The Grief Collector

Steve Kerm stepped onto the creaking wooden porch, meeting the gentle spring airs that were cool and moist to the touch, and ran through his long and curly hair. Sunlight splattered the street of the small midwestern town and lit the new leaves on trees with a brilliant green light that could predict a new day, or even a new world. The season had surprised all out of winter’s depths, though he wasn’t aware that he stood on the verge of a discovery, the silence before the melody. As he stepped toward the concrete steps that climbed to the porch, he left all but the threaded screen door open so that the morning news human static voices came through from a thirty-year transistor radio that he kept on a shelf next to the door. He sat on the level of the porch, his legs dangling columns of blue jeans planted further below on one of the cement ledges. He set a clay coffee mug next to him, an object old enough to show a cracked pattern in the glaze. He sipped hot bitter liquid, a cheap coffee from a three-pound coffee can he had purchased at a local super market. The cool tones of a level-voiced public radio announcer threaded the air, a lump of black coal, declaring the death of a folk singer who had been popular thirty years previous. Steve felt sad remembering the breath melodic voice and the simple strings guitar tune in one of the man’s songs.

          He took another sip from the cooling and mournful sea green coffee mug, letting the bitter taste play out on his tongue. He felt a concrete explosion of life followed by a nudge of fear and deep in his buried thought, beneath the thin skin of the conscious world, he might have wondered whether he was caught in a false melodrama rather than genuine grief.  The grief collector felt sadder still about the death of the musician. He considered that the other must be in a more cemented existence, and his eyes unexplainably moistened. Tears seemed to well up, smoothly rapelling the line that ran down beneath the inside corners of the eyes, clearing up the melodrama issue.

Steve glanced at the grass in the front yard that seemed underwater green spikes in the sunlight. It was a spiritual diagram of the emotions. Deep in the unknown and more silent and blackout thoughts his being turned at the idea of liquid light and he realized the towering white columns of true emotion, with virtue deep in its marble depths. He didn’t recognize the minute and gentle touch of the god idea within the sphere of that world room surrounding the porch, although something tugged at his spirit.  His tears could create a magical relation to fellow man, becoming an identical mortal creature.

On a conscious level he only realized that he must be acting the fool as he finished the cup of coffee and childlike dried his eyes with the backs of his hands. His only conscious feeling was the pause after that sadness, a deep comfort in the way of things. Where was the loss taking him? The same concrete vision of life triggered that sadness that sought a deeper and deeper emotional meaning of things, a tears watery and embryonic truth.

He stood up and stretched his long and lanky frame, the backs of his lungs feeling scarred and scratchy, as if made of steel screen as he inhaled. He stepped toward a similar screen door, paint peeling frame surround the center and let it flap open after pulling on it. The cool shaded air of a hallway engulfed him, granier than the dark place of sadness he had been so that it leveled the world and started him on a healing course. He walked into the old and dingy kitchen, making toward a tub sink and rinsed out the coffee cup, cleaning the once wound of black fluid with a purity of water. Drying his hands on a dish towel, he hung it on a long thin metal rack, It’s stainless nature eaten by leprosy spots of rust. He ambled slowly toward the hall from which he had entered the kitchen. He traveled half the distance of it, and then turned into a double wide doorway framed by painted over solid oak beams. He sat down on a flattened steel frame couch. He picked up a newspaper at his side, losing his morbid thinking to distraction, his emotions having recuperated.

The false, skin rotten emotions, a softer leprosy than the towel rack, turned once again to concrete. He could admit himself at the center of a spiral of thought, as the same emotions went deeper and found denser rock. His heart reached out with a dull and beaten care as he read an article on children war refugees. He made a decision to keep the children in his thoughts. But deep beneath the surface, the grief collector was working full throttle. He flipped the newspaper and started on the second page of grainy print arranged on poor paper. Even as he read his thoughts went blank and an invisible empathy deep in his chest considered further the rootless children of a foreign land. Again a doubt in his ability to feel turned to a slow build of fear that made him wonder whether he was faking it. How could he identify with humans half a world away and a third of his age? His thoughts went blank again, a white cotton cloth wiping away the crud of mental work so that the eyes of those others, windows to the soul reached into him and pulled tears from his face. Again he realized the impermanence of life, a family in other men that he could intuit and that worked as spells. A tear dribbled into the corner of his mouth and the bare salt taste brought his thoughts to endless oceans, to the brilliant green flash of underwater seas beyond the vault of the heavens, the residence of eternal love. The thought disappeared, tenuous at best. Could those things exist in the last and loss of others?

Having skimmed the rest of the paper, he left its sad contents behind as he leaned over the side of the couch to an end table with a small drawer beneath the flat of its surface. He pulled out a notepad and a pencil and made a list of temporary groceries that he could pick up at the small grocery store three blocks away. Tearing the leaf from the notepad, he stood, stuffing and crumpling the paper in his shirt pocket, a stiff and misbegotten handkercheif to be hidden away and momentarily forgotten, after which he made for the front door. He descended the porch stairs onto the street and made his way through the small midwestern town, passing great old houses built at the turn of the century, with porch swings and thick beams. There were even the occasional Victorian house at a street corner, the paper neat planes of eight sided towers and conical rooves discarded as he passed. At two blocks he turned onto a cross street with businesses sandwiched between old houses until he came to a small brick shop front with a light-up sign declaring ‘Ed’s Groceries’ and with with posters declaring the week’s bargains in the window. He stepped into the shop, the door buzzing as he stepped past the counter, noticing Clara, the shopowners wife, with a downcast expression. He was confused for a moment, trying to decide which items to put in a thick plastic basket he had hefted at the entrance. He wrote off Clara’s expression, leaving a script of thought behind and went to shopping.

Moving into the tinned meat aisle, he thought about the feelings he had encountered that morning, both the loss of the singer and the suffering and orphaned. He finally settled with the thought that such things made no sense.

He exhaled as he slowly walked the row of shelves. He pulled a can of spam from the shelves turning away from the writing on the can and checking for a key to open the lid. He picked up several other items, a plain plastic bag of bread and a sack of potatoes and a jar of mayonaisse to suplement the food he had at home. He made slowly toward the front of the shop, noticing Clara’s face for the first time. Her eyes were sunken and seemed drained of life except for some deep emotion or loss. What had he not recognized when entering the shop? He slowed a little, becoming more tentative. He paused for several moments at the register, a nervous feeling splaying out is fingers a little, and spoke,

“Hi Clara…everything alright?” She waited to speak, as if the language she needed was in a different place than she was emotionally.

“Yes,” she said haltingly, turning her deeply saddened eyes to Steve, eyes that looked to release their floodgates at any moment. Before they could, she spoke again, “Steve,” She wrestled with the words, unable to come to terms with them. “Ed passed last Saturday.” His face went pale, paper white, the first blank expression of shock, although Clara was too deep with sorrow to register it. He felt scared at first, uncertain of how to handle the news in front of the other. He felt that no words could fit the situation and wondered if she hadn’t trusted him with a fact he couldn’t handle, and might want to fake. As he wondered whether the shock was genuine, words fell from his mouth without his control.

“I am…I am so sorry to hear that, Clara,” Steve stood still for several moments, unsure of what to do. He remembered the understanding he had developed in the mystic ability of relate to others from his own grief, and the tone of his voice deepened as he found enough courage to go further “If you need to talk, give me a call,” he said as she slipped him the receipt. He turned the piece of paper over, reversing its transit and took a pen from the back of the cash register, scribbling his name and telephone number. He could feel that he was doing the right thing, and that brought about sense of peace and a spirit of love in the small space between them. There was a sense of a more eternal presence than himself or her, whether that be something deep inside or something higher than the skies. He glanced down at the counter so that a bare second later she replied.

“Sure Steve,” She said. He left the shop, discarding the paper faced shock for the more internal workings. With the back of the receipt he had written a prescription and had moved from grief collector to grief physician. He pushed a pair of sunglasses onto the bridge of his nose as his eyes started to moisten. He felt himself floating as he made his way down the street to turn the corner. He dug deeper into himself, and tears started to stream his cheeks. He walked past houses and expertly trimmed hedges where dew still collected on spider webs and that funneled into the bushes. The spiders too were grief collectors. He climbed the steps to his house as the minute currents on his face bled further. He turned into the living room and dropped to the couch, letting out a deep exhalation. His thoughts hit a flashback from the morning. He once again felt a pulse of sea green light like a hallucination deep in his emotions… a high that might have its base in the deeps of experience. He thought once again of Clara, and realized that he had dropped an incantation at the right time, and that in turn pulled in a greater sadness, a watery heaven that the medieval world might have seen to be true, matched with his tears. He again felt a presence greater than himself, and slowly began to realize that he had found an object of faith.

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