She penciled in the date: May 16, 2042. She’d be one hundred years old. Her birthday and her death day. Yes, ff she hadn’t died already, that May 16th would be “a good day to die,” as the Sioux were wont to say.
She still had a few years to think about the method, so she wasn’t particularly anxious. But it would be important to go out in style—dress for the occasion. Dust off her wedding dress? Oh, dear, no. Terribly tasteless. Her shamanic robe with the chakra symbols woven into the purple fabric? Perhaps. Or maybe she’d go in for some body paint—her 100-year-old body could surely use some color.
She’d make her death into a ceremony. That day, she’d take a hot bath with all her favorite scents—especially lavender. She’d eat her favorite foods: beef bourguignon, raspberry cheese cake and the most expensive bottle of Carménère she could find. But she’d have to watch the amounts: she definitely didn’t want to die of indigestion or intoxication. She wanted to die conscientiously—slipping over the threshold like a thief in the night. She’d brew something that would nudge her over peacefully. All her life, she’d been an advocate of non-violence.
But then, once over—Yaaa-hoo! It would be her turn to float over her dead body and see who gathered to mourn her (she hoped someone was still around—a grandkid or two). Then she’d see the tunnel and the light at the end. Who’d be waiting for her, she wondered. There was always a guide. Good heavens, what if it was Jonathan, or Petra or Doris—and they wanted to settle the score? She doubted it would be Jesus or St. Peter or even her grandmother.
She put down her pencil and sighed. She’d just have to take her chances.
A surprise may be a happy event or a sad one, but the word has a positive connotation for me. Words are flexible, adaptable, depending upon the context, the speaker and the listener. Multiple factors color a word.
What color is surprise? Bright red, orange or yellow. Definitely not blue, brown or black. Difficult even to see it as violet. Does surprise evoke a smell? It would be an unexpected scent: bacon in church, Old Spice in a convent, French fries in the bathroom, roses at the beach. It’s fun to imagine these incongruous matches.
Unexpected visitors. Yes, I’ve had those. An old boyfriend. A spider in the shower.
Unexpected gifts. Once a fifth-grade student brought me a martini in a plastic glass with a lid. My husband isn’t one to plan romantic surprises. No diamond earrings or week on a Caribbean island. For my birthday and Christmas I must tell him what to get for me. Surprise gifts can be awkward. What if I don’t like the color of the sweater? I must pretend delight and wear it several times until he forgets he gave it to me. The reverse is sometimes true. I buy something I like for him, but he doesn’t like it. I catch on immediately. He’s not clever at pretending.
The predicted rain for this weekend will be no surprise. It’s been drummed into our heads by the weathermen for days. Although the rain is expected, it will be the occasion for as much celebration as the victory of the Chilean soccer team in the America Cup.
Yesterday I had unexpected good news. I took Speedy Gonzalez our tortoise to be weighed at the veterinarian’s. He’d been suffering health problems and weight loss all summer, and I’d been feeding him with a syringe. Six weeks ago I finally let him hibernate. The surprise – he’d gained one hundred grams!
“Good boy,” I said as I pat his shell. My tender loving care seemed to be paying off. I placed him back in his box, and shredded more newspaper to make his hibernation digs cozier.
Because these days seldom bring good news, I look forward eagerly to the patter of rain on our roof this weekend. I’ll be tempted to go out and dance in its caress.
The universe is full of surprises. In fact, it is Surprise Itself, in its ongoing flaring forth. From that first contraction when some dot of helium emerged from the dark nothingness, to the formation of galaxies and their billions of stars, to our own Mother Star, and then on to us, this planet, these trees, and mountains and rivers and we poor besotted humans who really are made of stardust. Yes, continual surprise shooting out at me from yesterday´s goo-ing from the latest granddaughter as she munched on her thumb—13 billion years in the making.
To enter the circus you must first buy a ticket or agree to place a bet or in some way invest in the outcome. Confident that you know what you’re doing, you shove your hand in your pocket, retrieve a few coins and go into the tent. Here, the music rocks while jugglers juggle. Elephants slyly put on their makeup while waiting their turn to lead a parade. Sometime later, you lose at backgammon. You shrug, head for the bar, talk to a few strangers, meet the manager, tinker with the idea of going back to the hotel. But the exit is not where it used to be, and you’re not feeling all that well.
You awake the next morning to the smell of blood sausage sizzling in a pan. One of the elephants, apparently a good friend of yours, is cooking up a storm in the kitchen. He pours fresh coffee and assures you that you only lost ‘some bitcoins’ at the roulette table and didn’t he and you meet once before in Singapore? You tell him—is it a him?—that you’ve changed your mind about the circus, that you’d rather skip that part of the game, fly back home to Sydney but it seems you’ve misplaced your airline ticket and the price of a new one is just shy of a million what-nots. Also, you owe somebody Park Place and must go directly to jail.
It’s quiet when you surface. The place looks familiar but the rooms are empty. A ‘For Sale’ sign on your lawn is dripping with rain. You’ve either bought the place or you’re selling it. Something jogs your memory, yes, of needing a current, legal document that will prove that the house belongs to you, or once did. A line of lawyers, briefcases in hand, approach the house. The doorbell rings. You cover your head with a pillow.