(Parts 1 and 2 of this story appeared May 20 and 22, respectively.)
…This message must get through now. Right now.
“Mom? What you doing out here? Mine’s ready to go in the oven. Yours isn’t. Want me to finish it for you? Only cheese?”
“Sure, Sade, lots of cheese. I’ll be a few more minutes.”
The door shuts, and I step off the deck and out into the yard, out into the shadows of the oak trees where the grass is longer and the fireflies strobe to one another, looking for mates. Once again I close my eyes to concentrate but this time I whisper the words aloud hoping to make the signal stronger.
“I’ll always love you. I don’t know if I can bear it when you’re gone, when I can’t feel you there, even so far away.” A lump builds up inside my throat and threatens to cut off my breathing. “I think I may die when you do.” My heart races. The muscles of my legs weaken and I lean against the rough bark of the post oak tree trunk. “I’m sure I will die. What should I do about Safe?”
I listen to the vibrations in the night air with every atom of my body.
“I”m ready to go. I am. I deserve it. I want to be with you again. Whatever it takes.”
I open my eyes and stare up through the maze of leaves and black tree branches, then focus on one twinkling star that occupies a bit of visible sky. That star burns bright, millions of miles away in the universe.
“I should die, too.” My announcement is loud, thrown up into the sky from underneath the shelter of the trees. I wait, certain at least one of the many huge limbs of the old oak tree will crash down on me. I’ve been so bold as to tell God I want, actually want, to leave this eath. But the tree stands whole, leaves gently waving in a night breeze. And the universe up in the starry sky keeps twinkling.
“Mom? The timer’s nearly done. Where are you?”
I see Sade on the porch, her eyes huge, searching for me in the darkness. One finger goes into her mouth as she nibbles at her nails.
“Mom? Wooh – wooh. Click. Click. Click. That’s my whale song. Can you hear me? Wooooh.”
My heart responds. “Wooooh.” My song starts out soft and then gets louder. “Click. Click. Click. Wooooho — Wooooho.” I step out from underneath the tree and cross the yard.
She’s smiling now and her whale song is more insistent, “Woooh, wooooh.”
I tuck Sade in and fold the comforter under her chin. Her whole face smiles. “The whale song was cool, Mom. Thanks.” She flops over onto her right side and presses her head down into the pillow. “Love you.”
I flip the light switch off and close her door, then walk down the hall to the living room. The news is on, volume off. My brain hums. The whale song has been vibrating between the two of us especially loud tonight.
High school sweethearts. There is such a thing as knowing instantly you love someone and being lucky enough for them to be your first and your last love at the same moment. I don’t pretend to understand why it happened then, with him. It just did. We were young and naive, but we both knew. What happened later didn’t make any difference. Love was all encompassing and eternal. He protected me to the death, letting his name be ruined, not mine, letting me raise our daughter.
When your true love dies, you die inside. It happens with old people all the time. Couples who’ve been married sixty years die within days of each other. But I don’t think you have to be old to die when your love dies. And you don’t have to be a whale to be able to communicate with your loved one through miles and miles of ocean or sky.
At 11:50 p.m. I turn the television back on. The sound is very low, but I know what they are saying from the picture on the screen. The governor has not stayed the execution. The process has begun. Outside the prison, the crowd waits. Candles lit, they sing softly. Those who will witness the event have already been let inside the viewing chamber. Protesters wave signs. Some of them shout or wail.
I close my eyes and begin to sing my whale song again. I feel the waves of his response coming back, and the vibrations are full of love and peace and acceptance. The muscles in my body, taut for the past eight years of my life, finally relax. As they relax, I begin to weep.
At 12 midnight, a bell rings. The last “wooooh” of our united whale song echoes into the night. My universe falls silent.
I am still alive.
I walk into Sade’s bedroom and fall asleep in her rocking chair.