James Maxwell resides in Mount Vernon, NY of Westchester County. He makes a living working at an insurance brokerage but makes sure to have his writing completed before the break of dawn each day. His work has been previously featured in Scarlett Leaf Review in addition to the following publications: Walking Is Still Honest, Ijagun Poetry Journal, Cease, Cows, and Indiana Voice Journal.
“The Hand of God”
The time between the crickets chirping and birds singing stretched before him like a narrow isthmus, connecting two very profound and distinct things, and yet it was only the dark and the light that separated them—one giving way to the other as the world transitioned into another identity, one hand rising up to its mouth in a yawn while the other fell to sleep in its lap.
The old windows tended to rattle in the early morning hours as if the entire house were trying to shake itself awake like a soldier, ever faithful in his duties, stationed on the graveyard shift and guarding against some nameless terror lurking just beyond the feeble glow of the night lamps.
The glass would have to be replaced—maybe in the spring time. That’s when Mitchell could plant the hyacinths in the front yard, the lawn transformed into a royal quilt of fragrant purple combs come May.
From his bedroom he looked out into the vast backyard where from an old oak tree swung a child’s tire swing, employed now and again only by the sweeping breeze or sometimes a skin of snow, freezing the near perpetual pool of water collected inside the inner tubing, exerting the only weight the swing had sustained in some time.
He thought of all the many pairs of legs that had kicked joyfully bare through the empty space in the center, the indented grooves it left on the back of the thighs afterwards: the little half-moons a reminder of a passing summer’s hour. But perhaps that was the summation of life. He could count on his fingers how many people he knew that were just like that: a sturdy rind of an exterior and the center just a vacancy for others to slip fleetingly through and then disappear as the seasons shifted.
Summer was merely a dream now with Halloween just around the corner. Mitchell used to love this time of year, every blink of his sandy eyes focused and deliberate as if taking snapshots of all he saw to be developed later on and spread out across his mattress—keepsakes to savor after his idylls had ended.
But now fall felt exactly as it sounded, evoking the same sentiment he saw in the eyes of the old who would glance out upon days like this and mutter “Oh well,” before bumbling back off to bed. It had instilled in him a healthy fear of the dead and he contemplated the passage of time in terms of loss: the absence of footsteps echoing down the hallways, the somber sweep of dust kissed upon the shelves where curious trinkets collected throughout the years squatted like rusting relics in a used car parking lot—the whole structure a creaking monument to ambition utterly surrendered—not due to threat of violence but owing simply to the inextricable, unavoidable progression of time.
He could hear the windows on the other side of the house shiver violently now, but outside the wind held the swing in a single gentle lilt, bobbing in nudges at a slight angle. How different things seemed from the inside looking out. It was like experiencing the sound of a caged canary battering around its cage squawking, while witnessing simultaneously another spread its wings outside and take off freely into flight. Mitchell’s head pained with a disconnect and it seemed he could not reconcile the two in his mind.
But then something struck him. He could—yes, perhaps he very well could! The answer could be so very simple!
Mitchell skied down the flight of stairs and skidded across the kitchen, very nearly forgetting to put on his shoes on his way to the back door. He kicked on a pair of sneakers quickly, weighing his heel down upon the back lip as he did when rushing outside as a young boy.
“You’ll ruin that pair long before you’re due for another!” he imagined his mother’s voice shrieking loudly in his ear.
“Ah ma, lay off!” he shouted back as his feet bounded out with precarious jabs, cascading into the late afternoon upon freely flopping moccasins, unhinged against the loamy earth.
The back lawn yawned before him in the somnolence of a spiritless October. He dashed through the swamp of dead leaves saturated still with last night’s storm, squashing them underfoot like rancid tomatoes or heaps of soggy brown paper bags. As he raced, he attempted to outrun the swishing whispered from down below, his heart swept up in a fever of sound, but finding he could not, concentrated instead on the wind swatting playfully against his hot crimson cheeks as he careened through the universe, fearless again in the face of God.
Not nearly undone by the force of exertion upon his arrival, he snatched the thick cord blossoming upwards from the knot at the base and rang out a quick tug in spite of himself. The swing gave a bit more readily than he recalled and the branch high above bobbed like a fishing rod under stress from the catch, but the tree had stood always solid and strong and Mitchell took no issue with the signs of an aging oak.
He swung one leg through the hole and sat momentarily bowlegged as if straddling a horse before struggling to sink the opposite limb. The tree creaked and cracked under the burden of the added weight but Mitchell pumped forward with all his might.
And as he swung he heard the groans of the branch bowing heavily and he felt the wetness of the filthy inner water slap sloshing against his thighs like splashing through the puddles of youth, like a dream of immersion from which he wished he had never awoken. All around him sections of bark and tiny twigs flaked down like flecks of paint chips, the now feeble bough pleading against the man’s determination. However, he had already completely cemented himself in the knowledge that he was the arbiter of his own will.
Mitchell’s heart fluttered wildly now as he kicked himself free from the earth and back into the air like an ostrich turned dove, ignoring the sudden snap whiplashed from above.
With his back swatted flat against the soil and his wings pinned against his sides, he heard something he could only imagine as an ominous boom of thunder. He looked up smiling, reminded briefly of the sweetness of summer storms, to witness the great mighty fingered hand of God hovering above him like a halo. And as it plummeted down, it eclipsed all he could see but grew itself gradually in focus.
Mitchell closed his eyes and would not cry out, knowing full well that it had come finally to crown him.