The air blowing through the open window in my office is hot -- actually warmer than the temperature of the air inside, maybe even warmer than the temperature of my skin. Instead of opening a window to let the fresh air in, I am letting the cool air out like a sigh.
I am reading and writing about Rioja. I am hammering out a sentence. "After the Phylloxera epidemic of the 1880s..." I write, then delete. "Rioja gained international attention as a wine region thanks to some fancy wine-makers from Bordeaux..." Delete, delete, delete. I am thinking about the grapes on the vine, imagining them bouncing in a hot summer breeze like the one drifting in through my window.
The phone rings. It's a call I've anticipated -- a friend letting me know that his father, who has been on his deathbed for days, has passed. There were peonies on the table and his wife was by his side.
"About an hour ago?" I ask. "I was thinking of you then, wondering if it was happening at that moment." Somehow, as I sat there picking at my salad, I knew.
I can't really think of what to do next, so I text the Mathematician. I know he won't be able to talk because he's away on a business trip, but I just feel like he should know right away. "His father passed away."
As I type it on my crude cellphone keypad, my mind snags on that phrase: "Passed away", the polite way to say someone has died. I have always preferred that phrase when discussing death -- it seems elegant and old fashioned to me, like white gloves or wearing hats. It makes me think of ships passing in the night, of people passing by on the street, as though the old man's soul just passed us all by as it rushes off to a different place. There's something soft about it that just feels right.