This is Installment Six of the novel Rose and Justice. It includes Chapters II.vi, II.vii, and II.viii. It is 4,146 words long. As installments are posted, links for each will be added under the tab labeled “The Novel” at the top of this page. Enjoy!
D.C. looked around at the other parents attending the Alabama graduation ceremonies. He wondered if they realized how stupid they all looked, grinning with some extreme level of parental pride he had never known. As soon as he had the thought, he felt guilty. He knew that a good father would be smiling like he had won the lottery. And the father of twins should be doubly excited — shouldn’t he? Three of his five children now had college degrees. D.C. 3 had finished college and was selling real estate in Birmingham. Mary Jo had divorced and moved to Florida to escape Sonny’s harassment after she left him. Clinton was a Navy lifer who sent periodic postcards from exotic, and sometimes not so exotic, ports. And the twins turned out to be Harvard material after all; they were both graduating summa cum laude and had received full fellowships to Harvard’s Divinity School. They seemed destined to spend their lives glued to each other. D.C. wasn’t sure where they had gotten their brains; he was no Einstein and yet he was sure he was smarter than Sandy. He often thought that there must be something even beyond environment and genetics that plays a part in determining the outcome of a person’s life.
So, instead of pride consuming his thoughts, D.C. sat through the commencement ceremonies wondering whether or not he really had the guts to leave when this was all over. All five children would be gone and on their own. Sandy would be devastated, but he couldn’t seem to muster the energy to care about that. He knew he would either have to leave or die — and he couldn’t decide which sounded more appealing.
He really wished he had been able to care about his life. The problem was that it had never really seemed like his life. He had traveled through it like a ghost who is able to observe but never really experience. At times he would have welcomed pain just to feel something. Others saw him as a cool, distant, emotionless person; if they only knew how desperately he cried inside for just one emotion, one true understanding of love. Everyone around him felt like strangers; he had been uncomfortable, even with his own wife and kids, for his entire life. He was 46 years old and wished he could be 80. At least then he knew this life wouldn’t have to last much longer.
He had often wondered about the purpose of his life. He felt there must be one. Didn’t every life have a purpose, like Reverend Jones at First Baptist always claimed? Whatever D.C.’s purpose was, he felt it had eluded him since birth, that it was something he had to go in search of, and yet he was tied by circumstance to the place where he had begun. He had fathered five children; perhaps that was the only purpose he needed. Maybe one of the kids, one of the twins most likely, would make such an impact on the world that it would make his life worthwhile. But even that, he thought, would not fulfill him or make his existence meaningful. He had always felt his purpose was connected to something bigger, bigger than Cullman, or his marriage, or his kids – maybe even bigger than this life.
Sandy elbowed him when the twins’ names were announced and they walked across the stage. He straightened up and began clapping politely while Sandy cheered wildly beside him. She embarrassed him. He smirked and rolled his eyes. Then he turned to look at his wife. She had that proud grin of the other parents, the pride he couldn’t feel, the emotion he would never have. He stopped smirking and allowed her this moment. It was probably the most loving thing he had ever done for her.
D.C. 3 had driven in from Birmingham for the occasion and joined D.C., Sandy, and the twins for an after-graduation celebration dinner. Sandy had made reservations at the nicest restaurant Tuscaloosa had to offer, and D.C. about stroked when he saw the menu prices. As usual, he said nothing and went along for the ride. The twins continued to wear their caps and gowns. D.C. thought they looked like overgrown hoot-owls, but again checked himself to allow others a moment they deserved. For people who actually felt, who actually lived, graduating from college was probably a big deal and they should be allowed to make complete fools out of themselves if they wished. D.C. had now made allowances for two real things in one day — he wondered what must be happening to him. Was it middle-aged mellowness that caused him to suddenly accept others’ emotions? Or was he actually starting to have compassion halfway through his life?
After they had placed their orders, D.C. settled back into his chair and looked around at the crowded dining room. He could have taken pleasure in overseeing his successful brood, but instead he felt detached and intrusive; he was a stranger invited at the last minute to participate in an intimate family gathering. He looked briefly at the far corner table that looked so much like his own — mom and dad, proud graduate still in gown (no cap), and appropriately proud siblings — yet he was incapable of seeing the mirror image. His eyes moved to a middle-aged couple at another table, probably a retired doctor or lawyer and spouse, and momentarily watched them eat silently, nothing left to say after forty years of wedlock.
The third table his eyes moved to held his attention a bit longer. Two men sat on conjoining sides of a four-sided table with their backs to the window. A brief glance showed them to be dressed in business attire, talking intently, and a casual observer would see nothing more than two colleagues discussing the latest changes at their company or a businessman and his client ironing out the details on a big-dollar deal. But D.C. had spent his life as an observer and looked closer than most would. He began to notice the nuances a quick glance would overlook. He saw two men looking deeply into each other’s eyes. He saw gentle smiles and provocative laughter. He saw one of the men pick up a packet of sugar to sweeten his coffee and the other man gently take it from his hands, slowly rip it open, and pour it into the cup. The man who had taken the sugar then picked up a spoon and slowly stirred the other man’s coffee. It was a simple act that had passed unnoticed by the rest of those in the restaurant, but D.C. slowly realized he was watching two people in love. He was surprised that his redneck, good-old-boy, Alabama upbringing wasn’t sickened at the sight. On the contrary, he watched the two and recognized love like he had never known it in his own life. Two men who could be so visibly in love in a public restaurant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, must really be in love. Rather than being repulsed, D.C. could not contain the overwhelming sense of jealousy he felt as he watched them. Something in them made D.C. suddenly aware of the lack of purpose he had always felt. They had something he would never know, and if he allowed his Alabama to get the best of him, he’d kick the shit out of both of them for that reason alone.
“Daddy. Daddy, your food’s gettin’ cold.” D.C. 3 stuffed a half a cow in his mouth and chewed.
“O.k., I’m gettin’ to it.” D.C. hadn’t even realized the food had been delivered. He covered that fact like any proud southern man, by acting like he had realized it and was simply acting against the norm for reasons of his own, thank you very much. He looked down on the well-done New York Strip steak and couldn’t remember ordering it. He didn’t really even like beef. But, what did it matter? He sawed off a chunk and shoved it in his mouth. He chewed a few times and let his eyes wonder back to the two lovers. They were laughing about something. One of them leaned back in his chair and turned his head. He looked into D.C.’s eyes and held his gaze rather than turn abruptly away as most strangers would have done. Normally, D.C. would have averted his glance, pretending that he hadn’t really been staring at all. But his eyes seemed held by the man’s gentle look. At that precise moment, D.C. realized he was not breathing.
D.C.’s gasps finally caught Sandy’s attention. She screamed and began shouting for help. D.C. 3 and the twins all jumped up and then realized they had no idea what to do. A waitress ran over and helped by shouting, “Call an ambulance! Oh, god, call an ambulance!” The retired doctor turned out to be a retired lawyer whose sole focus at this moment was trying to determine if the restaurant could be sued. The two men ran to D.C.’s side. The one who had caught his eye pulled him up from his chair and grabbed him from behind.
“Trust me,” the man whispered in D.C.’s ear. “I know exactly what I’m doing.”
The man wrapped D.C. in a hug from behind and began exerting force with his joined hands. D.C. was no medical expert, but he knew immediately that the man’s hands were in the wrong position. He was too high. The thrusts were hitting D.C. in the sternum, stopping against bone instead of pushing any air up from below the ribcage. D.C. began struggling to move the man’s hands downward.
The man just whispered again, “Trust me.”
D.C. heard the words ringing in his ear as he passed away from that life.
Rosalind Kate Jackson made her grand entrance into the world in the eighth hour of her mother’s labor. Her father giggled like a schoolgirl as he held her for the first time and ran the tip of his finger gently under her creamy brown chin. She was lighter than his boys — more like her mother’s coloring — and yet looked somehow more African. She was a regal queen of the Nile wrapped in a blanket, just waiting to be placed in a basket in the bulrushes or perhaps in a manger. She was, from the very first breath she took, her father’s savior. Phillip knew that Rose, as he would always call her, could be nothing other than his most beautiful and precious flower, his place of perfect joy, the justification for all his life had been. After years of wondering why he had been born, he looked once at Rose and wondered why man was born to die.
He reluctantly left Rose with her mother and drove back across the causeway to check on the boys. Their grandmother would be almost homicidal after a morning alone with all three boys. They were decent kids, but they were kids, and mornings in general made them grumpy. Phillip, Jr. would be twelve in a month, Paris was eight, and Peter had just turned four. Although Marabelle now had four children, Phillip knew it felt like more to her. With each child so evenly spaced, the last twelve years of her life had been a continuous cycle of pregnancy, nursing, diapers, the terrible twos, preschool, and then all of it over again. Phillip did everything he knew to be the kind of man a father and husband should be. Every Saturday for twelve years had been mom’s day off. He took the boys marsh fishing, or to a band contest, or employed them in the building of the new deck or the room they had added to the house three years before. With the difference in the boys’ ages, it was sometimes difficult to keep them all happy for five or six hours. About the time Phillip, Jr., was beginning to get interested in action movies, Peter and Paris were still best entertained with animated features. Phillip had trained Phil, as the oldest boy was called, to be a patient and understanding young man. He was to help watch his brothers and be willing to put aside his own desires for the sake of the younger boys.
“Son, do you think I really want to see yet another Disney movie?” Phillip had explained to his frustrated son one day not long before Rose was born. “That’s part of the responsibility of being older. They don’t understand. You do.” Phillip dried an errant tear from his son’s cheek and softened his tone. “Hey, why don’t I pick you up from school next Friday, and we’ll go spend an hour or two at the pinball machines in the arcade. Whaddaya’ say?”
Phillip had always been sensitive to his children’s needs and, true to his word, he was there when the school bell rang that Friday afternoon to pick up his number one son. He knew when to talk gently and he knew when to lay down the law. He had never spanked his boys; it seemed to him to resemble too closely the beatings his ancestors had received from the whips of their “masters.” He valued the history of his family’s education and believed that a learned man could do more with words than any brute could do with a whip or fists. And he believed strongly that the best way to raise responsible young men who would never lift a hand to a woman was to never lift his hand against them. He smiled every time he looked over his boys’ report cards and noted their superior marks in conduct and citizenship. To him, those were just as important as the A’s they brought home in science, math, and English.
Phillip walked through the front door of his home and suddenly felt his fatigue wash over him. He hadn’t even needed to hold it at bay during his sleepless night; he simply hadn’t felt it. Now his spirit released the hold it had maintained over his body. He was home, and his inner core, associating this place with peace and relaxation, finally let his body take over. He was tired, yet it was only 9:00 a.m. and his mother would be wanting to get back to her own home. The boys would be rested and ready to rumble. Somehow, Phillip would make it. He knew he would feel better when he got the boys ready and headed back to the hospital, back to Marabelle and his little bud of a Rose.
Phillip kissed and thanked his mother. He had to do so with her in motion. It wasn’t that she was that anxious to end her sole possession of the boys; she was on her way to see her first granddaughter.
“Take your time, Phillip. Why don’t you take a little nap? Marabelle needs her rest and anything beyond that I can take care of. Don’t feel like you have to rush back to the hospital.” Cynthia Jackson whirled out the door and didn’t wait for an answer.
When she was gone, Phillip was surprised by the emotional response he had — he was jealous. The first Jackson girl in five generations was certain to be claimed by every living member of the family. He felt a strong desire to hold her in his arms and tell everyone else to back off — this was his girl. He tried to stop this thought. He knew it must be his fatigue talking since he was not prone to such possessiveness. Yet, he couldn’t quite expunge the feeling completely.
He made the boys change from their jeans to slacks and button-down shirts and gathered all three in the large master bathroom for a small splash of cologne. They were lined up before the vanity looking confused. They couldn’t understand the fuss over their appearance, yet somehow, today, they liked it. Phillip stood behind them straightening shirts, smoothing hair, and “stinking them up,” as Peter called it. The four Jackson men were face to face in the mirror.
“Now, boys, listen to me. . . Phil, did you use deodorant? . . .o.k., listen up. You’re going to go meet your little sister for the first time. She’s just two hours old now. She’s going to need you boys to look after her. Your mama’s gonna’ need you, and I’m gonna’ need you. Girls are different from boys. They’re . . .well, they’re softer. . . and they cry a little bit more, and . . . well, they’re just different, that’s all. I know you boys look out for each other, but you’re gonna’ have to look out for your sister in a different way. You can’t pick on her like you pick on each other. You have to be sweet to her. Lord knows, you boys could use a little practice being sweeter. Who’s to say but what this won’t even make you a little sweeter to each other? That wouldn’t be so bad. Anyway, a man’s always a better man when he’s got a woman to look out for. And good boys are the ones who look out for their sister. So, I don’t want you treating her like a new stuffed animal you just got for Christmas. You are to treat her like a china doll, do you understand? This is our Rose. This is our baby girl. God gave you a baby sister to teach you how to be real men. And God gave Rose three older brothers so she’d have lots of Jackson men looking out for her. See? God knows what he’s doing. Haven’t I told you that?” Phillip turned his three boys to him and got down on one knee. “Alright, let me look at you. Wow, those Jackson men sure are handsome devils. O.k., now do you boys understand what I’ve been telling you?”
“Yes, sir,” they answered in a chorus, and Phil’s voice cracked for the first time.
Phillip smiled and led his boys out to the car. He held his eldest son back while the other boys climbed in the back seat. “Phil, remind me sometime this week that there’s a little talk you and I need to be having.”
As Phillip drove to the hospital, he smiled. He had always wondered if he could really face that first discussion about birds and bees and the like. Now that he had a daughter, he could hardly wait to get Phillip, Jr., alone for a nice long chat.
Romeo struggled to awaken. He knew he was back in the place of no struggle, yet he fought even against the peace to come quickly back to his fullness. He didn’t yet know why he fought so hard to reach full consciousness, he just knew he must not loiter here.
Everything looked strange and familiar at the same time. He was standing erect in the airy space, as if he had never actually laid down for this sleep. He felt nothing except a slight lump in his throat. He swallowed hard, twice, and felt it clear a little. There were figures dance-walking in the distance that he thought he might recognize if only he could get a little closer. He began to walk, and then run, and for the longest time he was getting nowhere fast. He could feel a sparkling glow come from his eyes, but still felt the choking gall in his throat. He was beginning to feel the light, sense the light, see the light, but it was only a dim candle beckoning from the distance.
Romeo ran as hard as he could, for days or months or years, he couldn’t tell. Every time it felt like years, he ran a little faster. Somehow he knew that now was not the time to tarry. He was still in the phase of awakening where he seemed to know nothing, yet an intuitive whisper seemed to be urging him on.
The figures slowly moved closer and became more clear. One moved towards him more quickly than the others, and he thought that being seemed familiar somehow. He began to call to the figure. He yelled with what sounded like a guttural groan. He cleared his throat and yelled again. He thought that maybe this time it was louder. He continued to call out, feeling more strength each time, until the figure was suddenly standing clearly before him.
“You don’t have to yell! I can hear you.”
“Where am I supposed to go? I know I need to be somewhere, I just don’t know where exactly. Please help me!” Romeo pleaded with the figure.
“Calm down, everything in due time. You still need to awaken fully, although you seem to be making great time with that. You’ve been here many times before. You know the protocol, and it will all be clear to you again very soon.”
“Please help me speed this along. I know you can. And somehow I know that I need to hurry. There is no time to waste, but I’m not sure why.”
“You are right. You must hurry and the reason is love. Your eternal love is waiting for you back on Earth right now. You mustn’t dally. If we can get you fully awakened in a timely manner, we can get you back there and all that is good will be complete in you.”
“Who? Who is it?” Romeo pleaded. “Was my love here? How can I find that person? How will I know her or him?”
“You will know her. She is already incarnate again, and she is female. She is waiting for you and before you left the last time, plans were made, plans to meet again.”
“Please tell me the plan. Tell it to me now so that I don’t have to waste time on details when I fully awaken.”
“Well, it was sketchy, but the plan was that you were to meet in the East.”
Romeo paused and felt a new surge of awakening flow through his being. “The east. The east is the sunrise, the new light. It is the east . . . and. . . . she is the sun.” Romeo grew very excited. “It is the east, and . . . Juliet is the sun! Where is she? Where is Juliet?”
“Calm yourself! If you get too excited, you’ll delay the awakening. Everything in good time, D.C.”
Romeo looked confused. “D.C.? Who is D.C.?
“That is who you were in your last incarnation.”
“I . . .I don’t remember that at all.”
“You wouldn’t. It wasn’t very memorable. In fact, you know very little of the lives you have lived since you last saw Juliet 380 earth-years ago, give or take a few. They just simply didn’t matter because you never reached your goal.”
“Are you saying that I have spent almost 400 earth-years looking for my true love?”
“Certainly. And you would spend 400 more years if that was what it would take to find her. Once you have a true love, you are never complete until you have reached peaceful perfection with that person in the eternal Here. You will keep searching until you find. It’s a comforting thought, really, the idea that you will indeed eventually find. Until then, you just keep looking.”
“How many times have I gone back?” Romeo was still not yet awake and couldn’t remember anything except that small memory he had of Juliet.
“Oh, gosh, I’ve lost count. You’ve been all over the Earth. You looked so hard and for so long that your last life was spent in one place. You wanted to get out and search for her, but you were just too tired. Funny, I never would have thought to go there for rest. That body is so heavy.”
“Listen. Can you help me? Is there any way I can speed up this process and get back down there? I’ve got to get down there. If I remember the way time passes up here, Juliet has grown up quite a bit just in the time we’ve been talking.” Romeo’s voice had an edge of desperation to it, a plea just below the surface of the sound that came through louder than his words, especially to someone who was reading his thoughts and paying very little attention to his verbal clamor.
“Well, there is a way. As you know, there is always a way. But it’s risky. I wouldn’t suggest it as a first course of action.”
“I don’t care. I’ll take the risk. Just get me back there.”
Malcolm smiled smugly and replied, “O.k. Follow me.” Then he led Romeo to the return tunnel to register for a very un-magical return trip with bad odds.
© Deborah E. Moore – 2011