By John Thomas Tuft

Some think of it as classic good vs. evil. Some think of it as divine retribution for sins real or imagined. Some consider it a case of the little man against the big man, the forgotten against the system. For most, it is the very definition of holy terror. Tiptoeing up to the abyss and peeking over the edge like a child terrified to peek under the bed in the dead of night. While hoping, at the same time, that it is the epitome of sneaking downstairs Christmas morning to get the lay of the land of Santa’s generosity amidst jocularity. It is as if a man, fully grown to adulthood, loved and respected, father and grandfather, painter of pictures and payer of bills, down deep inside himself, in that place far within… secretly harbors a young boy, afraid of being exposed as painfully damaged, ill prepared for shame, halting in his hopes, always fearful that somehow, sometime, someone will pull the thread…  

“Jack Goo, what is it like when people die?” The question came from Susan, my sister, a mere fourteen months my senior. She of the fearless and dauntless dreams, soul damaged by crippling pain from childhood scoliosis and the scorn and fear of a world inclined to despise her sexual orientation, survivor of rape and sexual abuse in the name of the Christ, turning to her bedwetting till seven or eight year old brother, he of two graduate degrees, two failed marriages, besotted with narcotics, achingly painful shyness through college, fearer of being humiliated, one more time, by those who bully, a lover of stories, and asking in the starkest of terms, “I’m dying. What will it be like?” I stop transferring laundry from washer to dryer in the refurbished house of her lifelong dream, her sheep farm in Bedford County, Virginia.

The thread of her life is being pulled. Some unseen hand has found a loose thread in the knit fabric of her body and is steadily, unyielding in its pressure, unraveling bit by bit its hold on life. Breast, spine, hip, lungs, heart, brain; bit by slow bit cancer unravels it all. On the days that she is able, she comes down to the paddock to supervise feeding the flock, angrily shouting if things are not done just so, before returning to her bed to sort through old photos while making a personal album for each of those she loves. We sit in front of the fireplace as evening gathers its forces outside, cold winds moaning in the eaves. Soon lambing season will begin. I do not have a clue… fortunately, the mothers and lambs will not need me unless they are in danger. I don’t want to unravel as the moment pulls on the threads of love. The only truth I know is, keep your heart open.

Sitting on the couch borrowed for the moment from the dogs, I watch her pace, limping in more ways than I am sure I will never know. “I can tell you what I’ve seen, Sue,” I offer. “One moment, they are there. The next moment, they are gone. It is over.” She stops. “Over? It ends. Everything ends? I don’t want to be alone in the dark.” A thread in the corner of my heart comes loose and starts to unravel, being pulled by eternity. “Nobody does, Sue.” Her tears match mine as she recounts some of the pains and horrors of her life. “Will it hurt?” she asks. I see neither chasm nor Christmas tree as I look into her eyes. “I won’t let it hurt. I promise,” I say. “You’ll be there? Promise me, Jack Goo, that you’ll be there.”  

“I promise,” is all I can muster as the little boy deep within shakes with fear.

The sweat drops to the ground like bullets of blood. He is surrounded by night sounds. He whispers in a voice so soft only angels could ever hear, “I don’t want to do this. What did I ever do to deserve this? When will this be over?” He pulls the thread of his youth, his mother, the joys of fishing, the smell of fresh cut wood, the joy of being out on the water. The way his father laughed at the way his son yelped when thumb met hammer on the job. Surely, it was worth it, all of it. He’s here. In less than a day, he will be gone. It is over. Time keeps moving even as eternity pulls the thread. The only truth he offers: keep your heart open. He looks up, into the night sky. Into his own heart. Into his own hopes. “Promise me. You will be there. Promise me…”

Words are magic and writers are wizards.