Rose and Justice — Installment Fifteen

This is Installment Fifteen of the novel Rose and Justice. It includes Chapter IV.viii and the Epilogue. It is 5,513 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!

IV.viii

            Hannah shook Justice’s shoulder.  “Wake up.  Justice, wake up.”

Justice sat up quickly and looked at his cousin in the dark.  “What is it?  Is it Uncle Aaron?  Is everything okay?”

“Daddy’s fine.  Everyone’s okay.  I just need you to wake up.”

“How did you get here?”

“I walked.”

“That’s over a mile and it’s . . . ” Justice looked at the clock beside his bed, “Jesus, it’s 4:15 in the morning.  What the hell is it, Hannah?”

“He came to me in a dream.  You have to trust me, Justice.  I need you to do exactly what I say.”

“He?  Who’s he?  You walked over here and woke me up at 4:15 in the morning because you had a dream?”

Hannah smiled, but Justice couldn’t see it in the dark.  She spoke again, this time softly and firmly.  “Justice, I have never asked anything from you, have I?”

“No.”

“Well, now I am, and I need you to do exactly what I say.  You need to get up and get dressed.  Dress warmly, you’re going to the shore.”

“There is no way I’m going to –“

“Justice!  Have I ever asked anything from you?”  She almost sounded angry, and Justice had never heard that from her before.

“No.”  He said it again, but with more acceptance.

“Get up.  Get dressed.  Go to the ocean.”

“And what am I supposed to do there?”

“You’ll know.”

Justice looked at her for a moment and then resisted again.  “I’ll know what?  What was this dream?  What am I supposed to do when I get to the ocean?”

Hannah whispered this time.  “Get up.  Get dressed.   Go to the ocean. Do it now.  It’s time.”

“Time for what?”  Justice spoke in a whisper too, but didn’t know why.

Hannah seemed far away. “If you knew, you would wish you could fly.”

“Hannah.  Are you sure you’re okay?”

Hannah reached her hand out to touch Justice’s face.  She had done that when they were younger to “see” him.  She placed her fingers gently on his temple, then slid her hand down his cheek until only her fingertips touched his lips.  “Go.  It’s time.”

Hannah left his room, left his house, and began the journey back to her own, in the dark, with eyes that could not see.

Justice rose and got dressed.  He considered the option of going back to sleep, but only briefly.  He knew he would go.   He would do anything Hannah asked.  He walked down the stairs and out the front door, thinking that perhaps Hannah had been sleepwalking.  She had seemed to almost dance out of the room.  Was it possible for a person to sleepwalk almost two miles to a precise location and then have a conversation?  He doubted so for a normal person, but Hannah had proven to be extraordinary many times before.  Maybe her blindness made it easier for her.  For her the walk was no different in dark or light.

His walk to the ocean was more difficult, he was certain.  The full moon of the night before was low on the horizon now and hidden by the trees.  Justice carefully stepped his way along the familiar path, trusting his memory more than his sight.  He crossed Ocean Road and walked quietly through the dark residential street that led to the beach.  He reached the water’s edge and stopped.  What now?  He looked to the still dominant light of the stars for something – an answer, a sign maybe.  Hannah had said he would know what to do next, but he didn’t, so he just stood still.  He would wait for the dawn and when nothing had happened, as he was beginning to rationalize that it, of course, wouldn’t, he would go home and make some coffee.   He hadn’t put on his watch and wondered what time it was – 4:15 when he was awakened, 15 minutes or so of debate and then dressing, the walk, it was probably a few minutes before five.  He enjoyed the smell of the salt air in the last few moments of night and the chilly mist from the waves that floated up to his face.  What the darkness took away from his vision it seemed to make up for in his other senses.

Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a shooting star.  He had never seen one and wondered how rare they might be.  He stared at the spot in the sky for a long time, no longer wondering about his purpose for being here, now just standing strong and still.   He was almost in a trance when the sky began to soften with light at the far edge of the water.

He watched the stars melt as the glow overtook them.  The water began to sound different in the light, and it changed from black to dark blue, then to green and teal.  The few clouds on the horizon were painted bright pink on the side closest to the dawning light.   He saw the precise moment that the sun first peeked in on him and thought how many times that had happened in his life and how few times he had seen it.  He had such an awareness of being alive that he wondered why he didn’t rise early to make this walk more often, and vowed he would do so in the future. The air began to get warmer, and the gulls began to circle and cry out for a morning meal.

“Well, Hannah,” he said out loud, “I have done what you asked.”  He watched the gulls for just a minute more, then thought how good a cup of coffee would be.  He turned to go, turned to his right until his back was to the ocean, then, slowly, back to his left, until he looked south down the beach.

Even 100 yards away, he knew it was her.  That same profile, that same nameless feeling that she could give him through doors and across miles, that intuitive knowing of something – what was that something? – that he could get just by thinking of her or hearing someone talk about the flower that bore her name.  He held his breath for a long moment, then let it out in a long, slow, even exhale.  He was 39 years old, and he was ready to open the door.  His father could no longer make him stand outside a classroom, an arm’s length away from his desire.  He had been given another chance, and he was not going to let this one slip away.

Without taking his eyes off her, he began walking.  His steps were measured, slow but deliberate.  She stood at the water’s edge, tall and erect, her head up as if waiting to see something.  He thought he should call out, warn her that she wasn’t alone, but he couldn’t.  He could only walk toward her, feeling his heart beat against his chest.  He walked in rhythm with the ocean, three steps to every one wave reaching the shore.  He thought she would sense him, turn and look at the approaching stranger.  He didn’t want her to be afraid.  But all he could do was walk.

He kept walking until he was beside her, just a couple of feet away.  She stood there, still waiting for something.  He thought she must see him out of the corner of her eye, but he wasn’t sure what to do.  Should he speak?  Could he speak?  Before he could decide, she turned her head to face him.  She was still and unafraid.  Neither moved for a time, until she found the voice he had seemed to lose.

“Is it you?” she whispered.

“Yes.”

The ache she seemed to have been born with slipped away, carried to other shores by the tide.  One simple moment in time, a chance meeting on a shore, and every pain she had ever known evaporated.  She knew him.  Instantly, she knew him.  And she could sense that whatever this was she was feeling, this wholeness, was being felt by him too.

They stood, strong and still, looking directly in each other’s eyes, held there by an unseen force.  There was no effort, no conscious act.  Rather, they were suspended, completely supported and guided by a warm and perfect current they both felt.

At some point, Rose began to get an awareness of the earth around her again, the waves and the rising sun.  As she did so, she realized with surprise that she really did know him.  She hesitantly returned to the present.  “Justice, isn’t it?”

“Yes.  Rose.”

“That’s right.  I remember you liked my painting and, ironically, I just saw a shooting star.”

“I saw it too.”

She paused and looked carefully at him for a moment.  “How is it that you’re here?”

Justice turned away reluctantly to point at the roof sticking up through the trees in the distance.  “That is the roof of my house.”

“You’ve lived here all along?”

“Yes.  Well, I spent some years in Athens after graduation.  But, my family is from here, and I was raised here.”

“I was born and raised just a few miles away.”

Justice wondered how soon he could tell her that he had waited for her all his life, that he had saved himself for her alone, that he knew the first time he met her that he loved her.  Rose wondered why she was suddenly compelled to hum a song she had heard on the radio.

“Do you have anywhere you need to be?”  Justice took a deep breath and then decided to take the biggest risk of his life.  “I can have some coffee brewing in just a few minutes if you’d like to come back to my house and talk.  We can watch the rest of the sunrise from my deck.  Because, you see,” he paused slightly, then dove headfirst into the surf pounding against his heart, “I don’t want you to get away this time, and that’s just the God’s honest truth.”

Rose smiled.  “Coffee would be nice.”

They walked in silence, past the live-oak tree where Hannah had first found Rose long ago, across Ocean Road and up the path through the marsh that Justice’s ancestors had trod, and the Creek before them, and then through the woods.   The path was cleared from centuries of use, but still he would turn to hold a branch out of her way or make sure her footing was solid over exposed tree roots.  When they entered the house, Justice pointed the way for her.

“Follow those stairs to the third floor.  The door to the patio will be on your right.  I’ll be up with coffee in just a moment.”

Rose climbed the two flights and opened the door.  She was stunned by the view before her, the ocean spreading out even farther from this high up.  She walked to the rail.  She was consciously aware of feeling no fear.  What Justice had said to her did not frighten her.  She had expected him to say just that, though she didn’t know why.   If she had stopped to rationalize, thought about the fact that she was in the house of a virtual stranger waiting for him to bring her coffee on a Saturday morning, she might have analyzed herself into finding an excuse to leave.  But there was something far bigger than rational thought at work here, and somehow she knew it.  There was no place else she should be at this moment in time.

The coffee maker dripped at the rate that the Ice Age ended, or so it seemed to Justice.  When it finally finished brewing, he filled two cups, placed them on a tray with cream and sugar, and climbed the stairs, commanding his hands to stop shaking so that the entire load didn’t come crashing down.   He used his back to push open the door to the patio, then twisted around for it to close behind him.  He saw her and just stopped, momentarily forgetting he was Justice Malone of St. Simons Island, GA, but rather feeling somehow divine.  Her back was to him.  She stood at the far rail looking out at the horizon.  Justice briefly wondered if she would always have that effect on him, making him feel holy just by being in her presence.  He came back to his senses and set the tray down on the patio table.  He began talking as he walked toward her.

“The coffee’s here.  I didn’t know if you wanted cream or sugar, or both, or neither.”  She turned and smiled, and the smile seemed to reach into his soul.  He reached her side and spoke again, more softly than before.  “I used to watch you.  Through the window on the door when you were teaching.”

“I know.”

“You knew that?”

“I knew someone was watching.  Now I know it was you.  I thought you might come back and see me at the office.  Why didn’t you?”

“I guess I was young.  And scared.  You don’t know how many times I wished I’d had.  But, it’s probably better this way.”

“Why?”

“Because there were other obstacles then.   When we were younger, other things might have gotten in our way.  Now, there’s nothing to stop us.”  Justice shook his head hard.  “Jesus, I can’t believe I’m saying this.  You’re probably going to think I’m crazy.”

“I don’t.  I have no idea what’s happening, but I like it.  I even think I need it in some way.”

Justice paused.  “Do you believe in love at first sight?”

“I didn’t.”

“I do.”

“Honestly now, do you really believe you fell in love with me in a ten-minute interview over twenty years ago?”

“No.  I believe I fell in love with you the first time I met you.”  He put his hand gently on her shoulder and turned her around.  “Under that big oak tree, right there by the old Coast Guard Station.”

Rose was confused at first, but then the memory came back to her, slowly at first, like trying to remember a dream when first awaking.  “The little blind girl I met on the dune.  You . . . you were the boy.   That’s right.  I remember now.  The boy’s name was Justice.  And I said – “

“And you said, ‘I always hoped there would be justice in the world, and now I’ve found you.’”

Rose turned back to the oak tree.  A tear came down her cheek.  “It was right here.  It was right here all the time.”

Justice turned her around again and held each of her hands in his own.  “Rose, I have no idea what’s happening.  But I feel like I’ve been looking for you all my life.  I hope I don’t scare you away.  It would kill me if I did that.  But, I love you, Rose.  I don’t know how I know that, I just know I do.  I know it deeper than I have ever known anything.”

She put a finger to his lips.  The touch melted his fear.  “I don’t need an explanation.  I’m not sure either of us could give an adequate one.  But, whatever you’re feeling, I’m feeling it too.  I never thought I would want love again in my life, but now I’m not sure I ever really knew what it was.  I want you to woo me.  But, do it quickly.  Because I want you to make love to me.  Now.”  She felt carried on by a higher power.  She was not initiating the words, but some pleasant force, as if the universe had taken her hand to lead her on this part of her journey.

Justice took her in his arms.  He kissed her, softly at first, an introduction, an exploration.  The first touch of his lips on hers brought a pleasure beyond pleasure, a joy past joy.  Then he kissed her a thousand times more, gently, firmly, passionately.  He pulled her body into his, and it fit perfectly.  He felt her arms around his shoulders, pulling him closer still, her hands on the back of his neck, in his hair, touching his face, and the touch was electric.  He felt a burst of energy flowing from her heart to his, and then back again, that made him tingle in warmth.

He laid her down on the deck and forced himself to stop kissing her.  Looking at her and kissing her were equal pleasures fighting for attention.  He knelt above her and traced the line of her jaw with his fingertips.  She smiled up at him, that smile that first made him love her, that seemed to shine on his most infinite depths.  She unzipped the front of her jacket.  Justice leaned her up to take her coat from her, the rising sun having now warmed the air around them.  Whether she meant it as an invitation or was simply getting too warm was not debated in Justice’s mind.  He kept undressing her, his eyes moving from each new part of her he was discovering back to her eyes.  There was no shame, no fear, no inhibition.  They wanted to be naked together on this balcony by the sea in the light of day.

When Rose was completely naked, Justice began unbuttoning his own shirt.

“No.  Let me.”

He smiled at her and became passive under her touch.  As she removed his shirt, he spoke.  “There are no words for how beautiful you are.”

She stroked his chest with her hand.  “Well, if you discover them, let me know, so I can use them to describe you.”   They both grinned.  It was a real smile, the result of pure joy, a simple and immediate reaction to perfect bliss.

He stood to pull off his jeans.  Never had he been so completely exposed to another and never had he felt so wrapped in love and security.   He laid her back again on her jacket and eased himself down on top of her.  The first meeting of their bodies was so overwhelming that they simply lay there, completely still, for minutes, maybe hours, maybe days, they didn’t know.  When he could breathe again, he began to kiss her.  He kissed her lips, her nose, her eyes, her neck and shoulders, and then her chest and stomach and thighs.  And she kissed him, tasting every part of him, his ears and back and chest.

They made love together like a well-choreographed ballet.  They were neither passive nor aggressive, just loving and consumed by the act of love.  It felt like the first time and like they had been loving for centuries simultaneously.  And when they were through, the sun was setting behind them.

 

EPILOGUE

            They had no way of knowing it would be their last walk on the beach together.

Cade had been home for the Thanksgiving holiday with his wife and three girls.  Rose loved the opportunity to cook the holiday meal for a houseful once again, but at 86 the task proved a bit more daunting that it had in the past.  Cade noticed this and insisted that she and Justice take a walk to the shore together while he and Emily cleaned up the kitchen.

Standing at the water’s edge had been Rose and Justice’s daily meditation for 42 years.  This particular time, the last time as it would turn out, they had watched the waves for awhile, her hand in his, until they broke the silence with talk of gratitude, inspired by the season, but a theme they shared much more than once a year.

It was a chilly day and, despite his turtleneck and cardigan, Justice had caught a cold, a hacking cough which held on for a week until it turned into pneumonia.  He was hospitalized the following Friday and on Saturday afternoon the doctors had told Rose there wasn’t anything more they could do.  He simply didn’t have the strength to bounce back, and he would eventually drown in the fluid filling his lungs.

Cade flew back in from Chicago, but alone this time.  The girls had school, and he secretly wanted some solitude when he said goodbye to the man he had loved like a father.  He arrived at Justice’s bedside at 2:30 that Saturday afternoon, and Rose feigned hunger so she could go to the cafeteria and leave her son and her husband alone together.

Cade talked to Justice for a long while, told him he loved him and how grateful he was for the way Justice had loved his mother.  He didn’t know if Justice heard any of this in the semi-comatose state he was in, but was glad he had said it anyway.

Rose and Cade sat in the room throughout the afternoon talking in whispers.  Justice would rouse periodically, but they were never sure if he was aware of their presence.  At 7:00 pm Rose told Cade to go to the house and rest.

“Mother, I’m here to relieve you.  Why don’t you go and get a good night’s sleep?  I’ll sit with him through the night.”

Rose stood as if to go, but instead walked to her son’s chair and laid a hand on his shoulder.  “Honey, I’m only going to say this once.  I will not leave my husband’s side, and I would like at least one more night alone with him.  I am certain I will be happy to see you in the morning, but you must go now.”  Then she leaned over, supporting her weight on her son’s strong shoulder and the cane in her right hand, and kissed Cade’s forehead.   Cade knew that it was futile to argue with her.

After Cade left, Rose settled back into the reclining chair beside Justice’s bed.  He was sleeping, his breath rattling heavily with the fluid in his lungs.   Rose knew he was going.  She didn’t even consider praying for a miracle or hoping he would defy the medical facts.  It was time.  She just couldn’t quite decide if it was bitterly ironic or sweetly serendipitous that he would ultimately drown in the ocean they loved right here in a hospital room.

She didn’t talk to him.  She felt the spoken words somehow too clumsy for what she felt and knew that silent heartfelt messages ultimately traveled much further and were heard in the marrow, not in the ears.  So she watched his chest rise and fall as if by a great effort and thought of their life from the very beginning.

She smiled when she remembered her father’s initial reaction to Justice, one of wariness and distrust, and how quickly the sweet nature of Justice had won her father over until Phillip had become one of his biggest fans.  She remembered the silly, tongue-in-cheek ritual her brothers cooked up the second year they were together to make Justice an honorary black man.  He had laughed good-naturedly through the event and made them even that much more accepting of him.   Her family had been loving and kind to Justice, after the early shock wore off, and Rose was still grateful to them for that, but it had been Justice and, perhaps more importantly, the way Justice loved Rose that had won their hearts and opened their arms to welcome him into the family.

She remembered the night, before they were married, when Justice nervously set out to tell her the story of his family, their legacy of hate and racism, the generations of bitterness and separation.  Somehow he had been frightened that she would love him less for this.  But she had loved him more.  He had resisted his inheritance and made himself into a loving, accepting, and open-minded man, one who would follow his heart into love with her without a single hesitation.   When he finished his story, she wrapped her arms around him and said, “Oh, how far you came to find me,” and he laid his head on her shoulder and cried nonstop for an hour or more.

She remembered Marsh and his much more difficult journey to acceptance.  He was a hard man, a man created for the game of football, a “man’s man.”  He was never much a part of their lives.  He came back only that one time, to sell the property he had inherited.  Rose had tried to make him feel welcome and at home, but his own discomfort wouldn’t allow it.  She knew that he and Justice had spent some time in the marsh together, fishing and walking the old tower path, and felt certain they had talked about important things together, but Justice never mentioned the conversations and she never asked.   She only knew that when he left, he was a little softer somehow and said to her, rather gruffly, yet still sweetly, “I hope you and my brother are very happy together.”   Marsh died of a massive heart attack when he was only 60.  Rose truly hoped he had found peace and joy in his life before he passed away.

She remembered the patient way Justice had worked to win Cade’s affection.  He had never pushed the boy, but rather let Cade determine the speed at which their relationship would develop.  By the time they had been married a year, Cade was as comfortable with and grateful for the new man in their household as if Justice had been his own father.  In fact, a teenage flirtation with defiance and rebellion was probably squelched by the presence of Justice, and Rose had been almost as thankful that her son had a father figure as she was that she had found this immense and wonderful love.

Sometime in her remembrances, she became sleepy.  She was still facing Justice and still exploring her memories, but she didn’t realize her eyes were shut until she heard him call her name.  At first she thought it was in her memory, but then she heard it again, in a weak, rattling whisper.

“Rose.”

She opened her eyes and straightened up in her chair.  “Justice?”

He smiled faintly.  “I was just thinking about our wedding day.”

Rose smiled.  “You looked so handsome.”

“And you were the perfect Rose of beauty.”

“No, I was and still am the Rose of Justice.”

His eyes were watery and weak, but they began to sparkle nonetheless.  “Your father thought we were crazy.”

“Well, I suppose if Cade had told me he was going to marry someone he had only known for three weeks, I would have thought he was crazy too.”

“I had known you much longer than three weeks.”  Justice smiled again.

Rose just looked at him for awhile, not wanting to tire him out with too much talking.  After a time, she spoke.  “I was thinking of Hannah just a little while ago.”

Justice’s eyes softened.  “I miss her.”

“I know you do.  I was thinking about how she always saw deeper into things than anyone else seemed to, how she would always say, ‘God is workin’ in every situation.’  And I was thinking that she might come to you in a dream.  I’m sure she’s watching out for you right now.”

“I’d rather she watch out for you.”  Justice spoke between breaths.  “She loved you . . . so dearly.  I could have been jealous, of both of you, but it was so perfect, her loving you and you loving her.  Besides, she did come to me in a dream once.  I’m just not sure if it was her dream or mine.”

Rose cocked her head to one side and gave the innocent, open-faced look she had never lost.  “Perhaps it was my dream.”

“Well, whoever’s dream it was, I’m just glad we never woke up.”  Justice paused and closed his eyes for a long moment.  Rose thought he might have dozed off again, but then he spoke, in even more of a whisper than before.  “Rose?”

“Yes, darling.”

Justice opened his eyes.  “Can you come sit on the bed beside me for a minute?”

Rose stood and paused at the bed in front of her, then sat on the side, placed one hand on Justice’s ailing chest and the other in his open hand.

Justice looked directly in her eyes, and for an instant he looked like a young man again, just a boy really, the lamplight shining in his eyes like a sunset.  “I love you, Rose.  I could say more, could try to find more words and more ways to say it.  But the beginning and end of everything is that I love you.”

Rose felt tears sliding down her cheeks.   They came easy, but certain, tears that would enter the room quietly, but enter they would.   “And I love you, Justice.  My memories start with you.”  She paused, struggling with the words she knew she must say.  “I have been grateful every day of the last 42 years that you found me on that shore.  But, it’s okay . . . for you to go now.  You don’t need to stay around for me.  I want you to go where you can walk on the beach again.  I want you to go and stand on another shore and wait for me there.”

Justice closed his weary eyes.  Rose felt the slight grip in his hand slacken.  His chest rose and fell more slowly, and she knew that he had fought off the sleep as long as he could.

Rose moved back to her chair and settled back to watch her husband sleep.  Within moments, she felt her own eyelids drooping and she was soon asleep as well.  She dreamed that Marsh and Hannah were riding horses along a beach, but the horses were galloping in an odd way, almost dancing.  Rose’s father stood on the beach and motioned for them to stop.  Then he pointed off in the distance, as if telling them something important, and seemed to be telling them to hurry.  Marsh and Hannah nodded to Phillip and then rode off in the direction in which he had been pointing.

Her dream was interrupted by a sudden sharp pain in her chest.  Rose sat upright in her chair, wide awake now, and certain she was having a heart attack.  It felt as if a knife was being plunged into her chest just to the left of her sternum and the pain made her breathless.  She had heard about pain so intense that even vision was affected and thought this must be the case now because the entire room seemed to be getting brighter, almost glowing.  One spot on the ceiling was brightest of all, almost too bright to look at, yet not hurting her eyes.  Just when she was certain she was indeed dying the glow began to fade and the pain to subside.  She took a deep breath and thought she might need to press Justice’s call button for a nurse to come take a look at her.  She reached for the edge of his bed and then stopped short.  Justice’s chest was not moving.  His body lay perfectly still.  His face was slack.   She stared at him for a long moment, and then gently pushed the call button.

When the nurse arrived, Rose said nothing about her own pain.  It had eased to a dull ache, one somehow familiar and not scary.  She simply said, “I believe my husband has passed away.”  The nurse checked for Justice’s pulse and, feeling none, nodded gravely and left the room.  Rose called Cade, and then sat on the edge of the bed and held her husband’s hand until the nurse returned.

 

Rose passed away in her sleep less than a month later.  After Justice’s memorial service was over and his ashes had been scattered into the ocean, she never visited the beach again.  She sat in a chair on the third floor deck and watched the horizon, as if waiting for her sailor-love to come for her.   She remembered how she had once yearned for a life of solitude.  Now, solitude felt like nothing more than emptiness, peaceful and without struggle, but empty all the same.  That which she had hoped was more than fiction had come to her, filled her completely for the last 42 years, took away the ache with which she had been born.  And now it was gone.  He was gone.

She willed herself to join Justice.  There was nothing to hold her to earth any longer.  She was ready to leave and, three-and-a-half weeks later, her body finally followed the command of her spirit.

She had gone to sleep in the wicker chair on the deck, but she woke up in his arms, blinking her eyes at the brightness that was all around him.  Over his shoulder she saw her father and Hannah.

She tried to speak to him, but seemed unable to make a sound.

He didn’t speak.  He just smiled.  But in her spirit she heard his voice, “Take your time, Juliet.  Take all the time you need.  We’re Here to stay.”

END  

© Deborah E. Moore – 2011

Rose and Justice — Installment Fourteen

This is Installment Fourteen of the novel Rose and Justice. It includes Chapters IV.vi and IV.vii. It is 6,651 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!

IV.vi

Mother spoke the words deliberately as she walked.  “From the gray-speckled boulder, 12 paces along the path, 90 degree right turn and six paces to the patch of clary sage, turn three complete circles, look directly over left shoulder and walk seven paces toward the first mountain laurel bush you see, left turn four paces, right turn three, bend down between the two large elderberry trees and wait.”

Bernard Oxley Millwright IV burst forth from the moss-hidden door almost immediately and kept rising in a flutter of wings as he straightened his small velvet jacket with one hand and ran the fingers of his other through his unruly curly hair.  He rose to eye-level of the tiny spirit-woman in front of him and then flung out both arms.  “Mother!  How delightfully delightful to see you!”

“Hello, Oxley.  You are looking well, and I do believe your wings are even more iridescent than ever.”

“Why, thank you, good Mother.  I’ve been rubbing them daily against the bark of the slippery elm.”

“And who gave you that good advice?”

“Maria, of course.  She knows the ways of trees.”

“Ah, that she does.”  Mother nodded in acknowledgement, then lifted her hand in the air, palm side up.  “Rest yourself, Oxley.”

Bernard Oxley Millwright, IV, hovered briefly above Mother’s hand and then settled down in a gentle landing.  He once again straightened his velvet jacket while his wings folded up neatly behind his back.  “Much gratitude, Mother.  Too much hovering and I might just morph into a hummingbird right before your eyes.”  Apparently Oxley thought this was absolutely hilarious and proceeded to slap his knee and laugh loudly at his own joke.  Within seconds he noticed that Mother had not joined him in his revelry, and he became instantly serious.  He cleared his throat and slid the fingers of one hand into his vest pocket.  “Well, what joyous and auspicious occasion brings you into the Mystic Wood, Mother?”

“Auspicious to be certain.  Joyous remains to be seen.  I need to see Maria.”

Oxley’s shoulders slumped almost imperceptibly.  Everyone wanted to see Maria Claricy.   His role as gatekeeper to the alchemist meant that beings had to come through him, but they never seemed to come to him.  After a few millennia, it was starting to create the smallest mustard seed of an ego in him, a slightly bruised and slightly self-pitying ego.  “Well, I appreciate you stopping off to see me then, Mother, but you know as well as I that a member of the Light Council can bypass me and go directly to Maria Claricy.”

“Of course, I know that, Oxley.  But I need you to go with me.”

Oxley’s wings gave a small, involuntary flutter.  He looked up into the small woman’s gentle eyes with a new shine in his own. “Me?  Whatever for?  Oh, do tell.”

“This mission is too big for Maria Claricy alone.  She will need an intermediary, and preferably one with wings.”

Oxley rode on Mother’s shoulder through the Mystic Wood and along the banks of the Singing River.  Several times he had to consciously will his wings not to flutter.  Maria had never allowed him to assist in any way beyond mixing the occasional potion or grinding the occasional powder, but she could hardly resist a direct request from Mother.  The path seemed longer than ever, but he fought the urge to chatter into Mother’s ear.  He knew that something important enough to bring her into the Mystic Wood would not be the fodder of chit-chat.  He also knew that although she was sure-footed and steady along the way, she was actually in a state of walking meditation.

They arrived at the larger moss-covered door and Oxley fluttered to the ground to show Mother the location of the handle.  She would have found it eventually, but Oxley knew every tendril and blade by heart.  Mother pulled the barrier open and began the descent into the alchemist’s cavern, Oxley fluttering sporadically around her shoulders, her steady step just slightly too slow for smooth flight.

Maria Claricy appeared from the smoky dark of the incense-infused great hall to meet them at the bottom of the stairs.  “Mother, the raven cawed at the window and announced your approach.  You’ve journeyed a long way.  Your mission must be sacred.”  Maria Claricy opened her arms and wrapped Mother in reverent embrace.  “Come.  Sit by the fire.  We will need fire energy, I am certain.”

Maria led the way across the chamber to two cushioned wingback chairs near a stone fireplace.   Several logs were already engulfed in small orange and red flames.  Maria chose a piece of split pine from the pile next to the hearth and gently tossed it into the fire.  Sparks spit into the air and the flames sizzled higher.   Mother was already settled into one chair when Maria turned around.  Oxley sat on the arm of Mother’s chair with one leg resting over the other at the knee and his arms crossed in front of him.

“Thank you, Oxley,” Maria’s voice was soft and sweet, but her words were obviously meant as a dismissal.

“I want Oxley to stay,” Mother intervened.  “He has a part in this mission as well.”

Oxley beamed with pride and knew now beyond doubt that he had indeed grown an ego.  Maria smiled at his joy.  She was still ego-free and did not take the request of his presence as an affront to her own magical ability.   Maria sat in the other chair and waited for Mother to speak.

“They have still not met.  The Council has decided to intervene.”

Maria squinted in thought.  “Far be it from me to question a decision of the Council, but is this the wisest course?  Shouldn’t we give them time?”

“Time on the earth-plane is not as time is Here.  You know that, Maria.  There has already been much interference in this mission.  Rarely does any return trip require the services of the alchemist.  This meeting that must happen has already needed your magic twice.  Now we seek you yet a third time.   A potential member of the Light Council has had to return to the earth-plane, and an entire Council meditation was devoted to this challenge.    There have been too many resources used already in this endeavor, so postponing fulfillment to a future incarnation would seem, well, a waste.”

Maria sat straight up.  “A waste?  But, there is no such thing, Mother.”

“I know.  But, still.  Doesn’t it seem that way?  They’ve waited long enough.”

Mother and Maria talked until long past dusk.  In the Mystic Wood there were no source-less glows as there were around the forum and the baths.  There simply were not enough beings in the woods to create the overflow of light which lingered as a residue where many were gathered.   Only the fire and several large candles added a flickering light to that which the beings themselves exuded.

When a plan was devised, the two women rose and went to the long laboratory table in the center of the room.  Maria Claricy pulled corked bottles of powders, liquids, berries, and leaves from the cabinet behind her.  She stood behind a large wooden mortar and closed her eyes.  Mother held silent vigil on the opposite side of the table.  Oxley paced across the planks of the table, anxious for his first important mission and going through the plan in his mind over and over again.

After several moments Maria opened her eyes.  Oxley noticed right away that her always sparkling green eyes were now blue, as blue as the ocean mixed with the sky.   She glanced over at him, smiled slightly, and then winked.  Oxley blushed.  He was in on something big, and the alchemist herself had just signaled his admission into an incredibly exclusive club.

Maria chanted syllables of sound, ground berries and herbs into powders and pastes, and combined ingredients under the watchful eye of the Snowy Owl.  It seemed like Maria might grind and stir and mix all night until suddenly the Owl hooted with a deep, hollow, reverberating tone.  The alchemist stopped instantly and looked at Mother, then to Oxley.  “We’re ready.”

The three beings went up the stairs and into the night air of the Mystic Wood.  The Singing River was louder in the darkness and babbled a song about sparrows and roses and a beautiful goddess.  Crickets chirped an accompanying rhythm.  Maria and Mother walked to a small grassy patch on the banks of the river, Oxley riding on Maria’s arm.  She would not let him fly, insisting that he save his energy for his task.  On the edge of the tiny meadow sat three wolves, their eyes shining golden from the full moon reflected off the river.

Maria Claricy sat the bowl containing the mixture in the center of the grassy area.  She held out her right hand so that Oxley could jump onto it.  Maria lowered Oxley slowly to the rim of the wooden mortar.  He turned and looked at her, then looked to Mother, and then back to the contents of the bowl.  Suddenly he jumped from Maria’s hand, dove headfirst into the soupy concoction, and disappeared.

Maria and Mother watched the bowl quietly for a long moment.  The Singing River stopped its song and gave a low hum.  The crickets fell silent.  A wolf whimpered.  Maria glanced up at Mother.  She wasn’t sure how long to wait.  All magic was always brand new; she had no way to know how long to trust this spell.

And then the liquid in the bowl began to ripple and shudder.  The river’s hum grew louder, and the wolves stood to attention.  Maria reached one hand up to the selenite stone resting on her forehead and placed the other on her solar plexus.  Suddenly, the liquid showered up in the burst of Oxley’s launching.  Oxley flapped his wings with all of his might, which was considerably greater after bathing in magic.  He quickly rose to the tops of the trees and into the starry heavens.  He seemed headed directly for the moon, for his silhouette was framed by the round light of the orb and the women watched him beat his wings and position his body into a torpedo.  The river sang in full chorus, and the crickets kept a quicker time.  Maria and Mother watched him fly into the night until a wolf suddenly tilted his head back, pointed his snout directly at the diminutive fairy in the moon, and howled, at which point Oxley vanished as if a veil had been pulled between them.

 

IV.vii

            Justice had looked forward to the Martin Luther King Holiday.  After teaching for twelve years in the Athens school district, he had learned to appreciate the occasional day off that seemed to compensate for his small salary.  He had spent Saturday and Sunday of his three-day weekend in his typical fashion – a call to Hannah on Saturday morning, a hike along the Oconee River that afternoon, reading practically every word of the Sunday paper the next morning, some household project later in the day.  He had convinced Jared to put in a phone line at the compound a few years before.  With Justice and Marsh both gone now, Jared conceded the point so that he could call and berate his sons if he felt the need.  He rarely did.  In fact, Justice had almost no contact with his father.  He called his mother once a month and Hannah once a week.

Marsh had followed football everywhere it would take him.  He started as a high school coach right out of college, then moved up to assistant coaching on the college level.   After proving himself time and again, he was finally offered a head coaching position at the University of Utah.  He married a nice Utah girl none of the rest of the family had met and lived his life around his gridiron schedule.  He had one child, a girl, who he loved and parented as well as most fathers, but he would one day regret the time he hadn’t spent with her.

The extra day, King day, Justice had no specific plans.  He thought he might sleep in, wander up to his favorite bookstore, perhaps take in a movie.  His life was blessedly simple.  He spent a great many hours doing what might seem to others as nothing, but they were his most important times.  He spent them in contemplation, often in nature, sometimes on his own back porch, but always deep within himself.  He didn’t require much out of life.  He had never dated, never felt the need to, and knew some of his colleagues whispered among themselves that he must be gay.  He didn’t care.  His best friend at work was a gay man and Beau Franklin was one of the finest men Justice had ever known.  If others wanted to think he was gay, he took it as a compliment and certainly nothing that he needed to deny in some vehement manner while proving his tolerance for those who were out of the other side of his mouth.

Every now and then he would remember Rose.  He wondered if she remembered him, but then thought it unlikely.  They had only met twice, and he was sure she didn’t remember the first time.  He wondered if she was truly too beautiful for this earth or if his memories had simply evolved into what he wanted them to be.

He also thought of Mark and occasionally even called him.  The conversations they used to have in the dorm room that lasted until the small hours of the morning had become two-hour phone calls two or three times a year which seamlessly wove their friendship through the years.  Mark had married shortly after college and moved to South Carolina where his wife’s family was from.  The two men had not seen each other since graduation day fourteen years before, but they continued to turn to each other for advice, comfort, and an intimate exchange they couldn’t seem to find with anyone else.

The day off might be a perfect opportunity to call Mark.  Justice ate a bowl of oatmeal and washed up the few dishes he had used.  He dried his hands and looked at the phone just at it rang.  At first, he thought it might be Mark calling him.  They often did that sort of thing, think of calling on the same day, one beating the other to the punch.

But it wasn’t Mark.  It was his mother.

He moved through the call as if in a dream.  His father had suffered a stroke, apparently a severe one.  He was in the hospital in Brunswick, in intensive care, and they weren’t sure he would make it.

At his mother’s request, Justice called Marsh.

“Does mom sound okay?”

“As well as can be expected, I guess.”

“Well, gee, this really sucks.  I wish I could be there, but I’m leaving this afternoon on a recruiting trip, and we have meetings as soon as I get back to get ready for spring practice.  I mean, I guess I could get there if you really needed me to, but it’s a bad time of year for me.”

Justice was sure it was difficult being a college football coach, but the season had just ended the month before.  If this wasn’t a good time, he knew there would never be one.  Justice also knew that going home this time would be more than a two-day visit.   It would seem, as much as he dreaded the return to an unknown amount of time at the compound, that it would fall to him to care for his mother, look after the compound, and make any decisions that would come to bear because of Jared’s questionable health condition.

Justice packed a small bag and was on 441 south within 20 minutes.  For the first hour of his trip, he drove in a daze, letting his mind’s auto-pilot do the driving.  Just past Milledgeville, he began to cry.  It surprised him that he felt so deeply about his father being ill, possibly dying.    He had grown to abhor his father’s beliefs, despise his treatment of others, and resent his hardness and intimidation.   Justice had often thought that whether his father was here or not would make no difference to him, that Jared was a nonentity in his life.  Yet he sobbed, driving through the fog created by his own tears, gulping in huge breaths, his entire torso heaving from the tumult of his feelings.  He cried for the father he would never have, the one every boy wishes for.  He cried that there might now be no hope that his father could still become that.  And he cried simply because the word “father” made Jared a part of him no matter how poorly Justice might think Jared had fulfilled the role.

He cried from Milledgeville to Savannah.  There was a lifetime of tears that needed somewhere else to go.  Justice mourned everything his father had not been and everything he had.   It seemed he felt every pain he had ever known in those few hours, the ones he had not been able to cry about as a boy because Jared Malone’s sons weren’t allowed to cry, and the ones he had not been able to cry about as a man because so much time had passed that he had forgotten where he had buried them.

By the time he reached the Southeast Georgia Regional Medical Center, he was wrung out, exhausted, and cleansed.   He felt bone tired, yet somehow able to take the load from his mother.  Melinda was in a mild state of shock.  She seemed to remain in the same fog that had overcome Justice that morning.  Hannah was with her.  Aaron had stayed home, unable to face the hospital again after spending so many years there while his wife was in chemotherapy and then sitting by her bedside while she slipped away.

Hannah had been an amazing source of peace and strength through her mother’s prolonged sickness and eventual death, and she was providing the same again for her aunt Melinda.   Every year Justice was more amazed at the depth of understanding Hannah seemed to possess so naturally.   Whenever he would acknowledge it to her, she would just say, “You have everything I have, Justice.  Just slow down and remember.”   And he would try.  But when he did, he thought of Rose, and sometimes berated himself for not being able to focus on his own self-actualization because of a silly fantasy about a girl he knew for ten minutes eighteen years ago.

The first few days back in Glynn County were a blur of inactivity.  Justice, Melinda and Hannah stayed in the waiting room around the clock for two days.  After that, they moved only to go home at night for a few hours of fitful sleep.  By the end of the week, Jared had been taken off the respirator and was out of his drug-induced coma, but was still in ICU.  He was to be moved to a rehab hospital for a few weeks, but the prognosis was not good.  He had lost most of the movement on his right side.  His doctor predicted a recovery of extreme limits, confinement to a wheelchair, speech difficulties, questionable mental capacity.

Justice took an indefinite leave of absence from teaching.  He had no idea how long he would have to be here.  Over the years, Jared’s “followers” had abandoned compound life, trickling away until the Malone land was once again occupied only by Malones.  It had been difficult for Jared and Aaron to care for the 48 acres with no help.   The only ground kept manicured on a routine basis was that right around the occupied houses.  Just a few feet from the living quarters, weeds and bushes once kept neatly trimmed were taking back the land.   The homes of the others who had left were like widowed spouses, rotting away in that quick way abandoned houses have of falling apart, as if they were too sad about not fulfilling their purpose to keep standing much longer.  Even the storage buildings were flaking paint and showing evidence of bug infestation that would never have been allowed in earlier years.  Justice couldn’t decide if the ramshackle appearance of the compound was evidence of Jared’s depression over his sons not returning to the fold or of a decay of Jared himself, the decay that ultimately resulted in his stroke.  Jared was still a relatively young man, and yet had already outlived the three generations of Malone men before him.

Justice moved temporarily into the Camden’s old house.  It had been lived in most recently and was in fairly habitable condition.  Being back on the compound again, living on the compound again, felt a little like putting on an old skin he thought he had molted long ago.   He had used so much energy getting away from this place, and now his return was instant and inevitable, an act he had no choice but to perform and therefore one that happened with surprising grace.  He figured he would have to stay out the rest of the school year and perhaps into the summer.

For the three weeks that Jared was in rehab, Justice worked around the compound like it was the only possible remedy for his mixed and conflicting emotions.  The place felt like a cemetery.  Justice had grown up in a community of people, bound by their hatred, but bound together just the same.  He had not been back to St. Simons since Hannah’s mother died seven years before and was acutely aware of how still the compound had become.  Only his mother, Uncle Aaron, and Hannah were there to share the 48 acres of South Georgia barrier island land his family had owned for five generations.

His efforts started to show immediate results.  He replaced rotting boards on his mother’s and uncle’s houses and put on a fresh coat of paint.  The building which housed the guns and ammunition could go to hell as far as Justice was concerned, but the other buildings, the ones with the big freezers and dry storage, tools and four-wheelers, he repaired with the same attention he had given the houses.

The hours he walked the property, clearing out built up brush that might be a fire hazard and sawing up broken limbs that had fallen on the tower path, proved a balm of healing Justice didn’t even realize he needed.  The first few days he dreaded the work that must be done, but as each day passed he awoke more anxious to be on the land.     By the time Jared came home, Justice had transformed a generations old story of hate, bitterness and possession into his own legacy of gratitude.  He had forgotten just what this land had meant to him – how every tree could hide him, how the sun would strobe through the blowing leaves and swaying moss, how the ground would feel against his back when he sprawled upon it.   On his back, he thought he could almost feel the earth’s heartbeat.  It felt like a mother who would always nurture him and a father who would never betray him.  This land was his.  More than to his father, who had clung to it fiercely as a symbol of rightful superiority, the land belonged to Justice, who felt humbled and awed by the giant live oaks and loblolly pines.   The land took possession of Justice and gripped him more firmly each day.

He had crawled up the ladder to the east tower the third day back home, and every day thereafter, hardly believing he had grown up with this right in his own backyard. He seemed to see each time, for the first time, the way the ocean changed from green to teal to blue to gray in the sunset, painting a thousand hues between each.  The whitecaps broke gently against the shore, like the ticks of a second hand on some universal clock.  These waves had been arriving on this shore for eons of time and Justice felt that finally he had arrived also, to a place that had been calling him for centuries it seemed.  His quiet frustration about Marsh’s refusal to come home slowly evolved into gratitude.  None of this would have become his again if Marsh had come back.

When Jared came home, the others were nervous around him.  The man who had once ruled all their lives through the strength of intimidation, was now a weakened and hobbled man, sitting for hours in that chair looking out the window of the house he had built with his own hands.  At first they thought the man he had become was even scarier than the man he had been.   Before the stroke, Jared was mean and hateful, but predictable.  Now he just sat, quiet and morose, eating when told to, sleeping when tired.  He rarely tried to speak, but when he did it was not understandable.   In a few weeks, they stopped being afraid of him.  A few weeks more and they were no longer even afraid of the man he had once been.  A lifetime of fear was washed away in just a few months of Jared’s incapacitation.

By the time summer arrived, Justice knew he had no choice but to stay – to help his family, and because the land wouldn’t let him go.  Leaving his mother, his feeble father, his still mourning uncle, and his blind cousin to fend for themselves seemed the essence of selfishness.  He had learned enough in the outside world to know that he had to see to his own needs in order to be capable of helping others, yet this decision felt exactly as if it was best for him, and just coincidentally best for everyone else as well.   He officially resigned his teaching position and went to Athens only twice more – to put his house up for sale and to attend the closing.   After so many years away from home, it felt odd that he would miss it when leaving for just a day, but both times, as soon as he returned from Athens, he would almost run down the path to the tower.  For the closing, he had left early in the morning and returned home that evening at midnight.  Still, he went to the tower, feeling the salt air and hearing the ocean’s rush even when he could see nothing but the endless black of night and the tiny flickers of a thousand stars.

The day after his house in Athens was sold and he knew he would never return there again, he met Aaron on the elder man’s front porch.  Aaron poured his nephew a cup of coffee and they settled back into two roughhewn rockers Aaron had made years before.

“Uncle Aaron, I suppose we need to be figuring out where we go from here.”

“What do you mean?  I’m too old to go anywhere.  Wanted to once, though.”

“Yeah?”

“Yep.  Guess I didn’t have the guts.  Now I guess I just don’t have the gumption.”

Justice chuckled.  “I can understand that.”

“Aw, you’re just a young man.  Plenty of gumption left.  So, where are you off to?”

“I’m not off to anywhere.  I guess now that I’ve come home, I’m here to stay.”

“Well, I can’t say I’m not happy to hear that.”

“But, this land, and the money.  Dad always seemed to be able to get his hands on some when we needed it.  Where did that come from?”

“That was the government money.  I reckon it’s probably about gone now.”

“But, where are the documents?  The bankbooks and all that?  They have to be somewhere.  Did you never see them?”

“Jared handled all of that.  He never told me anything and I never asked.”  His voice softened as a confession.  “I suppose I was too scared to ask.”

“None of us have to be scared anymore, Uncle Aaron.  But you and I, I guess, are kind of in charge now.  I mean, it would really be you, Uncle Aaron, but I’d like to help if I can.”

Aaron stopped rocking and leaned forward, staring into the distance at nothing in particular.  “I’m 63 years old, Justice, and I’ve never been in charge of anything in my life.  Don’t suppose I’d know how.  No, it’s you, boy.  You’re the rightful heir to the throne.”

“Then I abdicate.”

“Pardon me?”  Aaron didn’t know the word.

“I don’t want the throne, but we do need to make some decisions.  We could do it together.  I really am gonna’ need your help, Uncle Aaron.  The first thing I need your help with is finding any financial papers.  I’ve looked through dad’s house and found nothing.  Do you have any idea where something like that might be?”

Aaron paused in deep thought for a moment.  Even now he struggled with what seemed like defiance against his brother.  His indoctrination into the ways of Jared had been the strongest and he had to work the hardest to let the fear go.  Finally he spoke. “Yeah.  I think I might.  I would look in the safe if I were you.”

“The safe?  There’s a safe?”

“In the floor of the gun shed.  I don’t think Jared ever knew that I knew where it was, but I figured it out once a few years back.  Caught him pushing the ammunition trunk back into place one day.  C’mon.  Let’s go see what we can find.”

The two men went to the gun shed, a 20 x 20 foot building behind Jared’s house, and pushed with all their might to move the ammunition trunk.

“Jesus!  You say dad moved this all by himself?”

“Your father was a strong man, Justice.”

They finally got the trunk moved aside.  Beneath it was a trap door.  Justice opened the door and there it was, the twist dial of a safe front.

“Shit.”

“What’s the problem, boy?”

“The combination.  Do you have any idea what the combination might be?”

It took Justice and Aaron two weeks to get the safe opened.  They searched Jared’s papers for a clue, asked Melinda, but she hadn’t even known there was a safe, and even just started randomly selecting numbers.  Justice knew more than his uncle did how incredible the odds were against them lucking on to the combination.   He was about to try to hunt down a safecracker, call the manufacturer or a banker or somebody who might have an answer for him, when Hannah walked in on them.  She had been told about the safe since Justice didn’t care to keep the secrets his father had guarded so closely for so long.   He was determined that family business would be the business of everybody in the family from now on.

“Try 10-28-57.”

“What’s 10-28-57?”  Justice asked.

“Don’t tell me you don’t remember.  That’s the date the government condemned the land and bought it, or took it as Uncle Jared used to say.  You’ve heard it often enough in your life, Justice.”

“God, I had completely forgotten.”  He shrugged.  “Worth a try.”

The tumblers fell into place and Justice knew before he even pulled the handle that it had worked.   Justice reached in and started pulling out the contents.  There was more than he had expected.  He sat it all on the table in the center of the room.

“Sit down, you two.  Let’s see what’s here.”  Hannah sat across from Justice, but Aaron didn’t move.  “Uncle Aaron?”

“I don’t know.  It just feels weird.”

“Uncle Aaron, you have every bit as much right as anybody to whatever’s in this safe.  You always have.  It’s about time you got your inheritance, whatever it may be.”

Aaron sat.  “Some inheritance.  Probably just pieces of worthless paper.”

There were two folded documents.  The first was the deed of the property.  Underneath that was a surveyor’s plat from 1957 showing the original property with the government’s section and the leftover 48 acres outlined in thick black ink.  There was a small black strongbox and three bundles of envelopes held together by twine, each about five or six inches thick, more yellow the closer they were to the bottom, apparently kept in chronological order.   Justice opened the strongbox.  It was packed with hundred dollar bills.  He thumbed through it quickly.

“There must be about $20,000 here.”

“Shit, we’re rich.”  Aaron’s eyes were wide.

Justice picked one of the bundles and looked at the return address on the top envelope.  “That may be just the beginning, Uncle Aaron.”

Justice cut the twine with his uncle’s pocketknife and began sorting through the collected mail.  The early ones had been opened, but it seemed that for the past four or five years they had just been added to the stack, still sealed.  The first bundle, the one with the return address that had caught Justice’s eye, contained years of quarterly statements from Merrill Lynch.  The other two bundles were also from brokers.  Justice was amused that his father, the paranoid man who didn’t even trust banks enough to have a checking account, had ultimately entrusted his family’s wealth to the capitalist system.  Justice would never know that his father, the man who seemed intimidated by nothing, had been overwhelmed with the prospect of money management, had indeed been intimidated with the figures he inherited, and trusted but one man in his life — Joe McCafferty, Jim McCafferty’s brother, the uncle of the girl raped the night before Justice was born, and an investment consultant with a brokerage and insurance company in Brunswick.  Justice opened the most recent statement from all three stacks and quickly added the balances in his head.  Now it was his eyes that were wide.  He looked up at his uncle and whistled.

“Are you ready for this?”

“What?”  Aaron looked cautious, like he was about to witness a train wreck.  Hannah just sat there smiling as if she was in on the secret.

“We’re millionaires.  We are rich, Uncle Aaron.  I could almost get pissed off about this if I wasn’t so happy about it now.”

“Why would being rich make you angry?”

“Because we lived like dirt farmers most of our lives, Uncle Aaron.  And besides, this money didn’t just belong to dad.  Half of this should have been yours all along.”

Aaron let the realization sink in.  “I could have taken my family away from here years ago.”

“But it all worked out the way it was supposed to,” Hannah was still smiling.  “God is workin’ in every situation.  Right, Justice?”

After several days of debate, Aaron convinced Justice to handle the family finances.  Aaron’s years of being intimidated by Jared were now replaced with being intimidated by the amount of money Justice told him he had and his first taste of freedom coming far too late in his life.  Justice tried to include Melinda as well, but her stance was even more firm than Aaron’s.

Justice contemplated the options for several days before making any moves.  Finally, he called his uncle, mother and cousin together for a family meeting.  He wanted their complete agreement before he did anything.  He got it without a single balk.  They were just happy he was taking care of it all.  After years of resenting his father’s control, it seemed Justice now had it whether he wanted it or not.

The first thing he did was to tear down the wall.  He thought about hiring a contractor, but decided it was his own perfect therapy.  Aaron wanted to help too, so they both spent several weeks demolishing the 12-foot monstrosity that had kept them from the rest of the world for so long.  A few times he thought he caught a gleam in his uncle’s eye as he ripped down another section.

The second thing he did was to get rid of the guns and ammunition.  He wasn’t sure how to go about this, then decided to be as legal as he could possibly be.  He had known Frank Jenson, the county sheriff, since he was a teenager.  He had a private meeting with Frank about the situation.  Frank set up the sale of the guns to a local gun dealer who was thrilled with the haul, some of the weapons having reached the status of antique and quite valuable.  Justice gave the profits from the sale to a wildlife conservancy group.

The next thing he did was to divide the money and the land into five equal parts.  The compound ceased to exist, at first only on paper and then in reality.  Melinda, Aaron, Hannah, Marsh and Justice would each have their rightful share of the money and the land.

Marsh was happy enough about the money, but insisted he wouldn’t ever be coming home, to just divide his part of the land among the others.  His offer on the land was more generous than Justice had expected from Marsh, but Justice turned it down.

“You might want to retire on it some day.  If nothing else, you might want to sell it some day.  At any rate, it’s yours and it’s going to be yours until you decide to do something with it.”

“You probably deserve it, Justice.  God knows, I haven’t been any help since dad got sick.”  Marsh had kept in contact with the family through Jared’s illness, but had held off on coming until “it was necessary.”

“Marsh, if you had come home, I probably never would have.  It all worked out the way it was supposed to, and this land is yours.  Keep it until you want it or get tired of paying the tax bill.”

Justice worked like a dog, but a happy one, for the next three years solid.  He contracted and helped build a house for his mother, his uncle, Hannah, and then himself.  As each house was built, the old one it replaced was torn down.  Hannah and her father had separate houses, but they were just a few yards from each other across the line between their abutting properties.  Melinda’s house, Justice never would refer to it as his father’s house, was built with the appropriate features for her invalid husband.

Jared moved through all of the changes without acknowledging them.  He eventually stopped trying to communicate at all, just sat silently at his old window, then his new one, every day.   He never got any better, but he didn’t seem to get any worse either.   About three months after the house he had been born in and lived in all his life was torn down, Jared Malone went quietly to sleep one night and simply didn’t wake up, his death ever so much more graceful than his life had ever been.

Justice built his own house on the spot where the tower had stood.  He missed the tower once it was torn down, but wanted nothing of the old life left on the land.  Justice often felt that the land was being freed in a way similar to him and his family.  He didn’t want the earth that had mothered him to have to carry the old symbols of hate any longer.  He compensated for the loss of the tower by building a three-story house with one half of the third story an observation deck.   He found tile the color of the water on summer mornings and color-coordinated his patio in the sky to the ocean he so dearly loved.  When the house was finished, Justice felt as complete as he thought he might ever hope to feel.

All of this had been done by the time it had taken Bernard Oxley Millwright, IV, to fly into another dimension.

© Deborah E. Moore — 2011

Rose and Justice — Installment Thirteen

This is Installment Thirteen of the novel Rose and Justice. It includes Chapters IV.iii, IV.iv, and IV.v. It is 6,887 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!

IV.iii

            Justice turned into a man without knowing a metamorphosis was taking place.  During the four years he spent in college, he managed to save over $11,000.  He would have had more, but he bought a used pickup truck his junior year.  It stayed parked at school, and he continued to ride home with Mark to keep his father from finding out.

Each summer he had worked with Hannah and Marsh.  Hannah was easy.  Mostly they read together or he would share some new idea he had heard in a class.  Marsh was softening over time.  Justice had realized early on that success came when he made Marsh the center of attention.  He focused on what Marsh could accomplish, not what Justice was learning at school.

Talking Jared into letting Marsh and Hannah go to school was not even necessary.  Every summer home Justice had made substantial repairs and additions to the compound’s electrical system and Jared was actually looking forward to what skills Marsh and Hannah might bring home.   The real coup was getting Jared to accept Justice returning for graduate school.  Once he was convinced that Marsh and Hannah would benefit from having Justice around to show them the ropes, he gave his approval.  Justice received a graduate assistantship that would pay for his school, plus award him a small stipend for assisting with freshman courses.  His masters would be in biology, a field his father learned to accept when it became clear that Marsh was not medically inclined.

As it turned out, Marsh was inclined toward the humanities.  He became a history major, with no resistance from Jared, oddly enough.  Justice had begun to think his father was starting to get a bit soft, though Jared would probably have punched his son right in the teeth if he knew that’s what he thought.  By the time Marsh and Hannah had gone to school, they had even been allowed unaccompanied forays into town on a fairly regular basis.   They were, in many ways, much better prepared for college than Justice had been.

Hannah honed in on the music department and made it her second home.  She made friends easily, even with the limited practice she had been given in those kinds of social graces.  Her professors instantly fell in love with her and became like second parents looking out for her best interests.   Justice was not surprised, though still proud, to find out from her professors that she was musically gifted.   By the end of her sophomore year, she was accompanying the concert choir on piano and had given both a cello and flute recital.  It seemed she could truly play any instrument she picked up.

Justice had stuck to her like a bad toupee the first few weeks on campus.  He wanted to make certain she could find her way around, felt comfortable negotiating her dorm, and was happy with her roommate.  Eventually Hannah asked him, nicely, to please go away.  She was fine and she didn’t need his help every moment.  She would call him when she did.   The disabled student services office on campus had been extremely helpful in acclimating her to the college environment.  Students worked as paid readers to help her through her non-Braille textbooks and sometimes sat with her in class to take the notes she directed them to jot down.  Her roommate, like most people who were around Hannah for any period of time, was absolutely enchanted with her.

“I am fully capable of handling this on my own.  Why don’t you check on Marsh?  Poor guy.  I’m sure he could use your help.”

So, Justice accepted his fate and went to find Marsh.  From then on, whenever Justice saw Hannah on campus, she always had an immense smile and was surrounded by friends.

Marsh wasn’t quite so flexible.  A month into the term he was ready to pack it in and head home.  He didn’t have an instant ocean of friends like Hannah and found no great joy in his classes.   Marsh had been the most immersed in compound life and, though Justice had tried to prepare him, this was a huge shift for him to make.  He had spent his entire young life following the rhythm of nature, rising with the sun, doing physical work most of the day, spending little waking time inside a building.  He had been plunged into a world that followed a factory schedule, where he had to actually wear a watch and respond to a roll call.  Marsh was not disrespectful to his professors, but he sat in the back and glared sullenly out the window, wondering what earthly good all this was doing him.

Justice spent a great deal of time and energy convincing him to stay.  After the years of slowly changing Marsh’s perspective over summer and holiday breaks, Justice decided it was time for hardball.  He knew he was taking a big chance, but decided it was time to level with his brother.

“I don’t fit here, Justice.  I just want to go back home.”

“Go home to what, Marsh?  Home to life in a prison?  Home to dad telling you everything to think?   Home to being second banana in Jared Malone’s 40-acre kingdom by the sea?”

Marsh’s rose to his feet in a fighting stance, but he just stared at Justice like he was seeing an apparition.  “You . . . I can’t believe you just said that.”

“Why?  Are you so unused to the truth?”

“You . . . you just don’t say those things about dad.  You’re talking about our father and our home, for god’s sake.”

“Yes, I am.  I am talking about our fucked up cocoon upbringing and our angry, hateful, bitter father.  The man whose idea of fatherhood was to make his sons so afraid of him that they didn’t dare step out of line.  You may want to keep living in that shit, Marsh, but let me tell something – I am never going back there.   I am a free man, free to have my own thoughts and ideas, and free to seek out other people and other opinions.   I can’t ever give that up.”

“Free to sit in a goddamn chair all day and listen to a bunch of hot-air professors?   You may call that freedom, Justice, but give me a fence to build any day of the week over that crap.”

“Freedom is relative, I guess.  All I know is that I would rather spend the rest of my life in a biology lab than to spend one more day under the rule of King Jared.”

“Dad is not that bad, and I don’t think you should talk about him that way.  I’d hate to have to kick your ass.”

Justice rose to his feet as well, if for no other reason than to let Marsh know he was not about to back down.  “Dad is ten times worse.  Have you ever had an opinion of your own, Marsh?  Everything we ever said or did or thought was dictated by our father.   For god’s sake, Marsh, even mom is scared of him.”

“But, that’s our home.”

“It’s not my home.  It hasn’t been my home in a long time, and I’m not ever going back there.”

“When did you decide all this?”  Marsh was stunned, and for the first time Justice knew his four-year façade had been truly successful.

“The first time I ever stepped on this campus.”

“But, . . . that was four years ago.  Why are you just saying this now?”

“Think about it.”

Marsh did think about it, but logic didn’t come as easy to him as it did to Justice.  “You wanted to make certain dad let you keep coming back.”

“Yes.”  Justice paused to make certain Marsh would hear what he had to say next.  “And I wanted to make certain that dad let you and Hannah come at all.”

Marsh blinked hard and tried to understand it all.  A sudden realization began to form in his head.  “You could have stayed away from the start.  If it was just for you, you could have just left and not come back.  But all those summers.  You came back every summer to help on the compound – to help me and Hannah.  You came back . . .for me?”

“I do love you, Marsh.  We may not have been very close brothers growing up, but I have always loved you.  I wanted to get you out of there.”

“You . . . you fought for me.”

“I guess I did.  We just fight in different ways, I suppose.

Marsh backed up slowly and sat on the edge of the bed.  He thought about all this for a minute, and then spoke softly.  “Then I guess I’ll stay.”  Somewhere inside him a dam broke.  Something that had been held back for what seemed like forever came rushing over him, and it felt like gratitude.  He knew that no one had ever done such an unselfish thing for him before, had sacrificed in such a way for him.   He didn’t cry.  Instead, he smiled, a huge old ear-to-ear bona fide grin.

Some conversions are slow, happening over years of time, wearing down our resistance like the Colorado carving out the Grand Canyon.  Marsh’s came like a miracle.  He was the blind man suddenly able to see, the lame one who could now walk.   He saw in an instant how afraid he had been, from his birth, so it seemed.  He saw the shell he had been raised to be, a Malone on the outside, but nothing inside.  He saw how empty he had felt and how desperately he wanted that emptiness filled.   Without fanfare his fear rushed out of him like a waterfall disappearing over a cliff.  In its place, he felt a tidal wave of gratitude and emotion for his brother.  The paradox of his life had shifted.  The hole in his heart had been healed by one unselfish act of pure love.

Marsh would remain an interesting mix of ideas throughout his life.  He would maintain a strange sort of attachment to his father and his home, even though he, oddly enough, would be the one Malone son who would never again live on the compound.  But, he would be forever changed at a core level after that one conversation with Justice.

His sophomore year, Marsh tried out for the football team as a walk-on, at Justice’s suggestion, and won the back-up tight end position.   He was the poster-boy for the “Ignorance is Bliss” theory of life, having no idea why he shouldn’t be able to instantly do what other young men had been practicing since their fathers saw them throw a baby rattle clear across a room.  He made up for his lack of training in the fundamentals by being a monster blocker on some plays and a sure-handed receiver who seemed to evaporate out of tackles on others.  The coaches told him to be aware of tacklers when he carried the ball.  Instead, he seemed completely unaware of them, blowing by them as if they were standing still, still running after a sure-handed defensive lineman was left far behind him unsure of what had just happened.  By his junior year he had secured a first-string spot.

He still showed his raising every now and then.  There was a huge brawl at a practice when the running back accused Marsh of not blocking the right guy.  Marsh shot back with “I know what I’m doing, you fucking nigger.”  Whether Marsh ever changed his feeling about that word isn’t known, but no one ever heard him say it again.  Twelve football players stacked on top of him and a one-game suspension from his coach sufficiently convinced him.   By his senior year, the incident was behind him and he had earned the respect of most of his teammates and coaches, enough to make him co-captain of the Bulldogs that year.

Marsh was probably most responsible for making their family seem almost normal.  Jared had not been back in Athens since he had taken Justice to school that first time, but he came to two football games in Marsh’s sophomore year, all but one in his junior year, and bought season tickets for his son’s senior year.   Jared almost started to seem like every other proud father, wearing his red and white Bulldogs sweatshirt to the home games.  It was during a game in Marsh’s third year that Jared asked the question Justice had been fearing.

“When do you finish up your degree?”  They were sitting together on about the forty yard-line, home side.  The half-time show was just beginning, and Georgia led 7-3 over South Carolina.   Justice’s mother had left as soon as the second quarter ended to go to the bathroom and buy a Coke at the concession stand.  She did that at every game, perhaps secretly enjoying the freedom of walking through the stadium concourse, among so many people, all alone.

Justice hesitated.  “I, actually I . . . finished up last spring.”

Jared didn’t move.  He just sat watching the band.  To any casual observer, it looked like any father and son talking second-half strategy.  Finally he spoke.  “For some reason, I thought that might be the case.  You’re not coming home, are you?”

Justice sucked in a deep breath.  “No, dad, I’m not.”

“Why?”  It was a simple word, but loaded with both accusation and anger.

“There are other things I want to do with my life.  I’m thinking about teaching.  Well, to be more specific, I am teaching.  At a high school here in town.”

Jared thought about this for a few minutes.  Justice was about to wonder if that would be the end of their conversation when his father spoke again.  “So you must have a house here.  And a car.  If I had to guess, I’d say you’d been plannin’ this for a long time.”

Justice looked around at the packed stadium.  With demand for seats so high, the university had redesigned the venue, taking two inches away from already small seats to squeeze in a few thousand more.  A man in a bulldog mask who had screamed like a banshee throughout the first two quarters was jammed against Justice’s left side.  Even with the rush to the concession stands at halftime, he still felt like he could hardly take a deep breath without nudging the masked man beside him.  “Dad, do you really think this is the place to talk about this?”

Jared looked deliberately at his son and spoke in that eerie way he had of lowering his voice to a gravelly half-whisper when he was most serious.  “This is the perfect place, boy.  If there weren’t 60,000 people around us, I might just be kicking the shit out of you right now.”

Justice looked into his father’s eyes and held his gaze.  That alone was an act of defiance, but his words backed up his look.  “With all due respect, sir, I’m bigger than you now.   And I’m big enough to know what I want for my life.  And what I want for my life has nothing to do with going back to that rock you live under.  So, do what you need to do.  Try to take me on in the parking lot after the game, if you think you can.  But, I’m still going to do what I need to do.”

They stared at each other for several more seconds.  Jared’s arsenal contained no response for the kind of declaration his son had just delivered.  He was not about to draw attention to himself.  His paranoia wouldn’t allow it.  If he started a fight with his son and was arrested, the government would have his fingerprints and god knows what all.    So the conversation simply ended and was never started again.

And that was how Justice’s true freedom began.  He no longer had to pretend and seemed to breathe more deeply from that day on.   He stayed in Athens and watched Hannah and Marsh graduate from college.  Marsh surprised everyone by being even more emphatic about not going home than Justice had been.  He had found the only thing that he truly loved – football.  Marsh had found a field of battle for himself and he would fight anyone who suggested he let it go.  He had already talked to the coaches.  He had another year of eligibility and decided to get his masters in physical education and keep playing for the Bulldogs.

Hannah surprised Justice even more than Marsh had when she announced that she was going home.   Her mother had been diagnosed with cancer, and Hannah wanted to be there to care for her.   Justice felt sad.  He thought it was such a waste that a talent like hers would be buried in the compound.  Hannah, however, felt quite differently about it.

“Justice, it’s going to be fine.  You gave me the greatest gift of all when you helped me come to school.  What I got here, no one can ever take away from me.  All I ever really need is my music, and my dad said if I came home,” she paused and smiled, “he would buy that piano for me, no matter what uncle Jared says.”

Hannah’s parents came to get her on a Thursday.  The next Monday, a UPS truck pulled up outside the compound gates.  The driver nervously honked his horn, not sure he wanted anyone to answer the call at this crazy place everyone on the island had different theories about.  Jared and Aaron met him at the gate.   The driver pulled six boxes off the back of the truck.  They were for Hannah.

The two men put the boxes in the back of Jared’s truck and hauled them back to Aaron’s house.  Hannah was sitting on the front porch humming a melody that had come to her on the trip home and that wouldn’t seem to leave her head.  Aaron called her over to the back of the pickup and pulled out his pocketknife to open the boxes.  Since Justice had learned of Hannah’s plan to return home two weeks before, he had scoured every used music and electronics store in Athens.  The result was better than every Christmas Hannah had ever known.   A flute, a violin, a clarinet, a trumpet, a French horn, a saxophone, a small sound system and a four-track recorder.  In the largest box, a cello.  In the box with the recorder was an envelope with “Uncle Aaron, please read to Hannah” printed in Justice’s bold print on the outside.  Aaron tore it open and read, haltingly, but in a clear voice.

“Hannah — No matter where you are, music will be there with you.  Will you make me a tape so I’ll always have music with me too?  Love, Justice.”   Aaron put the note back in the envelope and tried the hide the tears building up in his eyes.  His daughter was happier than he had ever seen her.  As much as Jared talked about family, he had no idea of what it meant.  This was family.  What Justice had done, what Aaron was going to do at Manley’s music store before the sun, by god, went down today, that was family.  Jared’s warped vision of family pride and honor and heritage was nothing more than a stubborn refusal to live the life and feel the love available all around every day.   Aaron had thought more and more, ever since Hannah had gone to school and done so well, about taking his family away from the compound for good.  But he had never held a job.  He had no idea how to support his family on the outside.  Jared had made all of them completely dependent on him.   But, today, in this moment, as he watched his daughter pick up one instrument and then the other and cuddle them like newborns, he determined that his family would create a new legacy regardless of where they lived.   He turned around to say as much to Jared only to discover that Jared was gone, had simply walked away at some point in Hannah’s joy.  Of course he’s gone, thought Aaron.   He might have had to feel if he was still around.

Within three months, Aaron had built an addition to their house – Hannah’s Music Room, as it was officially dubbed.  Over the years, some of the most beautiful music in the world would be composed in that room.  The first tape Justice received had only one song – a cello and piano duet with the same melody Hannah hummed on the front porch the day her instruments came, a melody of freedom and love that she had entitled “The Song of Justice.”

It was a melody that traveled farther than either of them knew, to an entirely different frequency, in fact.

 

IV.iv

The Light Council had finished their meeting when Father had a thought about how things were going on earth.  Since he did not conceal the thought, the others read it instantly.  This extrasensory conversation was held and completed within about three earth-seconds.

Prophet:          They’re still not together.  I wonder if it will take another lifetime.

Teacher:          The Light has tried twice now to bring them into alignment with their souls’ purpose.  One would think that, as powerful as their energy is for one another, they would have followed that guidance on their first meeting.

Mother:           He was only 14 when they first met.

Teacher:          And?  As old as they were when they first loved.

Mother:           You haven’t been to earth in awhile.  Things have changed.  If a 19-year-old woman made love with a 14-year-old boy they would bring her up on charges these days.

Teacher:          Those Sanhedrin make me think mortal thoughts.  They’ve always missed the point.

Father:            The real problem here is the tragedy of their birth.  The problem of the 20th century is race, as DuBois tried to tell them over 100 earth-years ago.  Even the work I did when I was last there doesn’t reach as far as the dark recesses of a racist mind.

Enlightened One:  The hurried way in which they both returned has created quite a karmic event.

Teacher:          Grace trumps karma.

Mahatma:       Karma is strong, but it can be altered through grace.  Whether karma or grace acts in a human life, the result of both is justice.  And both karma and grace are directed by the Light.

Mother:           I understand Malcolm is now the official of some game several hundreds of earth-miles away.  How can he fulfill his mission from so great a distance?”

Father:            Coach.  He’s the coach of a football team.  Have you forgotten football, Mother?

Mother:           I didn’t pay it much attention when I was there.

Enlightened One:   Often one can do a job just as well by not interfering.

Teacher:          Yes.  He did enough of that while he was here.  Perhaps his purpose in this is not so much to create the desired outcome, but to stay out of the way of the natural progression of events.

Mahatma:       I understand that Juliet is married and has a child.   They might have to come back after all.  I have never seen a case quite like this, with so many obstacles.  It would almost seem impossible.

Prophet:          You know the impossible is a human creation, that it exists nowhere except in the mind of mortal man.

Mahatma:       Of that I am aware.  But, these are indeed great hurdles they must leap.

Mother:           This is true.  But they are fortunate to live in a modern time, and in a place where relationships can end for healthy purposes and children can defy parents for the sake of their personal journey and there will be no stoning or imprisonment.  Their obstacles are large, but larger ones have been conquered.

Teacher:          They will stumble if they run fast.  All will come into the will of the Light in due time.

Prophet:         The biggest problem I see is this “east” business.  They don’t even live in the same town any longer.  I have never seen a planned rendezvous handled so ineptly.   One would think humans had organized it.

Mahatma:       No, the biggest problem lies, once again, in the fight their families are waging.

Father:            But their families do not even know each other.

Mahatma:       That does not mean they cannot still be fighting, warring with each other on another plane while they live apart from each other on the human plane.

Mother:           But, as they get older their families will not have as much control.  Perhaps it is better that they wait until full maturity in this earth-life since they had such struggles when they first loved.  The beings on the earth-plane are getting better at following their own paths instead of listening to the direction of others.

Mahatma:       Yes.  As they mature, the war their families fight will have less impact on their own decisions.  It is better this way.   But, delaying their true reunion might cause them to miss the chance in this lifetime altogether.

Father:            Well, we can’t solve any of this from here.  It’s up to them and the choices they make.

Teacher:          Maybe not.

Father:            Don’t hide what you’re thinking.

Teacher:          Well, there is Hal.  And he’s practically Light Council material.  He, or I suppose I should refer to him in his present feminine, she is still closest to the Eternal Here, even there, than any of them.  We could reach her.

Mother:           Do we dare?  Will she even listen in her incarnated form?

Teacher:          The message may not be acceptable to her conscious mind, but we know the conscious experience is only the tip of their little icebergs.

Mahatma:       We do it all the time.

Teacher:          Yes, but they rarely realize it.   It is indeed so powerful, so simply and clearly powerful, that they dismiss it as a product of their “overactive imaginations.”

Enlightened One:  Most human imaginations are under-active, if you ask me.

Mother:           I say we do it.  And since it is Hal, we make it as clear as we dare.   After all, if he is to be in the Light Council when he returns, he must have shown the ability to hear from the light on all planes of existence.

Prophet:          Then, Mother, I think you should take the necessary steps.

IV.v

            Rose learned of Rodney’s affair when Cade was seven.  She wasn’t hurt by the news.  In fact, finding that love letter in his jacket pocket gave her two simultaneous emotions.  The first was the pleasant surprise that Rodney actually had the courage and the passion to do something so bold.  The second was relief.  Their marriage had been neither bad nor good.  It had just been nothing.  They cared for each other, but didn’t even love enough to be hurt by each other.  They had lived together in what was not much more than an acquaintanceship for ten years, and neither had ever felt the compulsion to make it any more than that.

Rose usually didn’t go into Rodney’s jacket pockets, but that particular morning was a series of flukes.  It was a Saturday in early spring and Rodney had left early to attend a lecture at Fisk, which Rose cared nothing about.  Rodney had forgotten to wear the jacket that usually seemed like his second skin.  Then a boy from Cade’s second grade class had called to ask if he wanted to go to the zoo.  Cade pleaded with his mother more than was necessary and Cody Bingham’s mother had picked him up twenty minutes later.   Rose was experiencing the rare joy of being alone at home and was all set to spend a few hours reading when she remembered that they were out of milk and peanut butter.   As much as she hated to infringe on her personal free time, she knew it would be easier to go to the grocery store by herself and have it done.  Then she remembered that Rodney had taken her car so he could wash it on the way home, one of the kind things he was known to do on occasion.  She would have to take his car, but couldn’t find his keys on the dresser, the counter, or any of the other usual key deposit areas in the house.  As a last resort, she thought to look in his jacket pockets.  No keys, but there was the letter.

Some woman named Gloria, apparently a colleague of his, and seemingly madly in love with him.  Rose poured herself another cup of coffee and sat down at the table to read the letter again.  She felt guilty.  This was private and personal, and she thought that perhaps she should just put it away.  She felt more concern over invading his privacy than she did for the impact this news would have on her marriage.   She felt no pain.  She felt not one stab of anger.  She simply contemplated her options, then decided to do the most loving thing she had ever done for Rodney.

That night, after Cade was in bed, Rose went into the den where Rodney was working on a conference paper.   “Rodney?”

“Um?”  He didn’t bother to look up.

“I need to talk to you.”

“I’m really in the middle of something here.  Can it wait?”

“No, it can’t.  Rodney, look at me.  It’s important.”

Rodney reluctantly laid down his pen and pushed his chair back from the desk.  “Okay.  You have my attention.  What is it?”

“I want a divorce.”

“What?”  Rodney was stunned.   Regardless of how little he was invested in the marriage, it seemed some sort of law that he should be upset about this declaration.  Rejection is painful in any form.

“I want a divorce.  I just . . . think it’s time.  I mean, what do we really share, Rodney?”

“Ten years of marriage, for one.  And a son, for another.  I can’t believe you just want to walk away from that.”

“I do.  And I think you do, too.   If we’re both completely honest, I think we would agree that there’s not really much to walk away from.”

“Do you not love me anymore?”

“Rodney, I think we both love each other as much as we ever have.  I just don’t want to be married anymore.”

“Is there someone else?”

Rose had to stifle her laugh.  She almost blurted out, “Yes, and her name is Gloria, isn’t it?”  But she didn’t.  She was determined not to tell him she had seen the letter.  It wasn’t the cause of her request, only the impetus she had needed for a long time, and she didn’t want to make that the issue.  She just wanted to let him go, and let herself go.  “No, there is no one else.  I just want to move on, Rodney.  Honestly, isn’t that what you want too?”

Rodney hesitated, looked to the floor, then answered softly, “I suppose so.  What about Cade?”

Rose felt her hackles rise.  For the first time in the conversation she felt an ungentle emotion.  Her tone was more of a dare than question.  “What about Cade.”

Rodney raised a single hand in acknowledgement of her stance.  “No, you’re right.  He should be with you.”  Rodney gave a short, bitter laugh.  “I wonder if he’ll even notice I’m gone.”

“You don’t have to go.  You can stay here.  Have the house.”

“Where are you going?”

“Home.  To St. Simons.   I’ll finish out the semester here.”

“What about your career?”

“Oh, Rodney.  Didn’t you ever get that my career didn’t mean nearly as much to me as it did to you?  I don’t need a tenured position at some fancy University.  I’m a teacher.  That’s all I ever needed to be.  There’s a community college in Brunswick, and I’m sure I can get on there.  I just want to go home.  I miss the ocean, and I miss my family.  I want Cade to grow up knowing both of them.”

Rodney nodded, then turned back to the desk.  “Okay, then.”

It was one of the longer conversations they had ever had about their marriage.  Rose had not asked him too, but Rodney slept on the couch that night.  They moved delicately around each other for the next couple of months, but that wasn’t much different than it had always been.

Rose had to wait three weeks after her semester ended for Cade to get out of school.  She had explained it to him as gently as possible.  He was more upset than either of them had predicted.   Regardless of his emotional absence during Cade’s early years, Rodney was still his father and Cade felt the only real pain the divorce brought.  Rose knew she might have to give more consideration to visitation, extended visits in the summer, than she had once thought.  She felt for her son, but knew he would adjust.

Mother and child arrived on St. Simons by the middle of June.  Phillip was confused about whether he should be sad about the demise of the marriage or pleased as punch about his daughter and his grandson coming home.  He settled on the latter after Rose explained to him that this wasn’t an occasion for weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Coastal Georgia Community College was pleased to have a distinguished professor from an elite university seek out employment with them.  She was hired immediately, at a considerable reduction from her previous salary, and would begin teaching in the fall.

Rodney had insisted that she take their savings when she left.  She hadn’t asked for it, but it seemed fair since the house they had eventually bought after renting it for two years had a bit of equity that Rodney would keep.  She had also told him that child support was not necessary, she was perfectly prepared to pay for whatever Cade would need.  So, giving her the $35,000 in mutual funds they had acquired throughout their marriage was probably the better deal all around for Rodney.   Rose used the money to put a down payment on a home as close to the ocean as she could afford.  It was just a little two-bedroom cottage a few minutes north from her parents, but Rose was within walking distance to East Beach.  By the time Thanksgiving came, life with Rodney seemed like a blur of a memory from the distant past.

Even Cade rarely mentioned him anymore.   He talked to his father on the phone about once a month, but the conversations were short and awkward for both of them.  Cade seemed to connect with his grandfather in a way he never had with his father.   Phillip’s experience raising three boys, and the extra wisdom we are blessed with in exchange for the ability to get out of bed with no aches or pains, made him a vitally important influence on Cade’s life.  Sometimes Rose had to actually tell him that no, they couldn’t go marsh-fishing on Saturday, she would like at least one Saturday with her son, thank you very much.  Of course, Cade would mope around the house like his favorite puppy had died until Rose promised that she would let him go the next week.

Most weekends, the fishing trip actually worked out nicely for Rose.  Since they left to fish so early in the morning, Cade would spend the night with his grandparents.  That left the Saturday pre-dawn to Rose and her walk to the Atlantic.  It became her ritual, almost her weekly church service.  Even when the weather turned cold and gale-force winds would blow, Rose would bundle up and go to the shore.  Only a hurricane could keep Rose from her ocean and the rising sun in the eastern sky.

After she had been back in Brunswick for about a year, Rose’s father decided that he needed to start playing matchmaker.  He held the common belief that she must be unfulfilled in some way without a romantic interest in her life.  Rose didn’t agree.  She still sometimes thought about the love she read of in her books, but was beginning to believe that it must only be a sort of passionate fiction, the love songs on the radio merely echoing a common and unfulfilled wish of humanity.  Rose certainly didn’t want a man just for the sake of having a man.  She had that with Rodney, and knew as well as anybody that solitude was the better option.

But her father was persistent.  She began dating a man her father introduced her to, more to appease him than out of any personal desire.   His name was Calvin Jones, and he was the son of one of Phillip’s old band mates from the Jekyll Island resort days.   Calvin was as boisterous as Rodney had been comatose.  Being around him was emotionally exhausting.  Rose forced herself to go out with him for three months.  When he dumped her rather unceremoniously, Phillip was livid, but Rose was grateful.

She held her father off for another year, then gave into one more of his set-up attempts.  Geoffrey Richardson was a friend of Peter’s, though no one could figure out why.  Geoffrey’s family had money and all of the Richardson’s truly believed in their own superiority.   They lived across the causeway on Sea Island where home prices were measured in the millions rather than the hundreds of thousands.  For the six months they dated, Rose was at least treated to some very fine meals and evenings in Atlanta for symphony concerts and operas.  Those alone kept her around the arrogance and braggadocio of Geoff for half a year.  Rose dumped this one, though it took her awhile.  Geoffrey had decided that she would be the perfect trophy wife, beautiful and intelligent.  It took Rose almost a month to convince him that he needed to keep looking.

By her third year in Brunswick, Phillip seemed to have lost his interest in finding a match for his daughter.  Her consistent insistence that she was perfectly contented and needed no other men in her life than her son, her brothers, and her father finally wore down Phillip’s motivation.   Her only sadness was in missing Paris, but they still talked at least twice a week and their friendship seemed capable of withstanding the distance between them.

Her future seemed more like a map than a mystery, the journey clearly marked, the destination apparent.  She would live out her days in her home near the sea, watch her son grow, retire from Coastal Georgia Community College with an adequate income, and eventually bury her parents.  She saw the path before her and was willing to accept both the joy and the sorrow that it held.  The thought of one day living out her golden years without her mother and father, perhaps with Cade off seeking his own future somewhere other than here, brought her sadness and peace together.   She would miss her father and mother with a deep ache softened at the edges by having known their love for so long.   If her son was not around, she would at least know that he was following his own path, the very path she was preparing him to face on his own.  But the potential of years spent alone did not frighten her.  She found joy in the prospect of a simple life.

With or without the ones she loved around her, she would always have her ocean.   Regardless of the situation of her life, her refuge was the sea, standing at the water’s edge to watch the stars disappear like candles burning out each morning as the new dawn tiptoed into day.  Watching and waiting, always waiting, for whatever was coming for her that she had felt approaching since she was a child, perhaps only imminent death.

She wasn’t frightened of death.  It seemed merely a long lost friend that would eventually find her again one day.  She didn’t reach toward it, didn’t wish it to hurry, but didn’t fear it either.

She felt different from anyone she had ever known, as if no one else had her experience of this life.  It didn’t seem as if those around her had the same thoughts as she; her colleagues moving through their days with wrinkled brows and deep concern over paperwork and protocol that she found to be so incredibly unimportant.  She wondered if anyone else had thoughts about death at just 37 years of age that weren’t driven by depression, about life’s purpose and how it seemed so clearly to be something more akin to her walks on the shore rather than the daily chore of work for the sake of money, about love and the need for it to be pure and passionate and undeniable, like the movies and the songs and the books.   Having found no one who felt quite like she did, she was satisfied to live within her own mind, and to do so throughout this lifetime if it should come to that.   She felt no need.  She felt whole.  She felt the ache and, having known it so long, it seemed as big a part of what made her whole as anything else.

© Deborah E. Moore — 2011