Mystery and Memory



Mystery and Memory          

            Six of us, longtime friends, gathered to celebrate what turned out to be our last New Year’s Eve together. Woody and Karunna, my husband Evarts and I joined Valerie and Prasad in their rambling California home. We lingered over an intimate dinner until it was time for Woody and Karuna to slip away to a Hindu temple service. The rest of us shifted to the living room.

            Shortly before midnight, Valerie apologetically brought up finding blood in her urine, something her doctor dismissed as unimportant. She was reluctant to spoil our time together; however, fear that something was mortally wrong pushed Valerie to spill out her concern. My husband, a physician, asked for the medical report, reviewed it, and said, “Blood in the urine is never insignificant. You need to get a second opinion as soon as possible.”

            A faint smile played around Valerie’s mouth, then she quickly veered into a haunting dream. She was standing in a field of flowers when her father came to her and lovingly bandaged her kidneys. I asked Valerie what she thought the dream meant. “I know what it means,” she said, her voice dissolving into a whispery trail. I instantly knew what the dream meant, too.  Valerie was making her transition into the Elysian Fields, the resting place of departed souls in ancient Greece. The realization of her imminent death covered me in a dark veil.

            Before breakfast the following morning, I pulled Prasad aside and asked if he took Valerie’s dream seriously. “No, not at all,” he said, she’s going to get better.” As Evarts and I stood in the wide threshold, ready to pass into the bright sunlight of that New Year’s Day, I surprised myself by blurting out: “We will never see Valerie again.” My blunt words stunned Evarts.

            Soon after our visit, Prasad called to tell us Valerie was in intensive care. I told him we would leave right away. “That’s very sweet of you, but don’t come. It’s too long of a drive.” I suspect he was also thinking about my aging husband who was approaching death, what Evarts called graduation. We left immediately, and, to our surprise, met Woody in the hospital parking lot.

            The three of us walked into Valerie’s cubicle and witnessed a nurse and Prasad trying to put a tube down her throat. Valerie hands were flailing, her head thrashing about. She caught sight of us and waved everyone away. Prasad turned and asked us to leave.

             We sat in the waiting room for hours while Valerie slept. A nurse finally suggested we go home. I asked the others if I could stand in the hallway outside Valerie’s space. “I want to leave knowing that Valerie is at rest,” I explained. Everyone discouraged me. I never understood why and live with the vision of Valerie struggling to embrace sure death.

            Later, Prasad told us that after we left, he heard “Red Code, Red Code” echoing through the halls. He suspected Valerie was gone. She was.

            Valerie’s funeral was held in a light-filled chapel, high on a bluff above Newport Beach. The well of my tears cracked open. Karuna fed me tissues to absorb them. By the end of the service, my hands grasped a crumpled sodden wad, as heavy as my heart.

             I was mystified by my deep emotional reaction and public display. Was it because I now lived with that final image of Valerie’s painful exit?  

            Karuna offered another explanation, one that startled me. She said, “Your sorrow is spawned by an earlier life in France when you were Valerie’s lady-in-waiting.”  Intriguing as those words were, they did not help me embrace my sadness or assuage my grief.  Prasad struggled with a grinding sorrow, too. Every time we spoke on the phone, he cried, compounding sorrow upon sorrow for both of us.

             Prasad decided to sue Valerie’s doctors for her wrongful death. In addition to ignoring blood in her urine, the doctors had misdiagnosed her illness, sentencing her to a staggeringly swift death. Valerie and Prasad were partners in a successful photography business, and he also requested damages for loss of income.

            Prasad asked Evarts and me to testify, and, I quickly said yes. His lawyer was very specific about our participation. Evarts was not to testify. If I took the stand, I was not to mention the dream. The decisions befuddled me, particularly since no explanation was provided. Wouldn’t a medical doctor’s testimony carry more weight than mine, a friend? Would it really harm the case to mention the knowledge I had intuited about Valerie’s impending death?

            At the trial, I was deeply offended by a red herring put forth by the defense attorney. He stated that Valerie and Prasad’s marriage had broken down, based on the fact that Valerie had checked “widow” on a medical form. I assured the jury that she had made a mistake. “Valerie was the love of Prasad’s life.” I insisted the couple had not been estranged.

            I stepped down from the witness stand and took my seat in the gallery. Once more I was drowning in the overwhelming grief that had flooded over me at Valerie’s funeral. Tears dropped into my lap, sobs rose from my gut. All eyes in the courtroom fell on me. I willed myself to silence.

            Prasad lost the trial. I could have cried at the verdict. I didn’t. I had grieved enough.

            From time to time, I prepare Valerie’s recipe: spinach leaves and minced garlic sautéed in olive oil. When I do, inexplicable mystery twines with tender memories. Memories that hover like mist over the river of life.


Fay L. Loomis

Fay L. Loomis was a nemophilist (haunter of the woods) until her hikes in upstate New York were abruptly ended by a stroke; she now lives a particularly quiet life. A member of the Stone Ridge Library Writers and Rats Ass Review Workshop, her poetry and prose are published in It Ought To Be Magazine, KaleidoscopeSynchronized Chaos Magazine, The Blue Mountain Review, Spillwords, Fevers of the Mind, and elsewhere. Her poetry is included in five anthologies.

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