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Only a Shadow

Updated: 4 days ago


ONLY A SHADOW


by


TREVOR LANG CARTER

 

 



Copyright © 2024 Trevor Lang CarterAll rights reserved.

 




 

For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity.

—William Penn

 

His eyes opened, staring at the other side of the bed where his beloved Sarah once slept. He reached over and touched her pillow, caressing it gently. Outside, the rain tapped on the window with the cadence of a crackling flame; wet fire dancing on glass. He remembered the day of her passing; somber skies rumbled; tears fell like rain; sorrow filled his soul. He rolled his old bones over and sat up in bed. His bare feet hit the cold floor below, sending a shiver through his legs, and up his spine. He dressed and went downstairs.


He made himself two pieces of toast, lightly burnt, with a healthy serving of raspberry jam; Sarah’s favorite. He poured himself a cup of coffee; black. This was the breakfast Sarah had made for him the day she died.


After breakfast, he would normally drive over to the cemetery to sit by her grave. Sometimes he would sit there for hours, silently communicating with her in his mind. He hoped one day to hear her angelic voice answer; piercing through the thin veil between the temporal and the eternal.


When the old man walked outside Saturday morning after breakfast, the sky was mostly clear, except for one gray cloud, which seemed centered over his house. The sun was just rising from the East; its warm fingers embraced the old man’s cold, thin skin. He got in his car and headed toward the cemetery.


Sarah’s grave was shaded by the branches of an opulent oak, sitting towards the back of the cemetery. The old man’s final resting place lay beside his beloved’s. The tombstone had a picture of Sarah as a young woman, placed inside an oval glass above her name. It was the old man’s favorite picture of her. Even after time had diminished her physical beauty, the old man perceived her beauty nonetheless.


He exited his car and walked up to Sarah’s grave, noticing the same gray cloud hanging overhead. Had it followed him there? Clouds don’t follow people, he told himself. He trudged along, carefully navigating around the other graves. Under his arm, he carried a folding chair, with a mesh cloth bottom. He sat down in the chair, his feet only inches from Sarah’s headstone, and closed his eyes.


A hand gently touched the old man’s shoulder. His eyes fluttered open. A sweet, euphonic voice came from behind him. He didn’t hear what the voice had said—only murmuring. When he turned to look, he saw a beautiful young woman with curly brown hair dangling just below her shoulders, her pitying face looking down at him. Her skin was like porcelain; milky white; delicate. Her eyes were like smoldering coals, warm and dark. Draped over her porcelain skin was a dark blue dress.


“Are you okay?” her voice sounded at him again.


“Uh…” His lips curled into a slight smile. He felt silly, thinking he had just dozed off for a few minutes. “Goodness... I must have fallen asleep.”


The young woman flashed a warm smile.


The old man looked around, noticing that the graveyard was much darker than it was when he first arrived. The skies above were now sapphire blue. Then he noticed the sun was setting; its rays fading behind the mountains. The dark cloud remained vigilant overhead.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” said the woman, gently rubbing his shoulder.


He looked down at his wrist and realized he had forgotten his watch. “Do you have the time, dear?”


“It’s almost six thirty,” she replied.


“Oh goodness,” the old man said and then stood up. He seemed displaced, somewhat anxious. He had arrived around nine that morning and now it was late evening. Where did the time go? He smiled at the young woman. “Thank you … for waking me. I would have slept here all night if you hadn’t come along,” he said and then grinned.


“In time,” the woman said — her voice pensive.


He looked at the woman and then back at his wife’s grave. He nodded and started walking back to his car.


As he moved across the graveyard, he had a strange feeling that he knew the young woman he’d just met. Where have I seen her before? He looked around to see if she was still around but there was no sign of her. He only saw a black crow perched on top of the speckled gray headstone; below, his name was etched; waiting.


When the old man returned home, he went directly to the kitchen. His stomach was ravenous, not having eaten since breakfast. He heated some leftover lasagna, one of his favorite dishes, and put on a fresh pot of coffee. He ate heartily.


After he finished eating dinner, he went into the living room and put on a Perry Como record on an antique RCA Victor radio record player. Sarah had purchased it at an auction several years before she passed away. He played Till the End of Time:

 

Till the end of time

Long as stars are in the blue

Long as there's a spring, a bird to sing

I'll go on loving you

 

Till the end of time

Long as roses bloom in May

My love for you will grow deeper

With every passing day

 

 

He sat on the couch after he grabbed a photo album off a shelf in the living room. The album contained pictures of him and Sarah, spanning many decades. He came across a photo of her when she was a young woman; she wore a navy blue dress. Her long brown curls fell over her dainty shoulders. The picture was originally black and white, but he had had it colorized; it had captured the essence of her beauty as he remembered it. As he flipped through the pages, he came across another photo; him embracing Sarah on their fiftieth wedding anniversary. He took the photo out and put the album back on the shelf.


The old man turned off the record player and lights, and then walked up the stairs; his old bones creaked and cracked in sync with the craggy boards as he ascended. He entered his study. It was his private place—a place for quiet contemplation.


He walked over to a dark, oak bookshelf that stood close to eight feet high and grabbed his pipe off the middle shelf. He packed it with tobacco, lit it, and puffed it a few times. The smoke wafted through the study, creating a ghostly gray mist.


The room was chilly, so he built a fire in the fireplace. He had constructed the fireplace using rocks he had gathered from the river that ran behind his house.


Shadows danced across the walls of the study as the yellowish-orange flames stirred. The old house was drafty; the windows hadn’t been resealed in decades. He could hear the faint tapping of small branches on the side of the house coming from a withering oak tree, the crackling and popping of flames coming from the fireplace, and the sound of autumn leaves whirling about, raking across the ground, flipping about as if trying to find new life—resurrection. The moon’s luminescence diminished by a thin veil of gray.


The old man sat in a brown leather chair; his bony legs extended towards the fireplace. His wan face, wrinkled and tired, faced the warmness. His hooded eyes stared into the flames, sparking long-forgotten memories of a time past when his tired bones were fresh and young. His soul was filled with sorrow and joy. The ghost of his beloved Sarah had haunted his mind since the day she passed away two years before. The longing to reunite with her and the realization that his time was short, brought him great joy. He no longer feared death. He welcomed it.


The old man’s withered hand, mildly deformed by arthritis, held the picture of him and his Beloved. He touched the picture gently; a single tear rolled down his cheek. As the hours passed, the old man’s body started to droop to one side; his head tilted towards his shoulder. The fire had diminished to small reddish-orange embers. The wind had subsided and the dead leaves now rested quietly on the ground.  He could feel his heart slowing…slowing … slowing … and then … he was released. The embers in the fireplace were now lifeless—dark.

Through the window, the moon’s soft glow cut through the clouds, piercing the blackness of the room. The old man’s earthly life was now nothing more than a shadow on the wall. Perhaps it had always been … Only a Shadow.


What is real never dies.

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