Father Yin, Mother Yang

She slumped back into the chair in the corner of the hospital room. The final beeps and alarms had been shut off, equipment disconnected and either removed or pushed out of the way. All of the doctors and nurses and orderlies and technicians and whatever else they were drifted out of the room to leave her alone with her grief. It had all happened so fast.

First father had passed. His heart unable to keep up with his age. It had been quick, and quiet just like he always was. Mother was another story, noisy, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Oh, and the commandments. There were so many commandments. Pick this up for me. I need that. Make sure the paintings go to your sister. Throw out all the clothes. There’s money hidden in a book by the nightstand I never told your father about. Do this, do that, fix the things left incomplete. So like her mother.

And now there was only silence. Not the silence she shared with Father. His silence was peaceful, at least it used to be. There he was, standing close enough to watch, to help if needed, but far enough away to allow the world to happen as it would, to let her grow up and learn from the consequences of her choices. Later, especially after she moved out, that silence between them extended to the point she often forget it, he, was even there.

Mother, on the other hand, interfered too much, always talking, asking questions, making suggestions, correcting, fixing; in a word: mothering. More like smothering. Nothing was good enough for Mother. Not her choice of schools, apartments, partners, and even spouses. She’d learned to tune out the noise, to push the hurtful guilt-laden words into the background.

Now she was truly alone. They were both gone. It was still too early to know, but she wondered which she would miss the most: the noise or the silence. And which was she to her own children? What now would they miss most about her? Was she noise or silence for them, or both?

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Returns Department

“So this is the returns department?”

“That’s what it says on the sign on the wall behind me, so I guess that’s what it is.”

“Well then, I have a return.”

“Looks like you’ve come to the right place. Then.”

“Right. Well, here it is. I’d like to return this.”

“Why?”

“What you mean, why? I just want to return it is all.”

“We have to know why. Something wrong with it?”

“Wrong? No, no. Look, I didn’t even try it on, okay? I just want to return it.”

“I have a form here that has a box for reason. I have to put something in here, can’t leave it blank. Can’t return anything without a proper filled out form.”

“Reason? All right, then. It didn’t fit.”

“Didn’t fit?”

“That’s right, it didn’t fit.”

“How’d you know that?”

“What you mean?”

“How did you know it didn’t fit if you never tried it on like you said before is what I mean.”

“I forgot. I tried it on, but only once, and it didn’t fit.”

“You sure about that? Don’t want to change your story again?”

“No, no. I’m sure. It didn’t fit. Too long or thin or something. Kept poking me in the back. Besides, it was a gift from the misses, and this really isn’t my cup of tea. Know what I mean? She’s always pushing stuff like this on me.”

“I have no idea what you mean. First you tell me one story, then you tell me another. Now you’re blaming your wife.”

“Blaming? Look, I didn’t want to make any trouble. I just wanted to return the damned thing. I have no use for it.”

“Damned? Did you say damned? You didn’t mention that. You said it was in working order. I don’t think we can accept returns on a soul that’s been damned.”

“Of for the love of God.”

“No, I don’t think we’ll have to take things that far up the chain, but we’ll see. Wait here. I have to talk to my manager.”

Rock in the Middle

Darkness falls and rises and falls again, a dance with the sun and the moon and all the starry heavens, and I am the rock in the middle of the river, water flowing around me, cold snowmelt runoff, rushing on toward home and the ocean, rising as evaporation, falling again precipitously, from the depths of the sea to the tops of the mountains to the clouds above the peaks, traveling on to where it will go in an ill-advised revolution, but always there is me in the middle of the river, redirecting the current, defining and shaping the world through resolution, a rock slowly wearing away.

rock in the middle of flowing water

Altai Mountains Flowing Nature Siberia River

Release

He released the body to the cold river, sending her on her final journey to the ocean and beyond, a sacred place, a sacred ritual, a solemn heart, and peace that her pain was over at last. He couldn’t protect her from her own body, couldn’t make this world a better place for her, and was left with the task of carrying her memory as a scar of grief on his heart. The water numbed his legs and feet, removed the heat of anger born of helplessness.

The Band Played On

The band played on well after the guests had all left. Exhausted revelers slipped into the silence of the night, dark moonless sky, sated with expensive wine. A few lingered close to the pavilion to listen to the odd strains of the band, but even the stragglers knew all too well that to tarry too long would invite disaster. In spite of the cure, or more precisely because of it, the band played on, their skeletal instruments matching their emancipated hands. Stay too long, and with sunrise comes an invitation that can’t be refused: spend the rest of eternity playing along with the other damned souls, or be cast directly into the fiery depths.