For Karl and For Hope
The professor scribbles at his drafting table as the sounds of Christmas carols mingle in his office with the scent of coconut drifting in on the Hawaiian breeze. He tries not to think of the email from that morning, the one that informed him in a few terse sentences that another of his former students was gone. He tries not to make the connection between the email, which was vague on details, and the meeting last week on the topic of student suicides and their recent uptick and what there was to be done, if anything, about that.
What he scribbles to keep his mind away from things that will make him cry is Mary standing just inside the Pearly Gates making bologna sandwiches and pouring Mountain Dew. He imagines that the mother of God is like the mother of your best friend from middle school, who makes the same thing for you every time you come to her house and who serves it to you with a smile. It’s never a meal you’re particularly enamored of, but it comforts you when you think about it, even to this day. That’s the way he prefers to think of Heaven, when he bothers to think of it at all—as a trip to an old friend’s house.
The professor has another death on his mind as he scribbles, as he listens to a singer’s somber—yes, somber—call for someone—the baby Jesus? He’s never been sure—to “sleep in heavenly peace.” Just this afternoon, he has caught wind of a college classmate’s death. Fucking cancer. Two kids left behind. Daughters, like the ones the professor and his wife once dreamed of having. He wonders what her best friend’s mom made for her, back in the day. He wonders if Mary serves up something special for mothers, how much extra comfort it takes to keep a mother stolen from her children from crying a flood of tears so voluminous that Noah’s ark could not save creation from its fury.
He laughs bitterly at his imagination, disappointed in its cheap metaphors, at how they fall utterly short.
He puts his pencil down and thinks to crumple the damned sketch up. The professor closes his eyes, rubs at his tired head, and sniffs at the wind, hoping to catch a whiff of plumeria or the ocean or something else to calm his nerves.
Instead, in the darkness conjured by closed eyes, he imagines his student being comforted by his classmate. She strokes his hair as he cries about how awful his life felt, as he tries to muffle his sobs by pressing his wet face against her warm shoulder. She says nothing, doesn’t need to. A mother never does.
“Sleep in heavenly peace,” the singer says once more, and this time the professor says it along with her.