Saturday, February 12, 2011

Rolling Balls of Mercury

Have you ever broken a thermometer and seen the mercury form little silver balls that roll away across the floor?

I have. I was in grade seven and had taken to carrying a thermometer with me everywhere. I was doing a science project which involved measuring my own temperature at different times of the day and before and after various activities, like running a mile or taking a bath, to see how much it fluctuated and what might cause it to rise and fall.

I was reminded of that mercury yesterday evening. I was standing in my kitchen staring blankly at the empty metal sink; I had just heard some bad news. A single drop fell from the tap, and as the water hit the metal surface, the water balled up like mercury and rolled outwards in a star-burst pattern. I tried to cause another drip to fall so that I could see those little silvery balls again, but I was unable to recreate the event.

Later, out for a walk in the rain with the dogs, I thought about "Rosa," an elderly neighbour in my hometown, a close friend of my mother's. Rosa has just received a diagnosis of multiple cancers; it is likely that there is nothing anyone can do. Rosa is the kind of person who is the heart and soul of the community. At eighty-four, she runs the community soup kitchen, drives shut-ins to their doctor's appointments, and helps her neighbours complete their income tax forms. Seven years ago, during the last two days of my father's life, Rosa showed up to sit by his deathbed, spelling family members off for meal and nap breaks.

On my way home, after a grand loop of the neighbourhood and park, I found myself standing under a street lamp, staring up. There they were again, silver droplets, almost solid. Raindrops arrayed around the light, falling hard, hard. Perhaps it was sleet? I inspected the gravel road, the fur of the black dog, and my sleeve for white scurf, a melting crystalline structure. Just rain. Rain plummeting down.

I followed the dogs to the next street lamp, and stared up once again. The silver bullets turned white before my eyes, and wavered in their fall. On my sleeve a tiny tangled substance, like the skeleton of a sea crustacean, before it melted. I was present for the moment of transformation. Rain to snow, silver to white, bones to oblivion.

This is, after all, the way it goes.

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