Nonfiction by Kamala Bremer
When I wake, there she is, all wilderness crags and forest, a fresh coat of snow draping her peak and canyons, brilliant with brand new white. I walk on wet flagstones into the herb scent of wet grass and my first glimpse of Mt. Hood after days of September rain. A flock of small birds flies up from a maple in the distance, catches the light on dozens of wings, then settles into the tree again.
Sunlight embraces the day with a hopeful harvest chill. Yet even this early I keep my cell phone with me, my only link to Michigan where my sister is dying, maybe today.
I hear Les moving, and go in to set out breakfast – fresh pear juice from the inn’s orchard, homemade granola, scones delivered warm before we woke.
When I look again, the view has changed. Thick mounds of Pacific-born clouds curl up Mt. Hood’s west side right to the peak, like ocean waves breaking against a rocky headland. But as if divided by a ridge falling straight from the peak, the mountain’s drier east side is completely clear.
Les comes upstairs, gives me a hug, makes coffee. We’re in no hurry today. We’ve come to this inn on a farm above Hood River for our anniversary. As the sun climbs, the morning sky blues, grass sparkles. Cream and tan dappled sheep lie in the impossibly green field, chewing. Pears blushing copper weight the trees’ branches nearly to the ground.
I set my cellphone on the table, where I can answer on the first ring.
As we eat, the mountain changes again. The white clouds on the wet side boil, the thick gray of drizzle or rain gathering beneath. Then the east/west divide fails. A single cumulus is released like a puff of smoke across the barrier. Then another escapes, and soon a sparse line of fluffy clouds is drifting east.
A sudden blur mists my eyes. I wipe, take a deep breath, clear my place from the table.
What kind of barrier will help keep grief at bay?
I check my phone, wishing for a call to let me know my sister is awake enough to listen, so I can tell her again, everything’s all right now, I love you. But it’s after nine here, noon there, and likely she can’t be roused. At least I have not gotten the other call, letting me know that she’s gone. A fresh salt flow streams down my cheek again.
These tears, sudden as a stray rain shower, started when we realized that recovery would never come. Three weeks ago I flew back to see her, to help her daughter and our youngest sister with decisions that had to be made, but had to stifle my sobs when I saw my sister pale and helpless in the high white bed. Gradually I learned how to not cry: be there for meals so I would be the one to feed her, bundle her in layers for a drive to see waves lap Lake Michigan’s cold September beach, climb onto the narrow bed beside her and hold her like I did when we were young.
Wiping salt from my face, I make sandwiches. We’ll hike on a trail, lush and green, that my sister would love but will never see. Then stop for a light dinner on our way home. Moments of living. Not a blockade, but a permeable barrier – like the invisible divide down the face of the mountain – that holds back grief so only a manageable amount gets through. I’ll be with Les, walking or driving, or eating breakfast tomorrow, when the call finally comes.