Trevor O’Brien was the most talented poet I’ve ever known. His words were his breath and his blood. They were him. He was them. As most poets do, he struggled. Wondered. Doubted. Suffered. And, like most poets, he never realized how really valuable he was. I wish I hadn’t gotten that phone call from a friend who saw the news. I wish that the news didn’t have to report on anything about Trevor. Unless, of course he had been named poet laureate. Instead, many people who found value in Trevor are devastated. Including me.
A few years ago, Trevor gave me the idea for this story. I think a lot of people feel this way tonight.
I am grieving tonight. Because an artist poet is gone.
Character: Elizaveta is a 74 year old, impoverished Russian immigrant. She has live in the United States for the past 35 years.
Conflict: Her husband on 50 years has just passed away. She is returning home after the funeral, feeling very alone.
They’d never had children. Elizaveta and Lev. Lev had always said it was better. When they moved away from Russia, he said it was better to travel without children. When they opened the bakery, he said it was easier to run a business without children. When they sold the bakery after 30 years in business, he said they avoided battles over the money that they would have had with children.
“Life is easier without children,” he said so many times.
But as she unlocked their small apartment and pushed open the door, she wondered if he’d been right. She was alone. No one to comfort her. No one to help her. She’d felt alone for most of her life. No family in America. Friends had been near impossible to come by. But at least she’d had Lev.
Elizaveta put her purse on the old rocking chair. Lev had found it so many years ago in a dumpster.
“It’s perfectly fine,” he’d said. “It just needs a little wood glue. Good as new.”
He’d never been able to fix the creaking as it rocked.
She went into the kitchen. The dishes from three days ago were still in the sink. Lev’s plate with toast crumbs and his tea cup with a bag still sticking to the side. She couldn’t bring herself to wash them. Or to throw out the tea bag.
He’d sat at the table that morning. Three days before. Biting into his dry toast, sipping his tea he’d laughed loudly while reading the comics from the newspaper.
“Veta,” he’d said. “Come look at this. Come look. So funny.”
“No, Lev,” she’d answered. “You know I don’t like those fool papers. They are never funny to me.”
“Oh, but this cat is so funny.” He’d laughed. “He loves his lasagna.”
The newspaper was still on the table. The comics section folded and crinkled from his hands.
The telephone rang. Elizaveta jumped. The apartment had been so quiet since Lev…
It had been so quiet for the past few days. She went to the telephone that sat on the kitchen counter.
“Hello?” she answered. “This is Elizaveta…no…I am not interested.”
She hung up. Sales calls. Always a sales call. Never a family member wishing condolences. Never a former customer asking to bring a meal.
All alone. The apartment had been cold without Lev. Quiet. He’d fallen down right there. By the door to the bedroom. His heart had given out.
“I’m sorry,” the doctor at the hospital had said. “We couldn’t bring him back.”
“He’s?” she’d said, voice quivering.
“I’m sorry.” The doctor had put his hand on her shoulder. “He’s gone.”
“Gone?” she’d repeated.
“Is there anyone I can call for you? Anyone to come give you a ride?”
“No.” She gathered her purse. “I’ll take a taxi.”
“Please. Let me find someone to drive you.”
“I can manage.”
The next day she made arrangements at the funeral home. Lev had wanted to be cremated. She’d asked the funeral director to find someone who could say a short prayer. Only a few people would come to the memorial. Perhaps no one but her. She didn’t know. But she hadn’t wanted a luncheon afterward.
It had been a quiet funeral. And brief. A man’s whole life memorialized in less than ten minutes.
“When I die,” Lev had said. “I want you to take my ashes home.”
“I couldn’t have your ashes sitting on the kitchen table,” she’d said to him. “It isn’t clean.”
“No. I want you to take them back to Russia. Go to the grave yard and put me in a whole next to my brother’s headstone.”
“That’s insane, Lev.”
“Yes. It is.”
Elizaveta sat, rocking in the chair, letting it creak and thinking of how she would get Lev home.
“How does one sell everything?” Elizaveta asked her land lord the day after the funeral.
“You want to sell everything?” he’d asked.
“I do. Except for my clothing.”
“Why do you want to sell it?” The land lord looked at her sideways. “Are you and Lev having a hard time making the rent.”
“Lev is dead,” she said. “I have to go to Russia.”
“So, does that mean you’re moving out?”
“Possibly. But I need to have some money first.” She looked at the man. “Would you like to purchase my furniture? Rent the apartment as a furnished room?”
“I don’t know.”
“You could charge more in rent.” She smoothed her blouse. “You could make more on other tenants. We haven’t had our rent increased in over twenty years.”
“How much do you want for the furniture?”
After selling her furniture to the land lord and her jewelry and silverware to a pawn shop, Elizaveta had enough money for a plane ticket to Russia. She packed one suitcase full of her clothing and her purse with a small bit of Lev’s remains in a package.
A shuttle had just arrived to take her to the airport. She turned and looked at the apartment one last time.
“Lev and I loved living here,” she whispered. “Be a good home for another family.”
She closed the door lightly and gently walked down the steps to the shuttle.
The flight had been long. Elizaveta’s body was stiff. She stood in the St. Petersburg airport and drank in her homeland. She hadn’t realized how she’d missed the language, the smells, the way in which her people carried themselves. It had been too long. Thirty-five years.
She knew that she would need to rest before going to the cemetery in the morning. She took a taxi to a motel. She slept for hours.
She dreamed of Lev. When they were young. The way he looked deeply into her eyes. Their life together.
“I’ve brought you home,” she woke herself up saying.
The morning was cold. The taxi ride took ten minutes.
“Wait here,” she told the driver. “I’ll only be but a few minutes.”
The driver shrugged.
She remembered the grave of Lev’s brother. It wasn’t difficult to find. They’d visited it every Saturday for ten years before they moved to America.
By the weeds that overtook the headstone, Elizaveta wondered if anyone had visited since then. She bent down, trying to tear a few of the leaves away.
“I’m too old for all this,” she muttered.
She slowly lowered herself to kneel by the grave. She took a spoon from her purse and dug a whole in the ground. She pulled the small package of Lev’s remains from her purse. Holding it in her hand, she smiled.
She didn’t say a word. She wondered if she should pray. But knew that her actions were a sort of prayer in themselves. She kissed her fingers and touched the packet. Little pieces of him were in her hand.
Lowering Lev into the small hole, she let out a bit of a whimper.
Getting up after filling in the hole proved to be quite a bit more difficult than she’d expected.
Walking away from the last trace of Lev was quite a bit easier.
Alone, she walked back to the taxi.