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Holding On

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Sunlight fell through the only open window of the house, illuminating the radio on my desk. Through the radio, in between random bouts of static, played the evening news. There was nothing new about the news; nothing ever changed in Brandon, South Dakota. Routines stayed in place for decades, people did the same things each day, life remained monotonous. Boring.

I sat on a red, worn couch across the room from the desk, those being the only two pieces of furniture in the room, and listened to the reports for the town, gently twirling the wedding band on my ring finger. The walls around me were adorned with numerous, randomly arranged paintings, all by the same artist. Despite their haphazard arrangement on the light green walls, not a single framed piece of art was crooked, and they all looked freshly placed as they were devoid of any dust or signs of age. I made sure of that.

At seven o’clock I turned off the radio, pausing for a short time afterward to look at the house across the street. A party was in progress at the small two-story home. An invitation lay on my desk untouched, still in the envelope. My neighbor had hand delivered the letter, saying that she would really appreciate it if I was able to come. I told her it wasn’t in my schedule. She handed me the card anyway, saying that it was good to break routines sometimes, try something new. I shut the door.

I shut the blinds and walked into the next room. My favorite room in the entire house stood before me. Bright colors danced around the area thanks to the crystal decorations that hung from the ceiling throwing bright blues and violent reds across the bare white walls. I stepped carefully on the tile floor, careful to stop before I reached the golden mosaic circle that sat in the center of the room. Sitting atop a silver stand was Marianna, her claws desperately trying to find a hold on the smooth metal. Her blue and yellow tipped wings spread out as she flew around the room, darting after the colors on the walls. I watched her fly for a little before making my way for the door on the other side of the room that was connected to my garage.

The smell of fresh tennis balls greeted me, a smell I had long tried to eradicate from my house. My two-door garage looked as though two different people used it. The side farthest from the house was littered with clutter stacked in boxes and odd items were strewn about the floor, some of which I usually had to kick out of my way to use my car. On my way to the side where I kept the car I normally use, I pass the cleaner side of the garage. No piles of clutter or boxed artifacts of the past have collected on this half; pristine walls enclose a car I have kept in perfect condition for the past six years, sitting in the center of the concrete alone, making the whole room seem more massive.

I kept my head down as I passed this part of the garage. I jogged through to the other side, completely ignoring the red 1997 Chevy Lumina. Getting in my car, a worn out Impala, I backed out of the garage as I did each Monday night. Taking the same route as always (Switch Grass to North Sioux to Evergreen to Parkview) to get to Big Sioux Recreation Area.

I take the Prairie Vista trail. I long time ago I think I remember taking the Valley of the Giants trial, but that was when I was a teenager, rebellious and looking for something new. I learned my lesson quickly: new is bad; change is horrible.

Keeping to the right I made my way through the ups and downs of Prairie Vista, admiring the bright flowers that gave off a smell so sweet it makes me want to rip them from where they are planted and cast them in the Big Sioux river. Sweetness brought back memories, memories of her.

After a mile and a half I decided to take a break against a tree, surrounded by the sickly sweet looks and smells of nature. I come here only to fulfill the schedule, the routine. To keep everything the way it was.

From above, in the tree tops of the tall oak that gave me shade I heard a familiar voice: the voice of my wife calling to me, her sultry speech mixed with the harsh tones of a bird, grating upon my ears but delighting them at the same time.

“When?” I heard her ask. “When can I be free?”

“Marianna…”

“No,” came the reply. “I can’t take this. I want to be free. I want you to be free.” The slight flutter of wings was heard as the brightly colored bird I thought was still in my house landed beside me, her claws grasping the earth, her eyes displaying as much longing as the eyes of a parrot can.

“What would I do then?” I asked. “For six years I haven’t been able to move on and maybe it won’t be for six more. I haven’t been able to move on in these six, I don’t see how the rest will be different.” I turned to look at the lilacs planted to my left, unable to look Marianna in the eyes, her disappointed and disapproving look carried over into her bird form.

“I am in a cage, Tristan.”

“No you’re not,” I said. “You are free to go wherever you please. The house is open for you; you have the whole horizon at your disposal to fly where you wish…as long as you come home.”

“Tristan,” she said. A faint whistling echoed from her beak, a sound that I now knew was a sigh. “Move on with your life. I was supposed to leave six years ago.”

“No you weren’t,” I replied quickly, a tear falling from my face and splashing into the leg of my jeans. “You were supposed to be with me forever and we would live long and happy lives and never have any troubles and—“

“Life doesn’t always go like that,” Marianna said.

“But we promised,” I said, my upper lip beginning to quiver. I passerby looked at me for a second before jogging a little faster away.

“I know.” The whistling came again. “But we were young; we didn’t know that it would turn out like this.”

“We should have known,” I began, then corrected myself. “I should have known. I should have never let you leave that night.”

“Tristan,” she said, a small, sad chuckle escaping her beak. “How could you have known? How could we have predicted a drunk driver?” There was a moment of silence, broken only by the rushing of the river a few hundred feet away, as I picked a branch of the lilacs, twirling the smooth stem in my hand before violently ripping the petals of each bloom from the stem, taking from the dead branch what I had taken from me, though I knew the stick didn’t care as much.

“Calum should have known.” There was another silent moment and another whistling sigh.

“Calum wouldn’t have told you if she knew,” the bird said. I nearly hit myself for referring to the animal that held my wife’s soul as “the bird,” but I was at a loss for what to call her.

“Yes,” I said, another tear joining the first on my pants. “She could have told us and we could have fulfilled our promise.”

“I was almost there.”

“What?” I asked, puzzled. I dried my eyes, eliminating the blur that had been developing for the past few minutes.

“The other side,” came the whistling reply. “I could see the light, feel its warmth. The air was sweet with the smell of new life. And then you and Calum intervened.” More silence. I remember snippets from that night, the few moments that I couldn’t erase. The call I got from the sheriff. The call I made to the local psychic. Marianna’s body, broken and lifeless, on the corner of Pine Street. The ceremony. The bird. My wife. “Six years Tristan.”

“I can’t live my life…” I began, unable to finish because of the tears that now flowed down my cheeks in a crooked fashion, blown the left by the breeze. The heavy sobbing that followed rocked my body, throwing me to the ground.

“You can’t live your life if you’re stuck on mine,” Marianna said. “Be free, remember the times we spent, remember the places we went, the things we did. Memories you can trap. Hold them in a cage, lock them and throw the key away. Safeguard them until the world ends. But you can’t trap a soul.” I gave no reply, the heaving of my chest and the constant inhaling kept me from forming an articulate sentence. The damp grass soaked my clothes, but had little effect on my already wet face. Each time I opened my mouth I could taste the salty tears that ran down my cheek like water cascading from Niagara Falls.

By the time my sobs had died down to whimpers and I was once again able to sit against the tree, the sky had become darker. Only a sliver of the once beach ball shaped sun remained above the mountains in the distance, obscured by the legions of trees and bushes that crowded the west end of the park. Marianna remained to my right, waiting for me.

“You can move on,” she said. “I love you. I’ll see you again, don’t worry.”

“No!” I shouted, but it was too late. I jumped to my feet. Her wings lifted her from the ground and she was propelled by the breeze, which had picked up into a quick wind that rustled the trees and whipped my shirt around my body. “You can’t leave me now!” There was no reply.

The bird flew up above the trees, still visible from the small clearing in which I stood. As she ascended, I noticed a golden glow around her that grew brighter. Dark clouds were forming and the yellow tint of the sky told me there was going to be a storm. Then the lightning came. The bird above the trees exploded as it sent a bolt of lightning into the sky that disappeared among the storm clouds that hung anxious in the air.

I fell to the ground, my tears mixing with the rain.



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