Hope in the Night

On a long walk at midnight my eyes struggle to make sense of mysterious shapes in the scant moonlight. I make my way up a partially paved and partially earthy trail at the edge of suburbia. The ascension a metaphor for the personal mountain I climb.  Will I climb a mountain and turn around? The trail leads to an old abandoned church. It is in complete disrepair. A rusted chain-link encircles the edifice. Dry tall patches of, what I imagine is straw-colored, long grass spring up from unimaginable crevices. I think of a photo I once viewed of Mission Neustria Senora de la Soledad.  Soledad means solitude. It was once a shinning beacon; a spectacular oasis along the El Camino, a glorious theater of conversion. I saw it in a sepia tone photo at its nadir. It sat simply as pile of decrepit adobe and obvious fierce reclamation by mother nature.

On my long walk I contemplate suicide. Not in earnest, just the sappy ‘woe is me’ kind of flirtation that cowards dabble in. A dilettante of death, I smirk. I click my heels up the paved path, partially rutted out so my feet every now and then sinks in the soft earth. I make out the outline of the church and even in this scant moon light can see glints of moons-rays reflecting in the remaining busted out portions of glass. The lot is pitted with potholes and huge bulges of of thick black chunks of pavement heave up where mother nature is irrevocably reclaiming her skin.

On the periphery of the lot, shapes come and go with the inconsistent light of the moon. It filters in through the ironically robust redwoods that hem in the lot. My eyes struggle to make sense of mysterious shapes that fringe the open space.

Overhead the black cold firmament is punctuated with tiny lies of light. They hang mockingly. Just then it registers. An ethereal yellow (a yellow like the teeth of a wild rabid wolf) glows from windward side of the dilapidated church. Who pays the electric bill out here? I ponder. We naturally gravitate to the light. As I do now, as I must. I hear a crack from somewhere in the surrounding trees. Ice takes over my veins. I freeze. There is an undeniable crippling futility in this sort of paralysis. One is unable to even make the needed gesticulations of life— let alone the planning and scheming to “make-it” in life.  I am sure one of these grotesque menacing shapes I see in the darkened spaces between the trees will manifest itself into a moving mysterious being that will in short order, reveal glistening eyeballs tucked in a crazed contorted, countenance of a rapist, or murderer or robber or a better yet a trifecta that has come to help me along with my cowardice.  My personal deus ex machina. The sound is not followed by any other thumps, cracks or crashes. And I begin to feel the stirrings of my nervous systems communicating once again with my muscles. I continue to make my way toward the unnatural glow. A singular carriage-house lamppost casts an ethereal yellow spotlight on a small struggling animal.  As I move closer the wind blowing over its short wispy matted in spots fur, clues me in. It’s a possum. He is writhing in his death throes. The pungent odor of death smacks me in the face. It hits my nostrils like a boxer delivering a swift blow straight on. I am obedient to my olfactory hinge to my left and proceed to vomit. The splattering breaks the quietude.

Morbid curiosity at work, I regain my composure and move in even a little closer. I take a few steps more and am just hovering over him now, like the mocking stars in kind. I make out that his (I assume its male) back end is crushed. I surmise he must have dragged him self some distance as a trail of organic glistening material leads to his catastrophic injury. It’s like Haley’s comet in freeze frame. He's been run over. I must be a genius. I think to myself what intelligent sleuthing! Then I quickly chastise myself and think any idiot could see what’s happened here.  His guts spew out of an unnatural orifice and glisten beautifully in the anemic light. The only shining part of this tragic scene.

I bend in for an even a closer look. Accepting the odors of burnt hair and pungent gamy animal blood. I once ate a deer that my step-dad shot and slew over the hood of his 75 station wagon. He brought it home, a proud trophy that we beheaded and skinned and consumed. It was sweet, wild and gamy. The scent permeated my pores and clung to my hair for days following. Just then amazingly the possum’s opaque black little beady eyes meet mine. It must be I think, one of those moments in life where language and even species barriers carry us both to a higher understanding of existence. He begins to tremor. Perhaps I can save him? I rationalize, nobody is that dumb to think that. Yet of course I know better. I realize I am smirking over this animal who is gazing deep into my eyes. I think of a pantomime practiced in the art of his gesticulations. In my minds eye, he in his chalky-pale face, melodramatically feigns death throes. His mouth down-turned like like Melpomene.

“That’s a bit dramatic little fellow!” I say out loud.  I break the silence with billows of steam streaming forth from my all to chipper spirit considering the circumstances.  My tone of voice startles me as I too recognize the the unplanned mockery underpinning my comment.

I’m not sticking around for the unplanned pathos elicited by witnessing the last dying gasps of an animal.  A feather in my cap. I imagine me at some point in the future. I am in a cocktail dress at some pretentious party, where foie gras is served. I’m bragging as I relate this little gem of a story between sips of a 2014 Chateau d’Yquem, belaboring the point that I shared some cosmic connection with a dying possum.

I think of Albert Camu and his mythical essay. The absurdity of it all. In the blackest of nights with this dying ember of intermittent glow and life— I turn and walk away, heading toward the wilderness. I let him die alone. And return to my own illusions of hope.


By Toni Orban January 1 2017.