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Stairway to Heaven

The call had come the night before from a voice at once mechanical and practiced at the disbursement of bad news, yet one which still sought to cultivate a notion of human compassion.  Willie Meadows had just walked through the door of his apartment when his phone buzzed, and there it was.  A culmination, then.  Or maybe a reckoning.


Ater the call, Willie went to his cabinet and drew forth a glass, which he filled with ice and then filled with scotch.  From there he found the tatty sofa, the one with the tear near the arm.  Tears everywhere, it seemed.  In the sofa.  In the old mattress upon which he had slept since he had moved into this place years ago.  In the corner of the carpeting near the kitchen.  Tears, and rips, and rendings all around him.


She had meant it this time.  On so many occasions Sarah Meadows had called Willie and urged him to abandon his own life for a few days and track north to the home where he had grown up and from which he had so eagerly fled those years ago.  “I’m so sick, Willie, and so weak.  I think this may be it, and I want to see you again. Come say goodbye.”


And each time had been a false flag, a little girl crying wolf in a meadow that ultimately proved safe, her fears merely the shadows of passing clouds blown by breezes that she found too harsh.  Each time Willie had answered the summons, had spent time with his older, broken mother, then returned back to his own life, shaking his head as he did so and vowing never again to be so crudely used by a woman who had spent her life mastering the skills of manipulation.  It was only a week ago that he had done so, and left the house at the end of his visit with the usual bitterness.


But last night it had been different.  “I’m sorry, Mr. Meadows.  But she passed quietly, with no fuss.  Her heart just couldn’t take any more.”


Willie had said nothing, swallowed hard, then let the nurse continue.  “We have standing arrangements with a local funeral home, and we’ll release her to them in the morning. The family can take it from there.  I know her daughter has been in touch.”


Another pause.  “Mr. Meadows?  Are you there?”


“Yeah.  Thank you.  Just at a loss right now.  Look, I’ll be up tomorrow afternoon.  If there’s anything I need to attend to, anything I need to sign, I can do that tomorrow.  You’ve all been very good to her.  Thank you for that.  I’m glad she died comfortably.”


He sipped his scotch and let it all settle.  Gone now, all at once, after all these years.  All these false alarms.  All the pressures, the resentments, the passive anger. 


Guilt washed over Willie Meadows like a driving rain that night, soaking him through.  He could not sort out his feelings, his emotions running wildly in directions he could not control but always coming back to the notion of his own failings.  He had left her behind, buried her spirit under his own ambitions, and now her body had followed.  Gone now, and Willie still here, left behind to deal with the debris of what can no longer be changed, or altered, or softened. 


He slept on the sofa that night, never bothering to change out of his clothes.  Willie woke the next morning, his head shrunk several sizes too small, and tried to refresh himself with a long, hot shower.  No use in it, nor any use in the strong coffee that he brewed and the two oranges he ate as his breakfast. 


Shortly after the sun rose, Willie Meadows walked out of his apartment and made his way to Union Station, where he would find a train to take him to what was once his home.  His mother now, on the other end of the line, climbing a stairway to heaven he assumed, justified at last in the fears that had consumed her, and lost now – forever lost – to her son’s touch, and to the forgiveness he so desperately sought.



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