She was dying. Not in the abstract, someday way of all of us, not in the slow and inexorable plodding way of terminal illness, but NOW, right NOW. She knew she was dying, suddenly, with absolute clarity. She understood everything. Everything. Everything, since before the beginning of time itself — time, such a linear, limited, human-so-very-human concept — time, time, time for her to go, to get going, to let go. Now. Just when she finally understood it all, now, just now, it was time to let go of everything, even of understanding itself.
So she stopped the car. Turned off the ignition. Opened the door, stepped out of the car, locked it. Put the key in her purse like she always did.
Stood beside the cooling car for a moment, looking around, taking in the tall stalks of sunflowers, as far as her eye could see, like corn as high as an elephant’s eye, a forest of stalks thick as her wrist, as far as she could see. Looking up, she could see the gigantic yellow heads with dark centres, bobbing gently under the weight of all those seeds, not quite ripe enough to be attractive to the hordes of yellow finches that would soon descend upon them, in a race with the single giant yellow combine that would come belching its way through this forest to harvest the seeds, slashing the heads off the bright cheerful flowers with cruel bright blades, carrying them to refineries where the seeds would be brutally crushed to extract the oil, just like the oil she used in her huge cast iron frying pan when she made fried okra or green tomatoes.
She walked a short distance among the tall stalks that towered way over her head, only a short distance because she was, after all, dying, right now, and truth be told, she was beginning to feel a little tired, a little short of breath. Even so, she wanted to be a little hidden, a little private, not wanting to be found right away, wanting to give the vultures and coyotes a fair chance at her remains, thinking it might be kinder if they found only her bones, if they didn’t have to look upon her face and see the pain of the final stabbing beat of her heart, her poor bruised old heart that finally, finally, had had enough. That heart was blossoming now with the certain knowledge of her death, here, in this place, blossoming too with the knowledge of the entire universe. Turns out the Tibetans were right, after all, the mind was indeed in the heart and not the brain. But she couldn’t transmit this new certainty to anyone, it was to be hers and hers alone, forever, because now her heart was blooming, fully blooming like the sunflowers overhead. Now she needed to hurry a little bit so death wouldn’t catch her before she was ready.
She found a small depression in the ground between two tidy rows of stalks, where perhaps a deer had already made its bed — and recently, it seemed, for the stalks were still slightly bent apart, right at ground level, and now it seemed it was just right for her small body. She stood in front of this little depression and thought, “This is a good place to lie down. This is where I can lie down and slowly stop breathing. This is where my heart can stop its incessant pounding. This is where I can finally get some rest.”
She looked down at her feet, recently pedicured, as if even last week she’d known. Her toes were painted sapphire blue, with tiny stars, a whole universe in glitter on the surface of her toenails. It pleased her that the stars sparkled in the sun now as she slipped off her sandals and lined them up neatly beside the little depression in the earth, then gently placed her purse beside them. She could imagine now how the little hollow would feel against her back, and carefully got down on her hands and knees beside it, then lowered her hips to sit on one haunch, then bent her arms to lower her torso onto the earth, lying on her left side, knees tucked up, feeling the rough, cool dirt gathering in the creases of her elbows and knees, dirt in her hair, her cheek, ear to the ground, the cool, solid, black ground. She pushed off with her right arm to help herself roll over onto her back so her face was turned to the sun. She straightened her legs. Now she could see her sparkling toes over the curve of her belly. She tugged a little at her thin summer dress to smooth out the fabric, enjoying the softness of the cotton under her damp palms.
Experimentally, she closed her eyes for a moment, but opened them again, thinking, soon I won’t be able to see anything. I want to see the sky for just a little bit longer.
Photo credit: Copyright © 2018 Tunde Nemeth