A p r i l   2 0 0 4

Guest Writer

Fourth of five parts ...
The funeral pirate
by Troy Eggleston

ctually, it looked like the beginning of a series of accidents. Two so far. As people like to carelessly mention, "These things come in threes."

I am still awaiting with anxious heart the third.

The first I consider inevitable, although it was still unforeseen. My flaw, or "gift," if you prefer positive spins, had been kept at bay for far too long.

I remember the day vividly. It was one of those long, intensely hot summer days where time seems to weaken its pace and any movement becomes greatly exaggerated. I was alone, such as I usually was, and had decided to ponder on my normality as a sin while walking through a brief stand of woods near my house.

It was then, while feeling rather weighted down by the prospect of eternal boredom, that a bee seemed to have dived down directly from the center of the sun like a kamikaze pilot in perfect aim with my right eye. With my reflexes being average, I was unable to move out of the way in time and suffered a sting just beneath the eyelash. My eye immediately swelled up and the poison sewed it shut so that no light dared penetrate its seal.

My perspective drastically changed. It was as if a filter had been removed. The one filter that was of a cynical color, which darkened every passing moment just enough so that it was no longer spectacular, was gone. No longer was the world encouraged to be miserably mediocre.

All of a sudden the sky was magnificent in its delicate blue. White clouds that before seemed dull interruptions provoking rain, now were wondrous hieroglyphics communicating small words of wisdom in their passing. Everything was so vibrant, not only in appearance, but in meaning as well.

The trees, the bark of the trees, the ants crawling on the bark of the trees, each possessed a singular strand of hope. Each seemed connected, thus making the whole one glorious picture. I was stunned. Never before had life invited such understanding. It had always been lukewarm and sufficiently confusing.

I feared for a moment that the sting was making me delirious, that I would soon drift from consciousness and this was the teaser before the ending.

But such a thought in such a state of mind subsides rather quickly. I continued walking, my curiosity swelling, unconcerned with my swollen left eye. Each step was a new discovery. The sound of the birds filled my heart with joy, when before I found them vaguely irritating.

Everywhere I looked, maps once hidden were clear and concise, revealing themselves to me. Simplicity was abundant and it was within this simplicity, within the iridescent spirals of a cobweb or the fracture of light against the crown of a tree, the way a bee's economy was brilliantly refined, that I began to feel comforted, unashamed to be alive.

I walked along completely absorbed until I found myself at the edge of the woods standing before a partially hatched development of new housing in which I lived. An optimistic sign reading "Welcome to Happy Acres: Affordable Luxury Living" sprung from the earth like an anxious weed. It was slightly crooked, eliciting from the type a dry sort of idealism that rarely succeeds when driven by the entrepreneurial spirit.

Nonetheless, the few homes that had already been realized stood erect, digesting the American dream. The rhythm of hopscotch melody combined with the machine-gun spray of sprinklers replaced the song of the birds. Manicured lawns with precision perennials enhancing the fertilizer deep-green shade of the grass invited one to stop and observe and think about art as a suburban phenomenon.

There were dad car-washers whistling while waxing cherry red machines. Soapy water was taking the path of least resistance, down the driveway, settling into the cracks of the sidewalks where a barefooted child held a collection of white bubbles in the palm of her hand and blew them in the opposite direction of the wind.

I was the recipient of a friendly wave. It was silent and unforced. I waved back. There was a sense of patriotism that the mailboxes exuded, and the squirrels that would rest if only for a second beneath the shade of a newly planted tree, rested knowing that the world is indeed choreographed and that God needs good dancers.

I eventually made my way to the front of my house. My mother was outside with her gardening gloves pulling at stubborn dandelions. I thought for a moment about relative beauty. She looked up at me; sweat slowly trickled down her favorite pink paisley scarf. I smiled, wanting to communicate to her how I felt, how everything felt different, how I felt alive for the first time ever.

But my mother, driven by her maternal instinct, immediately sprang to her feet, immune to any revelation other than the fact that her only son's eye was swollen by the likes of some lazy-fisted neighborhood boy.

"Honey, your eye. What happened to your eye?"

Oh – the bee sting, my mind dully reminded.

"Did one of the boys hit you? Tell me who it was; was it Donny Kincaid, that little ... I’m going to talk to his parents right now."

She took her gloves off and touched my face ever so gently in the way only a mother is able.

"Mom, I am fine. In fact, I have never been better. Nobody hit me, I was stung by a bee."

"A bee. Your eye is awfully swollen for a bee sting. You may be having an allergic reaction. Yes, you're having an allergic reaction. Honey, get into the car. I'm taking you to the hospital."

She began to pace frantically.

"OK, my keys. Where are my keys?"

I calmly touched her shoulder in the middle of one of her nervous strides.

"Mom, I am fine. I am not allergic to bees."

"Oh, honey, you don’t know that. You have never been stung before. Your father, I’m calling your father. Where is the phone? Your father will know what to do."

"Mom, trust me. I am fine."

But she was far too consumed to hear.

"Ice. I'm getting some ice. And that ointment, the ointment that Mrs. Malloy brought back from the rain forest, I'll put some of that on the sting. It works on most anything, you know. Now you go lay down on the couch and keep your head higher than the rest of your body and try to stay calm."

I laid down on the couch and stared up at the popcorn ceiling with my one good eye. All of the tiny bumps began to resemble individual planets in a vast solar system. After imagining myself living peacefully upon one of the tiny bumps my eye rolled down toward a wall where photographs hung scattered. Faces of uncles and aunts, grandparents and birthday parties and Sunday mornings began to stare back at me.

For the varied moments, when each of them was preserved, with time and its endearing motion we all looked, my family with some strangers speckled in, like hurried passengers each not quite sure what it was we were or where it was we were going.

And despite, for instance, me feeling sad or, even worse, indifferent, about the way my uncle's hands collapsed at his side, stunned like a puppet in the attic, or by the way my grandmother's smile had dust in its corners, I was deeply moved. I was moved by the fact that all of us were participating at our own capacity for any given second.

I then saw a photograph of myself, one that I had never taken notice of before. My eyes were fixed to the ground. My hands outstretched as if I was attempting to fly.

Behind me was an open green stretch of pasture.

My mother walked in with the ice and was complaining about how she couldn't find the cure-all ointment, accusing my father of never putting things back where he found them.

I placed the ice on my swollen eye and thanked my mother as she sat by my side and ran her fingers through my hair.

Slowly I fell asleep.

Read parts one, two and three of "The funeral pirate."

E-mail Troy at leonchester@cosmo.com, and find his previous efforts in our archives.

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