Christopher Apfelbach

(July 1,1990 / Burlington, VT)

Sombra


'Destiny does not do home visits.'
—Carlos Ruiz Zafón


The knock on the door that Saturday
caught me completely unawares.

I had already finished my daily chore
of not expecting anyone hours ago,
and my hands and mouth were working
like bees, engrossed in the harmony of labor—
the one, bearing a Blue Willow plate
and some slices of prosciutto
back toward the living room armchair;
the other, in the midst of whistling
the last few bars of "White Christmas"
and wondering aloud whether Bing Crosby
had ever fully appreciated the strange
and sinuous contours of its melody.

But at the sound of that knock
I froze in the kitchen doorway,
my tray of cured pork staring
vapidly up at the ceiling.

None of my family was visiting,
and my friends had all gone ice skating,
or to the movie theatre in town.
Salesmen, activists, and Jehovah's Witnesses
rarely ventured out this far—
and when they did, they knew better
than to accept the offer of coffee
that would inevitably lead to a lecture
on the history of nonviolent resistance,
the etymology of the word "fortnight, "
or dozens of other unrelated topics.

To this day, I cannot quite remember
what the man in the dark suit said
after I had crossed the oriental rug
with small, geisha-like steps
and opened the door.

It is possible, of course, that he introduced
himself as an archaeologist in possession
of a codex pointing the way toward
the sunken continent of Atlantis.
Maybe he needed my help unraveling
the journal's persistent and troubling
affinity for dactylic hexameter
and a certain vulgar dialect of Old Norse
whose devilish twists of declension
had left him utterly perplexed—
or something along those lines.

But, come to think of it, hadn't he also claimed
to be an angel sent to earth on divine business?
Or was it that he came from a future
where modifications to the genome
had caused an epidemic of white, fluffy wings?

Or perhaps he was sworn to protect
a young crown prince whose country
had been ripped apart by revolution
and whose life was now forfeit.
Perhaps he would have begged for help,
the urgency of his plea drawing me
into a denser web of conspiracy
implicating my own President,
an elite cadre of Masonic financiers,
and the mathematical significance
of the Golden Ratio in relation to
Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock.

Yes, I say to myself now, years later,
as I prepare a tray of similarly artisanal meats
on an equally silent Saturday¬—
yes, things could have turned out
quite differently indeed, had I
leapt out the door to respond to
Destiny's first and only house call.

Instead, I told him he must have mistaken
me for someone else, closed the door
and turned aside, allowing the fortunes
of Fate to become purely hypothetical,
renewing my monastic hibernation
("Still Life With Scholar and Ham")
and listening while Miles Davis
wafted another song about yesterdays
through the soft mesh of the radio.

Submitted: Wednesday, August 29, 2012

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