A Good Crossing

A Good Crossing

In the spring of ninety-three Albert Abernathy turned eighty-four. He spent his birthday sitting up in bed and staring out the window of his now solitary room at the Cypress Glen retirement home in Greenville, NC. The accompanying bed was emptied of its occupant, a Mr. Paul Hamton, only a few hours earlier. The muted sound of a game show played on a TV as Gladys, the room attendant went about straitening and removing all the belongings left by Mr. Hamton. "Do ya want anythin, Mr. Abernathy?" she asked.

Albert only stared out the window at the hummingbirds that frequented the honeysuckle along the wall outside. As silent as a silkworm, his memory wove the tapestry of mind and he found himself a seven-year-old still clutching his grandmother's scarf as she knelt by his grandfather’s grave. Heavy snowfall hid the Silhouettes of his brother, himself and an older cousin from prying eyes as they paid their respects.  "I am here Edmond," she said in Armenian. "I have brought the little ones. I booked passage on your uncle's ship bound for America. They will be safe there. Oh, Edmond, what they have done to our world-- Our people are scattered like chaff in the wind. They have taken me. Please forgive me, Edmond, they gave me no choice." Young Albert watched as she broke down before his eyes. "God help me, they forced me to Edmond, but my heart, my heart still belongs to you. They can't touch that." Her trembling hands, made dark by the ink caressed the name upon the stone. Albert saw the same reverence and enduring love she had always had for his grandfather in her eyes. "They will do what they like to me, but they can't take you from me. They have tattooed my hands and face, like so many of their whores, it is shameful Edmond. The children shouldn't see such things, so I am sending them away to live in America. It will be better for them there. There is nothing for them here, but suffering. We will be together soon my love. I await that moment eagerly like the memory of your arms."

 She fell silent for a moment shivering in the cold upon her knees and then she recited a poem, or perhaps a prayer, that rang like church bells in Albert's ears. The words sank deep and settled in the fertile soil of his young brain. Then she rose to her feet, "Come, children, we mustn't be found here…"    

"I said, do ya need anythin, Mr. Abernathy," Gladys repeated.

"Huh," he said with a grunt as reality ushered him back to his bed by the window.

"Do ya need anythin? Can I fluff ya pillow for ya? I know, ya gonna miss old Paul, but he's a heaven-bound now, bless his heart."

"No, I'm fine Gladys, thank you. If you don't mind, I'll just sit here and watch the birds outside my window." He said softly and turned his attention back to the window of his mind. He saw the road trailing away behind the wagon that he and his brother and cousin were riding on as they made their way to the port town of Yeniyurt.  They were nestled beneath a thick blanket and several stacks of hand-woven rugs hiding like they were told. The wagon came to a halt and a moment or two crawled by in silence. Albert heard a man's voice, "You have rugs for the ship to America?"

"Yes sir, for America." She answered.

"You look like you are Armenian, is that right?"

"Yes sir, I am a servant of a Turkish diplomat, they are his rugs that are bound for America. He is expecting me to return "

"Oh, Ok, you are not boarding the ship?"

"No, sir."

"Go ahead then, but I better see you leave the way you came."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir, God bless you, sir."

The wagon rolled rugged across the ground until it pulled up next to the dock. Albert's grandmother climbed down and stood next to the wagon. She called to the ship to lower the crane and a boom swung over the wagon from above. "Be very still children," she whispered. "Don't make any noise."  She watched three men from the town congregate by a building nearby as she tied each corner of the pallet the children and rugs were lying on to the crane. Signaling to the crane operator that all was secure, Albert felt the loss of his stomach as the pallet swung through the air.  He felt it move, shift and land securely on the deck of the ship.  A sailor untied the corners and whispered, "Be still, for now, children, we are about to set sail. You can come out once we depart."

As they felt the ship pull away from the dock, the three of them emerged from their hiding place and ran to the starboard rail. Their grandmother was standing on the dock watching the ship pull away as the three men approached her from behind.  She yelled to the ship as they grabbed her, "God's speed my lovelies and good crossing." Albert waved to her and she saw him watching the men as they dragged her towards the back of the wagon. "Look away !" she yelled. "Look away, my child!" Alert saw one man rip the coat from her back and another grab her legs.  

"Are ya ok, Mr. Abernathy? Ya look a little peaked," asked  Gladys as she approached his bed.

 "Huh, what?" he said catching his breath.

"I said, are ya alright man? Ya, look a little flushed." Gladys fluffed his pillow and collected his drinking glass from the nightstand. "What is it, ya see out dere anyway? Those birds don't do nutt'n, but buzz round."

Albert strained at a feeble smile and looked up at his caregiver. "Oh, I don't know Gladys…ghosts-- maybe."

"Ghosts? Good Lord! Well, ya let me know if ya see Paul out dere, he still owes me five dollars for last week's Nick's game. Hahaha," she laughed, but it wasn't a hardy laugh. It was the gentle laughter of loss; the bittersweet wine that is drunk at the sunset of life.

Mr. Abernathy smiled back at her and thanked her and then turned his attention back to the world outside his window. Gladys finished with the room and silently left him alone.

In the absence of her presence, the sound of the TV faded and the ghosts of summers past flooded into his mind. There were seasons in the sun on the banks of the Tar River fishing with his cousin and his older brother Troy. His time in the army and all the comrades he had lost when they crossed the English Chanel. His wedding day and how he was so nervous, waiting for his beautiful bride to emerge at the back of the church. Then, at that moment, held spellbound by her face, he froze. He had not allowed himself to think of that moment since she passed away three years earlier.  Her dark curls framed her dove white skin and those eyes beamed beneath the veil like a ghost through a heavy November snow. He could no longer hold back the memories. He held tight to what was good and the words of his grandmother floated to the forefront of his thoughts. Lost in that trance he muttered to himself the prayer that lay buried deep within his childhood.

"How I long to embrace that dark mistress death.

Find the silent resolve within my final breath.

Remember all that has taken place

and once again kiss her blessed face.

Knowing that I had tasted love,

tasted the fullness of that grace above.

I am not chilled by the coming night,

but warm within the memory of our life.

Oh, to be lost in her again!

So when I sleep in final rest,

it is in the memory of her arms."

Albert’s arms were outstretched when his countenance fell. The heart monitor marked the tolling of the bell. Life's ebbing light flickered ever dimmer in his eyes as his awareness floated up. Sounds fell as echoes whispered into his ears in this disenchanted dream.  Like a chandelier, he hung above the room and watched the doctor and nurses filed in one by one. Gladys nudged her way into the group and gently took his hand. The doctor felt for any sign of a pulse and checked his watch before shutting off the monitor. Nothing else could be done. Albert Abernathy was dead. Gladys looked down at his face as he lay there; arms outstretched empty and still. “Goodness!” she exclaimed. “Will ya just look at that smile.” Then she gently squeezed his hand and wiped the tears from her eyes. The last thing Albert heard as he dissolved into stardust, was Gladys softly saying, “God’s speed and good cross’n my friend, good cross'n to ya.”
B.F. Hess
B. F. Hess - Associates in Arts and Humanities (Southwestern Michigan College)
Independent Author- Legends of Lyquest - MG/YA fiction published CreateSpace Nov. 2013
Four-star review from Clarion, Kirkus star, independent author of the month Kirkus magazine Sep. 2014

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