What made it all worse was that you had this dream of being a messenger of death. Because in this dream, the news of death was delivered to the individual by a series of worker bees, like yourself, who gave the mortal person a hand-written letter. The hand wrote in a large scrawl and was not especially tidy with how it conveyed the news. You felt bad delivering the death news on two levels: aesthetic and emotional. So, you kept some of the letters back and delivered them later than you were supposed to. You kept the letters of death in a manila folder—just shoved them all together haphazardly to become creased and dog-eared and stained with the sea air.
In the dream, your clients (those to whom you delivered the letters) all lived on a cliff that wrapped along the ocean. Drop-off below you. Above you the heavens and the earth. There was no night in this dream because only the sun shone and warmed you all. How lovely a place it was; how wrung out you felt to be the messenger of death, wearing your tank-top, shorts, and sneakers
As the never-ending day went on and you had one exchange after another with these clients, it became clear that you would not deliver a single message to warn these poor mortals.
Sometimes, you’d climb away from the sweet human faces—children and beautiful women and sensitive men—who laughed in the sunshine and you took, instead, a steaming walk in the woods, away from the coast. Here, in the dark green, you confronted true solitude and its terror.
On one such walk in the woods, alone, you returned to not-deliver your messages and you found a family of some women pitching a tent on a dusty road. They welcomed you. A young girl, maybe ten years old, pulled you out of the sun, inside her tent, to lie down next to her and listen to her stories. She talked on and on, wondering aloud questions you could have sluggishly answered, but you did not. She finally finished her stories and asked you your name.
“It doesn’t matter,” you answer, grumpily.
The air of the tent is too stuffy and you have to get out. If you stay too long, you have a feeling that the knowledge will from the dark green will catch up and hold you down, breathing hot into your face.
You return to the road along the sea cliff with your folder heavier and heavier. You’ll begin with Gregory, you decide. He’s a solid man; his hair is going grey. He’s raking the sea grass in his front yard when you approach. Politely, he nods when you hand him the message and sticks it in his back pocket.
“What does it say?” you ask him. Not protocol, but you trust the man.
“I’m always getting these things in the mail,” he tells you.
“Nothing like this,” you say quietly. “Please.”
He sighs and leans his rake to the side and unfolds the letter. You watch his eyebrows raise and his eyes widen and his mouth open until a huge laugh bursts out.
“Why, thank you for the warning, sir!” he shouts to the sky. He crumples up the paper and throws it into the wind. “Haaaa.” Gregory lets out a huge breath and smooths back his hair. “Who else?” he asks you. “I must know.”
“You know, I’m basically resigned from this position,” you tell him.
“Samonda. I don’t care about your job. Which of my neighbors will be receiving a letter?”
So, you pull out the folder and of course Gregory recognizes that the hand has scrawled the little girl’s name on one of the letters. He grabs the letter and runs inside his dug-out house to burn the letter. We’ll go to her family, he tells you. We’ll tell them and we’ll celebrate together.
Into the ocean’s mouth you walk with the family of women and Gregory, full song and hair flying back. As if in a dream, the sea flattens under your approach and, for a moment, the wind’s courtesy allows you to hear each others’ voices. By squinting, you believe that you can see a light winking out on the flat water, like a lighthouse or a fishing boat. Then, the roar starts up again and you turn back to say something to the little girl, but she is gone, along with her family and gray-haired Gregory.
They’re just gone, though their homes on the cliff are left standing.
2 thoughts on “A Messenger”
You are too kind!
This gives me shivers in the way good poetry does. There are parts I don’t fully understand yet, and they seem very worth understanding, worth revisiting. There is a sweet spot between so-obscure-it-doesn’t-seem-worth-the-bother and obvious-enough-to-leave-the-reader-satisfied-with-one-read-through. You found that perfect place in the middle. I love it.