S.S. Raven
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by Karen A. Romanko

The man looked in the mirror. His face was smooth and handsome, though still pale.

He ran his hands through the sandy blonde hair that cascaded onto his forehead. Filling a glass with water, he swished the cool liquid over his teeth and tongue.

In a tee shirt, pajama bottoms, and slippers, the man shuffled into the dingy living room where his father sat reading a newspaper. "How you feelin', boy?" the older man asked. "You been sleepin' eighteen hours now. Had the fever bad."

"I'm okay, Papa," the younger man answered, sliding into a worn, overstuffed chair. "Should be good as new by tomorrow," he reassured with false cheer.

When his mother heard her boy's voice, she came running from the kitchen. "Praise the lord, son. You been out so long. I was b'side myself."

"Mama?" The sick man jumped to his feet and hugged his mother like he hadn't seen her for 20 years. "Don't worry. I'm feelin' much better," he lied.

Or at least exaggerated. His body did seem to be on the mend, it was true. But he couldn't shake the chilling fear that something wasn't right. How could he tell them? Yes, his body was mending. It just seemed somehow in the wrong place.

The young man returned to work the following day. He didn't love driving a truck, but it was a steady job, and he was happy to help out his parents.

As he got behind the wheel of the delivery truck, the experience of sitting on the high seat seemed familiar, yet remote, like an old memory newly retrieved. Why does everythin' seem so strange? he wondered. Guess I'm still under the weather. Nuthin' to worry about.

He adjusted the side-view mirror and caught sight of himself. The glass held the sculpted face of an 18-year-old, but his eyes beheld the lined, puffy face of a middle-aged man. He closed his lids and shook his head. When he looked again, he saw his pretty teenaged puss. The young man pushed aside his terror and pulled out of the garage.

The driver made all his stops, but no one, nothing seemed right to him all day. 

Arriving home for dinner, he tried to effect an air of nonchalance, but his mother saw through her boy. "Somethin' eatin' at you, son?" she asked.

"No, Mama. Just tired is all."

"You sure? Somethin' happen at work?"

"No. Everythin's fine."

"You shoulda stayed home agin today."

"It's okay, Mama. Really."

"Well sit y'self down for some of my home cookin'. You need to get up your strength."

The son did a good job of appearing to have an appetite. He kept filling his face with food so his mother wouldn't worry. When she mentioned that he needed a good night's sleep, he took that as his cue to excuse himself from the table.

The young man sobbed and sobbed as he stood over his mother's casket. His daddy put an arm around his shoulder, trying to console him. The son looked again at his mother's serene face, but this time the face in the coffin was his own, or the older him he'd seen in the side-view mirror that morning. He glanced to his left and saw a blonde little girl who had his eyes, sad eyes, sad for his loss.

The man sat up straight. Where was he? He strained his eyes to see. It looked like his bedroom. Had he been dreaming? He listened, searching for reassurance. At last he heard the sweet sounds of his mother's voice coming from outside the door. Not trusting his ears, he tiptoed into the hallway and peered into the living room. There sat his mother, mending one of his shirts. Thank God she's alive, he thought. Thank God.

The memories returned to the man slowly. At first they had seemed like dreams, visions really, but eventually he saw them for what they were, recollections of a life he'd already lived. Not someone else's life, like reincarnation. The same life over again.

He wondered if he could be in heaven. He knew it couldn't be the other place, because his mother, a good woman, was there with him.

He mulled over the possibilities without confiding in anyone. What would he say? "I think I died and came back in the same body." They'd think he was crazy. Maybe he was.

The man tried to do the things that came naturally to him: drive his truck, go to the movies, listen to records, play his guitar. The more normal his life seemed, the more he could forget that other existence, whatever it was.

As his mother's birthday drew near, the man consumed himself with finding the perfect gift. She wasn't much for frills; the woman hated to see anyone waste money. She did love the way her boy sang, though.

Maybe I can make her a recordin' of my singin', he thought. A recordin' like a professional. I think she'd like that.

The young singer spent several nights rehearsing songs. Thoughts of his past life could not push the music from his head. At last he found the ideal tune.

When the big day arrived, the man took off from work and drove the store truck to a small recording studio on the boulevard. He'd heard you could get a record made for two dollars.

He spotted a parking space out front. The truck cruised right past, like it had a mind of its own.

The man gripped the wheel as if to regain control. I have to do this for Mama, he thought. Trying to fight off his shyness, he turned left at the traffic signal and doubled back toward the studio.

As he approached the building for a second time, the singer watched someone grab his parking spot. He used this as an excuse to steer the truck in another revolution.

The man completed the circling ritual several more times. Parking spaces came and went, but courage never arrived.

The man began to wonder if something more than stage fright was keeping him from making the record. Then he knew.

Or he remembered. He had recorded this gift for his mama in that other time. At first it had been a birthday present as he'd intended. But eventually it had led to recording contracts and celebrity beyond his wildest dreams. Everything had flowed from the moment when he had overcome his fear and walked into the studio.

"So what's wrong with fame and fortune?" he asked the air. 

His memory fought to retrieve the answer. The man could not easily discern the final years of his former life. A haze of drug abuse had enshrouded them: prescription drugs to fall asleep, prescription drugs to stay awake, prescription drugs to lose weight, and prescription drugs to feel less alone.

But he did remember the sick, bloated shell of a man he had become. Or not even a man, a swollen child, surrounded by sycophants.

And he could see a little girl, the one from his dream, the one who looked like him. His little girl? His daughter.

He'd left her before she had grown.

Had he committed suicide? No! The drugs had killed him. Or was that the same thing? In the end, his 42-year-old heart had just given out. How had he fallen so far?

The man saw it clearly now. He was being given a second chance. Maybe heaven was the second chance after all, the chance to set things right. He would go home and forget the record. What good would come of it? He'd be happier without it. And so would his mama and papa.

But the man did not go home. Like the Earth revolving around the sun, the truck seemed unable to break the circling routine, held by the gravity of the man's indecision. Finally he  looked at his watch. The studio would close soon.

The glass door of the Memphis recording studio was covered with fingerprints. The man contemplated the number and variety of the marks as he hesitated at the threshold. Fingers on door handle, off, and then on again. At last he pushed the door open. The man walked in.

With legs twitching in a dance of expectation, the teenager sat in the waiting area until a technician was ready for him. The young singer understood somehow this would be his only chance to change things. If he made the record, the rest of his life would play out as it had before. What good would come of it? He knew the answer now.

In a year or so he and his backing musicians would lead the way in fusing gospel, country, and rhythm and blues into a new musical form. Rock and roll would become a defining force of the 20th century. And he would be present at the creation.

How had he forgotten that accomplishment? How had he forgotten that worth? The worth of his own life?

But forget again he would, the man knew. He still wasn't sure when or why it would happen. It had something to do with achieving all his dreams so young. But he would achieve all his dreams. Burning out early didn't seem such a high price to pay for burning brightly once.

The technician led him to a small booth. The singer stood uncomfortably before the microphone while the technician prepared to record his voice.

When the eighteen-year-old finally opened his mouth to sing, all memories of his past life disappeared forever.

The End

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"Redemption" ©1999 Karen A. Romanko
Raven Electrick ©2000 Karen A. Romanko. Clipart by Corel®.