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On earth as it is - an excerpt
by Steven Heighton

1. Father

STAVROS LEARNED THAT TIME DOES NOT SO MUCH DULL A pain as seal it off, the way a membrane formed around the poisons in his father's gut after his appendix cracked open like an egg and for a year nobody knew, not even his father, till the surgeons cut him open for something else and there it was. A lunar, bluish ball, wobbling and amniotic, it still seethed with poisons, though they were securely shelled in and had done no obvious harm. But the doctors soon learned that the tumour they'd cut him open to remove was anything but harmless, and their white-gloved hands, palms up in attitudes of defeat, flittered helpless above the opened body like doves or small spirits escaping from the flesh.

Supposing all doctors knew exactly where to pry; supposing their eyes and their instruments were more acute than they are, more attuned; surely on cutting into the body of a man or a woman they would find other organs like that, and the older the patient the more they would find. Could be that death comes in part because the sealed-up grief gradually squeezes out and destroys every essential life-organ. Could be the membranes make an imperfect seal and they leak they drip -- like I.V. bags, but toxic -- so a tincture of past sorrow is always circling in the blood.

Still, with age Stavros shut away the night of his father's death -- he was only six at the time -and another night a few summers later when he was staying at a Greek Orthodox boys' camp up in the hill country north of Toronto. That night had always involved his father too, though his father had not been there. He was safe in the earth and he was up in the stars -- so his mother and brothers had reassured him, often -- but now their words were no consolation because at night, north of the city, the stars were shining fingertips and tantalizing, close enough to touch, yet they were so cold, and far, and they did not touch back.

Our Father who aren't in heaven, that was how the first line of the prayer always sounded when they recited it at school each morning or in the camp chapel before breakfast. Anyway it was best to think of him safe in the earth -- that was easier to think of, easier to believe. Easier to think of him rising out of the earth back into the world where people loved him than to picture him floundering down from the sky like some slingshot-shattered bird -- or, in Stavros' nightmare, a bag of debris, discarded from a passing jet, split and spilling its rank, rotted contents as it tumbled back to earth.

From On earth as it is, by Steven Heighton, © 1995, published by The Porcupine's Quill.


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