When her feet hit the floor that morning, she screamed and quickly pulled them back up onto the bed. The floor was like ice. She shook her head as she glowered at the radiator in the corner, making feeble attempts to heat the room by clanging loudly and spitting scalding water onto the wall. She reached down under the bed and pulled out one house slipper. She slipped it onto her foot and hopped out the door where she found the other slipper lodged under the coffee table. A round, orange and black cat lay curled up on top of the table, snoring soundly, unconcerned with the slipper it had abandoned there the night before. She gently but reprovingly smacked the cat with the slipper, waking him up.
“Stupid cat, my slipper is not your toy,” she opined to the animal as if it were human.
She looked at the clock on the wall and sprang into action. She was going to have to hurry if she wanted to avoid her landlord. He would be there at 8:37 a.m. to complain to her about the noise she made in her apartment. Of course, it wasn’t his complaint; it was Mrs. Vandervoort’s complaint. Mrs. Vandervoort was the little old lady who lived above her and the lady couldn’t hear very well, just well enough. Of course, the noise wasn’t her noise; it came from the apartment building across the alley. And of course, the landlord would never believe her. He never did, so she would just have to avoid him this one last day. She managed to eat, shower, dress and leave the building all in 35 minutes. It was 8:35 a.m. She quickly crossed the street and watched from behind a tree. At exactly 8:37 a.m. the landlord came marching up to the door and buzzed her apartment. He waited. Then pressed his finger against the buzzer and held it in place for a good 30 seconds. She sighed, grateful that she didn’t have to listen to that doorbell buzzing, and walked off down the street.
As she walked to the bus stop, she passed Mr. Poole. Mr. Poole was of an age where he still wore a hat to the office and also believed that youngsters did not speak unless they were spoken too. She wondered why it was that he hadn’t retired yet, then turned to him.
“I’d hold on to that hat if I were you, Mr. Poole,” she stated calmly.
“What for?” he replied grumpily.
“You don’t want to get wet do you?” she questioned. She walked on down the street.
Mr. Poole looked around confused then shouted after her, “There’s not a cloud to be seen! Don’t you talk to me, crazy girl!”
Just as she reached the bus stop, a sudden wind blew her hair into her face. As she stepped onto the bus, she turned back to look up the street. Mr. Poole’s hat, having been blown off by the wind, was in the middle of the street. He ran out to get it, just as the postal truck turned the corner. The postman swerved the truck to miss hitting Mr. Poole, but he overreacted and swerved too far, right into the fire hydrant on the corner. Water began spewing everywhere and it only took a few seconds before Mr. Poole was drenched. As the bus pulled away, she watched as Mr. Poole argued with the postman.
The cacophony on the bus, all the different conversations going on at once and all at high decibels to compensate for the loud rumblings of the bus’s engine, was giving her a headache. A man next to her was talking animatedly on his cellular phone to what was obviously a stockbroker. A woman was desperately attempting to quiet her crying baby while holding on to the hand of a small child who was singing the first line of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” over and over again. Two teenage girls were screeching and giggling about some boy who had apparently called one of them.
She closed her eyes and tried to block out the noise; she closed her eyes and tried to block out the images that were running through her head, one on top of the other, coming so quickly they were almost simultaneous. She began to tap her foot but had to stop as it just added to the noise that was all around her. She fidgeted in her seat. She couldn’t stop herself and suddenly reached out and tugged on the man’s coattail. He looked down at her frowning at the interruption.
“You should get off the phone, sir,” she said. He just turned away and continued to discuss the pros and cons of the stock tip he had received. She tugged again at his coat, more urgently.
“I’m trying to have a private conversation, miss,” he spat at her, “please stop tugging on my coat.”
She sighed and mumbled under her breath, “His wife’s going to try to call him in about two minutes to tell him that his son’s been in an accident and he won’t pick up the call because he’s having a private conversation on a public bus.” The woman next to her stared at her sideways, moved over in the seat just slightly and then went back to reading the newspaper.
The man on the cellular phone continued his harangue. She waited until she heard the man say, “My other line’s ringing.” He looked at his phone quickly and then went back to his conversation. “No, it’s just my wife. Go ahead and put it through for fifty shares.” Then the bus came to a stop and she got off.
As she walked through the rush of pedestrian traffic she wondered to herself why she had even bothered coming to work today. It was her last day at this job. Perhaps she should go spend the day at the park or go to the museum. It was, after all, the last time she would be able to do either of those things. There were so many things she should do today because there were so many things she had never done. Yet, on this day of all days, she needed the security of her routine.
So, she was going to the same job that she’d been going to for the past five years. Mr. Jenkins would be at the door to greet her with the same line he greeted her with every day, “Hey there, little lady, what’s going to happen today?” Billy would be cleaning out his desk when she arrived having just been fired by the boss. Martha would be picking up the stack of reports that she had dropped when she slipped on the box of paperclips that Billy had accidentally knocked off of his desk. Brad the Cad would be at the water fountain frantically scrubbing the coffee stain off his pants from where he had spilled his coffee tripping over Martha. She smiled to herself at this one.
She could stop what was going to happen that night at 8:59 p.m. She could stop it if she could get just one person to believe her. That one person was Mr. James Harris, a mere cog in the wheel at a major nuclear missile silo who was going to fall asleep on the job because he’d pulled a double shift covering for a co-worker who had gotten a date at the last minute with a woman named Helen who was reportedly the most beautiful woman in the world, at least in the town where they all lived. If she could just talk to Mr. Harris at just the right time then it would be prevented. At least she thought it would be prevented; though she wasn’t really sure about this as knowing the outcome had never helped her to change the outcome. As she walked the last few feet to her office building she stopped and looked up at the sky. There was not a cloud to be seen. The task ahead of her was futile.
She sighed as she opened the door. Mr. Jenkins was sitting at the front desk with his feet propped up reading the newspaper.
“Good morning, Mr. Jenkins,” she said for the last time.
“Hey there, little lady, what’s going to happen today?” he asked her with the same mocking grin he wore everyday.
She pressed the button for the elevator.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” she replied calmly.
On the day she was born, it was predicted that her beauty would be of such greatness that it would cause destruction and bring down chaos on the world. Considering most of the residents of the town were employed by the government and connected in some way to the nearby nuclear missile silo, one would think a prediction like this would be taken quite seriously. These people were not of a superstitious nature, nor inclined to believe the ramblings of a supposed psychic, and the warning was soon forgotten as the prediction proved to be only half true, at least for the first 18 years of her life.
When she was born she looked like a baby chimpanzee with dark hair covering her head and, to some extent, her body, mainly the arms and legs. Her eyes were such a dark color they appeared almost black and blended with the pupils to give her a drug-crazed stare so disturbingly out of place on a one-week old child that people often turned away pretending to cough, while in reality they were attempting to hide their gag reflex.
As a toddler, the hairiness of her body had diminished considerably, though the hair on her head remained thick, shiny, black and terribly unruly. Her eyes had lightened to a silvery violet color, which was of itself striking and beautiful. Yet, the perception of her beauty, or lack thereof, ingrained into people’s minds at her birth, remained the same. By the time she was seven, any outsider to the town would have been mesmerized by her beauty – thick, wavy, ebony hair and hypnotizing eyes like mountain lakes at sunset – could they have gotten past the ½ inch thick glasses that she now had to wear, which magnified her eyes and part of her cheek so that she looked something like a dragonfly. At 16, she was 5’ 10” with gangly legs and wiry arms and only the possibility of curves behind her oversized overalls and baggy t-shirts. Her coke-bottle glasses were still in tact, and she had one year to go with the metal braces which had imprisoned her teeth since she was 14. She also had acquired a reputation – the “ugly klutz-ling.”
Her parents had thrown her into ballet classes, gymnastics classes and decorum classes with the town’s very own “Miss Manners,” Miss Mildred Manners as it were. Yet nothing had worked. If she sat down, the chair would break and send splinters flying into someone’s eye. While carrying books or anything else with some weight, she would stumble on a crack in the sidewalk losing control of the objects, which would rain down on someone’s head leaving a nasty bump. If she stepped off a curb she inevitably stepped on the tail of a cat, which would screech and shoot out like a banana from its peel, setting off a string of events that ended with injury – always someone else’s. If ever there was a poster child for the schlemiel, she was it and the residents of her town were her schlimazels. Her parents’ had hoped that the glasses might improve her clumsiness; obviously, she wreaked havoc on their community because she couldn’t see two inches in front of her face. The glasses only seemed to make things worse.
She was a curious child and precocious as well, and when she could finally see the world clearly, albeit somewhat magnified, her eyes couldn’t take in fast enough all the sights the world had to offer. She was often so absorbed in the images around her that a level of awareness essential for survival in the world never surfaced, and although her own person never appeared to be in danger, the cats’ tails and other street life were. Yet there were also times when she would sit for hours at the edge of a pond and perceive an entire ecosystem at work, while the boys fishing across the way from her would tease and yell, “Lookin’ for a frog to kiss?” and “Nobody else would kiss that face.” The words flowed off her like water droplets off a duck’s back for she believed that every living creature held some form of beauty. Back at home she would look in the mirror at her face. Although the glasses were hideous, that spoke only to the fact that a particular object was unappealing. It did not necessarily extend to her natural, physical features. Of course, the minute she took the glasses off the figure before her in the mirror became a hazy, almost shapeless lump of vapory colors. Putting the glasses back on she thought, “I’d rather see the beauty than be the beauty.”
On her 18th birthday, as a gift from her father – who loved his daughter in spite of her unfortunate appearance – she had gone into the big city to see the eye doctor and in lieu of her ½ inch thick glasses, which were left behind in the examining room, she reemerged into the big city streets with a pair of brand new contact lenses. With new eyeballs to examine the world and a plethora of unknown sites to inhale, she wandered aimlessly from building to park to street corner reveling in the downpour of loveliness and laughing with delight. Then just before dusk, on a whim, she walked into a boutique cocooned between two department stores and walked out, finally, a butterfly. She was 5’ 10” with long, shapely legs, slender arms and a subtle hourglass shape that were expertly revealed, as though with a painter’s brush, by the new sundress and sandals she had purchased. Her hair spilled off her head and almost to her waist in a thick, flowing cascade of ebony. Her eyes had finally settled into a striking shade of translucent violet that entranced all those who looked into them, indeed, without the unnatural amplification from the glasses it was impossible for the average human to look away.
As she began to step off the curb to cross the street, two young men in a cherry red Cadillac convertible turned the corner and blared their horn at her. She jumped back startled and stepped on an air vent, which blew her skirt up to her waist. Pushing the skirt down modestly, she looked over the top of her sunglasses at the two boys and flashed an amused smile at them. They never had a chance. The sparkle in her eye mesmerized them. The hands of the boy driving slipped off the wheel as he turned around to stare at her. The car drifted into the oncoming lane of traffic and up onto a lot that was under construction. One lone carpenter sat atop the scaffolding eating his lunch. His fellow workers below managed to maneuver themselves out of the way of the careening vehicle but were unable to get the carpenter’s attention. The Cadillac drifted right into one of the supports for the scaffolding and the entire structure came tumbling down. The carpenter, who was quick of mind and swift of foot, had grabbed onto a beam jutting out from the framework of the building. There he dangled looking down at the mess below.
She stared thunderstruck at the accident that had just occurred. It was as if she had stepped on a cat’s tail, even though there were no cats on the street at the present time. She ran over to the construction site to make sure everyone was all right and to apologize for the destruction she had caused.
“I’m so sorry,” she began. “Did I do that?”
The men just gaped at her. One offered her some water; another proffered half his sandwich. The two young men were leaning over the back seat of the car with their faces cupped in their hands, still gawking, oblivious to the pile of debris denting the hood of the Cadillac. The carpenter, still dangling, looked down at her with what could only be described as “googly eyes.” She looked at each of the men in turn, smiling and nodding her head, as she backed away from the group and carefully worked her way back to the sidewalk. She waved to the men and smiled one last time. They merely sighed and all waved back in unison. She had to turn her head quickly so they wouldn’t see her giggling.
As the train passed by the nuclear missile silo on her way home from the big city, she thought about Rory Cooke, one of the boys who used to tease her at the fishing pond, and wondered what he would say if he saw her now. Rory worked the night shift at the silo. He went in at 8:30 p.m. to relieve Mr. James Harris. She knew that if the train arrived at the platform on time, she could walk back the 20 minutes and meet Rory Cooke before he went in to work. It was at that moment that she remembered her old saying and decided that, perhaps, after all, there was something to be said for “being” over “seeing.”
Andromache loved Astyanax
She dreaded going to sleep at night for fear of the dream, a phenomenon not uncommon for a mother with a son away at war. She sat in the living room and stared at the clock on the mantelpiece, the minute hand appearing to move almost as quickly as the second hand. Her eyes bore into the center of the timepiece as if she were willing it to cease its rapid progress into the future. Time trudged on, and before she knew it the chimes rang out ten times. An evening ritual then began.
She would lay down her book, pick up a letter with its envelope, pour herself a glass of water in the kitchen, turn out the lights as she left each room, and climb the stairs counting each one as she went – eleven in all. She’d stand before her bedroom door and take three deep breaths before entering. As she crossed the threshold, she would kick off her shoes, turn on the bedside lamp, grab her pajamas off the floor where they’d fallen in the morning and change her clothes, carefully placing that day’s attire in the laundry hamper. She would then climb into bed and reread the latest letter from her son, Jamie, taking a sip of water at the end of each page. When she got to the end of the letter, she would place it in the nightstand drawer. Then she would look at the picture of her son – he had reddish hair, green eyes and a small scar at the right corner of his lip from a skateboarding accident as a child – and commit his image to her memory for the night. She would make the sign of the cross over the picture, then over herself and turn off the light.
She had first dreamed the dream about one month ago. At the time, her son, PFC James Harris, still had three months left on his tour of duty. Her level of worrying increased as the time when he would return to her grew nearer, and yet the first night the dream had meant nothing to her. In the dream, she could see across a barren land – flat, cracked, lifeless except for the dull, ochre dust, swirling up in eddies when the wind blew. Far off in the distance, cliffs jutted upwards from the ground reaching for the clouds in the pale colorless sky. She revisited this same image for the next four nights.
Disturbed by the repetition and frequency of the dream, the next night she decided to drink some warm milk before performing her bedtime ritual, the hope being that it would help her reach a deeper state of sleep, a dreamless one. The home remedy failed and she returned in her slumber to the same location, and yet it was different. The cliffs loomed closer and at their base were a number of jagged rocks. Atop one cliff stood what appeared to be four human beings carrying a struggling bundle between them, and then the bundle – a mere pebble compared to the cliffs – was tumbling off the edge and down to the toothed landscape below. Her position as viewer was still at such a distance that the four human beings were mere silhouettes. Four more nights she witnessed this modified vision, and then on the eleventh night since the onset of this dream, she decided to add a little whiskey to her nighttime concoction and did not watch the evening news…
The precipice towered above the razor-sharp boulders, which were at least ten feet tall themselves. Four soldiers, ancient Greek warriors, peered down over the edge of the cliff while restraining the struggling form of a small boy. One soldier, the leader, shouted orders at the other three who shook their heads with fear on their faces. The leader pointed to the rocks below and repeated his order. He grabbed the boy by the arm and dragged him to the cliff’s edge. The boy looked down then back up at the soldier. He couldn’t have been more than ten years old, his skin was almost the same brownish hue as the landscape he had grown up in, and his eyes were huge orbs of burnt sienna, which welled with tears that he defiantly kept from leaking down his cheeks. The child shook his head one last time as the soldier raised the boy above him and hurled him over. Somewhere far away, carried on the wind, a wail of grief drifted up to the soldier as he turned to walk away from the cliff’s edge.
Mrs. Harris woke up paralyzed from trepidation. She had always been a practical woman and up until eleven nights ago had never had a nightmare, had never had a dream of any kind. These feelings of dread were new to her, and she didn’t know how to handle them. She considered calling her doctor for the prescription of sleeping pills he had offered when her son had first left for the Middle East and insomnia had set in. She reached for the water on her nightstand and gulped the rest of it down. She lay back down on her pillow and stared up at the ceiling in the dark, willing her eyelids to remain fixed. She didn’t know when but at some point, her eyes closed and she slept the rest of the night dreamless. She called her doctor the next morning and had a limited prescription of Valium by four p.m., which would be added into her nighttime ritual.
Over the next nineteen nights she slept through thunderstorms, fire engine alarms racing down her street, and cats in heat knocking over trashcans without so much as even rolling over. If she dreamed, she didn’t remember it in the morning. She woke up rested, and although she still worried about her son, thanks to the sleeping pills she was able to leave the worry at her bedroom door before retiring.
On the thirtieth day since the onset of the nightmare, Mrs. Harris received a letter from her son. She knew that the mail was notoriously slow from the Middle East and often letters came out of order and arrived weeks after Jamie had written them. Thrilled as always to hear from Jamie, she was surprised to receive this letter as he usually only wrote every two weeks and she’d just received a letter the week before. Her mind wandered back to her dreams and a sense of dread she hadn’t felt since she’d gotten her prescription crept up her spine. She scrutinized the envelope, looking for any markings that might clue her in as to why she was receiving this unexpected communication from her boy. It was definitely Jamie’s handwriting and the customary military markings were in their proper place. She shook off her irrational thoughts and ripped into the envelope. It was a brief letter:
They’re sending me home early. You shouldn’t worry that I’m coming home early because there’s nothing wrong. I’m not hurt or anything like that.
They gave me a special medal for services I did. I guess cause I’m such a great shot and killed lots of enemy combatants. I also stopped a suicide bomb attempt on our base. Well actually it was me and three other guys, but mostly me. I’ll tell you all about it when I get home. Anyway, I get to come home early.
I can’t wait to see you. I’ll be there by August 3rd.
PFC James Harris
Infantry Unit C, Battalion 101
She had to read the letter through three times before she completely comprehended what Jamie had written. She fell into the kitchen chair and began to weep for joy. The first thing she did once she’d composed herself was to look at the calendar. August 3rd was the next day. She jumped into action with a spring in her step and began cleaning the house and cooking all of Jamie’s favorite foods in preparation for his arrival. By the time she finished, it was almost ten o’clock and time for bed. Out of habit, she fell into her evening ritual but when it was time to take her Valium she threw the bottle in the garbage. Instead of putting the letter in her nightstand with the others, she clutched it to her heart as she fell into a natural sleep.
The late afternoon sun reflected off the ochre cliffs casting a shadow on the spiked bed of boulders at their base. The sounds of a struggle atop the cliff drifted down and echoed off the rock-face. The little boy peeked over the edge, his eyes wide with fear but his stance defiant. He struggled to back away and out of the grip of the soldier who held him, but the soldier lifted him high into the air and sent the boy hurtling through space.
It appeared as though the child were falling slowly, as if he were a feather drifting down to a mother’s nest filled with unhatched eggs. As he got closer to the ground though, his motion sped up and his small body smashed onto the jagged rocks. A woman, wearing black from head to toe, her face covered ran toward the boy and snatched him to her chest. She began rocking back and forth on her heels, and from the depths of her soul a sound emerged from her throat. It began as a low rumble from her diaphragm, traveled up to her lungs becoming a moan, transforming to a scream as it passed her vocal chords, until finally escaping her lips as a wailing like the winds on a thunderous ocean. She didn’t notice as small stones and rocks rained down upon her from above. She merely continued rocking her child. Her wailing involuntarily filled the barren land around her.
The soldier had turned from the cliff once his job was done, but the sound of a mother’s grief brought him back to the edge. He stared down at the scene below. His reddish hair peaked out from under the ancient Greek helmet and his green eyes squinted from the glare of the sun. The scar at the right corner of his lip was twisted up from the satisfied grin on his face.
The wailing filled the room even after Mrs. Harris had awakened. It took a moment to realize that the sound was emanating from her own mouth.
Emily was only five years old when she first experienced tragedy. It was during the war and her father was fighting in the Middle East. Emily, her mother and her baby brother were picnicking at Lake Troy, which was only two miles away from their home. It was her father’s favorite fishing spot, and the three had continued their tradition of picnicking there every Saturday with good weather even though her father was far away. This day would be the last day that Emily would see the lake for a very long time. While Emily was chasing butterflies along the grassy beach and her mother was packing up the remains of their lunch, Emily’s brother, only three years old, wandered into the mirrored mere. Emily’s mother looked up just as the boy’s head disappeared under the surface. She screamed and ran to the edge of the water, wading in only a few feet. She could go no further as she had never learned how to swim. At the sound of her mother’s scream, Emily had run to her mother’s side. She followed her mother’s gaze across what was now a cerulean coffin reflecting the heavens above and quietly took her hand.
* * * * * * *
Emily’s little hand was nestled in the giant, tanned grasp of her father who stood silently and stoically in his Army dress uniform. Emily wore a black velvet dress and patent leather shoes. Her hair was tied back in a black velvet bow. Her mother had bought these clothes for Emily to wear at her brother’s funeral. Her mother had bought these clothes for her daughter on the same day that she took an entire bottle of painkillers and quietly joined her son. Emily and her father sat in front of the coffin ready to be sunk into the ground. Emily’s mother would be at rest next to her little boy underneath a majestic elm tree. The minister standing before the gathered mourners – Emily, her father, friends and neighbors – droned on about the tragedy that had befallen this fine, upstanding family, but Emily understood very little of what he said. She understood only that her mother and her brother were gone and that her father was here.
Emily fidgeted in her seat and her eyes wandered to the headstones evenly placed, row after row, for what seemed like eternity to the five-year old girl. In a whisper, she began to count the headstones, “One, two, three, four, five…” When she got to ten, she would start over again. After about five repetitions, Emily stopped. A beautiful, chocolate Labrador retriever sat as still as granite next to one of the headstones. To Emily, it appeared as if the dog were listening to what the minister was saying. Then without warning, the dog turned its head slightly and locked eyes with Emily. The tender, brown orbs washed over Emily and embraced her with a warmth that filled her from within and radiated outward. Emily smiled at the dog and nodded her head, then serenely turned her attention back to the minister and remained still for the rest of the service. When Emily and her father left the funeral, the dog bounded into the truck bed just as the motor started.
Emily’s father pulled up in front of their house – the setting sun casting shadows across the wooden porch and the empty swing swaying slightly in the breeze. Emily and her father gazed at the swing, following its path back and forth, back and forth. The pup leapt down from the back of the truck and vaulted up on to the porch, right into the swing. The father and daughter blinked at the sight of the dog sitting in exactly the spot that Emily’s mother had always sat. After slowly climbing out of the car, Emily and her father made their way tenuously up the walkway to the front door, each patting the dog on her head as they passed. Once the door was opened, she walked down the hallway to Emily’s bedroom and curled up at the foot of the bed. Emily climbed into the bed, still in her funeral attire, and wrapped her arms around the dog. Within minutes Emily was asleep. Her father stood at the doorway of Emily’s room contemplating the image before him. His initial thought was to get the dog away from his daughter. Then the dog raised her eyes and gazed at him. He couldn’t take his eyes away and unbeknownst to him warm, salty tears had begun to trace their way down his face. He reached up and brushed the water away and silently closed Emily’s door.
There was only one moment when Emily’s father was given pause regarding his decision to accept the stray as part of their diminished family. Unable to completely close the wound from his wife’s suicide, as their room had her touch on every piece of furniture, in every cranny and corner, he felt that putting his son’s memory to rest would ease his burden. He decided to turn the little boy’s room into a library and office for himself and eventually for Emily who would be starting school soon. Taking initiative one afternoon, he approached the open door. The Labrador was lying in front of it, seemingly asleep. It was the only room in the house in which she never placed a paw. She would lie in front of the door and sleep or mournfully gaze at the empty crib. Emily’s father started to step over the dog, but she jumped to her feet, eyes burning like embers, sharp, yellowed teeth bared in protest. The man jumped back, startled more than scared. As soon as he backed away from the door, she serenely sat on her haunches and stared up at him. He tried to enter a second time, thinking he had startled her and thereby provoked the reaction. Again she prevented him, almost biting him the second time around. He reached over her and pulled the door shut, after which she returned to her resting position and closed her eyes.
From the moment the dog arrived at the house she made herself at home as if she belonged there, as if she had always been there. Every morning the dog would rouse Emily’s father from sleep and follow him down the stairs to the kitchen. She would wait at the doorway until he had begun to fix breakfast, then she would depart. Her next stop was Emily’s room where she would nuzzle Emily into a giggling fit so that the child had no choice but to get out of bed and dress for the day. She managed to keep Emily and her father on a steady routine, which helped keep both humans from falling into a state of melancholy. Emily had begun referring to the Labrador as “Ma’am,” and before long, she was an institution. Ma’am had the run of the house, yard and neighborhood, although she was never seen about the neighborhood without the young girl nearby. It is difficult to say whether Emily would not let the dog out of her sight or vice versa, but the neighbors had some pet theories. Beginning in September, the two were parted during school hours. Ma’am walked her to the bus stop and remained until the bus was out of sight before retreating back to the porch swing. In the afternoon before the bus had even rounded the corner into sight, Ma’am sat patiently in the same spot ready to escort Emily into the house for her after school snack.
People still disagree over the details leading up to the accident, which occurred that Saturday afternoon in late October. Some people say that Jamie Harris, recently home from war and a decorated hero, was trying to rescue the little girl; others adamantly believed that his mind snapped, caused by the atrocities of what he’d seen and done in the Middle East, and he threw young Emily off the bridge and into the water below. There is no disagreement, though, about Ma’am’s behaviour.
Emily, her father and Ma’am were walking across the bridge that spanned the river that split the town in two. Mrs. Harris and Jamie were returning from the grocery store, their arms laden with plastic bags. Emily’s father stopped to converse with Mrs. Harris and Jamie. Uninterested in their conversation, Emily wandered to the railing and watched the river rushing by below. She picked up a little pebble at her feet and threw it over the side, watching it descend rapidly to the water and making an inaudible plink when it hit. She bent down and picked up a handful of pebbles and began tossing them one by one. Ma’am sat nearby her, head cocked, eyes following the trajectory of the gravel. The movement of Emily’s small arm caught Jamie Harris’s eye. He slowly moved toward the child, and before anyone, Emily’s father or Mrs. Harris, had a chance to do anything, Jamie picked her up and hurled her over the side of the bridge. Her piercing scream ripped apart the gentle hum of the afternoon.
Before the cry had faded, Ma’am bared her teeth and a rumbling growl emanated from the depths of her throat. Her eyes blazing red, she leapt at Jamie, who cowered at the fiend rocketing toward him. She pushed off him, knocking him to the ground, and dove into the water.
Emily’s father was at the river’s edge in a split second. Emily was huddled there, drenched and shivering from the icy water, tears streaming down her cheeks. Her father enveloped her and lifted her gently in his arms. Emily struggled weakly against the movement and pointed out to the middle of the river.
“Ma’am,” she whispered to her father.
Emily’s father looked in the direction his daughter was pointing. Just under the surface of the water, he saw what looked like two burning embers. He watched as the glow slowly faded. As he turned away to take his daughter home, he thought to himself that Ma’am’s eyes had been the same color as his wife’s.