I will be leaving soon. But for now I am enjoying the sensation of my head on this cool pillow. I lay utterly motionless between the pristine white sheets and I feel the comforting security of the small mattress that supports my thin frame. The low buzz of the hospital is reassuring, but unimportant now. The underpaid nurses are nowhere near. It’s still dark outside, but I am not afraid at all. I feel nothing but calm, joy, elation even. This I did not expect.
I will simply go with the flow. Somewhere in the deepest part of my soul, the existence of which I have always denied, I know I have a little time to say goodbye to those dearest in my life. I am curious to discover how this will manifest itself.
Another hour passes and I grow more peaceful. I am conscious of my breath, slow and steady. I vaguely remember reading somewhere that one should aim to die well. Make a dignified exit. Easier for all concerned. I think fleetingly of the only line I remember from a Shakespeare Sonnet “Death, where is thy sting?” I will feel no sting. I will go out with whimper rather than a bang. I think Orwell said that.
I hear the beginning of the dawn chorus, it sounds like an ecclesiastical choir sent to see me off. Mozart’s Requiem perhaps. I listen without emotion.
My breathing is slower still, this must really be it. I am leaving the place I have called home for the last 76 years for the Great Unknown.
I feel my legs rise off the bed first. My body is still on the bed but my legs are in the air, weightless. Next, the sensation of floating, but I look down and see my body on the bed, inanimate and still connected to various monitors and other medical apparatus.
Suddenly, I hear the delighted squeal of a mysterious, yet invisible creature, some kind of heavenly sprite perhaps – and I feel a powerful and unearthly gust, a force sucking me up into the air. I am without fear or resistance. I am astonished to see that I’m above the hospital, looking down at an empty road and the ugly, flat roofed superstores that turned this town into a cement jungle. I can no longer hear the birds.
We soar upwards like larks. The junction that separates the South and North Forks becomes smaller as we ascend. The shimmering waterways and inlets look dreamy and magical at the dawning of this day, my last. I am flying, arms extended, in the direction of Hampton Bays. I marvel at the engineering of Ponquogue Bridge, the Atlantic and its magnificent sand beaches. I see tiny specks which I know to be Plovers locked into an endless Elizabethan dance back and forth with the ebb and flow of the tide. The sun is rising just over the sea’s horizon – and I know where we are going.
She’s deeply asleep and Chloe, my beautiful granddaughter, her youngest, is also in the bed. It’s been so hard for her since her husband left. Prize jerk, he was. Good riddance. I tap gently three times on the window nearest the bed. It is half open and the venetian blinds sway and clatter a little. She opens her eyes briefly, looks at me and returns to her dream. My granddaughter does not stir. I flood them with warm waves of love. Maybe tomorrow, on some intimate level, she’ll remember this strange moment.
Then we are airborne again, moving west now, along the magnificent Great South Bay. I am dismayed; today it is an unsightly brown. I can see the algae blooms and I wonder why the hell we let fertilizer run-off problems go this far. I was in a position to do something about it and I feel a stab of shame that I did not make it a priority when I had the chance. Now it’s almost destroyed the Bay. On the North Fork, some twenty miles east, an enterprising young man is successfully bringing back oyster farms, which in turn is helping clean up the water. Maybe you have to see it from the sky, to appreciate what we have here. But even now in my last moments, I try and absolve myself for the inaction of my life.
I look down at the sandbar they call Dune Road, remembering a time when there were just a few summer shacks and anyone could enjoy the beaches. I wonder how it came to be there is virtually not a single open space left on this thin stretch of sand. How does that delicate eco-system cope with effluent in the busy months? I should know. I see four deer run cross the road into a landscaped garden. I hope they find something to fill their bellies in those primped gardens.
We turn inwards towards Quogue. It’s time to say goodbye to my wife. A woman who has stood by me through many difficult times and bad decisions I made over the years. But I don’t want to dwell on those now. It took me a long time to get the marriage back on track.
She’s sitting in our kitchen drinking tea from her favorite cup, in her dressing gown. She seems older. She has an elegant face with gamine eyes. For the first time I feel a pang of regret that I’m leaving. She’s been my soulmate for fifty years. I see a small pile of National Geographic’s on the table. She is planning to bring them to the hospital later. But she’ll get a phone call soon. Then they’ll stay on the table. I send a sharp blast of wind through the open kitchen doors and the first few pages of the top magazine blow open. The cat’s fur bristles; they both look up, startled. I smile at her and tell her I love her. I wish she heard me say that. I haven’t told her in a while.
When she’s over the bereavement, next year, she’ll fill in that damn pool that I insisted on keeping. She never approved of the colossal use of water and I never did anything about the leak. She used to say it was an outrage that we waste so much water while our fellow countrymen on the other coast fight Dante’s Inferno. Oh boy, I could have made her happier by being more responsible about water. It really mattered to her.
I want to linger, but it’s time to leave.
Again, we soar upward and east. I can’t complain that I haven’t been given a chance to see my beloved Island one last time. There’s traffic on Route 27. People getting on with their day. Judging by the sun, which it now well above the horizon, it must be after 6am. I see the 495 in the distance, already slow moving towards Riverhead.
We are above the South Fork. I have a brother somewhere north between East Hampton and Amagansett. Springs I think it’s called. We haven’t spoken for years. We created a successful construction company together over thirty years ago. Then we had a massive row that couldn’t be reconciled. He wanted to build homes with solar power, using energy saving materials back in the 1990’s, but I said we’d lose margin and no-one cared anyway. So, after an agonizing split on the scale of Henry V111’s break from the Catholic Church, both families were torn apart and we went our separate ways. To his credit, he went on to win many awards and accolades for his sensitive home building. But thirteen years ago, I heard his son had died in a freak car accident and he was too devastated to carry on working.
Yes, that must be where we are going.
The house was less opulent than I remembered and through the living room window I could see him watching the early morning news, clutching a coffee mug with his strong, hardworking hands. There was a grand piano in one corner with photographs of family members, including his son. As I scanned the pictures, I saw one of us together, proudly standing in front of one of the most prestigious homes on Dune Road, which we had completed in 1996.
I stood there for a moment, not knowing how to ask his forgiveness, when he looked straight into my eyes. I wondered if he could somehow see me. His face was full of love and compassion and deep in my soul, I knew I was forgiven. I smiled back with love glowing in my heart. We remained locked in each other’s gaze for what seemed an eternity.
Suddenly, the spell was broken. I felt a hand gently shaking my shoulder “Mr. Bonacker, wake up, it’s breakfast time. The Doctor says you are doing really well, so we’ve called your wife. We expect you to be out of here sometime tomorrow”.