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The Old Place

By Albert Henry Tyson

Twilight comes along around 5am, this time of year. Sounds of bird songs from my phone mingle with those from the dawn chorus outside. Time to get up. I was supposed to go to bed at sundown last night, but as usually happens I stayed up much later, ruminating. This morning is going to be bright. I can already see the sky is completely clear, as I peek out the kitchen window.

The coffee grounds floating on top of the water in the cookpot have soaked in and foam has begun around the edges. In a few moments the foment has subsided to a clear boil and I turn the gas off. I always feel better in the morning, but it never lasts. My worst times are the evening twilight. This twin, the morning twilight, is much more to my liking.

My mug of hot steaming black coffee in hand, I put on my crocks and step out into the cold morning air. Gravel crunches underfoot. I wonder what Selena would think if she were still alive. Would she insist on repaving? The change to gravel was necessary since water was damaging the foundation. The house is getting old. I walk around the front, past what used to be the rose garden, now a collection of herbs. This little patch is as far as I’m willing to go now. Gardening was Selena’s passion. The huge area in the backyard, which used to be so productive back then, is all fallow now. Just old wood and some weeds.

Standing beside the green house, I regard the aging place, the site of my first quarter century. The house is only two years older than I am. It is certainly showing its age and the vinyl siding Dad installed over the original woodwork makes it seem cheap and flimsy, not what it really is.

“Well house,” I say, “it’s just you and me now. Everyone else is gone.” The last thing we ever did together, Selena and I had been trying to make a new life for ourselves here, after Dad died and after I lost my career. We had barely started when her cancer came.

The sunshine has begun to play through the green house glass, and inside I can already feel the difference with the outside air. I sit on the single chair it contains, watching the morning sky and sipping coffee, trying yet again to make sense of things.

“You and this old house are linked,” says a voice beside me.

This has happened so often now, I don’t startle. “Why are you here?” I ask instead.

“Why do you think so?”

I look over and there is the familiar jutting red beard and deep set watery blue eyes. Seeing him leaning back in a matching chair, I note his usual sleeping bag isn’t in evidence today. “I haven’t seen your sister for almost a year. Where is Love these days? Can’t she show up instead of you?”

He cracks a smile, tinged with bitterness, and brushes some of his unruly red mop out of his eyes. “I know you prefer her to me, but my twin sister hasn’t felt exactly welcome, not since that last time you were complaining. Feeling like you do, you just get me, Grief.”

“Yeah, and no thanks! What help have you ever been? Moping around in the pouring rain in that soggy bag, counting nickels from the street!”

He flares, the original mister bang. “Now look! Who spent all that time with you on Long Beach trying to get your head on straight so you could see the long run picture instead? Who brought you the practice? Honouring Selena through memory, triggered by images of your lives together. I gave you Cantor’s infinite album, or have you forgotten all that, wallowing around in your own self-pity?”

I clam up, muttering, “It didn’t help.”

“So! You just expect someone to come along then? Just want Love to fix you? Make it all better? You disgust me! You know what your problem is?”

“Yes! I let her down! I should have talked with her about her fears. I did tell her I loved her, that I would stay with her forever!”

“Hehe!” Cackling like a croan, he points a pale grubby finger at me. “Forever’s not so long, it seems! Three months and you were looking for Love. What kind of a promise is that, then?”

I hang my head, staring into the coffee, as black as my thoughts. “I just thought she could help. There was this huge hole left in me. At the time I thought I could fill it.” Raising my head to look him full in the face, “It seemed like the most reasonable thing in the world. Now I know it was just insanity!”

“No, you’re wrong.”

Now I am startled. “What do you mean?”

“You were not insane then and you are not insane now. But you were in a different neighbourhood back then.”

“A worse neighbourhood.”

“A different neighbourhood,” he emphasizes, “kind of like the bubble of love I showed you on Long Beach. Do you remember what lurked outside?”

An involuntary shudder passes through me. I don’t know if it was the cold of the morning or the memory of the coldness of that place outside. “You almost froze as I recall.”

“And Love rescued me as I knew she would. I was never in any danger. And neither are you.”

“What am I to do? I see only myself and this house decaying together, while Selena stays forever young.”

“Do the practice. The album is not finished with you yet.”

I know he is right. Just today I could hear clearly Selena’s excited screams from a trip to Wonderland I had suddenly remembered. It was such a familiar sound, how her voice would go so high. I hadn’t remembered that for years.

To my coffee I say, “You know, those old memories used to give me violent grief attacks, so I think I unconsciously tried to repress them. Now, it feels good to remember sometimes. My heart lifts a little. I can feel the love.”

There is only silence in return. When I look over, he is gone, just like he always does.