Heaven of Clay

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

She is there with him every step of the way. He makes her feel immortal. They are lovers, they are partners. They will face the hardest obstacle together. Till death do us part?

Mary walked slowly to the window gazing at the people below; they looked like ants, walking around aimlessly. There seemed to be no pattern in their movements. She could never understand the chaos that governed human existence. The unpredictability of death was frustrating. She turned around; David, the love of her life was lying on a hospital bed next to the window. There was almost no life left in him. The steady hum of the machines helping him breathe filled the room. She touched his hand with the tips of her fingers where the sensation was the strongest. His hand was cold and wet, but he wasn't sweating, it was the life itself evaporating through the pores of his skin. She leaned over and kissed his dry and cracked lips. The coagulated blood made them taste like metal; a taste so familiar. She remembered the night they first met.

“Are you real?” David asked her with a smile on his face. His gray hair and the wrinkles around his eyes told her he had to be at least twice her age.

“I think so.” She blushed.

Mary never met a man that could impress her, but somehow, David managed to do just that. He mesmerized her with his stories. He could rant for hours about the hidden meaning of a certain poem, a novel, or a painting he’d like. Mary lived in a monosyllabic world of yes and no, colored with variations of black and white; a binary state of mind comprised of ones and zeros. His mind was on a completely different plane of existence; a plethora of words would spill out of him like an ocean of information, which would sometimes get in the way of the meaning of the words themselves. He used language as an instrument. Thousands of books he read made him a masterful storyteller. He played with his words, sometimes, dangerously dancing on the edge of the mainstream, just enough to entice the average listener, then, when he would grab his attention, he would dive deep into the underground, opening subjects no one would dare to speak of.

David was the star of the university. His classroom was always overcrowded; everyone wanted to hear what he had to say. His words could somehow turn inanimate objects into living things. His passion for life was contagious. He took her places she’d never consider worth visiting. The back alley in a dilapidated area of the city was a museum to him. He would tell her about generations of people who lived there, about how those abandoned buildings were a shelter for thousands of immigrants when they first settled in this “promised land.” Their mark was visible in the graffiti on the walls written in dozens of languages. He would make her think about the pavement beneath her feet and the millions of people who walked on it. With him, everything had a story to tell and everything was alive, and so was she.

They went to Rome for their honeymoon. He took her to see the Sistine Chapel. It was overcrowded and the staff of the museum was constantly shushing the people, as though the words would somehow taint Michelangelo’s masterpiece, which stood there above them for more than five hundred years. David pointed his finger toward the part of the ceiling where the creation of Adam was depicted. God and Adam were reaching with their hands toward each other.

“Do you see?” he whispered in her ear. “It looks as though they are touching, right? But, they aren’t. Why did he paint the moment just before they touched? Was it to show us they could never touch; that no matter how much we would try to achieve perfection, we never could?” Her eyes were focused on the empty space between God’s and Adams’ fingers; it was barely visible from the ground.

 “Did you know it took us five hundred years to realize he painted God inside the brain?” David asked her with his eyes glued to the ceiling.

“What?” she whispered.

“Yes, that red-cloak-thing, that’s a brain, do you see it? A guy from Indiana in 1990 first noticed the stunning resemblance between that cloak and anatomically accurate representation of the brain.” He pointed with his finger again. “You see, that’s the frontal lobe, right there, behind God’s elbow.” She saw it. It was remarkable.

“What was he trying to say? That God is in our brain or, that God is a brain?” he whispered in her ear. She could hear in his voice how thrilled he was. Even though he never was much of a believer, faith was one of his favorite subjects in a conversation. She found the idea of God inside the brain, fascinating. It occupied her mind long after they returned from Rome.

People said to her that love slowly dies down when you get married. But, it wasn’t like that at all. With every new day of their marriage, his love for her seemed as if it was growing exponentially.

He knew she couldn’t have kids and it didn’t bother him at all.

“We could adopt,” he said, “ if you want?”

“We could!” She hugged him and then they made love for hours.

***

One night in the late Autumn when most of the leaves have fallen off and their color turned from golden yellow to brown-black, they hosted a dinner party for David's friend Mark from the old college days, now a well-respected neurosurgeon. It was the first time she saw David as an inferior one in the conversation. He was excited like a little kid; suffocating Mark with a thousand questions.

“Are we any closer to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s?

How is information encoded by neurons?

What are the dreams for?

Are there genetic differences that account for varying intelligence between human beings?”

At first, Mark seemed reluctant to talk about his work, but after a few glasses of wine, he opened up.

“You know, I shouldn’t be talking to you about this, but I have been a part of an international team of scientists who are exploring NDE,” Mark said with a glare in his eyes. His voice became low as though someone could be eavesdropping.

“NDE?” Mary asked.

David interfered, “Near-death experience.”

“Oh?” Mary said looking puzzled.

Mark nodded silently. “Yes. I shouldn’t be talking about this since it’s ongoing, but it’s nearing its end. And I must say the results are jaw-dropping. It will stir the waters in the scientific community.”

The look of astonishment went across David’s face. “Wait, wait, are you saying that you’ve discovered… what? Afterlife… God?”

“No, I’m not saying that. But, well, I don’t know. All I can say is that consciousness extends beyond the brain.”

Mary registered a change in David’s demeanor. He tilted his head slightly. He would do this subconsciously every time he would get curious. “What do you mean?” he said, tone of his voice flat. As though he was suddenly trying to hide his excitement. Mary couldn’t understand why was he pretending.

Mark locked eyes with David. “Until now, it was thought, well, still is, that the cells in our brains are somehow producing consciousness. In our research which included almost five thousand patients who went across the threshold of death, mostly due to cardiac arrest, we’ve found some things that, well, can’t be explained simply by anoxia or…

“Anoxia?” Mary interrupted.

“Lack of oxygen,” David said, his eyes focused on Mark. Mary made a face at David -  smartass.

Mark carried on, “We can now bring back people, not minutes, but hours after they’ve died. And I mean after they were dead dead; flat-lined, no heart, no brain activity. Nothing. It’s amazing in itself to bring someone back to life when you think about it. You know, they were a corpse just a minute ago and now they are here again with us in this realm of the living. And they have a story to tell. But they are reluctant to share their stories. They don’t want to be ridiculed.” David nodded in agreement.

“Do they say they saw the light at the end of the tunnel?” Mary asked jokingly.

“They say much more than that. But, yes. The tunnel is a part of many of those stories. It’s surprising that across ethnicities, cultures, and religions – stories are remarkably similar.”

David poured some wine into their glasses. “OK, but all this, is nothing new. I mean we have all heard these stories before. What is so shocking about it?”

“Well, we can now confirm that consciousness - the mind, does not end with the lack of brain activity. Actually, it continues for hours on end in some cases…

David interrupted, “Are you saying that consciousness is not located in the brain?”

Mark smiled. “Precisely!”

“Wait, what?” Mary said, question mark written all over her face.

“It seems that consciousness is a separate entity altogether from the brain, well, from the body itself. It’s coming from… somewhere else.”

David leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “What is this? Is this a case for the soul?”

“Call it whatever you like. It is what it is.”

Mary fidgeted with her fingers. When she finally spoke her voice sounded robotic, devoid of any emotion, “How do you know? I mean how can you tell that what they saw, or what they’ve experienced isn’t just the product of the brain, you know, during the resuscitation?”

Mark nodded in agreement. “That’s a great question. We placed pictures high up in the corners of the room. These pictures can’t be seen by anyone unless they were hovering above them —”

David put his palm up signaling Mark to stop. “Wait, are you talking about an out-of-body experience?”

“Yes, and out of these five thousand subjects that were a part of our study, almost half of them described the room looking from above with a hundred percent accuracy. Out of body experience is not always a part of the subject’s NDE, but in a lot of cases, it is. These accounts are completely unexplainable.”

Mary shook her head in disbelief. “You mean they saw the pictures you planted?”

“Not only pictures, but they’ve also described everything that was happening in the room. One patient even described what I was doing while she was brain dead. It was astonishing.”

Mary sighed. For a minute silence ensued. The room somehow became smaller; Mary could sense something was wrong. David was unusually quiet. Mary scanned Mark's face searching for proof of deception. He didn't notice her staring.

“Do you mind if I smoke?” Mark said.

“No, no,” David said, “I could use one myself.”

Mary gave him the look. “But, I quit,” he added, as though he just remembered.

Mark lit up a cigarette, inhaling deep. Mary could hear the cigarette turning into ash between his fingers.

“You know,” Mark coughed, “ it isn’t the fact that we have discovered, well, not discovered - but proved that consciousness exists for a certain period of time after the brain dies - what frightens me, it’s what they saw during that period.”

David: “What do you mean? Didn’t you say they saw white light at the end of the tunnel?”

Mark: “Yes, among other things. But most of them said they have had a sort of a review of their life. Every bad thing they’ve done to someone during their lifetime, they had to experience it from the perspective of that person they’ve done wrong.“

“Why that frightens you?”

Mark took a sip of wine. “I’ve done some things when I was younger. “

“Oh, come on, man, it's not like you've killed someone,” David said with a wry smile on his face. “Are you afraid you’re going to end up in… hell?”

“No, no, but, you understand what I’m saying, right?”

“No, I don’t. Let’s cut the bullshit. What does all of this mean? Has anyone seen God in that afterlife place?”

“That’s just the point; I don’t know what it means. And, no. No one has seen God, but they had a feeling, or rather a sensation that this unfathomable... being is there with them. “Mark cleared his throat.

“On the lighter side, truth be told, most of them experienced the sensation of pure love, and that reality beyond seemed to them more real than life. One patient described it as if this reality has a filter on, you know, everything here is blurred in contrast to what he saw when he died.”

“That's ridiculous!" Mary interjected.

“What is?” Mark asked turning his head towards her, looking surprised she was still there.

“All of this. I don’t believe any of it. I think those are all Illusions of a dying brain.”

“But, they’re not,” Mark muttered.

“David I’m going to sleep.” Mary got up from the table and kissed David.

“Ok, baby.“ David said.

“I hope I didn’t offend you,” Mark started apologizing.

“No, of course not, just don’t fill his head with this…stuff. He won’t be able to fall asleep.” Mary left.

It was dawn when Mark left their house; Mary didn’t say anything when David snuck into the bed with the first light.

“Are you sleeping?” he whispered in her ear. She could smell alcohol and cigarettes on his breath.

She moaned pushing him away with her elbow, pretending she was asleep.

“I know you’re awake, baby,” he said stroking her hair gently. Mary was silent.

“You know, this wasn’t a social visit. There is something wrong with me, baby.”

She instantly pulled herself into a sitting position. “What’s wrong? Are you sick?”

“I have something on my brain…a shadow,” he said. Mary trembled. She instantly took him by the hand. It was cold.

“Don’t worry; Mark is the best neurosurgeon in the state. Everything will be OK. “

“Why didn't you say something? How could you keep something like this from me?” she said her voice breaking.

“I didn’t want you to worry. And I had to be sure. I got the tests back yesterday, that’s why Mark came on such short notice. Don’t worry, he says he’ll take care of it.” David wrapped his arms around her like a blanket. She felt safe. Everything will be OK.

***

Winter came slowly, dragging its frosty feet across the land, covering the ground with ice and snow. The air became so crisp it could take your breath away. Mary didn't notice the changing of the seasons. She was counting the days until David's surgery. When the day finally arrived — David seemed relieved.“ You know they say that waiting for death is worse than death itself.”

“I happen to agree with you, this time,” Mary said with a smirk on her face.

Mark was waiting for them at the entrance to the hospital. “Everything will be OK,” Mark reassured Mary once more. Mary nodded. Stop saying that, you’ll jinx it. David was anxious; he couldn’t wait to be done with it, whatever the outcome.

Mark stayed true to his words; everything was OK. The surgery went well. In just a week David was able to go home. They’ve been given a second chance.

***

Mary was sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee, holding the cup with both hands. There was some inexplicable comfort in the warm liquid inside it. She was gazing through the window; snow glistened on the treetops. Unlike her friends she never complained about the New England winter. The cold never bothered her. Watching the snowflakes floating in the air brought her a strange sense of serenity. The fractal pattern of snowflakes was puzzling. Every single one was unique in its structure. It was as though every snowflake was a word – a logogram of some unknown language, not intended ever to be deciphered. What would those words say?

“Baby,” David said shattering the silence with his baritone. Mary turned around to face him.

“Yes?” she said. He was wearing pajamas she bought him when he went to the hospital. He looked so fragile. But there was a spark in his eyes – a look of determination.

“I want us to adopt a child. We’ve been given this extra time, and I don’t think we should waste it.”

“Oh, my God. Yes!” Excitement burst out of her. She startled herself. She wasn’t programmed this way. Emotions should be under her control. David took her in his arms and kissed her. Everything will be OK.

The next morning she found him lying unconscious on a bathroom floor.

***

 

“You lied,” Mary said to Mark when they met at the hospital. “Everything’s not OK. Damn it! It’s not OK.”

“Mary, I’m sorry. I did the best that I could… I’m sorry.” He tried to hug her. She pushed him away. There was no salvation anymore, no light at the end of the tunnel. The monster was back and it spread everywhere. It was beyond Mark’s hands.

In just a month, David was chained to a bed. The night before he fell into a coma, he managed to speak for the first time in days. His unfocused eyes were looking at her as though he was seeing her for the first time. “You are so beautiful, Baby.” It took an enormous effort for him just to mutter the words. She just smiled. He coughed. “And you’ll stay like that forever.” She was holding his hand. “For the first time in my life, I’m afraid.” His voice was faint, almost a whisper. “I’m not afraid of dying. I’m afraid there really could be something beyond; I can’t face eternity without you.” His hand went limp. Her android heart almost skipped a beat. If there was a moment she wanted to feel something, this was it. But she couldn’t, there was no line of code that could make you feel.

 

***

The machine started beeping. She felt, beneath her fingertips, his heart surrendering. Numb, she watched them trying to revive him. His soul was leaving his body. What is a soul anyway? Was it an invisible umbilical cord stretching to the heavens; was it severed now? They turned the machines off. He was gone. The nurse took her by the hand. “He is in a better place now.” Mary grimaced. Her artificial tears were coming down her face as her gaze wandered around the room. She finally looked up. Instinctively, she waved at the ceiling. Feeling like an idiot, she stormed out of the hospital. There was an eternity waiting for her, an eternity without him.

 


Submitted: March 10, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Aria Black. All rights reserved.

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Ann Sepino

This is so good. I love the way it's written. The pacing is fantastic, and the slow reveal of Mary's real identity is amazing. I also like how this story has a deeper theme which makes readers want to reflect on life and death. Great story!

Thu, March 11th, 2021 3:09am

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