Blessed Are Those Who Mourn; They Shall Be Comforted

Gaby got home around six. Opened her box and took out the mail. Climbed the stairs to her third floor apartment, dog-tired from a day standing before her sixth-grade classes, trying to teach them a piece of music they did not want to learn. Everything her students wanted to learn was out on the streets and not in her classroom.

Rifling through her mail, she found the special letter she had expected for the last few weeks. The one from Carl. She dropped her other mail on the table without looking at it. She lifted Carl’s envelope to her nostrils and smelled it. It had his scent.

She decided she would save it for a treat later. Besides she knew what it contained. A ticket to join him in L. A. She laid it lovingly on the coffee table. Then made herself a cup of tea and concentrated on the work ahead. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours to crank it out.

Taking her tea and scone over to the computer, she booted it up. It was Friday night and time for her to respond to the email from her editor. His email contained three letters asking relationship advice. Her editor expected a response from “Aunty Jabberwocky” by Saturday afternoon.

The letters often were several paragraphs long. For each, she gave the editor a required two hundred and fifty to three hundred word response. Most of the time she wanted to respond with “Get a life”. But she didn’t. Her editor wouldn’t like it. He wanted a positive outlook from her. Something to soothe bruised egos and help them on their way.

She opened the email and read through the letters quickly. Though they were each different, they were in many ways the same.

“I’ve been married ten years. Now my husband is cheating on me.” Gaby’s response, in a diplomatic way: “Shoot the son of a bitch.” Advice she would never have followed since she was afraid of guns.

Or “I am seventeen years old and I am so lonely. My boyfriend left me because I wouldn’t have sex with him.” Gaby’s response, in a diplomatic way: “Ask the b/f why God gave him two hands.” Advice she never followed. She had lost her virginity at fifteen, giving it to a seventeen-year-old who wouldn’t even ask her out on a date.

Or “My mother is dating a new man. She wants to know if she should accept his proposal for marriage.” Gaby’s response, in a diplomatic way: “Tell her to accept. It will be a great way to get Mom off your hands.” This too was advice Gaby would never have followed if she had known who her biological mother was.

Sometimes she wondered how she, of all people, ended up doing relationship advice. She was no damned good at relationships. All of hers fell apart.

Four years earlier, she had been looking for a way to bring in some extra money for a cruise she wanted to take. So she answered an online ad for a local newspaper. “Need advice columnist. No experience necessary but the applicant must be able to write.”

Steve, her editor, liked her honesty and hired her on the spot. He figured anyone who had done as poorly as she had in the relationship department would have some ideas on what might work for other people. He slid a couple of relationship books across the desk and ordered her to go read them, then said he would email her the first three letters the following Friday. The answers were expected by Saturday afternoon for the Sunday edition of the newspaper.

In the beginning, she went to work at the job with a gusto that surprised even her. And the relationship advice she sent out was some she got up the courage to take herself. Each new guy she dated became Mr. Possibility. That is, until he became Mr. Dud. Over the four years, she had taken on four relationships, each one looking better than the previous. The first three ended with a thud. Then finally, at forty, she met the One.

Carl had everything she was looking for in a man. He was tender. His jokes made her laugh. He was a great Mr. Fixit. There was never any putdown from him the way the others did. He seemed to be able to read her mind when he would come out with the most outlandish suggestions. If she had believed in soulmates, Carl would have been hers.

He was twenty-five. But it wasn’t a problem for him. He told her that older women always attracted him. The younger ones, the ones his age, fell flat. And he felt like he and Gaby were perfect for each other.

When they first met at a dinner party, Carl had done several small roles in avant garde plays. For the year they were together, his skill as an actor and his roles grew. A month earlier, he had gotten a role in the pilot for a new series. It was to be shot in L. A. If it panned out, he told her that he would send for her. No use for her to give up her job if the pilot was not picked up.

So here she sat at her computer, writing relationship advice, and not sure where she stood. At least, until tonight and the letter. The letter on the table.

She finished her email, then hit send and off it went to Steve for the Sunday edition. It was back to the kitchen nook for another cup of tea.

While she waited on the water to boil, she picked up the envelope with his letter and her ticket to paradise and smelled it once again. His faint odor, the odor of the earth, wind, water and sun. Just one whiff of him was enough to drive her into ecstasy. The kettle whistled. Like a train whistle, she felt the lonely would soon be long gone.

She pulled out a bag of mint tea, her favorite, and dropped it into the cup. Over the bag she poured the hot water. She waited for the bag to steep in the water. Her waiting seemed like an eternity. The cup of tea was ready. She walked it over to the coffee table, set the tea down and settled on the sofa.

Her trembling hand picked up the envelope. She sliced it open with her letter opener. Afraid to touch its contents, she shook them onto the table.

Five one-hundred-dollar bills fell out.

She shook the envelope again and nothing more. She ripped into the envelope. It was empty. No letter. No note. Nothing. The envelope had contained only the five hundred dollars Gaby had lent Carl to go off to California for his pilot.

Her body slumped deep into the sofa. She did not feel pain. She did not feel her heart break. She did not feel the loneliness.

Where once there were dreams, there was now only emptiness. Where once there was hope, there was now only a void. Where once there was a woman, there was only an old haggard body, ready for the Angel of Death to carry her off not to Paradise and not to Hell. To limbo, that gray netherworld where lost souls go to live out their forevers.

Across the room and on a bookcase, she spotted a black case. She tried to pull herself together but she could not. Her body sunk deeper into the cushion. She pushed herself off the sofa and onto the floor. If she could reach the case, everything might be better. Her hands pulled her dead body closer and closer to the bookcase. Finally she reached it. She raised her arm, her hand barely touching the case. She strained and managed to make the case fall onto the floor, almost hitting her in the head. She pulled her body up against the wall and unsnapped the black case.

In the case was a trumpet. She lifted it out of the case. She took the Yamaha 14B4 mouthpiece, spat into it, then rubbed it dry on her dress. She inserted it into the trumpet.

She managed to get herself into a standing position. The trumpet somehow gave her the energy to make her way to the window. The world of the city stood before her, and a lightly lit street below. A drunk stumbled out of a bar and into a dark alley.

Gaby lifted the trumpet to her lips. At first, nothing came out of the brass instrument. Then a little peep. Pretty soon she had that trumpet making a sound, and then more sound.

The sound she played filled her body, each breath giving the trumpet more sound. Soon it went to that deep secret part of herself that she had shared with no one, not even Carl. She became the sound and the sound became her, a requiem rising toward the heavens, mourning for what had been, a grief for what never was.

She breathed into that trumpet the way God must have breathed into the first man. The music became a living thing. She was in the deep water of the sound she played, heading further and further out to sea.

Her neighbors, who were prone to complain about any noise, did not complain. For some, the music sounded as if it was announcing the Second Coming. For others, it reminded them of all the loses they had ever had. For still others, it was the most beautiful noise. The music reached down into each of their souls and made them feel as if they had never felt before.

The music ascended like incense rising into the heavens, and the angels wept. It was that kind of noise.

Uncle Buddwin

“Damn,” my mother said. “Your uncle writes and all he has to say is that he wants you to come to see him. That’s it.”

She handed me the letter. I read its two paragraphs, one asking me to come to see him, one with directions. She continued, “I haven’t heard from my brother at all for seventeen years. He doesn’t have the courtesy to tell me how he’s been. Who the hell does he think he is?”

I had only met her brother once. He had come to stay with us when I was ten years old. All I could remember of that time was the arguments he and my mother had. When he left, Mom’s last words on the subject were “good riddance.” And that had been that. Until the letter.

I reread the letter. What it said was that it was time to get to know his nephew. I didn’t know what was expected of me.

“You’d better go,” she said. “Find out what he wants. You can take the truck. Otherwise you won’t be able to drive out to where he lives. It’s way off in the backwoods.”

I didn’t want to go, but Mom insisted. I said, “Oh, well,” and the next morning, drove the forty miles or so out into the country. Turned off onto the dirt road he’d given me and went another five miles or so through brush and trees on a road that could only be described as a trail, and barely one at that. Just when I was about to give up and back my way out, I came to what some might call a clearing. Mostly it was a break in the overgrowth I had been working my way through. Beside the dump of a shanty was an old, beat-up Harley. If nowhere had been a place, it would have been that shack of his.

I pushed the door of the truck open and got out and made my way through the bushes. I knocked on the door of the shanty several times, each time calling out, “Uncle Buddwin.” The door about fell off when I pulled on it. I went inside the one-room shanty

In the middle of the room was a wood burning stove. It wasn’t lit. The windows were broken, the glass held on by tape or replaced by a sheet or quilt. Over to the side was a chair and a table, then a small bed. Straight across from the door was what looked like a sink. It had no faucet. Then a wooden cabinet.

I thought to myself that whoever lived here must be a wretch. Certainly not my uncle. No one in my family would choose to live this way. We were too well-off. Though we weren’t rich, we did ourselves proud in the money department.

I went to leave. Standing in front of the door was a short man, bearded with long curly hair, and wearing a blue flannel shirt, dirty jeans and boots.

“Charles?” the man’s soft voice asked.

“Yes. You can call me Charlie, Uncle. Everybody does.”

He looked me up and down for a minute or so. “Charles.” He insisted on calling me Charles. “It’s good to see you.” He put out his hand, I took it, we shook. “Welcome to home sweet home.” Then, “Let me make you some coffee. You do drink coffee, don’t you? If not, I think I’ve got some other stuff around here you might like. One of my neighbors makes it.”

“Coffee will be fine.”

He offered me the chair by the table, threw some wood into the stove and got a fire going, then set a kettle of water on the stove. Soon he had both of us a mug of instant coffee. He took a seat on the floor and crossed his legs. He was ready to talk.

“Guess you want to know why I asked you to come out this way.”

“I’d like to know, yes.” I sipped my coffee.

“I’ve been thinking some. Thinking real hard about it. And for quite some time too.”

“About what?”

“About your mother and all. All the family.”

I let out my frustration. “Why did you disappear like you did?”

“Oh, that’s a long story.” His fingers stroked his beard.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“You ever wonder about me? About what happened to me?”

“The family never says. I assumed that it was because you disappeared. Because you treated everybody in the family badly, so they would just as well not talk about you.”

“You assumed that, did you?” He did not raise his voice but there seemed to be an anger to his words. “It wasn’t that. The real reason is that I am plain bad luck. At least, that’s what they believe. And maybe I was once upon a time. But not anymore.”

Now there was a quizzical look on my face. Even in the dark of the room, he could tell. Finally I asked, “Bad luck?”

“Yep, bad luck. The kind of bad luck that led me to have three failed marriages. The kind of bad luck that cost my third wife to lose a child. The kind of bad luck that almost killed your Uncle Jamie. Didn’t matter that he’d been drinking that night he rammed into a tree and I tried to stop him from driving. I still got the blame. So much so that I believed a long time that I was responsible for everything bad that happened to any in the family, anyone close to me.”

It was like a dam bursting to hear his grief in the words he spoke. Seemed like those words had been waiting for years to break free. Words that revealed a lot of hurt and loneliness. “You know, any excuse my family had to hate me, they used it, Charles.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“They never talk about me. Your parents or your Uncle Jamie or your grandparents? Do they?”

“No, they don’t.”

“I used to wonder why I had such rotten luck myself. I was such a jinx. Just couldn’t figure it out. When you grow up and everybody is telling you that you’re no good, you tend to be no good. Didn’t want to be no good. But somehow I couldn’t stay out of trouble. Somehow I couldn’t figure out why they hated me so. Around the age of thirty, ‘bout the time I saw you last, I found out what it was.”

The darkness of the night outside was filling the room. But even in that darkness I could see my uncle’s face clear. I had finished off my coffee, but I wasn’t about to ask him for another cup. I was anxious to hear his story.

“I see you need another coffee.”

“Don’t go to any trouble.”

“No trouble.” He was up and putting the kettle onto the stove. I waited but the minutes ticked off as slow as could be. He took my mug, dunked a spoonful of instant into it, poured the hot water and stirred, then he handed it back to me. Then he was back on the floor, not looking at me but staring into the dark as if there was no one else in the room.

“I always thought I was living someone else’s life. It wasn’t like I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I did. But it was like I was living a life I had no control over. Then I found out.”

“What?” I asked anxiously.

“One night I was at my parents. Your mother and your Uncle Jamie were there. There was a lot of yelling and screaming. You’ve heard the phrase knock-down-drag-out. That was it that night. I told them I was tired of being treated the awful way they had treated me as long as I could remember.

“My father turned to me, ‘I’m sorry you were the one that lived.’ It stopped me cold. ‘What?’

“‘No,’ my mother said, trying to get my father from saying what he was about to say.

“It didn’t stop my father. ‘Your older twin brother, Edwin, died. Or should I say you murdered him.’

“‘Don’t say that,’ my mother said. ‘It wasn’t his fault. You know that.’

“‘That’s not what the doctor said. He called it murder. While you both were in the womb.’

“That was when I realized I had been living Edwin’s life. The only way I could end that and live my own life was to get the hell out of there, leave the family for good. So that’s what I did. I moved out here and have been here since. Hidden from my family.”

Everything went quiet. The night. Uncle Buddwin’s breathing. My breathing.

Finally I said, “So what do you want of me?”

“Before it’s too late, I want you to find out where Edwin’s grave is. I know they buried the fetus. They are the kind of people what would bury a fetus. I just don’t know where. ”

It was true. My grandparents were very religious. They would not have just flushed the fetus down the toilet and let that be that. They would have buried Edwin.

“They’re not going to tell me,” I said, pretty sure that it was true.

“Oh, yes they will. I know they will.”

“And if they tell me?” I asked. My coffee was getting cold but I didn’t move.

“I have something for you to take to the graveside.” Uncle Buddwin got up and walked over to the wardrobe where he kept his clothes. He opened it and took out a small bag. Then he handed it to me.

“This,” he said.

I looked at the small bag in the palm of my hand. “What is it?”

“Let’s just say he will know. And don’t you open it up. I will know.”

“Why are you trusting me with this?”

“I don’t have any choice. You’re the only one I can trust that I know will find out from my parents.”

I agreed to his demand. We shook hands and I left. It took me a month to get the place where the grave was. My grandmother let it out like it was some long, dark secret. Once she had, it looked like a great weight had dropped off her shoulders. I followed my uncle’s instruction to the letter.

The day after I visited Edwin’s gravesite, I drove out to see Uncle Buddwing. I couldn’t find his shack. It had disappeared. Now once a year I visit Edwin’s gravesite to make sure he isn’t forgotten. On my last visit there, I saw someone leaving as I got to the cemetery. I could have sworn that it was my uncle. When I tried to chase him down, he had disappeared.