UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION - 08/2012
I went into the debris field and found a piece of her, ignoring the screams of panic and the shouts of police commanding everyone to clear the area. My ears still rang. I thought of Dr. Boyd, Leila’s minister, who always said about tragedy and darkness, why shouldn’t it happen to you? Why shouldn’t it?
I found her. Her head, more or less intact, still attached to her neck, and to a section of breast bone and shoulder plus one arm. At the end of the arm her fingers were splayed.
I could not read the expression on her face. It seemed safe to rule out pain or horror, but there had to be a bit of surprise and alarm in there. Didn’t there? Unless hers was the look of suddenly ceasing to be, of one moment thinking and experiencing, and the next moment being dead biological material stripped of motivation and process.
I was aware of being numb. My ears rang from the explosion, still, and I saw other things in the debris field that I knew I’d think about later. Like some folks must have done on 9/11, or after, among the clean-up crews. But for now I was functioning. You always wonder how you might react in a moment like this. I’d always thought I’d be the sort to succumb to shellshock had I fought in the trenches in World War 1. I’m a textbook case of Leaping Frenchman of Maine when it comes to being snuck up on from behind, or a loud motorcycle suddenly shooting by.
But not in this situation. I functioned. All around me a range of human reactions paraded. The screaming of the panicked, the more ordered screamed commands of arriving authority, the weeping of the horrified, an Asian man in glasses crouching to take pictures of burning debris atop half-destroyed parked cars, a few people writhing in pain. I watched one such for a moment until he stopped moving. More official emergency cars arrived. A helicopter swooped low overhead.
I retreated from the debris field carrying the remains of my wife. Her wounds had been cauterized by the heat of the explosion and she did not drip. We had just had the car detailed and she was fastidious of late, in a self-satirizing way, about not getting the car dirty, at least for a little while. I found the car where we’d parked it – why wouldn’t it be there? But it occurred to me, worried me, even, that it might not be; guess that could be shock setting in. I placed her gently on the driver’s side seat. There was not enough of her to strap in so she could at least appear to be looking out the window as we drove. So I just lay her there and drove home, dealing patiently with the panicked traffic and the hollering policeman directing us here not there and then over that way. I reached out often to stroke her hair. It was stiffer than usual. I have to admit there was an odor, and my stomach rumbled and at one point I nearly rear-ended a big SUV as I struggled against either a sob or a retch, I couldn’t tell which.
But I got her home. And took her inside. I figured the phone would be ringing but it wasn’t. Maybe all the signals were jammed. Likely that, I figured. It seemed to have been the case in other such incidents in the past.
It felt like those incidents. Malice, not a gas main explosion, I figured. I don’t have an opinion. I suppose I might have participated in bombings were I fighting Nazis in Europe. Really, I’m neutral. Always try to see the other side.
I did not bring her upstairs to bed with me. That would be too weird. I found a cardboard box in the attic, and some plastic sheeting and packing tape. The cauterization was not as thorough as I had first thought. There was some oozing. What should I use? Newspaper? Cheese cloth? I had no idea. One doesn’t prepare for such things.
Her bag, with her identification in it, must be still at the exploded restaurant. Way I figured it, it would be found and someone would let me know. Either that she was dead or that I should go somewhere to try to identify remains. I figured I could credibly claim, if asked, that I had left the scene in a daze. I’m sure the look on my face would corroborate that assertion. And no one would question that I love her and still do and was, am, and ever will be in a state of grief.
Not knowing if it would come out right, if I had wrapped her sufficiently to prevent insects and mold and such from doing their work, I packed her head and partial shoulder and her one arm into the box and put her in the closet in the hall. Top shelf.
I knew I’d rounded a bend and she would be something I could never show anyone or tell anyone about. But so be it. She’d be my secret from here on out.
Maybe come winter I’d clear a place in the cellar and dry her. It would be good to visit with her evenings.Ron Dionne's suspense novel, SAD JINGO, is forthcoming as an ebook original from Delabarre Publishing. He has placed short pieces recently in online genre venues such as Title Goes Here: Web Edition, Yellow Mama, and Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers.
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