The trees bow when she walks past. Or perhaps it is just the wind. Her white dress drapes gently across her shoulders, framing a slender neckline. Her golden hair is pulled gently up. A few stray locks fall loosely at her temples. Her eyes are like the river, just before the rapids, when the swirling greens and blues are barely contained.
I find this creature on the river’s bank – a rushing river with the air of a general at war. The crashing sounds of his battle with the rock have been heard for centuries. And they will be heard for centuries longer. Yet, he slows and calms when she is near. Or perhaps it is just an illusion.
She wades out to her waist. The river parts to embrace her. I watch with wonder as the woman stands in the middle of a river known to drown grown men. She begins to sing. The song is soft at first. Perhaps it is just a songbird. The music weaves in and out with the sounds of the river as if they are two voices. They are playful like a brook, dancing together in the sun.
Now an echo emerges, far away, as in a great canyon. A painful echo of loss and suffering layered among the rock. An angry rush drowns the pain as the river surges tempestuously. The notes crash together. The river takes over as the woman’s voice falters.
She recovers. The river calms and the woman’s voice, clear and strong, pierces the air. The two voices are now almost completely united. They form a melody forceful and deep, yet tender.
I fall asleep on the riverbank, but the harmonies haunt my dreams. When I wake the woman is gone and the river has resumed its war. A fly plays above the water and the flowers are enjoying the sun. It’s getting late and I should be at home. Perhaps it was just a dream after all.
Deep in the mantle of Earth, a diamond is born.
Carbon, the once proud remnant of stars, is humbled beneath Earth’s surface. No longer does it grace the sky – illuminating space with honor and fervor. Its dignity is crushed beneath ancient rock; its fortitude tested by the seething heat of a capricious planet.
Nevertheless, clinging to ancestral pride, it will not relinquish its birthright and be consumed by the depths. Instead, it uses Earth’s own rage and might to grow, atom by atom, into a crystal – as hard and powerful as it is radiant. With each carbon bond the crystalline structure grows stronger. Infused with the unconstrained heart of the planet it connects earth and fire until a star is reborn.
In a fit of jealousy the volatile planet banishes the crystalized carbon from its mantel and expels it onto the surface. Forced from Earth’s bosom and left unprotected in the cold, its shape gains permanence, and millennia upon millennia it lies, abandoned and forgotten. Until, finally blessed by fate, it is unearthed from the volcanic wreckage. It is admiringly called “diamond” and given unconditional care. Cut into exquisite form, it sparkles with the remembrance of its once august place in the sky.
And now, my husband, you give it to me. A stone that, like myself, has survived unyielding fire, crushing pressure and interminable abandonment. And yet, discovered and loved by you, today we both once again shine with the brilliance of stars.
He sat down to write the letter. This was not his first letter, but each time he hoped it would be his last. Words never came easily to him. The blank page lay on the desk, innocent of the words he was about to assault it with. And still, words remained chambered in his mind, waiting for pen to touch paper.
He dropped his forehead into the palm of his hand. He tapped his pen against the paper in agitation. He glanced around for inspiration – a green cot, a desk and chair, a refrigerator and a grey locker – nothing to write home about. He finished off the warm water left in a crackling plastic bottle and began staring blankly at the wall.
His mind wandered to the recipients of the letter. Dad would probably be catching a train to Boston. He would be sitting down in a worn seat on the isle, offering the conductor his ticket, and then taking out his tablet to catch up on the news before a long day in the financial district.
Mom would be eating breakfast before heading to the community college. Maybe she was finishing up a few last minute grades while trying not to burn herself on a second cup of coffee. Looking out the window she would sigh as the loosening blossoms from a nearby cherry tree floated by on the breeze. This letter wouldn’t be the first they had heard of their son. But it would be the most personal.
He set the pen down, ripped the U.S. flag from the right sleeve of his ACUs and turned it over in his hands thoughtfully. He’d been here eight months and had dreamed about home so often he wondered if he had made it up in his head. Maybe home was like heaven. You hope and pray its there. You work your ass off to get there. But you actually live – and die – in hell.
Enough philosophizing. He slapped the flag back onto his shoulder and forced himself to write the first lines:
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith,
I am deeply saddened by your loss. Please accept my earnest and personal condolences for the loss of your son…