NOVEMBER 1, 2020
THE 22ND CROSSING
So anyway, the days are bright with sunshine although the oak trees have gone sere and buckeyes have lost their leaves, the bare branches heavy with pendulous fruit and the nights have gotten chill. It is the time of the full moon again, and the last day of Los Dias de los Muertos showed up as an apparition or an omen a day before the national election.
The time came for Denby to make the annual crossover, which had remained as a Tradition even though the offices and the Household had been transplanted by force during the Night of Shattered Fires. Tradition has its own powerful force as some of you may know.
The sun descended and shadows grew long across the little avenues of Silvan Acres. Because of the creek passing through, and then the long absent train line and now the road, this place had been a traveling place for many hundreds, if not thousands of years.
The Editor said, "Go now," and so Denby took his walking cane and went out to the uplift where the earth was embanked higher than in other places along the road.
A train came trundling along the way beside the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, even though Denby could not recall such tracks ever having been there.
The machine heaved to a stop with steam and groaning and Denby climbed aboard and took his seat in a cabin with no other passengers in the car. The train proceeded down Sir Francis Drake, stopping at Yolanda Landing and various points not known to Denby and then proceeded south and east through a dense fog that made identifying landmarks difficult. For a long time everything outside the windows was entirely black and Denby assumed they were somehow crossing one of the bridges.
At one point the train stopped and the conductor, a gaunt man wearing a robe, came down the aisle announcing in a foreign accent "Endstation! Endstation! Alle bereiten sich auf das Aussteigen vor! Vorbereiten auf das Aussteigen!"
Denby disembarked to find he was on the Shoreline Road on the Island. He walked along the path there that bordered the brightly lit condos and the seawall until he came to the Iron Gate. He undid the latch and was greeted by an owl. "Who? Who are you? Who?!"
An iron bell began to clang and then he saw the vast expanse of bonfires lit upon the beach. Those bonfires lit by the souls waiting passage to redemption or eternal fire.
A distant dog or set of dogs set up a jarring sound of barking.
He used his cane to push open the gate and so step through a veil of mist to the Other Side where a long reach of strand with bonfires extended to north and south, broken only at this height by the extension of a stone landing.
As in years past, as he approached the Portal, the Voice bellowed to him from some echoing deep cavern.
"Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate!"
"Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate!" and the words flamed inside the skull as if poured in molten steel, glowing with hot heat. Just as it had each time for the past 22 years.
For pete's sake. As per Tradition, dammit, Denby muttered.
A large owl, about two feet tall, perched on a piling scolded him with large owl eyes.
"Hoo! Hoo! Hoooooo!"
Okay, okay. Poor choice of words here.
On the other side the ground sloped down as usual to the water for about thirty yards, but he could not see the far lights of Babylon's port facilities or the Coliseum. A dense, lightless fog hung a few yards offshore, making it appear that the water extended out beyond to Infinity. The sky above was filled with black cloud and boiling with red flashes of lightening and fire although not a drop of rain had fallen.
All up and down the strand he could now see that countless bonfires had been lit, as is customary among our people in this part of the world to do during the colder winter months along the Strand, and towards one of these he stumbled among drift and seawrack.
Sitting around that fire, he recognized many faces. And many more all up and down that beach.
"ch'io non avrei mai creduto / che morte tanta n'avesse disfatta"
Strange words in another language reverberated inside the skull: "si lunga tratta / di gente, ch'io non avrei mai creduto / che morte tanta n'avesse disfatta" echoing and echoing down long hallways of echos into eternity
A small child, barefoot and wearing a nightdress ran past and disappeared as quickly as she had come.
A glimmering figure appeared before him, a blond woman shining with internal light and gauzy fabric blown by an invisible wind.
"Denby!" said the woman. "Here you are again!"
"Hello Penny," Denby said. "Back again."
"A year has passed up there in your world, I guess. Here another year is all the same for waiting. There are several here who are new and they would like to speak with you."
Several little girls, all between the ages of six and nine, wearing pinafores ran barefoot across the sands between them and vanished into the misty beyond.
"There are a couple people you need to meet very soon", said Penny.
"I figured as much," Denby said.
From up on high a man came down the beach with an retinue, singing in a loud and lusty voice.
"I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sunshiny day
It's gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sunshiny day . . ."
He was followed by others and they were all headed towards the stone jetty that extended out into the stygian dark waters.
He was followed by two men, walking together, looking like statesmen by their mein.
"I'd rather be dead and in heaven than afraid to do what I think is right, said the one."
"Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America," said the other.
After them came two more men, one carrying a guitar, but not singing. The first said with a kind of Country accent, " If I can make myself laugh about something that I should be crying about, that's pretty good."
The other burst into song.
"Some ... times in our lives we all have pain
A man carrying an electric guitar followed him down to the infernal docks along with so many others, including musicians, actors, statesmen, journalists and leaders of all kinds.
A wizened man came down the way, saying, "Have you seen my Ring? I seem to have lost it. I would like to see it back. Hold it in my hands once more. It was so Precious... O, I suppose this coin will have to do."
And so the company descended to the docks to wait for the Ferryman.
Two figures appeared before Denby. A matronly woman with a 1950's set of curls on her head and a tall, lean, bald man holding her hand. They appeared to be ageless.
"Hello Sonny boy," said the woman. "Denby, there you are." said the man.
"Hi mom. Hi dad," Denby said.
A group of young girls ran scampering out of the darkness and surrounded them with shrieks of laughter and dancing. The old woman grabbed the hands of a couple of girls and danced with them, sticking out her tongue in mockery.
His sentence was more a sentence than a question
"All of these could have been yours," said the old man. "Why did you fail to make a family so badly." His sentence was more a sentence than a question. It was an accusation.
"Guilt has always been your position," Denby said. "I had regional impedence, and the influence of a petty mafioso from Brooklyn."
A phalanx of girls ran between them shrieking into the dark beyond.
"Excuses, excuses. . . ".
"There was also your own deceptions. And control efforts from afar. I could go on."
From a distance the glimmer of the Ferryman's eyes advanced across the dark waters. There was no more time for discussion, or reconciliation, if ever there had been. What had been done over the decades was done and forever now buried. The tale of Father and Son enters a new chapter and continues into the afterlife. Soon the Crossing.
"You are going to have to go now," Penny said to the old couple. "This discussion will have to occur at another time, another place."
"There never is time," said the older man.
"In life you did have the time, but you did not spend it. Now you have one coin for one passage and must spend it wisely now," Penny said.
The man took the obolu out of his mouth and said, "I suppose you are right. I certainly wish my son had married you, for you seem a very reasonable girl."
"Ah, well, that opportunity has passed long ago," Penny said.
The skiff with the Ferryman docked at the landing below and the souls waiting there began to board.
"Bye-bye Sonny Boy", said the woman who descend along with a pageant of pinafore-clad girls, scampering and dancing right up to the terrible concrete blocks of the jetty.
"You can have my car; it is being shipped to you in California where they hate big, bulbous SUV types of things. Drive it and think of me!"
The old man turned and descended to the dock with his fare in hand and so stepped aboard the skiff that would take him to some other place which he had either earned or deserved.
A flurry of children swirled around Denby and Penny as the skiff pushed off into the dark.
"Your mother seems to have been a sort of care-free sort of spirit," Penny said. "I wish I had gotten to know her better."
"Well, carefree appearance can hide a great deal of suffering and despair," Denby said. "Which is a common thread throughout her generation. But that is all over now."
"All over now," Penny said. "For many things."
The iron bell began to clang.
A little girl ran up to Denby and spoke. " Hey Papi! I am Sapphire! Remember me! You named me last time! I am not born yet, but maybe I will be some day!"
Denby got down on his hunkers to face Sapphire. "Hi Sapphire! I hope you have been good all this time I have been away."
Sapphire nodded vigorously. "I have not been born yet. I cannot tell a lie! Maybe after I am born!"
"Well I am 62 so we will see about that."
The iron bell began to clang insistently, calling the faithfull to their knees to speak the softly spoken magic spells. And close the gate between the worlds at the time the veils between the worlds are thinnest.
"Time to go, Denby. This one has been quite the family reunion."
Reluctantly Denby turned to go up the slope.
"Denby." Penny said simply and he paused as a wind kicked up with gusts.
She reached out her hands to cup his face. Cold, so cold. He felt a wetness on his lips, on his face. Perhaps the slap of saltwater from the Bay carried by the wind.
"Good-bye. Until next time."
He ascended the slope as the sound of the bell and three dogs became more insistent until he stumbled through the gate which slammed shut behind him. There, an open door to a train compartment waited for him and he climbed in to plotz into a seat in an otherwise empty railcar with salty, wet cheeks. On the return journey, he reflected Penny had become in the afterlife what she had been before. In life she had been a nurse during the height of the AIDS plague whose job it had been to handle the affairs of patients who had been sent home from Hospice as they lapsed and eventually died and allowed her to handle the paperwork of such things, there always the angel to usher souls to the door and through it to the next form of existence, if any, beyond.
The train passed through shadowy regions of smoke and the skeletal forms of houses and the smoke of spooks until it passed Yolanda Landing and eventually to the San Geronimo Station, where Denby disembarked. From there he went dutifully to the Island-Life offices although he felt exhausted unto death.
The Editor awaited him as in years past.
"So this is the 22nd time you have crossed over," said the Editor. "How was it this time?"
Denby fell into a plush chair Martini had snagged from a For Free roadside pile. He gave the Editor the one thousand yard stare.
"I can tell you are wanting a drink. And by just the look of you, so am I." The Editor reached into the desk and pulled out a bottle of Glenfiddich and set two glasses on the desk before pouring more than two fingers into each glass.
"Any idea how the elections will go this time and what will become of the Country? Just exactly who is going to become President. You did ask, did you?"
"This time there was no time," Denby said hoarsely.
"That is par for the course" said the Editor, bitterly. "Anything else?"
"There is nothing else to say," Denby said, his thoughts now far away. The thousand yard stare.
"I suspected not. It is all according to Tradition. At least we have that. Cheers."
"Cheers. Slainte." Denby said.
They sat there until the first glimmering of light appeared above the eastern hills. And so ended the last night of Los Dias de Los Muertos, the time when the veil between the worlds is thinnest.