It has been a long day. Finally, after nine and a half hours of evaluating patients, giving injections, answering telephone queries, speaking with consultants, phoning in prescriptions, jotting notes in charts, and trouble-shooting issues with the staff, I don my trench coat and cap, pick up my briefcase bulging with unfinished business, and step out the side door into the fog.
Although it rained all day, melting away much of the snow, an influx of warm air collided with the frozen ground, generating a thick blanket of early-evening fog.
I throw my briefcase into the back seat of the car, turn the ignition key, ease the wipers to intermittent speed, and flip on the headlights. Yellow cones pierce the nebulous greyness in front of the car. At the traffic light I swing right and proceed down the highway, hugging the shoulder of the road, conscious of the string of paired beams passing me by in the opposite lane.
Traffic lights take on an ominous glow, single eyes burning in the dusk, like sinister orbs glowing through the eternal ether—Cyclopes from another world.
I make my way across the bridge, over the expanse of dark water below. Unlike the river Styx, crossing here requires no toll.
Turning off the highway onto a country road, I leave the lights of the town behind, where humanity rests quietly at dinner tables and in front of television sets. Like ghosts, grey trees materialize momentarily through the mists in the fields; as I drive on, darkness swallows them up.
I pass over a small brook and notice two black silhouettes perched on the arthritic branches of a gnarled oak. Intermittently, the wipers sweep across the windshield, performing their appointed Sisyphean tasks.
I park on the street and walk beneath a streetlight up the driveway to the back door of the house. Dropping my briefcase before the corner hutch, I hang my coat and cap on the rack and trudge up the stairs to my office, where I sit before the telephone. Outside the back window, patches of grey snow lie frozen in the night.
After an hour, when no call comes, I pick up the phone and dial the number I have known by heart my entire life, the number to my boyhood home. “We were just going to call you,” my mother’s voice says. “She was cremated today. They’re having a small memorial service on Saturday for the immediate family. The weather’s supposed to be bad all week—it’s too far for you to come.”
A cousin’s untimely death. Fifty-four years ago we both were born, eleven days apart.
Outside, warm air caresses the frozen ground; fog hangs heavy about the house. Inside, in the upstairs darkness, misty drops form.