PDF

Refraction


by James Lloyd Davis


         Winter came on with its bluster, settled cruel in your bones, turned everything grey and unsettling with the monotone drab of incessant cold.  A dim light.  Or, are your eyes getting weak?  And now this sudden pain in your joints, your elbow first, and your shoulder, alarming pain.  You try to shake it off, wave your arms, climb the stairs to your room instead of riding the elevator.  You turn around at your floor and walk back down, stand around in the lobby, head outside to smoke.
         The pain gets worse.  Arthritis? 
         Or the heart attack she always said you'd suffer if you kept on smoking.  You stomp out the cigarette, walk back into the lobby.  Should you ask the desk clerk to… what?  Call 911?  Bring paramedics down from wherever they were waiting to give you first aid for a… what?  Pain in your shoulder?
         It's the fear that kills you.  You laugh it off.
         Hell, you were at the Bulge.  Long time ago. 
         Men laid down in the snow all around you.  All of them dead except you.  You'd survived, played dead in the snow while Germans moved like thick grey wolves among the fallen.  Hard not to scream.  Hard not to run.  Hard not to breathe.  Hard not to jump up, to die standing up for fear of dying on your back, for fear you might beg for your life on your back.  The only way the fear would ever pass was to dream in the daylight, to dream of something so incredibly perfect you could watch the sway of the frozen limbs of trees above your head, hear the Germans shout and grunt and laugh amid the dead, your friends… and not go mad. 
         What you dreamed, you remembered. 
         The most perfect moment of your life.  A short walk from work in the sunlight before the war, leaving work at the old warehouse, heading for lunch with Lucretia.
         Lucy, you called her. 
         Lucy of the luminous eyes, unalterably blue, incessantly deep, and curiously forgiving.  Lucy of the golden hair and perfect mind.  Lucy who was waiting for you to return from the war, to come back from the land of the dead.
         You can see it now as you swallow the fear of your growing pain. 
         You can see it all again, like you'd seen it that day in the forests of the Ardennes.  Even now, decades later in the dull lobby of an old hotel in Iowa, you can see the vision that had kept you still and saved your life. 
         You understand that you are on your back again, that you've somehow fallen.
         You understand that you might be dying.
         You're afraid.  And it's the fear that kills you.  You fight the fear with a vision.
         You look up and you can see again the old streets of home, the buildings, the people, the cars, an insistent sunlight, the sky and the clouds all breaking through the dull, dusty ceiling up there as if projected on… no, not on, but through, as if the street has suddenly exploded through the dull shadowed, spider web grey of a high lobby ceiling, seldom seen, seldom considered.  Patterns and spider webs.  Windows and glass, dust you could see if you squinted.  But the street of that one perfect day is up there again, as it was then, as it was in the war, as careless and youthful, expectant, in love, you walked toward Lucretia and lunch.  Stretching your arms and your legs as you went… stride, stretch, stride, stretch.  Step by step closer to…
         A shadow blocks the view.
         The shadow of a face above you lingers.
Endcap