This essay appears  in the new issue of Outside In Literary and Travel magazine. Enjoy!


by Melanie Lynn Griffin

Early this morning, I woke to the sound of a Barn Owl emoting outside my window. It was a harsh, jarring sound, but not as harrowing as the murderous fisher cat squalling that sometimes fills my cabin here in the woods. Still, I was glad to be awakened; glad to leave the dream of my brother’s death. I had been anticipating this dream with trepidation, ever since the heart failure diagnosis two years ago.

It wasn’t a nightmare, oddly enough. I was mostly fascinated by the fact that Biff’s facial hair had stopped growing. He said that’s how he could tell he was dead. I was finding it hard to move from denial to grief, given that he seemed pretty much the same as always, except without the five o’clock shadow. And also, I couldn’t find my Toyota in the parking lot, which was somehow more unsettling than my brother’s death and apparent resurrection.

The dream came the first night I arrived at my summer cabin in New Hampshire, following eight days at a suburban D.C. hospital where I bustled around Biff’s bed, restlessly rearranging Kleenex boxes, Styrofoam cups, and wilting gladiolas.

“He’s going to end up here more and more often,” forecast the funereal-faced cardiologist, “unless he has the mitral valve operation.”

“It’s all a scam,” my brother insisted. “They just want me hooked on their drugs and sucked into their surgery machine so they can make money off me.” He left the hospital for the second time in as many years without the operation, but with a bag full of meds he probably won’t take.

I fled.

Having been woken up before dawn, I figure I deserve to take the day off. I’m going to rest, indulge my Henry James phase, and try to remember to breathe more deeply. Sitting on my back deck, I bite into an intoxicating late summer peach I got from the farmer down the road. The sweet juice flows down my chin and lavishly adorns my t-shirt. The browning meadow is dotted with goldenrod, and I think there’s the tiniest twinge of crimson in the sugar maples. Apple leaves, tired of hanging on through the long drought, drift down onto the deck as yellow warblers bicker in the branches.

The ancient hydrangea bush begins to sway, and I’m startled when a dappled fawn materializes from behind a veil of white blossoms. The animal seems deep in contemplation, as it gently plucks up and delicately chews its vermillion breakfast of Indian Paintbrush. It seems late in the year for a fawn – too close to hunting season. I consider worrying, but decide against it. It’s my day off and besides, I’m not in charge of life and death.