Category Archives: Dementia Caregiving Journals

CXXXVI. Snow Comes Softly

Monday, February 11, 2019 —Yesterday came cold and blustery. Flurries of  shoppers arrived at the store where I work, and I felt good to be out among the people and greet them. Children, their animation electrified, anticipated the coming storm. It … Read more »

CXXXV. Memories, As They Lay Their Long Shadows Before Me

I remember driving on blustery, gray November days with my mother, Emma, the hour and a half across New Jersey from Delaware to see Aunt Mary. Aunt Mary was Emma’s mother’s sister, my great aunt. She had a little farm in Absecon Heights, just across Absecon Bay from Atlantic City. Walking a half mile down the dirt roads through the reedy marshes, to stand on the little wooden dock at water’s edge, a mixed aroma of clams, salt and sulfur permeating our senses, and looking due east across the water, we could see the skyline and lights of Brigantine, on the barrier island above Absecon Inlet, north of Atlantic City. As a child, Emma spent all her summers with Aunt Mary, coming down from West Philadelphia.

Aunt Mary kept cats. She needed good mousers. Emma used to dress them up in doll clothes. I pictured those sweet cats in their colorful dresses, and wondered at their docility. I’m allergic to cats, although we did raise some when my daughter, Kellie, was growing up. Unlike cats, I seem not a good mouser. True, I lay in wait, ready to pounce on nouns, verbs, images, phrases to combine and devour in whole stories, but rarely can I devote the time these days. Instead, I must fill my hours at my day job where I pursue merchandise in a retail store. Ah, but today I have off. Happily, I’ve carved a slice from time to tell you some stories I remember.

Driving across New Jersey those gray November days, we were on our way to Thanksgiving dinner. Aunt Mary made the best stuffing, moist and sagey. Even though Emma, my brother and I have the recipe, we have never been able to duplicate Aunt Mary’s; and, no matter where we go or whose we eat, never have we tasted any as good. Aunt Mary always got a live turkey for Thanksgiving. We’d visit her earlier in the season, see the turkey in the pen, and then eat it on Thanksgiving. Aunt Mary raised chickens, too. In the spring, she’d have a new little pen of fuzzy, yellow baby chicks. When they grew up, they laid brown eggs. The rooster’s crowing woke us at dawn. My brother stuck his finger through the chicken wire surrounding the chicken yard. When the chicken pecked his finger, it hurt, and everybody said, “We told you.” He never did that again. Occasionally, Aunt Mary would go out into the yard, grab a chicken, break off its neck and we’d eat the chicken for dinner. I remember her standing at the sink in the back kitchen of her bungalow boiling the chicken and plucking the feathers. Once, Emma got chased by a chicken with its head cut off. She ran up the steps to the back door and the chicken came right up after her.

Aunt Mary had a framed poem hanging on her bedroom wall opposite her brass bed–Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar”:

Sunset and evening star,
  And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
  When I put out to sea

I would lie in her bed and read it, wheezing, nearly unable to breathe from asthma from the cats, when I stayed with Aunt Mary for an occasional week during the summers.

In November 1974, Kellie, my dog, Kolia, a friend and I drove from Wilmington, Delaware, to a suburb of Towson, Maryland, near Baltimore, in search of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is my favorite author and kindred spirit. We set out on a typical November day–chilly; gray; misting rain; a counterpane of wet, golden leaves spread over the damp ground. I was on my way to find the house at La Paix, the estate of architect Bayard Turnbull, where Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and their daughter Scottie had stayed briefly, a quiet place where Scott could write and Zelda receive treatment at nearby prominent psychiatric institutions. I had embarked on a journey to touch Scott’s spirit. We did find a big, empty pillared pale-yellow, stucco house there, but it wasn’t the La Paix house where Scott had stayed. That house had been torn down, I learned later. Maybe I did encounter Scott’s spirit; the place certainly evoked the sense of something. The serenity there, the aroma of the fallen leaves underfoot, the mist in our faces, everything listening as the wind whispered stories through the trees: soft, tranquil, compelling me to write.

There’s a song, it’s called “Give,” by a group called Dishwalla. “I want to remain a child with you forever,” the words go, “and hear, as you lay before me, you tease me and tell me to stay. What would you give? What would you give?”

Memories, as they lay their long shadows before me, tease me and tell me to stay.

As a writer, I must capture thoughts and feelings, fleeting as twigs fallen into layers of wet golden leaves on old brick sidewalks before the wind stirs them into unsettled interludes.

Fitzgerald rendered much guidance on writing and I gobbled up every bit, filling reams with lines copied from his notebooks and memorizing them. He fed me well.

He found it difficult, as I do, to discipline himself to sit in a room and focus on writing; we believe the world is going by without us.

My favorite living writer, Orhan Pamuk, says he becomes irritable when he is deprived of his daily writing time in his room. I do, too. As I age I find it easier to focus on my writing; indeed I crave my time to write. Like an actor who stays in character while making a movie, when I’m away from my writing room, thoughts of what I would write eddy in the corners of my mind, leaves of many colors. It becomes difficult for me to focus fully on anything else until I can sweep those leaves onto the page before they blow away.

On a windy Sunday, I stood outside with Jetta, our 11-year-old teacup poodle, when she and Emma were still alive. Jetta could no longer stand much of the time nor walk straight. Her equilibrium was off and she was weak. She’d fall over and lie on her side. If she could get up again without my lifting her, I’d praise her: “Oh! See? You rolled over!” This I do because when she was healthy and I would command her to roll over, she’d stand there and look at me as if to say, “Why? That’s a silly trick; pointless, don’t you think? I mean, really, think about it. It’s like when you tell me I have to wait for the turkey until you cook it and then when it’s cooked you say I have to wait until it cools. Why bother to cook it? Just eat it. That’s far more efficient.” But, now, when she fell over and just had to lie there, she accepted it. She’d just lie there and I’d reach down and pick her up and try to stand her on her rubbery legs.

Life involves allowing oneself to release control, to accept and to enter the void. “What would you give? I want to remain a child with you forever.” There is not nothing; there is something: see what happens when you come out the other side. “Tell me to stay.”

When Jetta and I stood outside that windy Sunday, our wind chimes and the neighbors’ all up and down the block, all different sizes, from the tiniest to the longest tubes, were ringing wildly, an unharmonious tone poem. The sound was mystical, evoking the quality of a hundred Russian church bells.

It is impossible not to be uplifted into the vibrational frequency of those Russian bells. Bells, you know, have a huge void in the center. The tone of the ringing of the wind chimes lifted me into a kind of acceptance: What ancient mystical stories and truths is the wind telling us through those bells? Recalled for me the sounds of Russian church bells, I have to say that they are the sounds of my soul. I therefore feel compelled to quote from Jane Fonda’s book, Prime Time, “Sooner or later we will come to the edge of all that we cannot control and find life, waiting there for us,” at the door. Fonda continues, “The psychologist Marion Woodman says that with ‘vulnerability lives the humility that allows flesh to soften into the sounds of the soul.’”

“The Wind Whispered Stories Through the Trees,”
Samantha Mozart, November 22, 2011
Revisited and Revised November 4, 2018

 

LXXIV. The Blue Deer

Listen to The Blue Deer soundtrack in my playlist, “The Dream” in the right sidebar. Scroll down the list to “Glass – Symphony No. 7 (A Toltec Symphony).”

June 1, 2012  — I climbed the narrow winding wooden staircase into the cupola of my blog, gripping the graying white painted walls as I went. In the small box of a place at the top I walked over to one of the rows of windows lining each side. A cobweb from a yellowing gauze curtain stuck on my forearm. I pulled a tissue from my pocket and brushed it away with other webs lacing the corners of the sill. A tiny black spider suddenly homeless scampered across the sill, over a little ramp, like a mini motorcycle jump, where the paint had chipped and down into a seam in the faded white beadboard wall. I cracked open a window. The curtain lifted on the breeze like a bird of prey from its nest. The sweet smell of meadow grass wafted to my senses, and from somewhere in the coming night a faint music played.

I stood and looked out. In the almost twilight, I surveyed the vast realm of my experiences, and thought of the path I would pursue now.

The refracted light of the setting sun colored the sky orange and before it, across the tall-grass meadow, I saw the mist rising off the broad stream. Down near the stream a bed of irises grew wild – pale purple, deep purple with white centers – they were the most striking –, pink, white, yellow, many colors. Nearby, a lone man with long, dark, reedy hair sat on the bank playing his flute.

Contemplating near and far, my gaze trailed off to the far side of the stream into the distant woods, and as the light faded I began to dream, to drift on a reverie. And then out of nowhere it winged to nest in my senses, music I had never heard: with purity and grace it came – an aria – Chi il bel sogno di Doretta, the beautiful dream of Doretta, Puccini: La Rondine (The Swallow). The aria lifted me into a spiritual space, the heart of where I stay for now.

Just there in the half-light, I felt a draft. I smelled nutmeg. Something brushed against me. I shivered.

“Ah, the music of the night,” a subtle, deep, monotone spoke. A low talker. The Phantom of My Blog. He stood beside me. He laid a deep purple iris on the sill. He smelled of nutmeg. He always smelled of nutmeg. “You shiver. Maybe you need a sweater.”

The aria ended. We stood in silence. The man continued to play his flute. We floated on the evening.

My mind drifted back to last summer. I thought of my little family that I took care of: Every morning getting Emma up and dressed; helping her step down the sixteen stairs with their narrow treads and her iron grip on the balusters; getting her to the table to eat the breakfast she once prepared for herself – orange juice, oatmeal or Cheerios with bananas, strawberries and/or blueberries in skim milk. I thought of the times I’d prepare lunch for myself and run it up the back stairs to my studio, racing Jetta who would run up the front stairs because the back stairs were too steep for her, and we’d see who got to my studio first so she could have her treat. Then Jetta got sick and I had her put to sleep. Two months later, Keats, my Valentine’s cat, showed up, coming tender on the night that cold, snowy, blustery midnight, February 9. He was a sweet, smart cat, as Jetta was a sweet, smart dog. I fed Keats a sumptuous meal Thursday evening, April 26, then let him out, saying, “Now, you be back by ten thirty.” I never saw him again. Clearly he had people somewhere – he came wearing a sage green collar and with impeccable manners. Maybe they came and found him and took him home. Then Emma got tired, so very tired. “I don’t know how I got here,” she said in her agitated state in January. “How do I get out of here?” I could see it coming. So did our Hospice team. Their attention shifted away from her and to me.

Just then an osprey circled the field and flew straight at the phantom and me, like we were in the control tower and it was coming in for a landing. The black mask across its eyes looked like the painted bands that wrap around the windshield and windows of a commercial jetliner.

“The Lone Raptor,” said the phantom, “on his wings of tarnished silver.”

The osprey came close to the window, nodded, veered off to its left and was gone.

I remembered Emma as she was, before dementia tarnished her mind. Now, five, six, seven weeks after Emma’s passing I have found myself thinking, “Hmm, here I am all by myself, no little dog, no Keats cat, no mother to care for, a house that suddenly got really big: Besides my writing, what do I do now? What is my spiritual path? My spiritual advisors tell me to continue my caregiving. How do I do that? What do I do?”

All the old thoughts stacked up on the roof of my mind like factory chimneys.

Emma loved flowers. She would have loved the flowers in our garden this year. They were exceptionally lush – yellow daffodils, deep pink tulips and pure white, fragrant yellow roses, and pale purple irises that grew as dense as trees in a forest. I looked down at the windowsill. “So, you were out picking flowers?” I said to the phantom. “That’s a beautiful iris.”

“I picked it for you,” he said. “Iris is the goddess of the rainbow, thus implying that her presence is a sign of hope, and the wind-footed messenger of the gods to humankind, according to Greek mythology. She flies upon the wind and moves like a blast of bright air.”

“Like an orb,” I mused.

I was surprised that he had thought to pick me an iris. More likely, as had been his wont I suspected he would nudge me over the sill and out the open window. I was touched by his kindness.

“Thank you,” I said.

Then, “Blue, dear,” said the phantom.

“What?”

“A blue deer. Look.” He pointed.

In the meadow, over near the woods, in a shaft of soft light, stood a blue deer, nosing the ground, foraging for food at twilight.

The wind picked up, then. The stream flowed fast on the wind with little white caps like water in a channel. The man had gone from the bank. The music continued to play, slow, meditative, but lush: now strings joined the flute – violins and deep cellos, and satiny brass, and reeds – clarinets and saxophones –, and double reeds – English horns and bassoons –, then an accompanying chorus of voices. Haunting. Where was the man with the dark reedy hair?

“He’s gone,” said the phantom, although I had not asked aloud. “The music of the spheres,” he said. “It emanates from the deer.

“The Blue Deer reminds us that we must be stewards of our environment. The Blue Deer is a dream vision, it is a dream of finding one’s spiritual path and of healing not only oneself but also the world and environment from pollution.”

“I am deeply honored by his visit,” said I.

The phantom spoke: “I vacuumed your blog for you, organized it, hung a new header and cleaned up the clutter while you were outside ruminating on the precise color of tulips, learning that the term tulip evolves from the Persian word for turban, and contemplating the greater meaning of all that.

“You tend towards understanding the realms of wisdom and healing through nature,” he continued.

“The seeds of a summer garden,” I said, “the tender green stalks upon which the caterpillar crawls before it metamorphoses into a butterfly. I’m trying to plant these seeds now.”

“Maybe you’re harvesting them,” said the phantom.

“I seek guidance,” I said, “and thus arrive the flute player, the iris, the osprey and The Blue Deer – stewards. Caregivers are stewards; stewards are caregivers.”

“You forget me,” he said. “Am I not your steward?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “I can but imagine.”

Dusk embraced us now. The Blue Deer lifted its head, sniffed the air, and then walked off into the woods. I pulled the window shut, picked up my purple and white iris and we headed down the winding staircase, I behind the phantom. In case I stumbled I hoped he would catch me. If I went first I feared he would push me. I didn’t want to flatten my iris.

When we reached the foot of the stairs, I thanked him again. We parted there. I lifted the iris to my nose. The stem had a nutmeggy smell, like his hand.

“What is your name?” I called after him.

“Moriarty,” he called back.

—Samantha Mozart

Acknowledgements: I must thank my spiritual teachers and spirit guides, and the following creative souls for inspiring the vision of this piece: My extraordinary new group of women writer caregiver friends; T.J. Banks, award-winning author, “Sketch People: Stories Along the Way” and more (find her on Amazon or click on the links on either sidebar here); Philip Glass, composer – Symphony No. 7, “A Toltec Symphony”: 3. “The Blue Deer”; and “Passages”; Coyote Oldman, their album titled “Floating on Evening”, Charmayne McGee, author, “So Sings the Blue Deer”; http://mythagora.com/ for the story of the Goddess Iris; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; and, of course, Gaston Leroux for his “Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. And, oh, Puccini; how could any woman forget Giacomo Puccini?

 

 

 

 

CXXXIV. Snow Comes Softly II

Sunday, December 10, 2017 —Yesterday came cold and blustery. Flurries of Christmas shoppers arrived at the store where I work, and I felt good to be out among the people and greet them. Children, their animation electrified, anticipated Santa Claus’s coming to town.

It began to snow. The purity of the white is centering. Snow falling is quiet, peaceful. I think I will decorate for Christmas this year simply with only a few greens and bows and candlelight. It will be a quiet observance, the halls of my home dressed in a raiment of soft, warm light.

It is Sunday. The bell in the little Episcopal church across the street rang this morning, as it does every Sunday. It is a real bell, in the steeple, that somebody rings. This little historic church recalls all the chapels in all the English villages, meadows and dales that I see in all the British dramas I watch. They don’t ring the bell long in this Episcopal church – eight times for the eight o’clock service and ten for the ten o’clock service.

One Sunday morning, I was walking in front of the Methodist church down the street when suddenly the bell tolled. I rose several feet off the sidewalk and I suspect not lifted on angel wings. In fact, I exclaimed, “Holy [expletive].” This is a real bell, too, and apparently a good sized one; it is loud, and it goes on ringing for eons. It’s a big church and the congregation continues arriving for ages.

Snowflakes alight briefly in flurries or waltz in endless patterns bending, swirling, reaching and touching everything all the dull gray day and into the deep blue night, well beyond three o’clock in the morning.

Prose arabesques from the pens of writers ornament the characteristics and romance of snowflakes. Each snowflake is uniquely shaped. The flakes fall softly, individually, in pairs and in gatherings. Yet they all come from the same source and are composed of the same matter. Snowflakes have a mission: they fall out of the clouds and they land on black slick streets, red-brick sidewalks, brown winter grass, mounds of dried leaves blown into corners of flower beds and on the bare dogwood branches outside my window. Sometimes the snowflakes melt on contact, sometimes they pile up. And then everything turns white. Watching them fall, we become quiet, meditative, nostalgic, always a little awestruck. We watch snow fall with anticipation: snowfall shatters our routines, like a snowball walloped against the surface of a frozen pond, makes us turn to something new, view life with a fresh perspective. Sometimes each snowflake makes a light ticking sound as it touches down. The birds get quiet when it snows. I watch the squirrels and the birds and I can predict the weather. The squirrels bustle gathering nuts in advance of the coming cold. Birds flock and chatter and then get quiet. Birds have different songs for different types of weather and different times of day. They have their cheery morning song, their spring song for temperatures mounting on soft southern breezes; they have their evensong.

Mothers bring their young children outside to witness the first snowfall of the season. I observe one child extend her arm to watch the snow accumulate in her pink mittened palm.

I like driving in a car when it is snowing. I love being in the magic of the snow flying at me, the cypress and cedars and oaks lining the road, their branches laden with snow, the padding of the car tires on the snow, the few other cars on the road all traveling slowly as in a dream, and the tire tracks of an unseen car gone before me.

Snow fulfills its own purpose. Snow comes softly; it piles on tree limbs, bushes, holly berries and cars. Snow comes softly, like a gentle soul, filling in the footprints on our paths. It stays for a while, and then it is gone.

—Samantha Mozart

CXXXIII. Zinfandel

I have come to my blog this afternoon. I haven’t been here in a while. Maybe you noticed. The place is incredibly dusty. Moriarty, the Phantom of My Blog, does not dust. He sweeps up after parties, hangs new headers, and cooks borscht, but he does not dust.

I walk over to the round table. Even the orange candle in the bottle we keep in the center of the table is dusty. Someone has scrawled “Dusty Destry rides again” in the dust on the table surface, and, “Meet us at Bottle-Neck.” “Oh, so funny,” I think, dryly. “Moriarty.”

I open the windows and let in the light and air. I go into the kitchen. Fingerprints pepper the dust all over the black stovetop, and a stippling of dots, like someone has sneezed. There are a couple of corks on the stove, but no companion bottles. A pot of leftover chili sits on a burner, still warm, the handle of the big spoon sticking out at the rim of the lid. Moriarty must be here. I go into the back kitchen. Fingerprints are in the dust all over the old black stove here, too, and paw prints on the top front edge. And bird claw prints. Odd. I find a couple of rags in a drawer, dampen them and begin dusting. I climb to the catwalk. While dusting the apparatus, ropes and wires along the open spaces, I hear music – Moriarty’s banjo – and then peals of macabre laughter reverberate through the beams and railings. I stop. No … that’s not Moriarty. He doesn’t laugh that way. Silence ensues. A chill runs up my spine. Goosebumps rise on my forearms. This is my blog. I welcome visitors. But this – who else is creeping around in here…? A stranger listening for me? I’ll never get done dusting if I stop and wonder. I certainly do not want to be in here till midnight. I continue dusting. Once or twice I hear a dog bark – Moriarty’s black, fluffy dog, Dickens?

Now I am hungry and the chili back there on the stove smelled good. I come down to the kitchen, rinse out the rags and take a break. I reheat the chili, sit at the round table and eat what is left. In the gathering gloom I think I hear again the evil laughter. I listen; then, stillness unbroken. I look around. I see no one. I get up, go into the kitchen and wash the dishes, chili pot, and the stoves in both rooms. I stay at my blog until well after dark, dusting. Finally I am done. I close the windows. I am ready to go home.

I think I hear Dickens barking. They must be in the cupola. I am tired and want to sit and relax with a glass of wine and good conversation. In the kitchen I find a wine glass but no wine, just bottle corks, and no cheese and crackers. The cupboard is bare. Unusual. I should visit my blog more often.

I climb the creaking, winding staircase, carrying my empty glass, and, brushing peeling yellowing paint off my sleeve, remember that I must get Moriarty to put a fresh coat of paint on these walls.

At the top, the cupola door is shut. Beyond the door I hear muffled voices. The door sticks a little, but I push it open wide. Dickens rushes to me, all wiggly, nuzzling me. He sniffs my hands, to see if I am bringing food, and my clothes. I probably smell like moldering rags. He sneezes.

Moriarty lolls in one chair and across the space, in the half-light, I see a dark-haired scrawny man sprawled in another. The man’s face is sallow, bony and crumpled, uneven, like whoever planned this face hadn’t laid out the parts on a grid first. He has a small mustache and random curls drop over his high forehead. His eyes are sunken, yet bright and beady, like small black grapes. He is dressed all in black, a black turtle neck sweater, with a scarf wound tight and tied about his neck, and jeans. He wears black loafers but no socks, the mark of a Southern man, or one who has lived for some time in the South.

“Samantha, this is my friend, Poe,” says Moriarty.

“Poe? As in Edgar Allan?” I ask, still standing just inside the door, staring at the pair. Poe fixes his eyes on me. They shine with dark intent – mysterious glinting blades. I reach to the doorframe for support.

“Poe is my first name,” he answers. “Edgar Allan Poe is my ancestor. My mother named me after him. He is my ancestor on my sister’s side.”

“…What? Your sister…?” I ask.

“Yeah. Paula,” he says.

I don’t pursue the conundrum. He seems a bit wacky to me. And he is creepy looking. I hear a whirring. Suddenly, a large bird swoops down, close in front of my face, and perches on Poe’s shoulder. I start. It is a raven, having apparently been perched on the frame over the doorway, right above my head: the explanation for the bird claw prints on the stove.

“Come in. Sit,” says Moriarty, waving his arm toward the remaining empty chair. “I see you found my message.”

“The one in the dust about meeting you at Bottle-Neck?” I say.

“That one,” says Moriarty. His banjo stands against his chair.

“Where’s the wine?” I ask. “I’ve been dusting all afternoon and I’m ready to near-drown in a glass of Zinfandel armed with cheese and crackers serving as floaties. Where’s the wine?”

The two gaze at me blankly. No, sheepishly. Then I spot over in the corner, and lining one wall, even in the gauzy light of the few candles Moriarty has brought up to the cupola with him, a contingent of Zinfandel bottles. They are empty. All of them.

My eyes widen. “You drank all the wine?!”

“We’re having a frightfully good time,” says Poe.

“We’re telling each other spooky stories,” adds Moriarty, “and then singing them.” He sniggers.

I don’t find these two boys particularly amusing. I’ve been scrubbing prickly cactus on a dusty desert all afternoon, reaching precariously over the edge of the catwalk, filling my lungs with dust and my ears with reverberating peals of macabre laughter seemingly out of the ethers, I am moldering and thirsty, and I want at least one glass of wine, a large one. Filled to the rim.

“There’s no more wine anywhere?” I say.

“It was a faulty case,” says Moriarty.

“Now, wait a minute,” says Poe, indignant. “I didn’t think the case in my detective story I just told you was faulty.”

“No, the case of wine,” says Moriarty. “The bottles all had leaks.”

“We should have brought a cask,” says Poe.

“I’m sure,” I say, flatly. “And, no cheese and crackers?”

“Nothing more,” says Poe.

Dickens walks over and sniffs the empty plate on the floor next to the bottles. There isn’t even a crumb for him to lick up.

The raven burps. Dickens trots over to the bird and begins barking up at it, still perched on Poe’s shoulder, Dickens commanding, as if to say, “You ate ‘em all. Cough ‘em up, buddy.”

But, I suspect it was Moriarty and Poe who ate the greater balance of them.

The candle flames flicker in the bare draft whispering through the open window. The curtain rustles lightly. We sit in silence. Poe stares down at the shapeshifting shadow specters dancing a fantastic fandango across the candlelit floor. The raven blinks. Moriarty watches Dickens settle onto the worn red Oriental rug, against my chair. A distant bell tolls.

Poe sits bolt upright. He peals,

“‘And the people–ah, the people–
 They that dwell up in the steeple,
    All alone,
  And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
    In that muffled monotone,
  Feel a glory in so rolling
    On the human heart a stone—,’

“I think I’ll write a poem about that,” he muses, “something about bells. It has a nice ring, don’t you think? It just rolls – rolls, rolls, rolls, rolls – rolls lightly off the tongue. A tintinnabulation.”

“You’re making me hungry,” says Moriarty. “Rolls and butter.”

“It’s already been written. By your ancestor on your sister Paula’s side,” I point out. “It’s called ‘The Bells.’”

“Ah, iron bells.” The rusty tone of his voice rises from a deep well within him. There is a peculiar, dark nervousness about this man. He twitches and fidgets and then suddenly he is calm, strangely calm, glassy. Then, I notice his eyes are not black, but light, yet acute, and sad, yes, sad. And, every time he twitches and fidgets, Dickens watches, amused, as the raven puffs its wings, roughs its feathers and shifts its position.

“Has Dickens been fed?” I ask.

“Well, smooth, sweet nepenthe. Of that I must have more,” says Poe. “I must get my hat and depart thee. I must get to the store. Then, I am headed to my chamber. I feel an urge, a pressing urge to write ever more.”

He rises, turns and then stops. He stoops and reaches into one of the bottles, the raven hopping, turning, adjusting its wings and claws on Poe’s shoulder for balance. “Look at this. It’s a message.” He sticks a finger into the bottle neck and coaxes out the paper. “A message in a bottle. Cool.”

He unrolls it. “Uh-oh,” he says upon examining it. “I wrote this.” He hands it to Moriarty. I read it over his shoulder. It is faded and hard to read in the feeble candlelight, but I can make out the title, in large print: “MS. Found in a Bottle.”

“You just gave yourself away,” I say. “You’re the real Edgar Allan Poe, not some descendant on your sister Paula’s side.

“I won a literary award for this,” says Poe, “my only one. In 1833. I entered it in a fiction contest sponsored by the Baltimore Saturday Visiter [sic] newspaper. Fifty dollars, I got for my short story.” He reaches and pulls his black cape off the back of his chair, sweeps it around his shoulders, turns and heads down the winding staircase, the raven teetering as they descend as one. He waves a hand over his shoulder, “Ciao,” he says, and he and his raven vanish into the murkiness of the hour.

I turn to Moriarty. “You, my dear Phantom, have an intriguing menagerie of friends.”

Moriarty smiles.

The scent of fresh, wet earth rises as a soft rain begins to fall. Moriarty pulls the window closed and extinguishes the candles save one. He carries it to light our way as we descend the winding stairs, Dickens leading. Our shadows in the lost light glide alongside us like leviathan grotesques navigating inside a diaphanous wall.

“Remember, I asked you to paint these walls,” I say. “Would you do it soon? Please?”

“They have to be scraped first,” he says, “sanded down, to reveal the bones beneath.”

–Samantha Mozart
October 20, 2016