility that perhaps, if what they were raised to believe were true, she may indeed be reunited with him at last. The last eleven years without him had been the longest of her life. He had been such a good man…patient and kind, slow to anger and quick to laugh, with an unlimited capacity for love.  He had been her perfect foil. How fast the years they were together had flown! Thirty-six years passing in the mere wink of an eye or, so it had seemed.

Perhaps as was only fitting the image of her husband was suddenly superseded by an image of her father. So finally, we get to the heart of it all, was her unbidden thought. The one unresolved aspect that had haunted her adult life arose before her and the pain in her heart increased even more.  Unbidden and unknown the tears were streaming from her eyes, corneas yellowed from age and clouded with the beginnings of cataracts.  The tears made her vision crystal clear.  Her father was the young man he had been when she left home. And his image was as unreachable now as it had been in real life.

There was no warmth in the eyes that were a mirror of her own.  No smile touched the perfectly molded mouth.  Had she loved him so greatly all these years?  Had all this love been stuffed hidden down inside without her knowledge?  How could it be possible?  How could this pain suddenly be so tremendously great and overwhelming?  Of all the things she knew she would miss…her granddaughters assured success, the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, the blinding sparkle of the sun on a newly formed icicle as the first morning light catches it hanging from the eaves of the house on Christmas morning…none of it compared to the tremendous loss she still felt for her father.

It surprised her now at her advanced age of eighty to discover that the young child she had been still was.  Less than thirty years ago she had helped to lay her father to rest.  Not that he laid anywhere. His wishes had been to leave no trace…no written homages, no lengthy sermons from some pulpit that he would not have graced while living, no marker for future generations to know that he had ever existed.  Suddenly, as the plane hurtled to the hard ground below, she understood and regretted what he had taken from them…as he had always taken…and the fact that she had been a willing participant.  She felt a surprising surge of bitterness and anger.  All these years…and the years before that…she had been seeking him yet never finding. And she finally understood that even in his death he had managed to deny the only thing she had ever desired…the chance to tell him the innermost workings of her heart and to receive his blessing and love. There was no gravesite to visit or bring flowers.  He would have shunned them while living and succeeded in even repudiating them once dead.  And now, as it were, she would follow firmly in the path he had laid before her. She felt keenly the rejection she had felt when she was a young child.  No, the man she had sought then and the man he became that she never knew, succeeded in eluding her.  She had been a willing assistant in the scattering of his ashes. She had done her share with her sister by her side.

Her analytical double sneered at her. Typical that you should waste your last thoughts on him. You can rest assured his last thoughts were not of you.

But was that strictly true?

They had been surprised, her sister and herself, to discover hidden among his personal items small mementoes of their own childhood. What had he been thinking when he kept them? And there was no question that it was him that had done the keeping…and not their mother. Several of the items were hidden where even their mother had not known nor expected to find them. Her sister’s cherished mirror that they had long since forgotten but upon finding was as naturally accepted and immediately recognizable as a family portrait. Some of their childhood toys, abandoned in their individual mad flights from the nest.

Neither her sister nor herself had left home on especially gracious or friendly terms. In fact, it was fair to say, both had dashed away as if the devil were chasing and they were in fear of their lives…which they in fact were.  But years allowed the memories to fade…never vanish entirely, sometimes popping up vividly when least expected – or desired…but the frequency lessening with time.

She had reached a point where she held imaginary conversations with both of her parents. She would tell them about her home, her life, their great-grandchild and the generations in between during her drive to town. In her late forties the thought occurred one day that perhaps they were no more. The time elapsed so great, almost insurmountable, that who was there to even know she existed that would know how to contact her should anything happen? And then it had happened. The phone had rung as she was drifting into sleep one night.

They had flown to their mother’s side immediately. The reunion as natural as though the decades intervening had not passed but in one single night. She had cried, yes. She understood later that those tears were more for the loss of the years never to be recovered with the woman she recognized in her heart as her mother. No amount of late night talks would ever allow them to fully grasp the nuances of the years apart. For that she mourned. Deeply and painfully and she could not bridge that chasm, did not know where to start. The fact that she loved deeply and intensely was never doubted but her conversations did not come easily. She had never been a phone talker, it felt awkward and unnatural to talk to a device and not to a person. For her, body language and expression were as much a part of the conversation as were the words and tone of voice.

But she never truly mourned her father. Or so she had thought and staunchly claimed. She recalled a conversation with her closest friend shortly after he passed and she had told her friend she had not cried for him, did not miss him – how could you miss something you didn’t have anyway? Her friend had reassured her, telling her many people did not actually mourn until much later – that one day it would hit her.

“No.” She had slowly but firmly shaken her head. “No. I will never mourn him.” And she had been true to her word. Or had she been? Now, looking back, she saw and recalled the times of indelible sadness that had consumed her. No apparent cause, just extremely sorrowful.

Her father had been a stubborn man and she resembled him in many regards. Now she finally understood that she had been grieving him all her life. Not just at the scattering of his ashes but instead to the very day she had walked away. That had been the day he had truly died for her. It had taken almost four decades for the physical fact to occur, but she had been grieving the loss of her father for almost sixty-five years and been in a state of denial the entire time. And simple recognition of this basic fact filled her with sudden joy.

Her greatest concern had always been whether he had in fact loved her, felt any pride in her. Her many successes had been her path to self-appreciation. With time and success her sense of self-worth had grown and she came to love the person she was. She had strong beliefs and she did not compromise. The very qualities she had admired most in her father. And she understood that if she could love herself, he would have as well. If she could admire the woman she had grown into, if she had found peace and serenity in the world she had established, by the fact of their very similarity he could not have helped but feel as she did.

In this last moment as the end rushed to meet her this simple fact filled her suddenly with a comforting warmth. She relaxed into her seat, a smile softly settling on her mouth. She felt peace beyond anything she had ever felt in her life before this, her final moment. Yes, she thought, I am prepared to meet my Father.

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About the Author

Cheryl King, was born in the upper northwestern corner of New York state. She has lived in six other states, finally settling in northwest Arkansas, in Eureka Springs. Mrs. King began her working career in the publishing profession, working first as a proofreader for Double Day and then later as Managing Editor at Exposition Press of Florida. Mrs. King is now dedicated completely to her passion for writing and a collection of ten of her short stories/novelettes is scheduled for release on Amazon in digital and paperback editions in the first quarter of 2019.

Cheryl King
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