Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pearl Earring

The Courtyard by Marriott in Tifton, Georgia. I needed sleep. Don’t even remember dropping my bags, but I do remember one thing. I looked out the window. At a cemetery. Right there butted up against the hotel.

 Ah, the quiet. Yes.

Swine flu had evicted me from my elderly and virally susceptible parent’s home, and turned me out shivering and woozy onto the freeways of three states. Ursula, my Chrysler PT Cruiser, performed beautifully. She and I battled a constant drizzle, everlasting road construction, mother truckers and a razor blade volcanic-gates-of-hell canker sore painful Eustachian tube throat. I spiked and broke fevers in as many hours as we drove, soaking my clothes and car seat. The exhaustion pump was primed and the common sense of all my loved ones whispering in my ear compelled me to pull in and hunker down. So the Courtyard it was. How did I check in? Doesn’t matter. I locked the door twice and fell face first fully clothed into the cloud deck of five pillows and floated through “sleep’s dark and silent gate.”

The rest was a dream.

Eyes open. Standing at the sliding door in my underwear looking out at the dusky cemetery. Pine trees shed needles down on grey gravestones and a stocky boxy mausoleum. Purple clouds shrouded the bruised and bleeding sunset. A lady who looks like my Aunt, carried a rake and walked the long aisles between the graves. She looked up at me. I ducked away.

Eyes open. Pitch blackness, I stand holding the curtain aside. I look out over the cemetery. No detail. Nothing. Like someone held up black velvet over my eyes. Green lights streak through the blackness. No sound.

Eyes open: Something’s covering my face. Homespun. I recognize the weave, it is so close to my eyes, and backlit by candlelight. I hear a voice. She’s arguing with a man. “She has nothing to pay!” “Oh yes she does,” said he and I felt the cover jerked from my face; my earring snatched out of my earlobe; and the sting. “This’ll do just fine,” said he. “Leave the other,” said she, “She deserves somethin’ purty for when she rises up again on the last day. 'Sides, might be bad luck if'n you take th'other'n” The homespun shroud was tossed back over my face. I feel soft hands smooth out the cloth over my face.  The candlelight yields to blackness. I can’t move. Said she, “Let’s call her Pearl, since no one’s a claimin’ her.” Says he, sniffing and spitting, “Makes sense. That’s all she’s got to her name.”

Eyes open: Cool air slaps my face. I stand on the balcony overlooking the cemetery. My nightgown seems inadequate against the drizzle, the coolness. People stroll among the gravesites, long dresses, hats, parasols, men in black tails. A horse-drawn carriage draped in black clip-clops and stops. The carriage decants a pine box, plain and anonymous that is manhandled by the workman somewhat hastily into a yawning red clay hole. A preacher preaches. Dirt reigns down on the top of the box. The people fade away among the pines as the workman employs his shovel. He looks up. I duck away.

Eyes open: The alarm was bleating, the radio weather report was blaring, and television was telling me that 24 soldiers have perished in Afghanistan. My throat, my eyes, my legs all tried to unknot. Why still exhausted after 10 hours of sleep? Swine flu sure kicks ass. The CDC wasn’t kidding. I stumbled to the sink and I eventually got my act together for a whole new day of driving ever closer to home.

Checking out, the desk lady frowned and looked at me with concern in her eyes. I looked sick, grey and pasty, and I knew it. I said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be ok. Not far from here until home.”

She said, “Oh, I am sure you’ll be just fine but did you know you’re missing an earring?”

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