In one of Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics, I believe it was in Brief Lives, featuring his creations, the Endless, there is a story that I think of right now. It talks about people, normal people, who live longer lives than other people, but they just don’t tell anyone. They just live their lives, glad to have them. One of these, I think his name is Bernie, lives as a “normal” accountant or something…even though he can remember the smell of wet mammoth fur, and hear the sound of the hunt.
In this world, Death is one of the Endless, a family of brothers and sisters who represent/are the basic elements of life. In no particular order: Dream, Destiny, Destruction, Desire, Despair, Death, and the youngest and my personal favorite, Delirium. Death, in Gaimans world, is a beautiful young girl with a taste for gothic clothing (or are the goths dressing as her?) and a gentle and kind of quirky attitude and behavior.
In the story, when Bernie-the-accountant finally dies, from a wall falling on him, Death comes for him, and he looks at her, confused and frustrated. “Is that it? Is that all I get?” Death looks at him and smiles. “You got what everyone gets…you got a lifetime.” For some reason, that comforts me, right now. Not sure why, but it keeps coming up, and I always smile, which right now is rare…so thank you, Mr. Gaiman.
Listening to the distant fireworks tonight, I thought about the fact that in some places, some countries, those might be frightening sounds. Sounds of war, or at least confusion or trouble. Whereas here, for me at least, they make me smile. Not really for any patriotic reason, but for the memories. Memories of gathering blankets and picnic food, of packing into cars or if you were lucky, walking, to get to the “best” view. Maybe it was big sponsored show, or a smaller city-run show, or even, if you could find a good height, the whole thing spread out in front of you. Waiting for dark, running in the dusk, kids tied to parents by invisible strings of excitement and anticipation; is it dark enough yet? are they starting? when-when-when?? Then somehow knowing it was time, somehow sensing the migration, everyone running through the dark to curl up next to a parent or sibling, maybe snag that last piece of lunch, all eyes to the sky. The time between that first waiting and the first small, far-off “poomph” was an eternity…but once it started, it didn’t stop. Stars and wheels, showers and fountains, balls that fell to flowers that fell to sparks…and all the while the noise. Half bang, half boom, half the whisper-roar of the crowd, squeal of small kids and yell of larger, startled but trying to pass it off as excitement. Parents/adults laughing and watching and waiting, trying to guess the next set…is that the last one? Is that? Wow, that -must- have been the last, they can’t top -that-…but they always did, until the end. Until the sky was alight with stars, booms and bangs and thumps coming so fast there was no differentiating them, just one tremendous roar of noise and light and the being on the ground, all hearts beating in time with the lights, feeling the explosions on your skin. Then it was done, just a few sad sparks falling from the heights, kids refusing to leave until the very last star winked out, then bundling sleepily into cars, or carried home, tired parents listening to a replay of every little bang or boom, and you were separate…but for a while, there, you were one animal…one being…one child, watching in wonder and awe as the stars danced, and fell, for you.
Remember the girl of sixteen
who smiled at you because she liked you
and you smiled back?
You were handsome and tan and twenty-one
with amber eyes
and a Mercury convertible
And someone said you beat everyone at tennis.
I worshiped the ground where you had stood,
as only a girl of sixteen could,
and called it love.
As many summers have come and gone since then
as I had lived
and the girl got left behind somewhere
in a memory book of you and other heroes
with forgotten names.
And in that time I’ve been with you
and come to know you well
I’ve seen behind the amber eyes
and found a gentle man
who beats almost everyone at tennis.
The Mercury convertible
brought three babies home from the hospital
before it fell asleep one day for good.
Your once dark hair is streaked with gray
I’m sure I caused
and still I smile at you
and you smile back
and know I love you.
TEA FOR TWENTY, RAINY DAY
Painter of pictures
Dreamer of dreams
Writer down of soft words
Cheerer up of sad friends
Funky junk collector person
Smiler into camera person
Comer into living rooms
I’ll never ever see
Tennis playing cookie baker
Life of the party
Feeder of birds
Complex and uncomplicated,
Stable and insane,
Through the window rain watcher
Wonderer who I am.