by Good Thomas
by Good Thomas
His skin was grey. His body curved in the bed like soft clay, twisting forward and to the side. A cancer had eaten his insides so that his muscles ached and the flow of his blood was slowed, his every breath a turbulent thrust. I had traveled six hours to say goodbye.
I reached across the metal bar and held his right hand, my thumb gently caressing his knuckle. I studied his face, his nose red, skin flaking on his bridge, his glasses heavy. His eyes, though they did not look to me, seemed clear. The pupils were a palpable blue, so soft, as if they had been pulled from the sky. There was an underlying current, an odor of unwashed skin and decay, and a constant buzzing that emanated from the machine in the corner, but I was lost within the simple beauty of this man, sixty years my senior. I told him about my trip in, about the snow that had fallen during the day, my family. There were long silences as his hand rested in mine, and we spoke of his youth.
I asked him about when he first came to America, before his love affair with words and books and poetry consumed him. The words he spoke to me were labored, soft, the pauses pronounced, but his mind, alert, his mind waited patiently. He had come to America when he was twelve, with his mother and younger sister to join his father who was already here. They had gone through Ellis Island but he alone had been pulled aside by medical staff. There was a problem with his eyes. For nine days, his family was detained at Ellis Island and for nine days, he worried that he would be the reason his family would be denied entry, deported, never to be united with his father again. As he lay in bed, waiting, separated from his mother and sister, fear
grew inside him like wildfire, and he told himself stories. Of mountains and bandits and angels that spoke softly in his ear.
“I want those stories back,” he told me, “I gave them away many years ago to get into this country. Now,” I felt him reach for his words. “Now, I need them back, to leave.” He stared straight ahead. “I’m ready. I want to go home now,” he said. I held his hand in both of my hands, letting my warmth surround his. As tears filled my eyes, I spoke softly, “In a small village, an old village, in the heat of summer, there lived a small boy, who loved the rain,” He moved his head towards me and, for the first time, his eyes touched mine, smiling. “This village rested deep in the mountains and it had been a very dry summer. This boy, the youngest of five, was small and frail.” He closed his eyes and took his last labored breath.