In a Blink Of An Eye
Close our eyes, and the world has turned around again,
The car stereo blasted out the rock and roll with a volume to match the car's speed down the freeway. Daniel was trying to drive out the macabre feeling that was seeping out of him. The thoughtful lyrics of the song, however, seemed too close to his thoughts.
Well, actually, it had been several months over a year. He had driven this same road on the way to a funeral. And now, he was driving it again. He had the eerie feeling that no time had passed in between.
Daniel had the same feeling of events overlapping and repeating the past as he entered the small funeral chapel. He had walked quietly past the same people that had sat here the year before, embracing Toby lightly when he saw her. She was standing on one side resisting the tears that stubbornly ran down her face. So like last year.
"We've got to stop meeting like this." Daniel said quietly to her. She gave him a bit of a smile, and a squeeze of thanks for being there.
He found Tom sitting in the same pew he had been in before. Except last year Linda had been with him with the new baby. The baby had been so popular, everyone wanted to hold her. Such a powerful symbol of life in the shadow of death.
But Linda was too sick to do the long drive. Both Daniel and Tom thought it was better this way. They both had noticed how much quieter the people were this time. And they noticed the mixture of anger and fear that the family had, particularly the old ones, as they approached the casket to pay their last respects. Daniel watched as Jack placed his hand on the lid of the closed casket. Daniel knew Jack had identified the body and he noticed the tightly clenched fists as Jack walked on.
Last year when Matthew Perry had died, Daniel and Tom and their younger bother Mark had gone down to the local bar during the mass, drinking a farewell toast to the grizzled old man who had been their neighbor as long as they could remember. Mark hadn't been able to make it to Beaula Perry's service, but it seemed appropriate to Daniel and Tom to drink the same toast to her. But it didn't occur to them before they got to the bolted doors of the Bar that it was 10:00 in the morning, not 4:00 in the afternoon, as it had been before. They went across the street to a deli, intending to get a couple of beers. But they realized as they stood in front of the store refrigerator that they didn't want the beer. They wanted to sit at the massive oak bar and drink a toast to the bittersweet memories.
So they went back to Tom's car, trapped in the funeral line and waited for the mass to end. They didn't feel any more comfortable going into the ancient church then they had for Matthew.
The reception had the same tense quiet feeling that the funeral had. Daniel found himself also sitting pensive in a corner chair. He and Tom had stopped by the sight of the house on the way back. They had stayed in the car for several minutes before walking over. Neither one really wanted to go see it.
"I have to finish it, you know?" Tom had said. Daniel had felt the same. It wouldn't be over in his mind until he saw it.
Even knowing that it was gone, Daniel felt an instant of surprise when he looked toward it and saw only the chimney standing. There was a spiral in the top of it. He had only seen that bit of masonry flair once before. He had been quite young and was helping Beaula get old Christmas ornaments out of the attic. He hadn't remembered it in all those years.
They stood in silence, looking at the remains of the house. It was old and all wood, and he hadn't expected there to be much left. But still it disturbed him to look at the (very) low pile of charcoal and ash. The chimney stood, and a painfully white clawfoot bath tub. The only other thing that stood higher then a foot was the remains of the wood cooking stove.
He and Tom stepped carefully through the ashes to the depression marked by small stakes.
"There was a photograph on this wall" Tom said, quietly, "Matthew and Beaula's wedding picture. How do you ever replace something like that?" He looked at the blackened trees that had surrounded the house.
"What could she have had to steal? What was worth killing her for?"
They walked silently back to the car and drove across the valley to Muriel's house for the reception.
And older woman sat in the chair beside Daniel and took his hand. He recognized her as the woman who had been hired to take care of Beaula after Matthew had died. He had heard from the family that she had become quite attached to the old woman.
"We had so much fun redecorating her bedroom." She said. "You know, she cried when she saw it? She said she had never had a bedroom so pretty."
The woman began to cry. "She was so excited about going to the doctor." She said, "'I'll show him!', she told me, 'I'm going to read that damb chart of his this time.' she was so proud."
Daniel's father had told him that Beaula had had laser surgery on one eye. She had been so proud of being able to sit still through it. Everyone had wondered if she would make it after Matthew died. But she was a tough old lady. She had even been joking with his father after her last check up about getting herself a young lover.
Daniel looked around the room at the frightened faces. They weren't any stronger or healthier then Beaula had been. They had always felt safe in their old houses in the quiet valley.
They weren't safe now.
There were not any squeeze boxes or fiddles this time. Not like there had been for Matthew's passing. No one felt like singing and dancing. They had been grieved to see Matthew go, but he had been ready. This time, the old were scared and the young were angry. Daniel thought of Jack's painful angry tears as he took the cross from the priest at the casket. The old priest who had baptized him, and all of his brothers and sisters. The old man had stood at the casket as they left, and Daniel had looked back as Tom drove away to see him leave his old worn Bible on the lid of the casket and walk slowly away. How much of his quiet contented world had been shattered by the manner of Beaula's death.
So, again, Tom and Daniel made their excuses early, Daniel had a project to finish, Linda was sick, and said their good-byes. They talked for a long time in Tom's car. About their lives in the previous year and a half. They had just blinked and it had all passed. How had they managed to do so much in the time?
Daniel found a copy of the previous day's local paper at a gas station. There was a photograph of the house burning on the front page. The fire inside had burnt so furiously that the light showed through the slats of the walls. They had caught the man who had done it. Beaula's little car had run out of gas on the freeway, and he was still standing by it trying to hitch a ride when one of the family drove by and recognized it. Daniel shook his head.
Daniel had never changed the tape in his car. The same song came around again as he pulled on to the freeway. He'd stop paying attention one of these days and wake up old.
Close our eyes, and the world has turned around again,
We close our eyes.
By Suli Marr