I awoke the morning of Feb. 21 thinking how I needed to get up to let Max out. But instead of the tick, tick, ticking of his small claws against the hardwood floor as he paced about or the occasional bark to warn me that I had better get moving (actually, he hadn’t barked in months), there was only silence.
A day earlier, Max took his final ride to the vet. Unlike previous trips, he didn’t make a fuss. He rested peacefully against my wife's bosom. Afterwards, Wanda and I returned home alone. The blanket used to keep him cozy and comfortable for the ride over now folded flat and as empty as our hearts.
My 24-year-old son, Jonathan, had already said goodbye in his own way.
I've had this book for sometime but it got buried in my stacks. I finally pulled it off the shelf and jumped in. It's a terrific anthology, with an interesting variety of short stories and novel excerpts. It also introduced me to a number of writers I had never heard of.
I particularly like the stories in the section titled "Sistahs in Crime," especially Tell Me Moore by Aya de Leon and Night Songs by Penny Mickelbury. Also enjoyed the section "Spooks at the Door," which included novel excerpts from The Man Who Cried I Am by John A. Williams and The Spook Who Sat by the Door by Sam Greenlee. Both novels are set in the late '60s and with themes of Black nationalism that characterized the period. After reading Greenlee's piece, I bought and read the novel. It's a good read, too. (I haven't been able to find a copy of Williams' novel.)
I don't read much crime and mystery fiction, with the exception of Walter Mosley (who's also represented in the anthology). This book delivers on the genre, wrapped in the richness and earthiness of Black culture across different periods of the 20th century.
I said once, in the presence of my father, how I wished to be older. I was, at the time, 12 or 13, maybe 14.
The comment wasn’t necessarily directed at him but more so at the rest of the world. Being older – “grown,” that is – meant freedom unlimited and command. I’m sure that’s what I thought.
Whether he was a contributor to the frustration I felt then didn’t matter. The audible statement had been broadcast for anyone within earshot to hear. My wish was now part of the public domain – like a tweet to a tiny circle of followers, posted with the hashtags #whoslistening #freeme #cosmiccars – and an invitation or plea, of sorts, for reaction.
My father responded almost reflexively. “Don’t wish your life away,” he sighed, as if thinking aloud and perhaps even recalling a much younger version of himself.
The depths of a father’s few words. If I were 12 or 13, maybe 14, he would have been in his mid-50s – about my age now – and retired from AC Spark Plug (earlier than planned due to a medical disability). He might have felt the finish line was now visible on the horizon, however distant. A constant presence like the inescapable gaze of a female portrait whose painted eyes appear to follow you across the room. Possibly in that very moment, the idea of a personal expiration date was too imaginable to ignore. (How many more seasons left on the calendar?)
Take my advice, he said without saying, make the most of your time where you are. Enjoy the beauty, the challenge and the magnificence of the moment if you can.
Contained within his prescient advice – “Don’t wish your life away” – was also a quiet, respectful appeal: “And don’t wish my life away.”
For, the older I got the older he got. He wasn’t ready to breach the horizon according to someone’s else watch. To the extent possible, his time remaining belonged to him.
He would live another 30 years.
(c) Bob Campbell/bobcampbellwrites.com
Driving home on July 1 at 9:30 p.m. after an evening session of radiation (delayed a full day from my usual morning appointment due to an equipment malfunction), the sun had recently set, replaced by a waxing gibbous moon. The temperature had cooled about 10 degrees or so from the daytime high in the low 90s. Traffic light, the two-mile drive along the surface streets from the treatment center to I-75 was gratifying. The car windows down, sunroof open, Real Jazz on SiriusXM (On Green Dolphin Street to be followed by A Love Supreme), amateur fireworks exploding silently in the distant sky.
Bob Campbell, an essayist and novelist, likes his bourbon neat. His debut novel, Motown Man, was published by Urban Farmhouse Press in November 2020.