CHAPTER ONE – MIRACLES
WHO AM I? And how, I wonder, will this story end?
The sun has come up and I am sitting by a window that is foggy with the breath of a life gone by. I’m a sight this morning: two shirts, heavy pants, a scarf wrapped twice around my neck and tucked into a thick sweater knitted by my daughter thirty birthdays ago. The thermostat in my room is set as high as it will go, and a smaller space heater sits directly behind me. II clicks and groans and spews hot air like a fairy-tale dragon, and still my body shivers with a cold that will never go away, a cold that has been eighty years in the making. Eighty years. I wonder if this is how it is for everyone my age.
My life? It isn’t easy to explain. It has not been the rip-roaring spectacular I fancied it would be, but neither have I burrowed around with the gophers. I suppose it has most resembled a blue-chip stock: fairly stable, more ups than downs, and gradually trending upwards over time. I’ve learned that not everyone can say this about his life. But do not be misled. I am nothing special, of this I am sure. I am a common man with common thoughts, and I’ve led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten, but I’ve loved another with all my heart and soul, and to me this has always been enough.
The romantics would call this a love story: the cynics would call it a tragedy. In my mind it’s a little bit of both, and no matter how you choose to view it in the end, it does not change the fact that it involves a great deal of my life. I have no complaints about the path I’ve chosen to follow and the places it has taken me-the path has always been the right one. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Time, unfortunately doesn’t make it easy to stay on course. The path is straight as ever, but now it is strewn with the rocks and gravel that accumulate over a lifetime. Until three years ago it would have been easy to ignore, but it’s impossible now. There is a sickness rolling through my body; I’m neither strong nor healthy, and my days are spent like an old party balloon: listless, spongy and growing softer over time.
I cough, and through squinted eyes I check my watch. I realize it is time to go. I stand and shuffle across the room; stopping at the desk to pick up the notebook I have read a hundred times. I slip it beneath my arm and continue on my way to the place I must go.
I walk on tiled floors, white speckled with grey. Like my hair and the hair of most people here, though I’m the only one in the hallway this morning. They are in their rooms, alone except for television, but they, like me, are used to it. A person can get used to anything, given enough lime.
I hear the muffled sounds of crying in the distance and know who is making them. The nurses see me and we smile and exchange greetings. I am sure they wonder about me and the things that I go through every day. I listen as they begin to whisper among themselves when I pass.
“There he goes again.” I hear. “I hope it turns out well.” But they say nothing directly to me about it.
A minute later, I reach the room. The door has been propped open for me, as it usually is. There are two nurses in the room, and as I enter they say “Good morning” with cheery voices, and I take a moment to ask about the kids and the schools and upcoming vacations. We talk above the crying for a minute or so. They do not seem to notice: they have become numb to it, but then again, so have I.
Afterwards I sit in the chair that has come to be shaped like me. They are finishing up now; her clothes are on, but she is crying. It will become quieter after they leave. I know. The excitement of the morning always upsets her, and today is no exception. Finally the nurses walk out. Both of them touch me and smile as they walk by.
I sit for just a second and stare at her, but she doesn’t return the look. I understand, for she doesn’t know who I am. I’m a stranger to her. Then, turning away, I how my head and pray silently for the strength I know I will need.
Ready now. On go the glasses, out of my pocket comes a magnifier. I put it on the table for a moment while I open the notebook. It takes two licks on my gnarled finger to get the well-worn cover open to the first page. Then I put the magnifier in place.
There is always a moment right before I begin to read the story when my mind churns, and I wonder, will it happen today? I don’t know, for I never know beforehand and deep down it really doesn’t matter. It’s the possibility that keeps me going. And though you may call me a dreamer or a fool. I believe that anything is possible.
I realize that the odds, and science, are against me. But science is not the total answer. This I know, this I have learned in my lifetime. And that leaves me with the belief that miracles, no matter how inexplicable or unbelievable, are real and can occur without regard to the natural order of things. So once again, just as I do every day, I begin to read the notebook aloud, so that she can hear it, in the hope that the miracle that has come to dominate my life will once again prevail.
And maybe, just maybe, it will.
CHAPTER TWO GHOSTS
It was early October 1946, and Noah Calhoun watched the fading sun sink lower from the porch of his plantation-style home. He liked to sit here in the evenings, especially after working hard all day, and let his thoughts wander. It was how he relaxed, a routine he’d learned from his father.
He especially liked to look at the trees and their reflections in the river. North Carolina trees are beautiful in deep autumn: greens, yellows, reds, oranges, every shade in between, their dazzling colours glowing with the sun.
The house was built in 1772, making it one of the oldest, as well as largest, homes in New Bern. Originally it was the main house on a working plantation, and he had bought it right after the war ended and had spent the last eleven months and a small fortune repairing it. The reporter from the Raleigh paper had done an article on it a few weeks ago and said it was one of the finest restorations he’d ever seen. At least the house was. The rest of the property was another story, and that was where Noah had spent most of the day.
The home sat on twelve acres adjacent to Brices Creek, and he’d worked on the wooden fence that lined the other three sides of the property; checking for dry rot or termites, replacing posts where he had to. He still had more work to do on the west side, and as he’d put the tools away earlier he’d made a mental note to call and have some more timber delivered. He’d gone into the house, drunk a glass of sweet tea, then showered, the water washing away dirt and fatigue.
Afterwards he’d combed his hair back, put on some faded jeans and a long-sleeved blue shirt, poured himself another glass of tea and gone to the porch, where he sat every day at this time.