Copyright 2017 by Anna Scott Graham
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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This is a work of fiction. Names and characters, incidents and places are either products of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
For my husband. And for my Father.
When Dora stirred, Walt’s side of the bed was cool. Dora smiled, for sometimes Walt left for work early. She glanced at the clock, then furrowed her brow; it was six a.m. Getting out of bed, Dora slipped on her robe, for the house was chilly. She quietly walked past the children’s door, hearing only snores. One light shone from the kitchen, making Dora shiver, but a note on the kitchen table soothed her; Walt had written that he hadn’t been able to sleep. For a moment Dora wondered if he’d suffered from a nightmare, but his dreams were so violent, she always woke alongside him. Without the shed to flee to, Walt had merely headed to work, although she wasn’t sure what he would do other than make a strong pot of coffee as the garage didn’t open until eight for customers. Dora took a deep breath, allowing she would hear more when Walt came home, although maybe not until the couple went to bed. In the meantime, she was cold, and still tired. She put Walt’s note in the pocket of her robe and returned to bed, where she quickly fell back asleep.
By the time Dora woke for the second time that morning, Walt had ingested several cups of coffee. He’d never gone back to sleep that night, sitting outside with John, discussing that man’s plans. In the darkness, Walt felt drawn back to his days in Korea, when he and Seth Gordon had waited for the sun to emerge, but this time Walt had to face the coming day alone. He would tell Callie, for while Walt didn’t wish to saddle his friend with all the details, Callie’s assistance was necessary. Walt found it ironic that in his most anxious moments he had to trust a Negro as well as Jew. Then Walt smiled. If a Catholic appeared requiring Walt’s help, it would be like Jesus himself was requesting Walt’s aid.
Walt considered his reservations about Catholics, then chided himself. Perhaps John Doe was a papist, but now it was a moot point, and not simply because by the end of the week that man would be on his way westward. Walt had few close friends; maybe Callie was it, except now there was John, although that wasn’t his real name. John wasn’t any closer to knowing his identity, but he was eager to leave Karnack. Walt wasn’t sure if what had happened last night would come back to haunt him; he more worried about John’s conscience. He didn’t know who he was, but the events of hours ago would live with him forever.
The only niggle in Walt’s mind was what to tell Dora, for she would figure it out. He didn’t fret over Tilda; she was smart enough to understand this had happened for the best, but too young to obsess over what it all meant. And now fueled by caffeine, Walt realized that Luke couldn’t be kept in the dark. That boy’s reaction overtook how Dora would cope with the news. Agony was last thing Walt wanted for any of his family, but perhaps he was being naïve. Life was full of trouble, no way to escape it.
But he could reduce the level of harm; Luke would miss John, but that man’s departure was inevitable. Walt poured another cup of coffee; like he had said several times, John couldn’t live in that shed forever. Walt would have preferred him to leave on his own accord, but circumstances had arisen and…. Sipping his coffee, Walt felt jittery. Then he shook his head, gazing out of a dirty window. The barest hint of morning was visible on the horizon. One of the longest nights in Walt’s life was nearly over. But what did this day hold in store?
As co-workers arrived, no mention was made to Walt’s presence or that the coffeepot was warm but nearly empty. Only one topic of conversation ruled, although particulars were sketchy. Walt listened with an attitude of detachment, yet he soaked in every detail. His heart beat hard and he longed to talk to his wife, John, and Callie. Then Walt excused himself, walking outside. The sun was just peeking over the eastern side of Karnack, peachy-pink clouds lightening in color as Walt stared at them. He felt no guilt, just like in Korea. Yet, he wasn’t standing on foreign soil and Seth Gordon wasn’t anywhere near. As the sun slowly rose, Walt knew a strange peace, memories from over a decade ago slipping from his head. What had happened last night wouldn’t stay with him long, not how his wartime deeds had haunted him. For if the rumors were true, Pop Bellevue had gotten what was coming to him. And perhaps John Doe could leave Karnack with no hint of scandal in his wake.
The morning dragged, but at eleven, Walt told his boss he was going home for lunch. Walt’s first stop was Callie’s, but the news had filtered to all sections of town, and Callie seemed aware of more than Walt knew; Essie Bellevue was in the hospital in nearby Marshall, while Hiram had been discharged, probably in the care of neighbors. Walt filed away this information, then coolly informed Callie of last night’s activities. Callie nodded, but didn’t immediately speak. Then he rubbed his bald head, staring right at Walt. “What happens now?”
“He still hasta go, but this’ll cover him, at least for a while. Maybe for good,” Walt added, then he sighed. “My lord, I never thought anything like this would happen.”
“Which part?” Callie asked.
Walt wore the hint of a smile. “All of it.” Then Walt frowned. “Gonna be hard on Luke, but it’s time.”
“Yes sir, it’s time all right. You want me to tell John or are you….”
Walt stood, glancing at Callie’s front door. “I’m gonna head there now. I nearly called home, but didn’t wanna raise suspicion.”
“Well, probably wouldn’t been too strange. Nothing like this’s happened in a long time.”
Walt nodded, then he swallowed hard. Nothing like this had happened to any white citizens of Karnack for ages. Then Walt considered how for the most part, whites and Negroes got along fine in this hamlet. No one wanted trouble, well, nobody but Pop, but now he was…. “I was gonna ask if you could stop by this afternoon, but now, well….”
“No need to if you’re going there straightaway. Best to act like nothing’s happened. In the meantime, I’ll ask Jonah if he’s going to Dallas on Friday, or you think Friday’s too soon?”
“Nope, Friday should be fine.” Walt smiled as if Callie had read his mind. Then Walt stared at his friend. “Susie say anything to you this morning?”
Callie chuckled. “Not at all. Actually, I’m looking forward to when she gets home. Might be some parties in the next few weeks once this all blows over.”
Walt grinned. Pop had made enemies all over Karnack, but nobody would be celebrating immediately. Still, Friday would be enough time elapsed that John could catch a ride to Dallas with Jonah Thompson. Walt cleared his throat; other than the Boldens, nobody in Karnack had ever seen John, not even Dora’s mother. “I might ask if John wants to shave his beard. Can’t hide his arm, but….”
Callie nodded. “Was just thinking ’bout that. I’ll talk to Jonah on Wednesday. No need to get in a rush.”
“I agree. Thanks.”
“Wish I could say it’s my pleasure, but….” Callie stood, then approached Walt. “The main thing is it’s over. Well, for us. John still has a ways to go, but Pop can’t hurt nobody no more.”
Walt nodded; he’d been thinking of Hiram on and off, and of course, Essie. But first came Walt’s family. He extended his right hand and Callie shook it firmly. They gazed at one another and Walt smiled. This colored man was Walt’s kin too. “I’ll stop by in the morning if that’s all right.”
“I’ll be up. Give Miss Dora my best.”
Walt smiled, for it was how Callie always ended their conversations. This chat had been one of the strangest, yet a veil of pretense now cloaked their words. “I’ll be sure to tell her, and you give Susie our love.”
“Will do. Be speaking to you in the morning.” Callie led Walt to the door, but Walt hesitated. Callie nodded, his smile wide. “Don’t worry Walt. It’s all gonna be fine.”
“You think so?”
“Can’t think nothing but. Go give that man some peace of mind. Plus I’m sure Miss Dora could use some too.”
Walt nodded, then took his leave, considering Callie’s lightheartedness a good omen.
As Walt spoke to his wife and their border, Marek Jagucki ate pie in the Snyder kitchen. He wasn’t alone, for Renee and Ann were also seated at the table, as well as Jane. Lynne fed Cary in the living room, but soon that duo joined the rest, the conversation centered on Marek’s expected guest. Jane and Ann didn’t understand, and their mothers didn’t attempt to explain. Renee led the girls into the living room, then stood in the kitchen doorway, keeping an eye on them. “What time again does she arrive?” Renee asked.
“About ten this evening.” Marek wiped his mouth with a napkin, then pushed his plate away. “Hopefully her flights have been on time.”
Well, I suppose you’ll know when you reach the airport.” Renee smiled, then gazed at where the girls played. Then she cleared her throat. “What are you gonna tell her about….”
“Lynne suggested the truth, that he went to help a friend, and has been waylaid.”
Renee crossed her arms over her chest. That excuse had worked for Frannie, even the McCampbells hadn’t balked. But with Laurie and Stanford gone, reality had hit Renee hard. Maybe her brother’s recovery was part of it; Ritchie was actually walking on his own, although he used crutches, and according to Brenda, might need a cane for the rest of his life. That he was still sober Renee chalked up to the rehabilitation center where he would probably stay for another few weeks. By the time Marek’s houseguest had returned to Europe, Renee’s brother might be back under his own roof, but how long he’d eschew alcohol was another story. Then Renee stared at Marek, who now held Cary. She was a placid baby, much like Jane, but then from her earliest days she had been surrounded by many. Perhaps she was used to always being held, although time would tell if her good mood would last. Jane had endured a bout of colic, then Renee shivered. Had that been tied to the absence of her godparents, and how would Cary react when Eric came home? Renee closed her eyes, having thought the same about Ritchie’s family. All of them were eager for his return, but even if he managed to avoid liquor, he wouldn’t be in any shape to support them. He’d be the one needing help and….
A strong tug on her leg stirred Renee from her thoughts. She looked down, finding her goddaughter gazing toward her. “Up?” Jane said in forceful tone, raising her hands.
“Oh sure, sorry honey.” Renee hoisted Jane, then looked at where Ann still played in the living room. Then Renee faced Lynne and Marek, both with smiles. “My goodness, where was I?”
“Oslo perhaps?” Marek chuckled. “Or maybe New York. If nothing else, you’re back with us again.”
Renee nodded, feeling sheepish. Then she stepped in between Marek and Lynne. “I was just thinking about….” She coughed, then kissed Jane’s cheek. “Your daddy and my brother.” Renee pointed to Cary, still in Marek’s grasp. “You have a little sister Jane, and I’m a little sister too.” Then Renee looked toward the doorway to the living room. “Ann’s a little sister as well.” Renee’s voice trailed off, for now she was merely making conversation. What would Marek say to Klaudia to excuse Eric’s absence, or was there any way to even disguise the truth? At least all the Nolan kids were old enough to understand what had happened to Ritchie, not that it was pleasant. Then Renee stroked Jane’s hair. “You’re far too young to comprehend any of this, thank you Father.” Renee glanced at the ceiling, but didn’t cross herself. Then she met Lynne’s gaze; that woman seem to agree.
“I told Marek to tell her whatever he felt she would best accept. Fortunately jet lag will be on our side for at least a day.”
“Maybe a couple,” Marek grinned. “And I told Lynne it would be a couple of days before I could gauge what she might best believe. Several truths need to be explained, and perhaps Eric’s absence isn’t the most strange.”
Renee nodded absently, then she stared at Marek. Sudden tears sprang to the corners of her eyes; how would this pastor explain his survival to a woman who for years had thought him dead? Renee’s legs wobbled, so she set Jane to the floor, then walked back to her chair at the table. She sat with a plop, blinking away tears that stung. Then her hand was grasped by Lynne. Renee squeezed back, then laughed as Jane again tugged on Renee’s side. “Auntie?” Jane called in a quizzical voice.
Only in the last few weeks had Jane said auntie. Perhaps just since Cary arrived, Renee thought, as she put Jane on her lap. Then Renee spotted Ann entering the kitchen, but she went to Lynne’s side. Lynne didn’t pick up Ann, but she stroked the girl’s hair, then hugged Renee’s daughter tightly. Ann smiled, gazed at the baby, then at her mother. Tears again welled in Renee’s eyes, but no heartache accompanied. The past was immutable, but that didn’t mean it was damned, for so much good remained.
Marek stood, giving Cary back to her mother. Then he collected Ann, who laughed in his arms. He was Uncle Marek to her and Paul, but they never referred to Jeremy Markham other than as Father. Did they understand Marek’s position was just as revered? And when Eric returned, would he one day be called uncle? Stanford had been graced with that title, although maybe it was solely related to how he was linked with Uncle Laurie, who was greatly missed by both Ahern children. Renee usually called Marek Pastor, but Sam used Marek’s first name. How would they introduce Klaudia, not that Renee and Sam expected to spend much time with her, but would she simply be Mrs. Henrichsen or….
This time laughter broke Renee’s reverie, and she found herself chuckling with the rest. “My goodness, you must all think I’m on Mars.” She hugged Jane, then sighed. “Sorry I keep losing focus.”
“Plenty to keep our minds occupied.” Lynne cradled her daughter, then smiled at Renee. “Marek was just asking when it might be good for all of us to get together. I told him it was more up to him and Klaudia. I certainly don’t have anything planned.”
“Oh, um, we don’t either. Just let Sam know.” Renee gazed at Marek. “He’s scheduled for a few days at the hospital, but he can always get someone to cover for him.” After Cary was born, Sam had mentioned taking a break from his volunteer position. Renee understood the real reason for that proposed sabbatical, but who knew when Eric would return? “Sam’s schedule is pretty flexible right now, in fact….” Then Renee paused. She wasn’t sure if Sam wanted to share that news. “Just give us a day’s notice. Maybe something for this weekend?”
“That sounds lovely.” Marek smiled. “Shall we go ahead and plan for Saturday? I’ll do the cooking, you can all visit St. Matthew’s.”
“Okay, but I bet Sam would be happy to bring something.”
“I’ll make a pie,” Lynne giggled. “But that will be it from us.”
“A pie would be wonderful. And yes, I’ll ask Sam about a side dish. But in the meantime, I’m off to catch a nap.” Marek set Ann to the floor. “It’s going to be a late night for this cleric.”
Lynne chuckled again, but Renee only smiled. Something about Klaudia’s arrival seemed ominous; maybe it was just that it had been months since this woman had made her presence known. And of course, it was through Eric that this reunion was occurring, which again caused Renee to blink away tears. He should be here, but Renee didn’t linger on that point. Instead she stood, still toting Jane, who immediately leaned toward her uncle. Marek didn’t take her from Renee’s arms; he kissed her forehead, then spoke in Polish. Jane laughed, then mumbled in what to Renee sounded similar to Marek’s native speech, stirring Renee’s smile. “Pretty soon there’ll be one more to speak Polish with.”
“Indeed, and believe me, I’ll have to be on my toes. Jane doesn’t know if I’m using poor grammar, but Klaudia won’t hesitate to mention my errors.”
Renee gazed at Marek. “I suppose you won’t be as harsh toward her English.”
Marek smiled, shaking his head. “Perhaps she’ll entertain us with some Norwegian.”
“Maybe by the time she leaves, Jane will have picked up that too.” Lynne didn’t stand, but she set Cary over her shoulder. “Say goodbye to Uncle Marek now girls.”
Ann and Jane said their goodbyes as Renee walked the pastor to the front door. “Let us know tomorrow that she’s arrived safely.”
“I will do that. And if you hear from….” Marek patted Renee’s shoulder, then glanced at Lynne. “Please don’t hesitate to call.”
Lynne nodded. “Good luck.”
Marek laughed. “Thank you. I might need some of that over the coming days.” He ruffled Jane’s hair, put on his coat and hat, then opened the door. Renee and Jane saw him off, Ann at their sides, while Cary began to fuss. As Renee closed the door, Lynne set her baby to her chest, but neither woman spoke. Two little girls did the talking, about pie and dolls and simpler pleasures.
After supper, Dora stepped outside with Esther and Gail. Luke then knew the rumors were true; Hiram’s father had beaten not only Hiram, but his stepmother too. All day at school children had whispered about why Hiram wasn’t in class, and those who lived near the Bellevues spoke about the sheriff and an ambulance from Marshall. Some of the older kids hinted that Hiram’s father was on the run, but Luke hadn’t wanted to think about such dramatic embellishments. As Walt cleared his throat, then told Luke and Tilda to step into the living room, Luke wondered just what his father knew.
The news was worse than Luke had imagined; Miss Essie was badly hurt and still in the hospital in nearby Marshall, the county seat. Hiram was staying with the Petersons, the closest neighbors of the Bellevue family. He too had gone to the hospital, but his injuries weren’t serious. According to Walt, Essie had finally taken a stand against her husband’s cruelty toward Hiram. Pop had been drinking, Walt said in a stoic tone, and he turned his anger upon his wife. No one knew where Pop was, but his truck had been abandoned near the highway. Walt’s tone remained flat; the sheriff believed Pop had hitched a ride from there, most likely was somewhere in Louisiana. While Miss Essie would recover, it would take a long while, and if Pop was found, he would be arrested for attempted murder. Walt didn’t mention Hiram, but Luke’s stomach churned; how many times had Hiram sported the remnants of his father’s temper? Luke felt badly for Miss Essie, but at least she had done the right thing.
“Do you think they’ll catch him?” Luke asked.
“I don’t know son.” Walt took a deep breath, then crossed his arms over his chest. He had pulled a chair close to the sofa, where Luke and Tilda sat. “All I know for certain is what I just told you. Not sure when Hiram will come back to school. He ain’t got no kin around here other than Miss Essie, and she won’t be out of the hospital for a good week or more.”
Luke nodded; Hiram’s older siblings had moved far away, and never came home. Hiram had rarely spoken about them, as if his family was only himself, his father, and stepmother. “Well, does Miss Essie have family to come look after her and Hiram?” Luke spoke softly, hard to think of Hiram now practically being all alone.
“She does, but they’re in Oklahoma. If nothing else, I doubt Hiram will be in school for a while.”
Luke nodded, then glanced at Tilda. She seemed unusually calm, first meeting his gaze, then looking at their father. Then she stared at the floor, gripping the sides of the couch cushion.
“Daddy….” Luke paused, again peering at his sister. For the first time in his life, Luke felt Tilda knew something he didn’t. But other than gossip some of the girls at school might have said, Luke wasn’t sure what else there was to know. Their father had been honest, his tone unruffled. Everyone in town knew how mean Hiram’s daddy was, and now maybe they would never see Pop Bellevue again.
“You have a question Luke?” Walt again spoke somberly.
“Well, no, I guess not.” Luke would ask Tilda later, maybe on their way to school tomorrow. He grasped her hand and she clutched back. She did know something, but it must not be important, or she would speak up now.
Instead the children held hands while their father stood from his chair, then put it back to the table. Walt didn’t have to tell them to keep this to themselves, that was why their mother had taken the girls outside. But now Luke heard Esther’s voice, then Gail’s. The front door was opened and Luke got off the couch, seeing his mother flanked by his littlest sisters. He ran to meet them, hugging his mama tightly. Tilda was on his heels and all but Walt made up the group. No one spoke, but that was for the little girls’ benefit. Esther laughed while Gail giggled, yet those sounds didn’t lift the weight on Luke’s heart. Maybe Hiram was glad his father wouldn’t beat him again, but forever he would live with the shame of being the son of a violent man. Luke looked at his dad, then smiled. Walt nodded, then stepped toward his family, ruffling Luke’s hair. Luke again pressed close to his mother; he missed the tears falling down Dora’s face, also how Tilda met her mother’s damp eyes, nodding her head.
Walt didn’t leave the house until he knew Luke was asleep. Walt still needed to speak to Dora about when John was leaving, but first he had to check on that man. John had been unhappy to hear about Essie and Hiram, but those pieces of information hadn’t lessened his burden. Walt understood that, why he walked to the shed, even if Dora was waiting for him in their bed.
Walt knocked softly, then was told to come in. “Just wanted to say goodnight,” Walt said. Then he paused, finding John sitting on the edge of his bed, his left hand clenching the pallet just as tightly as Tilda had gripped the sofa cushion.
Never before had Walt noticed his oldest daughter’s intelligence, but he wasn’t sure if he needed to say anything to her about what had happened. Luke might have more questions, and he would certainly complain when told about Mr. Doe’s impending departure. That would occur on Friday; John would catch a ride to Dallas with Jonah Thompson, who, Callie assured Walt, hadn’t asked any overt questions. Weekly Jonah hauled firewood into Dallas and in four days he would deposit an amnesiac into that city. Walt and Dora would give John some money, but he would be on his own from there, to where none of them yet knew. Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, Callie believed, not due to anything Susie had shared, but just a feeling of his own, Callie had smiled when Walt stopped at the Boldens on his way home from work. Once Walt knew that Jonah was willing to take John as far as Dallas, he had breathed a little easier since being stirred by his daughter very early that morning.
Walt was exhausted, but then John looked weary too; neither had slept once Tilda woke, although John had been awake longer than Walt. Walt yawned, making John do the same. Both men smiled, then Walt pulled the metal chair out from the table, sitting down. “How’re you feeling?” he asked.
“Like I could sleep for a week, but every time I close my eyes….” John shook his head. “Then it’s like I’ll never fall asleep again.”
Walt nodded. “Felt like that so many nights in Korea.” He had felt that way here in Karnack too, although now all Walt wanted was to lie next to Dora, allowing sleep to work its magic. Then he chuckled, for the idea of never having another nightmare flitted in his head. Could that be possible, or even fair? Walt gazed at John, seeing a storm within that man’s gray eyes. It was the same kind of turbulence that had wracked Walt since his first days in battle right up to late last fall when Dora told him she was expecting again. Would John get another decent night’s sleep in his life? Walt wasn’t sure, but he didn’t utter those notions aloud. He quickly prayed for the man across from him, then took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “You’ll get past it. Not easily, but you will.”
“How?” John asked.
Walt pondered that query, then spoke. “No different than me in Korea. You did what you had to do. If you hadn’t, you’d be dead now.”
John nodded, then sighed. “You really think so?”
“I know so. Supposedly the sheriff was called around ten, maybe ten thirty. Tilda woke me at two. That’s three hours and….”
John stood, then grasped his bad arm. “She knows, doesn’t she?”
“I imagine so.”
Walt shook his head. “But don’t worry, she won’t tell him.”
“How can you be sure?”
Walt stood, then set his hand on John’s right shoulder. “She loves him, doesn’t want him thinking anything bad. And,” Walt added with a sly smile, “I think she likes knowing something he doesn’t.”
John sighed again, then stalked about the shed. Then he stood near the door, but didn’t open it. “I remembered something today, although now I wish I hadn’t.”
John faced Walt. “My father was a murderer. He died in prison. I went to see him, but it’s funny, I don’t recall sitting with him, but I know I was there. He beat my mother, and me too.” John gazed at his left foot, then back at Walt. “He did something to my ankle, although it’s healed now. But for years I had trouble with it, in fact….” John’s voice wavered. “That’s why I wasn’t drafted. I was crippled.”
Walt smiled. “Well, it’s starting to come back to you. Who knows what you’ll remember by Friday?”
“Didn’t you hear what I said? My father killed a man and now so have….”
Walt quickly stepped in front of John, grabbing both of his shoulders. “You did what you had to do, but no one’s gonna be worse off for it.” Walt swallowed hard; that only applied to those in Karnack. “Listen to me now. You can’t never change it, but you can learn to live with it, just like your arm.” Walt released John’s left shoulder, but continued gripping the right one. “You’ve done a good job of working round it. That’s all it is, working round it. And if you’re remembering correctly, maybe it’ll get better too. If you think something was wrong with your left foot, well, ain’t nothing wrong with it now.”
Walt removed his hand from John’s shoulder, then pointed at that man’s shoes. “Gonna need both those feet in a few days. Dora and I got a little cash to give you, but you’ll be walking or hitching rides till you get home.”
John shook his head. “I can’t take your money.”
“You gotta eat. And maybe give someone a little something for gas depending on how far they take you. For now, let’s not worry about that. I’m going to bed, you do the same.”
Walt headed to the door, but John’s cough made him turn back. “What?” Walt said.
“I’m sorry. I never meant for any of this.”
“Don’t be sorry. Can’t change it, just gotta move forward.”
Walt wanted to smile, for Callie’s voice filled his head. “After I came home, someone told me I just needed to trust. I had no idea what he was talking about. I couldn’t trust myself and that left….” Then Walt grinned. “Callie told me that, guess there’s no use lying to you now. He’d been home a few months and at first I thought he meant Dora, but he really meant….” Walt cleared his throat. “I had to trust God. I thought he was crazy, but damnit if he wasn’t right. You’re the same. Who else you got?”
“But how in the hell….” John sat on his bed, hanging his head. Then he looked right at Walt. “My father was a killer and now….”
“You’re a survivor. Nearly dead two months ago, and now you’re ’bout on your way home.”
“But what if I don’t remember? And even if I do, how am I supposed to tell my wife?”
Walt grimaced, for he had rarely spoken to Dora about Korea. “Concentrate on one thing for now, and that’s getting outta Karnack. You’ll have plenty of time to think about other things later. I’ll stop by before I go in the morning. Just try and get some rest.”
John didn’t answer, but Walt didn’t mind. He had peppered Callie with similar questions, and Callie had simply repeated his advice. It might have taken Walt years to follow it, but John was certainly smarter than Walt about most things. Perhaps John’s conscience would be eased far sooner than the decade plus it was taking Walt’s.
By the time John finally fell asleep, Marek was loitering in the airport alongside a few others waiting for the last flight of the evening. Marek was glad for the stillness, for all afternoon his heart had felt heavy. He wasn’t sure if it was connected to his guest or to someone else. Perhaps it was only ancient memories rising to the surface. Yet Marek was eager to see Klaudia, running their recent conversations through his mind. Her voice had sounded older, but that was to be expected. She knew what he looked like, or an artist’s representation of his current appearance. But Eric’s painting had been a faithful interpretation of a pastor. Jane was altered, but only from the passage of time.
At least Klaudia wouldn’t mistake anyone else in the terminal for her host; Marek was the only one with a collar and beard. Marek focused on the large glass windows, a dark night in view. Blinking lights sparkled along the tarmac, then in the distance Marek saw twinkling lights in the sky. His heart began to pound, then it eased as he took deep breaths. He closed his eyes, said a brief prayer. When he looked out again, the lights were closer, and with every inhalation, they shined more brightly. He approached the large windows, others right behind him. All watched as the lights grew near, then the plane landed. Within minutes it was parked just yards from where they stood.
An airport employee joined them, noting that because it was late, they wouldn’t be permitted to exit the terminal to meet up with passengers. Marek nodded, stepping away from the glass. The others did the same, but no one went far, leaving ten feet between where they were grouped and the double glass doors. Marek spied travelers departing the plane, then slowly trekking across the pavement. Marek couldn’t tell which one was Klaudia, for they moved as a pack, not separating until the first came through the now opened double door.
It was a man, followed by a little girl. Two older women entered, trailed by a young couple. Finally a blonde woman, her hair in a ponytail, slipped through the doorway, her eyes darting around the terminal’s expanse. Marek smiled, waved his hand, walking in her direction.
She looked much as he recalled, although she was clearly older than in his memories. Her smile was wan, but then she had been travelling all day. He approached her, his own grin broad. “Hello,” he said softly in English. “I hope you had pleasant flights.”
Her lip trembled as she nodded. “Yes, they were fine.”
Her tone was stilted, which made him chuckle. “That’s wonderful. Oh Klaudia, it’s so good to see you.”
She nodded again, gripping a handbag slung over her shoulder. “Marek?” She paused, then cleared her throat. Then she spoke in Polish. “Is it really you?”
He responded in that language. “It truly is. Let’s get your case, then be on our way. I know it was a very long day and I’m sure you’re….”
Her tears precluded him from saying more. Then she was in his arms, crying hard. They stood alone in the terminal as she wept, occasionally choking, then crying again. A few tears fell down Marek’s face, but he ignored them, whispering to Klaudia that all was well. She calmed from his words, then pulled away, looking embarrassed. He offered her his handkerchief, which she used, then shoved into her purse. She straightened her shoulders, taking a deep breath, meeting his gaze with a vigorous nod of her head. Marek said nothing, but pointed in the direction of where her luggage waited. She nodded again, this time with less force, letting him lead the way.
By the time they reached baggage claim, hers was the only piece remaining. Marek carried it as she clutched his free arm, their few words in Polish those of a comforting nature. When he reached his car, she asked if she could retrieve something from her suitcase. He placed it in the trunk, then she opened it, pulling out a pack of cigarettes. “You don’t mind, do you?” she asked, still speaking Polish.
“Of course not.” He smiled, then chuckled, recalling how nearly all of the adults in their village had been smokers. He probably would have too, but tobacco had been scarce after the war, and he’d been too poor to afford what was available. She lit a cigarette, then closed the case. He shut the trunk as she got in the front seat, but she didn’t close her door, letting the smoke escape.
“Shall I wait until you’re done?” he asked, getting into his seat.
“Oh, um….” She glanced at him. “I just wasn’t sure if you’d mind.”
“I don’t mind.” He smiled, realizing how none with whom he closely associated smoked, not even Laurie and Stanford. “We can sit here a few moments. I don’t mind that either.”
She nodded, then sighed, staring at him. “I just can’t believe I’m actually sitting near you.”
“It does seem bizarre.” He chuckled again, trying to inspect her features, but the glow from an overhead streetlight was poor. Yet her tone was nearly as when they were teens, although hers was somewhat gravelly, probably from smoking. “So your flights were all right?”
“Yes. Just a long day.”
“Indeed.” He nodded, then gripped the steering wheel. “Well, feel free to sleep in as long as you like. I’ve cancelled my usual activities this week. Only my secretary will be around, but Mrs. Kenny knows you’re coming so….”
“Get me up when you wake. I want to get on Pacific Time as soon as I can.”
The way she said Pacific caught his attention, for her inflection lost some of its Polishness. He smiled, then grasped her left hand. “I’ll see if I can rouse you. But perhaps one day of solid rest might be better.”
She had been taking a long drag, but coughed, then shook her head. “No,” she sputtered, then coughed again. She breathed deeply, but another cough emerged, and Marek released her hand as she stood from the car. She threw what remained of the cigarette on the ground, smashing it out. Then she got back into her seat, closing the door. “I don’t want to waste time sleeping,” she said, her voice still shaky. “I know I’ll be fighting jet lag a few days, but I don’t want it to impede upon my visit.”
“Whatever you like. I usually wake around six thirty, although not often am I out this late. I’ll make a pot of coffee, then knock on your door, is that all right?”
She nodded, wearing what looked to Marek like the hint of a smile. In that brief flash, he recognized the girl from his youth, but instantly that figure was replaced by a woman who might speak in a familiar manner, yet was a stranger to him. He breathed deeply, smelling tobacco mixed with an odd foreignness. Then he was glad it was late and that he wouldn’t see her for several hours. Marek started the car, wondering who was this person who spoke his native tongue, even looked like someone from his past, yet seemed as unknown as those with whom he had stood in the terminal. Still inwardly cringing from her earlier outburst, Klaudia felt exactly the same, hoping this trip wasn’t the biggest mistake of her life.
Upon waking, Seth’s first thought was to the time. It had to be mid-afternoon, and he smiled, then stretched, being careful not to completely extend his left arm. Adrienne slept beside him, and he didn’t want to stir her. He lay flat on his back, the last vestiges of sleep dissipating. Yet the languid sense of lovemaking remained, which nearly made him chuckle. He refrained, only because he wanted a few minutes to himself. Once Adrienne woke, he wouldn’t have time for contemplation until he was back under Tovah and Ben’s roof, and this moment would be lost to history.
Adrienne’s breaths were deep, making Seth inhale similarly, and again he wished to laugh. How odd that after their conversation in the loft, it was as if they had known each other for ages. Their few chats over coffee had been mild precursors to what had emerged since, now culminated with him in her bed, but she had gone far deeper inside his heart. Seth had written to Laurie about this young woman, but now he owed his cousin the truth, which had only been discovered that afternoon; for the first time in his life Seth was in love. He wished to share the news, but with only Laurie for now. Reflection was required, as well as delicacy. Seth had told Adrienne about his time in Korea, his stints in institutions, even about Norah. But Adrienne was unaware of Seth’s biggest secret, yet he needed to tell her about Eric. Keeping that from her seemed inherently wrong.
Seth wasn’t sure if Laurie would agree with him, although Stanford had made the peace, and while Seth hadn’t heard from Laurie since he and Stan returned to New York, Seth assumed all was well, or at least that couple was working through whatever difficulties had arisen upon once again living together. Seth didn’t presume their life in Manhattan would be as before, then he sighed softly. It was one thing to accept the unbelievable when it was staring you right in the face. Distance blurred the edges, but hopefully Eric’s return would smooth out any questions Stan still possessed.
For as much as Seth cared about those people, he set them aside as Adrienne began to mumble. Words were indiscernible, although her tone was agreeable. Then Seth heard his name, and he smiled, rolling toward her. She faced the wall, covered by a blanket, and he shivered, again wanting to make love to her. Aunt Sheila would be thrilled that Seth had found a girlfriend in Israel, although Seth didn’t think of Adrienne as a local. Her accent was too strong, and her curiosity about America led him to believe a trip home was time in coming. Not that she had broached that subject, but Seth knew she would never return permanently to Scotland.
Maybe she had come to Tel Aviv just for this afternoon, which had been spent mostly in this bed, and Seth’s smile broadened. The last few weeks had been leading up to this moment, which was quickly turning into…. The rest of his days attached to a talented yet touchy Scottish painter, for there was no other place Seth wished to be other than at Adrienne’s side. Lying next to her was intoxicating, but life near this woman was all Seth could imagine. Maybe they would only visit America, or perhaps she would fall in love with it there, and this locale would be a footnote. Seth had no firm plans other than loving her, then….
“What time is it?” Adrienne’s voice was sleepy but inquisitive.
Seth glanced at the clock behind him, then laughed. “Oh my God, it’s four.”
Adrienne sat up, pulling the sheet over her chest. She peered across, then shook her head. “Four o’clock? How long’ve you been awake?”
“Not long.” He stroked her cheek, stirring her smile. “How are you?”
She nodded, placing her hand over his. “Good. And you?”
“Fantastic.” He closed his eyes, then opened them, seeing tears falling down her face. “There’s so much I wanna tell you.”
He wasn’t thinking of Eric, but then that man popped into Seth’s head. As that occurred, a deep pain welled in Seth’s chest, making him again shut his eyes. The ache lasted for half a minute, during which time Adrienne released his hand. Yet he kept his upon her face, needing to confirm that she was real. Something had happened to Eric and it wasn’t good. Had he died, Seth wondered, as the pain began to lessen. He took a breath, then opened his eyes. Adrienne’s were huge in her face and her tears had stopped. “Seth, what is it?”
He swallowed, then leaned toward her, placing a gentle kiss on her lips. Then he removed his hand from her cheek, sitting up in bed. “C’mere,” he said, patting his leg.
She snuggled against him, and he stroked her hair. He had fallen in love so quickly, yet he felt no apprehension, perhaps that was due to his age. He knew what he wanted, then he sighed, again considering Eric. Seth had counseled Laurie to be honest with Stan, and that same admonition rang through Seth’s head as if Laurie was close. But Seth wouldn’t be so direct, for Adrienne didn’t even know about the Snyders. “Do you ever get premonitions?” Seth said quietly.
Adrienne looked up, then nodded. “I knew when my brother died.” She sighed, then sniffled, pressing herself against Seth’s chest. “Mum called a few hours later and I tried to act surprised but….” She wept, then sat up, wiping her face with the sheet. Then she set her hand in the middle of Seth’s chest. “What’s wrong?”
Her touch eased the pounding within his ribcage. “Something’s happened to someone I know.” He set his hand over hers, then grasped her fingers. “A good friend has been missing since….” He paused, then continued. “Right after I left Miami.”
He nodded, then embraced her. “It’s complicated. I don’t know how to start, but I do need to tell you about him. He’s a painter, probably one of the most talented artists I’ve ever….” Seth bit his lip, but a small smile escaped. “Had the pleasure to know. If I told you his name, you might’ve heard of him.”
Adrienne pulled away. “Really?”
Seth nodded. “His work’s been touring Europe since last year. I think the exhibit’s supposed to close soon, maybe March? Laurie’s boyfriend is his dealer, that’s how I….” Seth inhaled, then let it out slowly. “It’s how I know Eric. His name’s Eric Snyder.”
“Eric Snyder?” Adrienne gasped. “Oh Seth, are you serious?”
He nodded, finding her smile suddenly turning to a frown. “He’s missing?” she added, her voice trembling. “I’ve been reading about him, but nothing’s been mentioned that he’s missing. Are you sure?”
Seth reached for her hands, caressing them within his. “Like I said, it’s complicated.”
“Was he, I mean….” She gazed at their clasped hands, then met his eyes. “Was he in hospital with you?”
Now Seth smiled. “Not exactly. He came to see me, in fact….” Seth squeezed her hands, then released them. “If not for Eric, I’d be in a straightjacket. Or dead.”
Adrienne sat up, grasping the sheet around her body. She folded her arms over her chest, raising her eyebrows. “What’s happened to him?”
“Nobody knows. We left Miami at the same time, but he hasn’t made it home yet.”
“His family can’t find him?”
“Well, did he drive there?” She looked puzzled. “People just don’t go missing, I mean, they do, but….”
Seth stroked her face, now understanding Laurie’s misgivings about telling Stanford the truth. “He didn’t drive, he flew. Somewhere along the way he went….” AWOL popped into Seth’s mind, as did a Texas drawl Seth hadn’t considered since Korea. Out of all the lives he had taken, one man had actually been the recipient of Seth’s actions. Well, their platoon had benefitted, but Walt was different, for Walt had been at Seth’s side, doing the same task. Where was he, Seth wondered, but the bigger question remained. “There’s something I need to tell you, something you probably won’t believe now, but that’s all right.” Seth sighed, then smiled. “I love you. I’m in love with you Adrienne.”
Her eyes brightened. “Oh God, I love you too.” She giggled, then grew serious. “But that’s not what you wanted to tell me, or not all of it.”
“It’s what matters most.” Then he grasped her hands. “But there is something else.” He took a breath, releasing it. As he did, voices filled his head, murmurs of those with whom he’d fought in Korea, Laurie’s laughter alongside their mothers’ and sisters’ chuckles. Stanford’s earnest words in the art gallery near the painting of the blue barn resounded in Seth’s mind, then finally the ethereal but true nature of conversation Seth had shared with Eric. Seth’s existence was bound by tones factual and otherworldly, and now his life was also tethered to who sat across from him. He prayed that Adrienne wouldn’t think him mad; maybe her youth would permit belief. Please, he asked, let her understand….
A kiss interrupted his thoughts, then he closed his eyes, allowing her touch to ease this from him, but not via speech. “I love you Seth,” she muttered, then kissed him again. Seth nodded, wrapping himself around her. They made love, and when they were through, Seth told Adrienne about saving Walt Richardson’s life, then how Eric had saved his. Adrienne was stoic until Seth spoke about the hawk. Then she began to cry, which turned to deep sobs. At first Seth worried that she thought he was lying. But as she calmed, nodding her head, he realized she took him at his words. Perhaps this was how Lynne had accepted Eric’s bizarre transformations, although she had seen it happen. “Why do you believe me?” Seth asked softly.
“I don’t know.” Then she smiled. “Maybe I’d rather believe than think the worst.”
Seth grinned, then chuckled. “You’re the only one I’ve told here. Not even my shrink knows.”
“Does she need to?”
Seth caressed Adrienne’s face. “Not if you believe me.”
“I do.” Then Adrienne sighed. “When Mum called, it was like I knew everything she was gonna tell me, all the details, the time, the….” Adrienne blinked away tears. “His last words, in hospital, even those I already knew. How’d I know all that?” She shook her head, then grasped Seth’s hand. “It was as though I was with him, watching everything, but I couldn’t work the brakes on his car, couldn’t turn the wheel, oh God, like he’d sent me here not wanting to hurt me, but even from Israel I still felt it happening.”
Now she wept again, and Seth pulled her toward him. During their first dinner together she had briefly mentioned her brother’s death in a car accident, but nothing more concerning that loss. She dried her eyes, but her breaths were shaky. Seth inhaled deeply and she followed his lead. Soon both were breathing smoothly.
They lay down and he cradled her as she spoke at length about her brother. Then she huffed. “Listen to me, going on. Eric’s missing, Christ!” She sat up, but didn’t bother with the sheet. Then she stared at Seth. “You think something’s happened to him, don’t you?”
Seth nodded and a part of him wanted to smile. Adrienne possessed a flair for the dramatic; now that she knew, it was as if the unearthly element had been thrown aside. Seth sat up, moved beside her, then wrapped the sheet around them both. “Whatever it is isn’t good.”
“You think he’s dead, don’t you?”
“At first, but now….” Seth kissed Adrienne’s cheek.
He traced around her eyes, which over the last few days had seemed a deeper shade of green, almost as vibrant as Laurie’s. Now Seth smiled, as though this woman’s presence permitted him to contemplate a tragedy. “Something’s happened to him, something horrible. Laurie thinks he’ll come home, actually he knows it.” Seth took a deep breath, then sighed loudly. “He told me Eric left him a message right before Laurie left Miami. It was Psalm 100, one of Uncle Aaron’s favorite passages.” Then Seth chuckled. “Might’ve been the only actual Psalm he knew. Laurie said it kept him going, and why he knows Eric’s gonna come home eventually.”
“He should’ve been home months ago.” Seth shivered; Eric should have returned before Thanksgiving. “But now it’s more than whatever’s kept him away. God, I can’t imagine what, but….”
Suddenly Seth’s blood felt like ice and he trembled so badly that Adrienne had to hold him upright. “Seth, what?”
But Seth couldn’t speak aloud what he knew so deeply to be true. All he could manage were prayers for Eric’s soul, also prayers for Walt Richardson. Then Seth prayed for Laurie, hoping his cousin and Stanford were back on a secure footing. When Eric returned, he would need all the support possible.
While Seth and Adrienne found solace in bed, Stanford drank coffee in his office, inspecting the mail. This was Stanford’s second day back at work, and while yesterday he had tackled the most necessary correspondence, these messages also required his consideration. Yet he couldn’t concentrate, so he drained what remained in his mug, then leaned back in his chair. Since arriving home at the end of last week, Stanford had felt torn in half. His heart was back in this city, for so was Laurie, and Stanford never wished to again be separated from him. They had spoken of that at length, one of the few subjects they could be completely honest about with the other. Nothing about Eric had been mentioned, although Agatha had pestered both men about Cary, Lynne, and Jane. Photographs of the Snyder ladies were featured on the refrigerator, reminding Stanford of days that now seemed lived in an alternate universe. New York felt strange, as if Stanford had dreamed of his life spent in this city. He knew the reason for that oddness, but there was nothing he could do to change it. He would never have the freedom to love Laurie as he wished in any place other than behind the Snyders’ property’s walls.
But it wasn’t merely time in bed that Stanford considered; it was standing beside Laurie with others near. It was moments with Jane and Cary and…. Stanford cringed when thinking of Lynne, who was shouldering parenthood alone, and might that forever be the case? Laurie remained certain that Eric would return, but Stanford wasn’t as convinced. Not that he thought Eric was dead; it was less tangible than that. Stanford turned his chair to face the window, but found no peace in his beloved skyscrapers. A view that previously eased his heart was now as foreign as the idea of the life Stanford used to live.
He found that maddening, for Laurie was home, wasn’t that enough? Agatha and Emily still remained at their posts, Stanford’s father was well, and while Manhattan was chilly, the city chugged along at its familiar frenetic pace. Everything was just as before, except that Stanford’s chest felt strangely hollow. All weekend he’d noticed it, assuming it was being away from work. Once he stepped inside his office, the last piece would be firmly in place and…. But Monday had offered no respite and Tuesday felt just as disarming. Stanford considered calling home, but he didn’t wish to worry Agatha, and Laurie was at his own office, buried under months of…. Laurie had been away far longer than Stanford, but last night he had seemed happy, if not exhausted. The men had retired early, in part to make love, then to fall right to sleep. But Stanford had stirred several times, although Laurie’s snores had comforted. Maybe they needed to talk about Eric, yet what was there to say? Stanford wasn’t sure what he believed, other than he was certain of what the rest assumed, and maybe there was strength in numbers. Perhaps if they had been able to stay longer, Stanford would have become one hundred percent convinced and…. All Stanford wanted was for Lynne to call, or maybe Sam, even Renee’s voice would be welcomed, that Eric was home and all was well. Stanford remembered his conversation with Renee about that windowpane. She had seemed hesitant to speak about it, and for moments Stanford had hoped she would refute the whole business. But all she said was it had happened the day she learned about Eric, four years before. Four years, Stanford mused. In the last four years, Eric had turned into one of America’s most heralded artists, but during those years, Eric had gone missing at least three times of which Stanford was aware. The longest stretch was ongoing; their last conversation had taken place right after Seth tried to kill himself in June. Now it was nearly February. If Laurie, Lynne, and the rest were lying, the alternative was most unpalatable. Eric was either as they all said or he was….
Stanford shivered, then turned away from the window. His office was unchanged, but he wasn’t reassured. He longed to be back in Lynne’s kitchen surrounded by…. He huffed, then picked up letters, but still couldn’t focus. Closing his eyes, he imagined he was seated beside Laurie, Jane in her tall seat across from them, Lynne to Laurie’s side, a baby in her arms. Perhaps Sam stood at the stove while Renee tended to their children in the living room, or was seated at the table between that boy and girl who behaved as if the Aherns had been their parents from the beginning. Now Stanford gave pause, for how strange was that family? And now Marek was hosting a woman he’d known in Poland who had also managed to survive the war. How was Stanford supposed to reconcile all these mysteries into a cohesive reality?
He shook his head, but the eeriness didn’t leave him. At least Laurie was back and Agatha would greet Stanford when he stepped through his door. But to Stanford’s surprise, her coffee had tasted bland, her cooking uninspired. He had kept that to himself, although Laurie had made a face this morning upon drinking his coffee. Maybe her touch had been off, the coffee rancid. Stanford would inquire if tomorrow it tasted displeasing. Still he was troubled, but he couldn’t pinpoint the cause. Then he sighed. Too many reasons swirled for him to choose only one. And the biggest was simply out of his hands. Once Eric came back, then everything would be fine.
Stanford concentrated on that, and within a few minutes, his mood lifted. Emily brought him another cup of coffee, and by lunchtime, he felt better than he had in ages. Laurie would be waiting when Stanford reached home, Agatha might have made stew. The afternoon sped past, and by three o’clock, Stanford wrapped up his day. He said a cheery See you tomorrow to Emily, easily caught a cab, then hummed a rather upbeat tune on his way home. The taxi driver was a young fellow who asked if Stanford liked the newest Beatles’ record. Stanford stared at the driver through the rear-view mirror. “What did you say?” he asked.
“The Beatles are coming to New York, gonna be on the Ed Sullivan show I hear. You’ve been humming “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, so I was just wondering.”
Stanford huffed, feeling himself turning crimson. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Although now that it had been brought to his attention, he had been humming that tune, yet from where had he heard it? Maybe Sally Canfield; she was the only teenager Stanford had recently encountered. He knew little about these Beatles, other than they were British. Would they actually appear on Ed Sullivan? Stanford shook his head, then inwardly trembled. He’d been thinking about what a pleasure it would be to see Laurie, how before he’d taken that man’s presence for granted. Stanford still felt his color was high, so he stared out the window, and when the taxi pulled up at his building, he paid the cabbie, but didn’t tip him. That impertinent young man needed a lesson in manners.
Entering the building, Stanford headed for the elevator, that tune filling his head; it must have been Sally to put it there. Then Stanford smiled, thinking of how affable was that girl, how enjoyable were all those days out west. How free he had felt, even if Eric wasn’t there, which might have been the biggest surprise of all. New York was quite the metropolis, but there was something to be said for simple country living.
As Stanford reached his door, he paused, then said thank you under his breath. Maybe that was enough of a prayer, not that he missed Sunday mornings at Lynne’s church. He unlocked his door, stepped inside, instantly smelling beef stew, hearing crackles from the fireplace, then footsteps approach. Laurie wore a smile, was dressed casually. Stanford chuckled, unable to hide his delight. “How long’ve you been home?” he said.
“Not long.” Laurie kissed him, then grasped his hands. “You smell that? She made a big pot, gonna be dinner for the next few nights.”
Stanford nodded, then sighed in relief. Laurie showed no ill effects from their return, in fact it was as if all of Stanford’s worries were for naught. “I’ll change, then join you.”
Laurie nodded, then kissed him again. “We’ll be waiting,” he said.
Stanford went to their bedroom, again humming that tune. He smiled at himself, then wondered if Laurie or Agatha would guess its origins. He changed into eveningwear, then put on slippers. These were the ones he’d bought out west, and he’d found they were more comfortable than his other pair. He headed toward the kitchen, not pausing at the guest room or the library, nor did he think about that strange sketch which Laurie had inspected thoroughly upon their return. Instead Stanford considered a chat with Agatha, stew for dinner, then a night with Laurie, during which time Stanford would hold that man’s hand.
He entered the kitchen chuckling to himself, but Laurie and Agatha were in conversation and didn’t notice. Stanford stepped toward them, leaving appropriate space between himself and Laurie. “Good evening,” Stanford said. “That smells delicious.”
“Well, I made plenty.” Agatha’s tone was clipped, but her smile couldn’t be hidden. Then she turned off the flame. “Let it sit about fifteen minutes or you’ll burn your tongue off.”
She gazed at Stanford, but Laurie laughed. “Whatever you say. My God, it’s good to be home.”
“Yes it is.” Agatha wore the hint of a smile, then she sighed. “All right, time for me to go.”
“So soon?” Stanford cleared his throat. “I mean, of course.”
Laurie looked away, but Agatha met Stanford’s eyes. “You need me to spoon it up for you?”
“No, but I just got home and….” While he looked forward to time with only Laurie, Stanford had grown used to a houseful. He sighed, then stepped back. “We’ll see you in the morning.”
Agatha removed her apron, hanging it on the hook to the left of the stove. Then she approached Stanford. “I’d stay longer, but I told Don I’d be home a little early tonight.”
Stanford nodded; he had forgotten this detail. “Of course. I’m sorry, I simply….”
“You have enough to think about already.” She smiled, then patted his shoulder. “See you at seven tomorrow.”
“Yes, seven.” Stanford spoke softly.
“I’ll walk you out.” Laurie’s tone was conciliatory.
“I’m not gonna get lost between here and the front door.” Agatha kissed Laurie’s cheek, then again patted Stanford’s arm. She exited the kitchen before Stanford could see her leave. He stared at the swinging door, then at Laurie, who wore a strange smile. “What?” Stanford asked.
“Where are you?” Laurie kissed him, then took two bowls from the cupboard. “She and Don are celebrating their anniversary tonight. I told her to go when I got home, but she insisted on waiting for you.” Laurie dished up portions of stew, then faced Stanford. “Are you all right?”
Stanford nodded, feeling sheepish for not remembering. “I’m fine. Let’s eat.”
Laurie smiled, taking the bowls to the table. Stanford sat while Laurie retrieved spoons and crackers. They ate in silence, then Stanford gazed at Laurie. “Does this taste right to you?”
Laurie nodded, stared at the bowl, then took another bite. He chewed thoughtfully, then shook his head. “It’s missing something. The coffee this morning tasted funny too.”
“I thought so as well. I wonder what it is.”
Laurie shrugged, ate another bite, then sat back in his seat. “Maybe it’s an adjustment period.”
“Just, well, you know.”
Stanford set down his spoon, then gazed at Laurie. “I suppose things will take a little getting used to.”
“Yeah, Christ, the apartment’s so quiet.” Then Laurie smiled. “Were you humming when you came in?”
Stanford blushed, then chuckled. “I was.”
“What was it? I feel like I should know it but….”
Stanford rolled his eyes. “If I tell you, you have to promise not to laugh.”
Stanford revealed the tune, then its probable origins. Laurie was chuckling all through Stanford’s tale, then he abruptly stopped. “What?” Stanford asked.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but….” Laurie sighed. “I miss them.”
Stanford nodded, leaning toward Laurie, who now sat up in his seat. “I do too.”
“Yeah, God, it’s good to be back. Work’s crazy and my mother must’ve called five times today, asking when we’re coming to Brooklyn.” Laurie laughed. “Told her this weekend, just so you know.”
Stanford nodded, a smile on his face. “I wondered when that was going to happen.”
“Yeah, I feel like the next six months I’ll be spending every Saturday at Mom’s. But I’ll spare you some of those visits.”
“You’re too kind,” Stanford grinned.
“Something like that.” Laurie reached for Stanford’s hand, squeezing it tightly. “I’m glad to be home, don’t misconstrue me. I love you, my God, I do.” Laurie scooted closer to Stanford, then grasped both of his hands. “It’s just gonna take a little time to get back into the swing of things.”
“Would you think me crazy if I told you I felt the same?”
The words were strange to say, but Stanford needed to be honest. He was very grateful that Laurie was seated beside him, but the entire apartment now felt uncomfortable to Stanford. He wasn’t sure if it was due to lingering emotions from their heated argument, the vast emptiness, or…. “I’m glad we’re going out for Cary’s baptism. Have you said anything about it to Agatha?”
“She said she’d think about it, but I don’t think she’ll go.”
Stanford nodded. “Well, at least she knows she’s welcome.”
“Yeah, she seemed to appreciate the invite. Stan, there’s something I wanna ask you.”
Laurie leaned forward in his chair, was inches away from Stanford’s face. “Can you tell me what you’re thinking?”
Stanford inhaled, then held his breath. At that moment all he could ponder was why did this apartment feel so temporary? Then he wondered what Lynne was doing. He tried to keep where Eric might be from his mind, but that was impossible. He mulled over if Jane was napping, and was Cary doing the same. Then he exhaled loudly, gripping Laurie’s hands with all his strength. “Just how good it is to be with you. That’s all that matters.”
Laurie nodded, but didn’t make eye contact. “Yeah, me too.”
Stanford smiled, then released Laurie’s hands. Then his whole body trembled. “Laurie, I’m also thinking about them, all of them.”
Laurie looked up. “I can’t get them out of my head.”
Stanford took another deep breath, letting it out with some difficulty. He wanted to mention how not even work felt right, his gorgeous city vista merely a hollow backdrop. He did explain how much he’d accomplished that afternoon, but omitted how that peace had been attained, yet now thinking about Eric cast a pall over all Stanford had wished to do that evening. He’d simply wanted to spend it with Laurie, but a host of others seemed to intrude. Then Stanford smirked. “I feel like we’re surrounded by ghosts.”
Laurie nodded, gazing around the kitchen. “It’s kinda like that.” Then he peered at Stanford. “I can see them sitting here, that was coming on a year ago. Those days went by so fast and now….”
Stanford stared at Laurie. “What is it?”
“Nothing, it’s nothing.” Laurie scooted back to his space, then took a bite. He set down the spoon, then folded his arms over his chest.
“It doesn’t taste right. God, you know how many times I wanted to come back and have Agatha’s good coffee with you and the last two mornings it’s tasted terrible?” Laurie made a face, then smiled. “Not that I’m gonna complain, she’d never forgive me. But something’s missing, something’s wrong, something’s….”
For a moment Stanford wondered if Laurie was hiding something. Yet, Stanford felt the very same. “Maybe you should call Lynne.”
“I did when I got home,” Laurie sighed. “Nothing’s changed.”
“Hmmm, well….” Stanford took a bite, but the stew had grown cold. He swallowed, then stood, getting a drink of water. He placed the cup on the counter, then looked at Laurie, who turned to meet his gaze.
Laurie stood, joining Stanford. They held hands, then both broke out in giggles. Then Laurie sighed. “Maybe nothing will feel right until he’s home.”
“Perhaps.” But Stanford’s heart lurched in his chest.
Laurie stroked Stanford’s cheek. “Stan, you okay?”
“Something’s happened. It’s been too long.”
Laurie nodded, tried to speak, but couldn’t.
“Let’s go lay down,” Stanford said. “I’m exhausted and to be honest, I can’t fathom having any more stew.”
Now Laurie smiled. “Maybe it’ll taste better tomorrow.”
“If it doesn’t, I will personally tell her so.”
“I’d pay to hear that conversation,” Laurie laughed.
“Well, we’ll see.”
“Yeah, I suppose we will.”
The men stared at each other, then sighed in unison. Stanford grasped Laurie’s hand, leading him from the kitchen. In bed they recovered some peace, but neither was wholly soothed. Sleep was hard to find, and again Stanford woke several times. An eerie dream reoccurred all night; Eric came home, but as though a stranger dwelled within his soul.
Most of Klaudia’s first full day in America was spent in a sleepy haze. If she wasn’t actually napping, she couldn’t focus, but she didn’t blame all of that on jet lag. Being near Marek was overwhelming, and shortly after dinner, she offered a drowsy goodnight, to which he answered cheerfully that he would see her tomorrow. Even that ordinary statement rattled Klaudia, although she was so exhausted she didn’t consciously dwell on his words. Within her dreams the oddity was noted, as Klaudia’s mind created an alternative life, lived in America of all places, with a man who referred to her as his beloved. He wore a collar and a beard, but spoke in English, as did their many children. Klaudia did too, calling Marek her husband, although their offspring were nameless. Her own son didn’t figure into her dream, which as she woke on Wednesday morning flitted as fragments, but enough remained to make her shiver. Then she pulled the blankets over her head as footsteps resounded along the corridor. She waited for Marek to stop at her door, noting the time, but minutes passed without any Good morning. She didn’t smell coffee either, and while she didn’t wish to emerge from her room, her bladder urged otherwise. The bathroom was right across the hall; might he hear her from the kitchen, she wondered. Then she clucked at herself; he had no idea of what she had dreamed, nor would he ever. Klaudia got out of bed, stepping from her room. She heard no sound other than the creak of the bathroom door as she closed it.
Minutes later, she stood in the hallway, peering to her left toward Marek’s room. The door was open, he had to be awake. Looking to the right, she saw the church kitchen, then further down the hallway was the foyer. The chapel was to the left, but at that hour it was empty. She had been pleased he’d cancelled all of his church activities on her account, although she assumed that didn’t include a Sunday service. She would have to attend that, for do anything else would be utterly rude. Would he introduce her or permit her to remain anonymous? Other than his friends and the church secretary, was anyone else aware of her presence? She shivered again, but this was only due to the chill. She retrieved her robe, also her cigarettes. She would go into the kitchen, have a smoke, and if he wasn’t there, she’d wait for his return. Maybe he took an early walk, maybe….
By the time she entered the kitchen, a cigarette was lit and between her lips. He hadn’t started coffee, so she did that, then she sat at the table, inspecting the décor, which hearkened to his time in Britain, or at least some of the wall hangings looked European. Nothing appeared Polish, but would he have taken such trappings upon leaving their country? Items her mother had brought were stored in Klaudia’s spare bedroom, knick-knacks that had brightened Klaudia and Gunnar’s first kitchen, but hadn’t been necessary when they moved to Klaudia’s current home. She didn’t think of it much as her and Gunnar’s residence, and it certainly had nothing to do with her heritage. It was the dwelling for…. She sighed, then gasped, catching sight of a painting nearly hidden from view. Klaudia stood, then walked to the sink, staring at Marek and a little girl she was loathing to meet. Or had been resisting, yet in profile, that child didn’t seem frightening, or maybe Marek’s broad smile eased Klaudia’s heart. If nothing else, Eric Snyder had made these two safe for Klaudia to study. She smiled, hoping to be introduced to him soon.
But as she feasted upon the painting, the artist slipped away, for Klaudia was struck by how freely she could read Marek’s mind; he adored the girl in his grasp, but only as a close relative would. He possessed no paternal feelings toward her, yet only her father might love her more. Klaudia took a deep drag, trapping the smoke in her lungs, then exhaling with a slight cough. Gunnar had never exhibited such devotion; once their son was born it was as if both parents would have been better off had Marek not survived. Gunnar had harped on that during the few weeks Marek had lived at home. After Klaudia’s husband removed their baby from the house, it was like Marek had never existed. Only Klaudia went to see their child, and if she mentioned him, Gunnar would cut her off mid-sentence. When they moved house, other than Sigrun and Harald no one knew they had offspring. Klaudia hadn’t been able to keep that secret, but the Vangs never spoke about Marek around Gunnar. After Gunnar’s death, Harald hadn’t asked Klaudia about her son, although he never questioned her monthly trips. Klaudia finished her cigarette, then stubbed it out in an ashtray on the table. But she returned to her spot near the sink, wondering how many parishioners had viewed this painting. Marek could make a mint if he charged admission, although he’d then never have any peace. St. Matthew’s would be as busy as the gallery in which Klaudia had realized Marek Jagucki was still alive.
She approached the canvas, which was simply framed, but a fancy border would have been outshone by what was depicted. The little girl was older than in the other painting, but not by much. The blue of her right eye was just the same, or was it a tiny bit gray? Klaudia studied it carefully, but her memory was fuzzy, perhaps due to lingering exhaustion. Who knew if she would again see The Pastor and His Charge; if so, she would inspect the baby’s blue eyes for any hint of gray. Her father must have blue eyes, or maybe her mother. Marek’s brown irises were certainly those of an outsider, regardless of how deep was his affection.
Where was that man, Klaudia then considered, smelling the coffee. She poured herself a cup, thought about getting one for Marek, then hesitated, not wishing it to grow cold if indeed he had stepped outside. Then she grabbed a second mug, filling it, leaving it near the pot. She seated herself again but where she could still view the painting. If Marek asked what she wanted to do that day, she would deftly inquire about meeting Eric, using the painting as her excuse. She would prefer him to come here, and perhaps he would, not wishing to make her travel while still recovering from the long trip. But Klaudia would brave visiting him at his home, even if meant meeting his family. An introduction to them was inevitable, but perhaps first she could offer her admiration to a brilliant artist. She smiled, lit another smoke, enjoying it slowly, then sipping her coffee. Sleep’s fog was dissipating as well as any memories from last night’s dream. Reality was her position as a guest, although this might be the only church she would ever visit. She was merely a tourist, and she took a long drag, not allowing more poignant considerations.
Several minutes passed, during which Klaudia gazed at the painting. She didn’t hear Marek enter the kitchen, and only when he cleared his throat did she stir from her reverie. He was dressed as a clergyman, that collar an ugly badge to Klaudia’s eyes, then she quickly glanced at the painting, finding his collar obscured within his profile. “Good morning,” she said, meeting his eyes. She smiled, but it felt forced. Then she sighed, pointing to his mug near the coffeepot. “It’s probably cool by now, sorry.”
He picked up the cup, tried it, then took a long drink. “Actually it’s perfect. I’m not overly fond of steaming coffee, although Sam prefers his very hot. I don’t know how he drinks it without burning his tongue.”
She nodded, then stared at him. “Who’s Sam?”
Seating himself at the table, Marek wore a sneaky grin. “A good friend of mine, and the best chef I’ve ever known. You’ll meet him and his family on Saturday. Not sure if I mentioned that yesterday; I’m hosting a little dinner party here, just the Aherns, the Snyders, maybe Father Markham if he’s free. Jeremy however will only stay for dinner. The rest will linger as long as Jane and Ann are good-humored.”
His eyes twinkled as he spoke, making Klaudia tremble. “Is one of them the girl in the painting?” she asked casually.
He nodded. “Jane was much younger when Eric painted that.” Marek motioned toward the canvas. “She’ll be two in March, but more likely her little sister will dictate that family’s presence.”
“Of course.” Klaudia wished to sigh, but she smiled instead. “I’ll admit I want to meet Eric Snyder.” She stood, grabbing her coffee cup. She refilled it, then motioned to the painting. “This’s amazing.”
She expected Marek to immediately agree. His silence caused her to face him, and his frown puzzled her. “I assume he painted this, or do you have another famous acquaintance in the wings?”
Her tone was glib, although as he shook his head, she regretted her flippancy. “I’m sorry.” Klaudia returned to her chair, placing her mug on the table. She wanted to light another cigarette, but felt awkward. Then she met Marek’s gaze, his brown eyes wide. “What?” she said.
Marek began to speak, then paused. Then he stood, looking toward the painting. “Eric’s not here.” Marek took a deep breath. As he exhaled, Klaudia shivered, for it was the same sound as when Gunnar announced he was taking away their son. Klaudia wasn’t sure how a simple noise had stayed with her so vividly, yet she recalled everything about that moment, the way the sun glinted off the living room window, how silent was their house, how certain was Gunnar’s tone, although his Norwegian had almost sounded foreign. What did he mean, taking away their baby? In Marek’s familiar Polish, it was as if Klaudia already knew the truth. The truth was this talented painter was no different than any other man. That he felt able to leave a newly born child was a bit much, but Klaudia didn’t need further explanations. She lit a smoke, took a drag, shrugging her shoulders. But Marek’s next words were like a slap to her face. The painter had been helping a friend, was still away. And from Marek’s glum voice, his imminent return wasn’t expected.
Klaudia stared at him, then snorted. Marek might be a pastor, but he was also willing to lie for a man who must have a more sordid past than Marek wanted to divulge. “Well, that’s rather unfortunate, I suppose.” Disdainfully she shook her head. This visit wasn’t at all what she had imagined, not only in that she wouldn’t get to meet Eric Snyder. The man seated across from her seemed like most other spineless religious figures she had encountered. Granted, she hadn’t actually spent much time with him, or many cognizant moments. Yesterday was a haze, last night’s dreams those of a girl. This morning Marek appeared like all the other ministers and priests she had known, covering up for various misdeeds. Not even their village’s priest had been willing to bury the Jagucki family’s remains, as if to touch those piles of ash would put him in direct violation of the Nazis who had….
Tears fell from her eyes, burning her cheeks. She wanted to wipe them away, but didn’t wish to admit to such weakness. Her sobs at the airport had been permissible, but an entire day had passed, plenty of time to assess her situation. Marek wasn’t at all who she recalled, but then she wasn’t the same either. This was neither’s fault, and hopefully the next week would pass quickly. Then Klaudia sighed; she still had a week here, what on earth would they talk about? Maybe this missing artist, although she sensed Marek didn’t wish to speak about him, or rather keep lying for him. How in God’s name was she supposed to act toward his wife, what sort of relationship did Marek have with these people? Klaudia cleared her throat. “I hope his absence won’t be a problem on Saturday. I thought you said the baby was just a few weeks old.”
“She is, and no, it won’t be an issue. Eric’s been away since mid-summer, but….”
Klaudia stared at Marek. “He’s been gone for months? My God.” Now she felt nothing but contempt for this artist, not to mention scorn for his wife. She must be a sniveling sort to put up with such betrayal. Klaudia had possessed no recourse when Gunnar took away her baby, but afterwards she made it perfectly clear what she thought of her spouse. Thank goodness he hadn’t lived long; Klaudia might have chosen a divorce if Gunnar hadn’t conveniently made her a young widow.
Suddenly Klaudia felt chilled, her whole purpose in coming here a broken mess around her feet. Marek was puppet of organized religion, Eric Snyder a philanderer. Klaudia closed her eyes, wishing she had never written to that painter, had he even seen her note? Opening her eyes, she stared sharply at Marek, who sipped his coffee. “He never saw my letter, did he?”
Marek shook his head. “Lynne gave it to me. Now I’m wondering if that was a good thing.”
Klaudia had been ready with a retort, but Marek’s woeful voice made her shake. “What do you mean by that?”
“We seemed to have gotten off on the wrong foot. Perhaps my idea of a reunion should have been given more time.”
She nodded, although her heart ached terribly. His voice on the day Kennedy had been killed was clear in her head; it was the same voice she had known until she thought him dead. This man sounded nothing like that…. Who was more adult, the boy from her youth or this minister who seemed capable of lying to her face? “Why don’t you just tell me the truth?” she muttered. “There’s no need to cover for him, I’m not a child.”
She began to light another cigarette, but to her great shock, Marek took it from her hand. “Actually, I’d prefer you to smoke outside, or at least not in the kitchen.”
“Whatever you want.” She stood, then wondered the basis for his request. Gazing at the painting, she ached for that Marek, a man animated if only two dimensional. Then she stared at him. His eyes were the only link to that person, or did his collar negate the rest of him in her view?
She began to walk past him, but he reached for her hand. “Klaudia, what I want is to turn back time. I want to tell you many things, but I don’t know how much you want to hear. I’m sorry things between us are so….” He sighed deeply. “As I said, perhaps I was too hasty in inviting you here.”
Klaudia fought tears, for now he sounded like the person she recalled. “Why did you ask me to come?”
He stood, still grasping her hand. “You just asked me for the truth. Shall I tell you the truth?”
She nodded, biting her lip so hard blood emerged. She swallowed it, but her mouth was dry. “Can I have my coffee?” she murmured.
He handed her the cup, and she drank what remained. She set it on the table, her pack of cigarettes and matches beside it. Facing him, she tried to avoid his gaze, but that was impossible. She felt like the girl in the painting, unable to look anywhere other than in this man’s beautiful brown eyes. “What do you want to tell me?” she said in trembling voice.
He smiled, tracing around her eyes. “You’ve seen and heard things no one should ever have to experience, both in Poland and in Norway. Depending on how things go, you might learn other strange truths here as well. For now, I want to tell you how sorry I am for all you have had to….” He gripped her hands; his were warm, calming her tremors, but inwardly her heart raced. “I can’t even imagine what you all suffered, perhaps it was worse than what happened to my family. That day lives inside you, even after all these years. And over that I pray for you and everyone we knew. I was spared that day Klaudia, but everyone else in our village suffered.”
She couldn’t stop her tears, but anger rose within her. “How can you say you pray for us? What’s that supposed to mean?”
He nodded, then sighed. “It’s all I can do. There’s no other recourse possible.”
“You have no idea how feeble that sounds.” She laughed, then coughed, wishing for the courage to slap his face. “You have no idea what it was like that day, where the hell were you anyways?”
He inhaled, exhaling slowly. “I was on an errand for my mother. She sent me out to look for food and….”
“And you were gone all day and night? Marek, didn’t you hear what happened, couldn’t you see the smoke, smell the….” Klaudia shut her eyes, wished not to breathe. All around her were the terrified screams, the acrid scent, the hollow laughter. Maybe that sound had been the worst, for as the Jagucki family burned to death, their desperate cries were drowned out by maniacal howls as if devils had lit the flames. Those horrible voices continued long after shrieks disappeared, then came the unbearable stillness, lasting all night as though the whole world had been destroyed. To Klaudia, it had, for Marek had perished in that fire, was no more than smoldering ash. All of her heart lay dead alongside him, her conscience too. Not a single person had tried to stop it; they were just as guilty as those who had committed the crime.
Yet one had survived, how had Marek survived? “You tell me how you didn’t hear what was happening, or did you hear it?” If he had hid in the forest, she wouldn’t question him further. Better that than what the rest had permitted. It was obvious only his family was being condemned as long as the rest turned a blind eye to murder. “Just tell me Marek. Just tell me….”
He set a finger to her lips. “I never heard anything. I was so far into the wood, I had no idea until I came back the next day. It was dark by the time I arrived, just enough moonlight to see….”
He paused, wiping the tears still falling down her face. “I saw enough to know what had happened. I didn’t stay because I feared they would return and do something worse. I wanted to tell you, oh Klaudia, I stopped by your window, I so badly wanted to leave you a note, but I just fled. I ran and ran and didn’t stop until dawn. For a week I traveled only at night, I wasn’t sure if they were aware I wasn’t among my family, I couldn’t think straight. When I reached the church, I couldn’t even speak. It took a year for me to talk, to even tell anyone my name.”
Now Klaudia was sobbing as hard as when she stood in the airport terminal. Marek embraced her, stroking her hair, as she breathed with difficulty. Yet, in his arms she knew some peace, for he hadn’t been among those whose calls for help still rang in her ears. Dominik’s voice, Ania’s too, but not this man’s. Marek spoke softly, telling her it was all right. She nodded, but one query stirred in her head. She pulled away, then met his gaze. “Why?” she warbled.
“Why what?” he said softly.
“Why’d you go so far into the wood? Why didn’t you come right back?”
His smile was strange, as if tempting her into the forest of their youth, a magical wood that as they turned from children into teens became a place to explore, yet remained forbidding. She had never trekked further than an hour from their houses, for paths twisted back on themselves, creating a maze with no clear end. Few men of the village knew how to navigate that forest, which had turned into a hiding place for the Home Army. She had learned that years later, although it did little good now for her countrymen behind the Iron Curtain.
Yet, at the time, lives had been saved, like the man in front of her. “Marek, why didn’t you come back?” She repeated her question, although it wasn’t because he hadn’t heard her. He stared into the room, then glanced over his shoulder at the painting. Then he sighed, stroking her cheek. She closed her eyes, imagining if he tried to kiss her, how would she respond? Would they make love that day, or might they simply spend it attempting to recover the pieces of their earlier years, feeling far too young to dabble in adult pursuits. Klaudia felt like a teenager again, that one question never entering her mind; could he have survived, was such an idea even possible?
“A hawk led me far into the wood so far that it took a whole day to come home. I’d never seen such a commanding bird, like it knew me, and I had to do its bidding.” Marek continued to stroke Klaudia’s cheek. “I’m here today because that hawk wanted me to stay alive.”
His voice was plaintive, also sincere. “A hawk?” she asked. Then she shook her head. “Are you telling me you followed a bird all day?”
He nodded. “I’d gathered a bucket of berries, that’s what Mama said she wanted. But her eyes Klaudia, her eyes seemed to know what was coming. Because the way she said it, it was like she wanted me to take my time. You know how she was,” he smiled gently. “Loving but firm. If she’d needed berries, she would have made it plain I was to be home soon. But she acted like, like….” He sighed deeply. “She was telling me goodbye. I thought about it later, obsessed might be a better word. She sent me away for my well-being. I doubt she knew, how could she? Yet somehow, she did.”
Marek spoke with joyous gratitude, but Klaudia missed his inflection. “That doesn’t make sense. I never saw any hawks in that forest.”
“Neither did I until that day. I’m sure that’s why I followed it, initially. I was curious, and it let me get close enough, but not too close. Then I forgot all about why I was there and….”
Now Klaudia knew his underlying message. “And God saved you by sending a hawk to keep you safe.”
“Something like that,” Marek smiled. “He sent ravens to feed Elijah so….”
“And you felt compelled to join his army.” Klaudia threw her hands in the air. “Well, I guess that explains why you became a minister.” Then Klaudia sighed. “Or did you want to honor your uncle?”
“I simply did what I was asked to do.”
“I see.” She crossed her arms over her chest, then quickly she dropped them to her sides. She wasn’t sure what she made of his explanation; they had explored the forest together, along with their friends. None of them had wanted to go beyond their usual boundaries, not even Dominik, who often boasted of having investigated further on his own. Klaudia had never believed his claims; was she supposed to take Marek at his word now?
The supernatural didn’t interest her, so she didn’t question him again. But something rankled, then she gazed at the painting. Hawks had dominated Eric Snyder’s initial canvases. Had that been a starting point for the men’s friendship? “Don’t tell me a hawk figures into Eric Snyder’s life too. Maybe he’s off chasing one right now.”
Instantly she regretted her impertinence, for Marek’s eyes became misty, then he turned to face the painting. He didn’t answer her, quietly tapping his foot. Rare were the times Klaudia wished to have bitten her tongue, so she remained silent. Marek then reached for his coffee cup, pouring himself another. “Would you like more?” he asked.
She nodded, handing hers to him. He refilled her mug, placing it on the table near her cigarettes. But the desire for a smoke was oddly absent, although Klaudia craved the brew, taking a sip where she stood. Gripping the mug with both hands, she also wanted the warmth, for now she was deeply chilled. Was it from the memories of the wood, the deaths of so many, or the haunted pallor on Marek’s face? If nothing else, no longer did she view him with disdain. Instead she regretted her own behavior, wondering if he could forgive her.
Later that morning, Lynne received a call from Marek; dinner on Saturday was still in the works, but he wasn’t certain if he would bring Klaudia to meet the Snyder ladies until perhaps Friday. In his tone, Lynne heard disappointment, but she asked no questions, merely confirming the time, and that she would bring two pies. Marek’s voice brightened on that detail, and he ended the call asking for her prayers. Lynne said those prayers right after she hung up the receiver, then it rang again. Frannie was on the line, asking if Lynne would like company. Plans were made for an impromptu lunch, and by noon, Jane and Helene were seated at the table, chatting in between bites of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Mothers enjoyed the same fare, their conversations punctuated by a baby’s brief outbursts. After Lynne laid Cary down for a nap, the foursome moved into the living room, where little girls played on the floor while their mothers sat on the sofa watching the activities. Fran didn’t inquire about Klaudia or Eric, but she did ask how the New Yorkers were getting along. Lynne’s smile was genuine. “So far so good. Although,” she giggled, “Laurie mentioned something about the coffee not tasting right.” Laurie had called yesterday, and while Lynne had nothing new to say, he had noted the coffee, as well as how good it was to be home. “They’re both excited about coming for Easter,” Lynne continued, glancing at Jane and Helene. Then she met Frannie’s gaze. “I can’t believe it’s nearly February already.”
Since Cary’s birth, Lynne had found time’s passage somewhat alarming. In a way, she was comforted by how quickly the days sped along, but she rued what Eric was missing. Cary no longer looked like a newborn, her brown eyes taking in everything. She ate and slept well, and while Lynne was grateful for her baby’s placid nature, Cary was changing so fast. Fran had commented on that fact, as did the Aherns, who stopped by about every other day. Lynne hadn’t been surprised to hear from Frannie that morning; Renee and Ann had joined them yesterday, and Lynne wondered if Joan would call tomorrow, then perhaps Marek and Klaudia would come over on Friday. Lynne had noted all these visitors to Laurie, who had seemed eased that she wasn’t alone. Lynne did miss both Laurie and Stanford’s presence, but no longer did she feel lonely as she had last year before Laurie’s arrival. Jane chattered to her baby sister and Cary made her own noise. Lynne ached for Eric, she couldn’t deny that. When he came home, she only hoped he would embrace the present, not lingering on all he had missed.
She sighed, then Frannie gripped her hand. “How are you?” Fran asked, releasing Lynne’s hand as she spoke.
“Nighttime’s the hardest, although it seems Cary’s usually asleep just when it’s time to put Jane to bed.” Lynne smiled. “We’re doing okay.”
Fran chuckled softly, then again grasped Lynne’s hand. “Every night Helene and I pray for you all. Seems those prayers are being heard.”
“Oh they are.” Lynne gripped Fran’s hand. “It’s not easy, I won’t lie, but it certainly could be worse.” Lynne smiled, then felt a chill. She gazed at Frannie, who nodded, as if noting it as well. Then Lynne breathed deeply. “I keep reminding myself it won’t always be like this. I can’t believe Cary’s already two and a half weeks old. Where’s the time going?”
“You’ll blink and she’ll be Helene’s age.” Fran patted Lynne’s hand, then motioned to the girls. “I remember when she was Cary’s size, my goodness. Then suddenly….” Fran paused, then looked at Lynne as if to say more wasn’t necessary. Then Fran chuckled. “Time’s a funny thing, how when we were their age it moved so slowly, and now there aren’t enough hours in the day.” Fran inhaled deeply, as if considering her next words. Then she spoke. “When I was in the hospital, I wondered if I would ever get home. Not because of how badly I felt, but just that every day felt like an eon. I’d stare at the clock, but the hands never moved.” She looked at Lynne. “Sometimes those days are right at the surface, like I could step back into them, then I’ll forget for what feels like an age as if it never happened. But it did, and now looking back, I wonder how did Louie and I get through that, but then I know how.”
Initially her voice had been fraught with sorrow, yet her last words brimmed with hope. Again Frannie gripped Lynne’s hand. “Never once in all those days did I feel abandoned, although sometimes I did feel alone. But there’s a difference Lynne. Some paths we have to walk by ourselves, yet remembering we’re hedged in on all sides. We might not see those around us, but they’re there. It’s just that we’re being asked to….” Now Frannie smiled. “I’ve thought about this since Cary was born, and I’ve been meaning to tell you again just how thankful I am to have shared that with you. Louie and I were talking about it last night, maybe that’s why I called you today. Thank you Lynne, so very much.”
Lynne blinked away tears, then turned to Frannie, embracing her tightly. Lynne wished to share that she had been feeling the very same, but she kept quiet, in part that Eric’s prolonged absence couldn’t compare to Fran and Louie’s terrible losses. Fran still hadn’t asked Lynne a single question concerning Eric’s whereabouts; that subject seemed to be another upon which Fran was simply willing to trust God’s wisdom. As the women parted, a wave of peace coursed through Lynne, followed by a sense of strength, making Lynne’s heart pound. She met Fran’s gaze, those blue eyes much like Sam’s. Lynne only nodded, as did Frannie. Then Fran grasped both of Lynne’s hands, reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Lynne joined in, their voices halting Helene and Jane’s chatter. Within seconds both girls were at their mothers’ sides, Helene delivering the final lines, punctuated by a hearty Amen. Jane repeated Amen, stirring laughter from the rest.
The Canfields left when it was time for Jane’s nap. Lynne spent her afternoon tending to Cary while praying for all those she loved. While Eric was top of that list, Renee’s brother, Marek’s guest, and Laurie’s cousin also benefitted from Lynne’s petitions. When Jane woke, she found her little sister asleep in the Moses basket on the sofa. Jane asked when Daddy was coming home, and Lynne replied it would be soon. She didn’t question from where that conviction sprung, leading Jane to the kitchen, where mother and daughter enjoyed thin slices of pie. They discussed the weather, the new baby, and how in a few days they would meet Uncle Marek’s friend from…. There Lynne paused, for even though Klaudia wasn’t Norwegian, Lynne had a hard time thinking of her as Polish. Perhaps when Lynne heard Klaudia speak in that language, but in the meantime Mrs. Henrichsen was from Oslo. Lynne again offered prayers for Klaudia, and for Marek too. He had sounded so weary that morning, but perhaps only Marek Jagucki could match Fran Canfield’s depth of faith. Or, Lynne smiled, Frannie’s willingness to trust.
Lynne kept Jane occupied in the kitchen while Cary slept, then all three ladies sat on the sofa while Lynne fed her baby. Sometimes she thought of Cary as her daughter, although she never considered Jane in that manner. Yet, as Laurie had repeatedly said, Eric would come home. Lynne didn’t doubt that, but she was beginning to ponder in what sort of shape he would be; she didn’t think he’d return as a hawk, or maybe that image was too painful to contemplate. She wondered not only about his physical bearing; more important was his emotional and mental health. She hoped he wouldn’t feel guilty having been away so long, or morose for having missed Cary’s arrival. She pondered his state of faith; while hers wasn’t to the level of Frannie or Marek, Lynne’s sense of trust had substantially grown over the last several…. Since Eric left, she sighed inwardly, but perhaps that wasn’t a surprise. Then she sighed aloud, catching Jane’s attention while Cary pulled away from Lynne’s breast, staring upwards. Lynne stroked Jane’s head, then did the same to her infant, who returned to nursing. Neither child saw the anguish within their mother’s eyes.
With both girls snuggled close, Lynne inhaled deeply, balancing a great pain alongside a firm pressure. As a former nurse, she immediately realized the distress being treated, yet it was ethereal in nature, and not only within her. Eric’s heart pounded erratically; Lynne could feel it as if he lay right atop her. How many moments had she noticed that frantic beating, usually after he returned from…. Those previous flights felt like ancient days, although at the time they had seemed overwhelming. Then Lynne thought back to Frannie’s words from earlier, how her stay in the hospital was the same. Lynne fought tears for that notion as well as how terrified was her husband.
Wherever he was, Eric was in dreadful pain. She didn’t know if he suffered physically or emotionally, but the wounds were deep, and long from being healed. Now Lynne prayed, but instead of seeking others’ well-being, she sought personal strength. Surrounded by her daughters, Lynne drew comfort from their warmth, also their innocence. When Eric returned, regardless of his condition, Jane and Cary would provide unfettered love. Lynne thanked God for those blessings, again lifting her husband to Christ’s attention. Then she burped her baby, settling both girls into her lap. In a soft voice, Lynne told her daughters how she met their father and of the day she realized how much she loved him.
As that tale unfolded, John Doe knew a small sense of peace. Since early Monday morning, calm had been absent, regardless of how much he prayed or any news Walt or Callie provided. In two days, John would leave Karnack, although his destination remained unknown once he was dropped off in Dallas. He would follow Callie’s instruction, heading to the Pacific Northwest. At least it was a starting point; John had no idea where else to travel.
Yet, as he sat in the shed, peace still descending upon his heart, maybe Callie was right. He had visited that morning, bringing with him a tattered U.S. map. They went over the best route, which was subject to what John might recall along the way as well as with whom he hitched rides. Callie recommended that John stay as close to the main roadways as possible, although hitchhiking was discouraged along the major routes. It would be the quickest way home, Callie said, but he’d left unstated what if John’s memory failed to return. Yet, John had to think positively, and as that soothing peace increased, he wondered if he just might find his way back. His wife was praying for him, he knew that without reservation. Then he frowned, wondering if he deserved her affections. He was just like his father, and how could she forgive him?
How would he present himself to their daughters, to his best friend, to…. While names eluded the amnesiac, faces suddenly appeared; his best friend had blue eyes and a bright smile along with that prematurely bald head. That man’s wife was a brassy redhead with the most opaque irises, making John’s right hand ache. He stared at that useless limb, then winced from pain. He recalled having drawn that woman’s image many times, but why couldn’t he conjure her name?
John reached for the pencil and pad; he hadn’t tried to sketch since last week. With great concentration, he managed a few strokes on the paper, but his hand ached badly, alternating with frustrating numbness. When that subsided, he gritted his teeth, then finished the illustration. With his left hand, he tore it from the pad, then stared at what he’d made. The sketch was as crude as those he’d done of the Richardson family, but he recognized the image. Then a smile crept over his face; while he didn’t know the woman’s name, he could call her Little Tilda. John laughed out loud, then gasped, for the sensation was so strong. He returned to sketching, again through gritted teeth. Within minutes he had produced the image of the woman’s husband, and he laid those sheets side by side. What were their names, he wondered.
By suppertime, John had drawn three more images, those of his pastor, that man’s secretary, and an older woman who was connected to the minister. Over dinner, John explained all five drawings, recalling that he had painted the pastor’s portrait, as well as that of his best friend’s wife. He wasn’t sure if he’d painted the man’s picture; John felt uneasy when considering that action. Then he gazed at Walt. “Guess I must be an artist,” John said. “Or I used to be one.”
“Think you still are,” Walt smiled.
“Hardly,” John said. “Took all afternoon to draw these.”
“But considering how little else you can do with that hand….” Walt wiped his mouth with a napkin. “Plus, this means your memory’s coming back. Just about time.”
John observed Tilda’s reaction to her father’s words; she nodded, then squirmed in her seat. Luke seemed unaffected, but John knew Walt and Dora had yet to tell their son what was happening on Friday.
Tilda made eye contact with John, then she asked to be excused. As she left the table, she approached John. “Are you done Mr. Doe?”
He nodded. Tilda then stacked his plate on hers, taking both to the sink. John looked down, finding a ring of food outlining where his dish had been. He tried sweeping the crumbs together, but Dora told him to stop. Then she gazed at her husband. Walt nodded, then cleared his throat. “Luke, when you’re done with supper, I need to speak to you outside.”
“Yes Daddy.” Luke took some hasty bites, then hurriedly wiped his mouth, bunching his napkin onto his now empty plate. Father and son left the house, only John and Dora remaining at the table.
John sighed. “Sorry it’s come to all this.”
Dora shook her head. “Don’t be. The main thing’s….” She looked to where Tilda played with her sisters on the other side of the sofa. “Walt’s right. You’re starting to remember just in time.”
“I never meant to, I mean….” John shook his head. “Friday can’t come soon enough.”
Dora shrugged. “It’ll be here before you know it.” She stood, gathering Walt and Luke’s plates, then her own. She took them to the sink and didn’t turn to face John.
He wanted to join her; she didn’t seem to harbor any anger or fear toward him, only slight resignation. Perhaps she didn’t want him leaving still uncertain of his destination, or in how Luke would take the news. John stood, but didn’t step toward Dora. He walked to the front window, seeing Walt and Luke standing near Walt’s truck. Walt gripped Luke’s right shoulder, but John couldn’t make out Luke’s expression. The boy stared at the ground, seemed to be trembling. John wanted to flee to the shed, but he didn’t want to intrude. Again he sighed, then returned to his seat at the table, listening to the murmurs of three little girls from the living room.
Ten minutes passed before Walt and Luke came back inside. Luke’s eyes were red, and he didn’t talk to John, walking straight toward the bathroom. Dora and Tilda were washing dishes and Walt spoke to them, then motioned to John. The men went outside, but Walt stopped on the porch. “He took it pretty hard. Kept saying how were you gonna get home, but I told him you’re starting to remember, and that it’d be all right.”
“He doesn’t know, I mean….” John swallowed, but his mouth was dry. “The last thing I want is….”
“Didn’t seem to put it together. Guess the talk at school’s that Hiram’s daddy’s long gone from here.” Walt wore a faint smile. “Could be all the way in Florida by now.”
John’s stomach churned, then he kicked the ground with his shoe. “You think he’ll ever, I mean….”
“Oh maybe one day, a long time from now. But you don’t worry ’bout that tonight. I told him we’d have a special dinner tomorrow night, but that you’d be gone early Friday morning. He knows to keep it to himself, even brought that up. Plenty for folks to gossip ’bout instead.”
John nodded, but still felt nauseous. Had he been in Florida, and if so, why? He didn’t mention that, not wishing to further burden Walt. “Well, I suppose I’ll call it a night. Tell him…. No, don’t say anything, poor kid.”
“He’s better off for having met you. All my kids are.”
John stared at Walt. “How in the world can you say that?”
“Better than thinking the opposite.” Walt smiled. “Go get some rest. Gonna be the most comfortable place you’ll sleep till you get home.”
“All right. Tell Dora thank you for supper.”
“I will. Sleep good.”
John nodded, then slowly walked down the porch steps. It was dark out, the night cool. Moonlight shone along the path to the shed, and when he reached it, he looked up at the sky. Stars twinkled, a few clouds blowing past. He opened the shed door, pulled on the overhead light, then shut the door, hoping that one day Luke would understand.
Much to Marek’s delight, Sam Ahern was the first to be introduced to Klaudia; the trio met at the market on Thursday morning, where Marek also coordinated what the Aherns would bring on Saturday. Klaudia tried out her English, which was much better than she had implied. Marek thought her command of the language was exemplary, and they spoke in English the rest of that day. It seemed an easier tongue in which to converse; Polish was fraught with memories that neither found pleasurable. Marek was also taken aback at Klaudia’s disdain for Christianity; it was a subtle dislike, yet clearly she took umbrage at his profession. He didn’t question why, nor did he attempt to explain any further how he had escaped into the forest. She did reveal her son’s recent bout of seizures, and that if Sigrun Vang called would Marek please accept it. That subject came up after supper, when to Marek’s surprise, Klaudia spoke at length about her son, his illness, and how he’d been taken from her. Her hostility toward her late husband wasn’t hidden, and Marek wondered if that incident had been the final blow to Klaudia’s faith. He assumed his family’s demise had eroded her trust, but Gunnar’s actions had probably been the last straw. As Marek listened to Klaudia’s history, he wondered how differently their lives might have been if not for…. He smiled inwardly, for it was impossible not to imagine such a situation. Behind her veiled fury he caught glimpses of the girl he had loved, mostly in her voice when she spoke of her son. She tried to be detached, but her teary eyes tugged at Marek’s heart. Then he wondered how she would treat the Snyder and Ahern children; would she focus on Paul or snub all four? Marek couldn’t recall if Sam mentioned the kids that morning, they mostly talked about Saturday’s meal. Marek was going to make roast beef and Yorkshire puddings again, but Sam would fix the potatoes. Sam mentioned Lynne’s provisions and Marek had watched how Klaudia offered no reaction. She had possessed a sweet tooth when they were younger, but perhaps she had grown out of it. If Lynne’s pies made no impression, Marek would take it as a sign that this reunion was merely a one-off, although considering that stirred an ache within his heart. Klaudia wore a thick shell, which had probably kept her sane. But underneath that armor was there any remnant to who she had been?
He studied how she sat with her arms crossed over her chest; they spoke in the kitchen, as she had seemed uncomfortable in the library. Klaudia faced the painting, although Marek wondered how much of it she actually saw, for she never looked in that direction, usually glancing around the room, occasionally meeting his gaze. When she did make eye contact, it was furtive, as though she didn’t want him aware she was looking at him. He wished she wasn’t so angry, but accepted her life had been filled with disappointments. She had gotten out of Poland, but Norway hadn’t provided her with much happiness. Freedom yes, but…. Marek cringed as she started to light a cigarette, then she stopped. “Sorry, I forgot.” She sighed loudly, placing the pack back on the table.
Marek hadn’t said anything about it when she brought the pack into the kitchen, not wishing to further stir her ire. Now he wore a gentle smile. “It’s funny in that most of my friends aren’t smokers. Many of my parishioners are,” he added with a chuckle. “I never could afford it at home, and by the time I arrived in Britain, it wasn’t something to which I was inclined.”
Now Klaudia grinned. “Gunnar taught me, isn’t that odd? Perhaps he thought it would make me appear less….” Then she sighed again. “I never understood why he married me, maybe he thought he was saving the poor Polish girl from utter ruin.” She huffed, fingering the pack of cigarettes, then pushing it away. “My parents were certainly relieved someone wanted me. As soon as I was Gunnar’s wife, it was like….”
Her eyes filled with tears, then she gazed toward the painting. Marek wished he sat closer to her, for he would have reached for her hand. She probably would have pulled away from him, but at least he could have revealed an inkling of his affections. For much to his amazement, he was still in love with her, although it was tempered.
He thought her hostility to religion an unfortunate reaction to the war, compounded by her son. Yet she looked so much the same, a few wrinkles reminding him of the two decades they had been separated. But if time was erased, there sat the person to whom he had given his heart, perhaps unwittingly, and still it remained within her possession. Now he knew why Maggie’s refusal of his marriage proposal hadn’t caused him great distress. He had been in love with someone else. No other woman would have satisfied him.
But physical similarities weren’t enough to rouse Marek’s full affections. Then he chided himself; had he invited her hoping for more than a simple reunion? Maybe subconsciously, he permitted, as she continued gazing around the room, neither speaking. Perhaps he had wanted the Klaudia of his past, not considering how both had changed in the interim. Then he wondered how much Eric’s absence played into this situation. Marek had longed for someone with whom he could speak honestly, and only that man had fully filled the void. Marek’s chats with Lynne were of a different variety, his talks with Laurie and Sam of a similar nature. Suddenly a pastor desperately missed his best friend, which made Marek smile. They had known each other briefly, but a life-long connection had been forged. When Eric returned, Marek would tell him about this realization, and how thankful he was for Eric’s homecoming.
“What?” Klaudia asked, her own smile showing.
“Just thinking about….” Marek paused, then sighed. “Those we love who are far away.”
“Do you think about your family often?”
He nodded, grateful she assumed that had been his meaning. “When I do, I consider what they might think of where I am today.” That was the truth, then he chuckled. “I’m sure my mother would never believe it, and my father would laugh, wondering how in the world I get along without the comforts of home.”
Klaudia stared at him, then she uncrossed her arms, folding her hands in her lap. “I was surprised you were in America.”
Her tone was plaintive, causing Marek to scoot his chair closer to hers. “It happened suddenly, in that there was an opening, and I was ready for a change.” He smiled, wishing to grasp her hands, which were nearly within his reach. “That I came all the way out west was God’s plan, although I’ll admit I wanted more sunshine.”
Klaudia smiled. “I imagine it’s very different here in summer.”
“Yes, more like home. We get enough rain year-round to keep it green, but it’s not as soggy as England.”
She nodded, then again gazed toward the painting. “Do you correspond with anyone there?”
Her tone carried a hint of jealousy, but Marek hid his grin. “No. That’s a completed chapter of my life, as is Poland. I can’t imagine returning unless the Soviets are gone, and I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”
He wondered if she held any desire to return, and in her sigh he detected a similar mood. For both Poland was home, although it was qualified. Marek would love to visit Warsaw and Krakow, but he never considered returning to their village. “For now, I’m very happy living here. My parish keeps me busy, I have good friends, and the occasional surprise to keep life interesting.” He smiled broadly, then leaned forward, patting Klaudia’s hands. “I can’t tell you how good it was to read your letter. And now here we are, quite a miracle if I might say so.” He looked at her as he spoke, watching how she nodded her head, but kept her eyes downcast. “I realize we’ve both been through the wringer, that’s an American expression,” he chuckled. “But one can never predict the future. All we can do is keep our hearts open to the unexpected. This is certainly one of the most surprising events of my life.”
He purposely kept God out of the conversation, which made him wince, not for Klaudia’s sake, but that if he was speaking with Eric, Christ would be front and center. Was that what Marek missed most about their chats? Marek recalled the evening he told Eric about this woman, when Eric was struggling with his dual identity. The complexity of that conversation burned strongly within Marek; both men had shared their deepest feelings, and Marek so wished for someone with whom he could again speak about Klaudia, for now so much was known. She was different, also the only one he might ever love. How to reconcile those emotions, Marek mused, as Klaudia sat silently, grasping his hands within her own.
Her touch was soothing, also troubling; she stirred a longing within Marek, but it was met with a great need beyond physical gratification. If they were intimate, some of his desires would be satisfied, but a lasting pain would intrude, for she would never share in his love for God. He sighed inwardly; perhaps she might embrace faith, but it would be a long time in coming, if ever. Could he love a woman who held no respect for…. Marek shivered for how she continued to stroke his hands as well as finally understanding Eric’s dilemma. Again he wished for that man’s presence, if only to provide support. Both dwelled in two worlds, but at least Marek was in control of his choices.
Yet it wasn’t easy to extricate his hands from hers, and when he did another shiver traveled through him, for he felt lonely, although she remained a foot away. He gazed at her and she nodded, maybe only in admitting it was too soon. Then he felt guilty; would he sleep with her before she departed regardless of their differences? He wanted her, that wasn’t in question. But the cost of such passion would be high, the repercussions lasting. Marek stood, stretching as he did so. He was tired, but didn’t expect to sleep soon. He offered his goodnights, aware he would first spend many minutes, perhaps hours, on his knees in prayer. Klaudia left the kitchen as well, walking to her room, closing the door behind her. Marek waited a moment, then headed toward the main chapel. He would start there, going to his bedroom once he was certain she was asleep.
Luke had spent much of Thursday keeping to himself. Now he wasn’t sure if Tilda knew more about Mr. Doe’s coming departure, although she didn’t say much about it. They had walked to school in silence, then returned home the same. Luke felt what had happened at the beginning of the week was part of their quiet moods, and when Luke woke tomorrow morning, another change would be waiting. Luke had wanted to speak to Mr. Doe, but every time he tried, his throat grew tight and tears welled in the corners of his eyes. Now he lay in bed, listening to his sisters sleeping around him. But maybe that was better than if he was alone in his own room. Luke couldn’t wait until his father and Mr. Bolden started adding onto the house, but he’d assumed Mr. Doe would be lending his good hand to help. Then Luke sighed, for that had been wishful thinking. Mr. Doe was leaving for Dallas with Mr. Thompson, and in all likelihood, Luke would never see Mr. Doe again.
Maybe they would get a letter from him once he remembered who he was and was back with his family. Luke didn’t question why Mr. Doe was leaving now; he was starting to recall some pieces of his past, and maybe he didn’t want to burden Luke’s parents any further. Maybe Hiram had something to do with it, Luke wondered, turning to his side, but still not feeling at all like sleeping. Hiram was sort of starting over; would he and Miss Essie stay in Karnack, or go to Oklahoma where Miss Essie had relatives? Luke felt badly that Hiram’s life was such a mess, but at least his daddy wouldn’t return to hurt him or his stepmother. Like everyone else, Luke knew that if Pop Bellevue was ever found, he’d be arrested on attempted murder charges. Miss Essie was improving, Luke had overheard at school, but she remained in the hospital. Luke sighed softly, thanking Jesus that Mr. Doe hadn’t died in their shed.
Then Luke remembered how badly that man had been hurt; Luke’s father hadn’t been certain Mr. Doe would live through that first night. Luke would always remember how awful he’d smelled, how strange his skin felt, and of course how his arm healed, though not completely. But now he could draw with his right hand and maybe someday…. Luke smiled, for a strange joy coursed through him, similar to how he felt when his daddy told him about the coming baby. Then it soon became two babies, which Luke felt was to make up for those that had died. Good things happened even though they didn’t seem possible, like Hiram’s daddy running away. Miss Essie would get better eventually, and if she and Hiram moved to Oklahoma, then Hiram could start over. Nobody there would know about his daddy, or at least no youngsters. Mr. Doe might not paint again, for he couldn’t lift his arm, but maybe he could draw pictures of folks. Luke thought the sketch of Mr. Doe’s best friend’s wife looked a lot like Tilda. He wanted to tell Mr. Doe all this, but unless he woke early in the morning, his chance would be lost.
Luke sat up in bed, then crawled to the window, peering under the curtain. Some moonlight shone, but he couldn’t see the shed, and Mr. Doe was probably sleeping. Luke wasn’t sure of the time; he’d slept some, but now he was wide awake. He lay back down, but much ran through his mind. He could leave a note for Mr. Doe, but Luke wasn’t sure if he was coming inside for breakfast. Walt had said that Mr. Thompson was leaving early; maybe he and Mr. Doe would stop in Dallas for something to eat. Then Luke grimaced; Mr. Doe wouldn’t be welcome in any Negro diners. Luke wondered if his mother had packed food for Mr. Doe to take. Quietly he got out of bed, creeping to the door. His sisters didn’t seem to notice, so Luke stepped from their room, closing the door most of the way behind him.
He heard his parents’ snores, then he smiled. His mother was looking much bigger than she had with Gail, and there were still months before the twins were expected. Luke had hoped Mr. Doe would be here for that, but Mr. Doe had his own baby to meet. Luke couldn’t be selfish; he had to accept this with a good attitude. He walked to where his school books waited near the front door. Taking a blank sheet of paper and a pencil from his satchel, he sat at the table, but the room was too dark for him to see properly. He hesitated turning on a light, not wishing to wake anyone. Finally he flicked on the switch, and he blinked as his eyes adjusted. Then he sat back down, quickly writing his thoughts. He signed it, Your friend Luke Richardson, then folded the paper in half, scribbling Mr. Doe in big letters. He gazed at the counters, then smiled, seeing a paper bag near the icebox. He looked inside, finding crackers, a thermos, some apples, and a bag of cookies. Luke put the note inside the bag, then turned off the light, slipping back into his room, closing the door behind him.
A few hours later, Luke woke to the sound of his father’s footsteps. Voices followed, those of his daddy, Mr. Doe, and another man, who Luke guessed must be Mr. Thompson. Luke sat up, hugging his knees to his chest, wondering if Mr. Bolden had come too. But Luke didn’t hear Mr. Bolden, only his daddy telling Mr. Doe to let them know when he got home.
Mr. Doe’s voice was muffled, then footsteps were heard again, but these seemed to be heading outside. Luke could join them, but he might wake his sisters. His father never said Luke wasn’t allowed to say goodbye, only that it would be too early in the morning. Yet he was awake, this was his last chance. He slipped from bed, cracking open the door. Tilda inhaled sharply, but Luke didn’t care if she woke. He ran toward the front door, hesitating only for a moment; he could hear the men walking down the porch steps. Luke opened the door, seeing his father in front of him, Mr. Thompson’s truck down the driveway. Walt turned around and Luke met his daddy’s gaze. “What’re you doing awake at this time of night?” Walt asked.
Luke shivered, for it was still dark, the air cold around his bare feet. “I just wanted to tell Mr. Doe goodbye.”
Walt nodded, then grasped Luke’s hand. “C’mon so they can be on their way.”
Father led son down the steps, but as soon as Mr. Doe smiled, Luke broke away from his dad, running toward a man who carried a paper bag in his left hand. Luke wanted to shout, but he remained hushed as he approached the men. Mr. Doe stepped toward Luke, then set the bag on the ground. “Good morning Luke. I didn’t think I’d see you before I left.”
Luke nodded, rubbing his upper arms with his hands. “I know, and I’m sorry Mr. Doe. That’s my fault, not yours.”
“It’s cold Luke, you should be inside.”
“I, I had to say goodbye properly. I left you a note but….” Tears now ran down Luke’s face. “I’m gonna miss you Mr. Doe, gonna miss you lots.”
“I’ll miss you all too Luke. But it’s time.”
Luke looked up, finding tears on Mr. Doe’s face. “I know it is. Still, it’s hard.”
“Yeah, it is.”
Luke sighed, then smiled, feeling his father grip his shoulder. “Mr. Doe, you’ll let us know when you get home, right?”
“Sure, I mean, of course I will.” Mr. Doe wiped his eyes with his left hand.
Luke studied Mr. Doe’s face; he looked uncertain. Then Luke smiled, gently grasping Mr. Doe’s right hand. “You’re gonna find your family Mr. Doe, I know you are. Just don’t forget about us, okay? You’ll wanna know if I get a baby brother in summer, maybe two of them.” Luke laughed softly. “I hope one’s a boy. I got enough sisters already.”
All three men chuckled, then Walt cleared his throat. “Best we let ’em get on the road now son. Both have long journeys ahead.”
“Yes Daddy.” Luke released Mr. Doe’s hand. Then he gazed at that man. “You’re in my prayers. And I’ll never forget you, never ever.”
Mr. Doe kneeled on the ground, looking straight at Luke. “I’ll never forget you either. And I’ll be praying for you too Luke. Especially if you end up with more sisters.”
Luke laughed. “Oh thank you Mr. Doe. Boy, will I need it.”
“Time to go inside now son.” Walt spoke softly while helping Mr. Doe to his feet.
“Yes sir.” Luke bit his lip, then sighed. “You take care now Mr. Doe. We’ll all miss you.”
“You take care too Luke.”
Luke nodded, then extended his left hand as he’d seen Mr. Bolden do when saying goodbye to Mr. Doe. But to Luke’s joyful surprise, Mr. Doe put his left arm around Luke’s shoulders. Luke completed the hug, wishing there was some way to keep this man in Karnack. But it was Luke to pull away first; he couldn’t delay Mr. Thompson from his work, and Mr. Doe had to be on his way home. Luke then gripped Mr. Doe’s left hand. “Godspeed Mr. Doe. I’ll be waiting on a letter from you.”
Mr. Doe smiled. “I promise to get it out as soon as I’m…home.”
Luke released Mr. Doe’s hand, then leaned against his father. “You do that now sir.”
As Mr. Doe nodded, Mr. Thompson headed for the driver’s door. Mr. Doe then collected the paper bag and Walt and Luke followed him to the passenger side of the truck. “You need a hand?” Walt said, motioning to door.
Luke stepped back as his father helped Mr. Doe into the truck. Then Walt shut the door. “Take care,” Walt said as Mr. Doe rolled down the window.
“You too. Luke, you enjoy your new room and….”
An engine’s roar drowned out the rest of Mr. Doe’s words. Headlights flickered, then lit up the Richardsons’ front yard. Luke was blinded for a moment, then he blinked away tears as the truck headed down the driveway. Within seconds Mr. Thompson turned onto the main road, then all Luke saw was a thin trail of moonlight shining along the ground. He shivered, then faced his father. “Will we ever see him again?”
Walt shrugged, then put his arm around Luke. “That’s up to the Lord. Let’s get you inside. Gonna hear from your mama if you catch cold.”
“I’m fine,” Luke said, although his feet were freezing. He ran to the porch, taking the steps softly. He waited for his father, then both entered the house. Walt quietly shut the door while Luke went to the woodstove, where a fire popped. He hadn’t noticed that when he woke, nor had it been burning when he was writing the note. “Daddy, you been up a while?”
Walt joined him, holding his hands over where heat radiated. “A little while. Still pretty early though. Why don’t you lay on the sofa? Maybe you can get more sleep.”
Luke nodded, then yawned. As he lay down, his father covered him with a blanket. Then Walt rubbed Luke’s feet, making the boy giggle. “Daddy, I’m gonna miss him.”
“I will too. But Luke, it’s time.”
“I know.” Luke yawned again, then he rolled onto his side, facing the woodstove. “Daddy, are you going back to bed?”
“In a bit. Gonna make sure the fire’s burning good first.”
“Okay. Good night Daddy.”
“Good night son.”
Luke fell asleep to the sounds of crackling wood and his father’s steady breathing. In his dreams, Luke received a letter from Mr. Doe, telling all about his journey, his family, and how thankful he was for his time in Karnack. When Luke woke, his father was gone, but his mother was cooking breakfast. Luke shared his dream, making his mother dab at her eyes with the hem of her apron. Luke hugged her from the side, stirring her laughter. He laughed too, praying for Mr. Doe and the twins all to arrive safe and sound.
Jonah Thompson didn’t speak much on the drive, permitting John to ponder his next move. The paper bag contained more than the snacks Luke had seen; two sandwiches had been added, plus nuts and beef jerky that Walt said were a gift from Callie. John had food for the next couple of days, plus forty dollars, which John had tried to refuse. Walt had ignored those protests, leaving unstated that if John’s memory didn’t return, perhaps the amnesiac might be forced into difficult circumstances. John considered their brief conversation, which took place right before Luke stirred, then John gazed at the sunrise through the truck’s large side mirror. Luke was probably just waking up, and according to the last sign along the highway, Dallas was about an hour away. Jonah actually had deliveries on the western side of the city, providing John a little extra time off his feet. Jonah would drop him off in Fort Worth, near Highway 287. John would follow that roadway until Amarillo, where it connected with Interstate 40, which if possible he would take as far as Albuquerque, New Mexico. Then…. John didn’t wish to get too far ahead of himself, but the urge to see his family was so strong. Utah would be next, then into Idaho, then onto…. He sighed softly, for those locations were according to Callie Bolden. John had visited with Callie yesterday while Luke and Tilda were in school. Callie had tried to give John ten dollars, but that money John had refused. Instead they enjoyed slices of sweet potato pie, one of which also waited in the paper bag. John had both the Richardsons and Boldens’ addresses in his pocket, although he knew Walt’s by memory. As soon as he was home, a phone call would commence, for he knew Walt’s telephone number, then letters would be written, most likely by John’s wife. John could produce a crude drawing with his right hand, but nothing more.
As the Dallas skyline emerged, John concentrated, but nothing seemed familiar. Not that he thought Texas was home, but since Walt had mentioned Florida, John had started to wonder just how he had landed here. Landed wasn’t the right word, or was it? He must have been looking for something to paint, for that seemed the most plausible reason, yet why would he have left his pregnant wife and their daughter? Had he lost his memory before being shot, and who had done that deed? John didn’t consider Hiram, for that name stirred distressing memories. John sighed as the city grew closer. Just who was he?
As traffic increased, Jonah spoke about where they were headed; he didn’t often make deliveries into Fort Worth, but it just happened that day he had several customers waiting. John thought it might be providence, or was it merely a coincidence? Jonah clearly thought the former, noting he needed the money and God always provided. John smiled, then asked how long Jonah had been at this job.
“’Bout three years now sir. It’s a far drive from home, but beats going hungry.”
John nodded, but didn’t speak. Another sensation that had increased over the last few days was that wherever he lived, it was in relative comfort compared to his hosts. John wasn’t sure if he had been a successful artist, maybe his family was wealthy, or his wife’s. He had kept that to himself, but if it proved true, he would make sure the Richardsons, Boldens, and now Jonah Thompson benefitted. Jonah was a young man, but cutting and hauling firewood, plus so many hours spent on the road, would age him quickly. Jonah had recently gotten married, Callie had said, but there were few good paying jobs for Negros in Karnack, and his wife didn’t want to move away from their families.
The men said nothing more as Dallas grew from a speck along the horizon into a sprawling metropolis; nothing about it stirred any memories, although John considered what had happened here last November. Then Jonah respectfully spoke about the late president; not long after the assassination, Jonah had driven past the book depository. It had been early in the morning and the area had been quiet, he remarked, sorrow in his tone. Then Jonah sighed, leaving John with a sense of displacement. He hadn’t known about that tragedy until Walt mentioned it, and the magnitude hadn’t hit John until days later. It wasn’t just that his memory had been lost, but a part of his life was missing. Would he ever recover his sense of self?
He pondered that as Jonah drove through the city, then announced they were about five minutes from his first stop. John nodded, staring out at an anonymous neighborhood; was this Fort Worth already? John didn’t imagine he’d ever be here again, so he took note of the buildings, cars, some people bustling about. All were Negroes on their ways to work, school, or…. Even if he knew a few concrete facts, he felt empty, so much still a mystery. As Jonah parked the truck, fear struck John. What if he never remembered who he was?
“Won’t take me long here,” Jonah said. “Then I’ll be dropping you off sir.”
“All right.” John smiled, but it felt false. “I’m in no hurry.”
Jonah nodded, then got out of the truck. John hadn’t offered to help; he probably would have been more of a hindrance. He began to stew, but watching Jonah carry armloads of wood to and from the vehicle alleviated his mind. He had many reasons to return home, if only to provide this young man with options.
Within minutes Jonah was back behind the steering wheel, negotiating them onto the highway. John would be dropped off just north of the city, where he might hitch a ride with a trucker heading toward Amarillo. Best that John catch a lift there, and not be walking along the highway itself. Callie had pointedly said that John’s injury might draw added sympathy. If nothing else, John posed little threat to hardened truck drivers.
The truck stop wasn’t more than a small café surrounded by older vehicles. Then John realized this was for Negroes. “You stay here a minute,” Jonah said. “I’m gonna see if anyone’s heading west.”
John nodded, his heart racing. Jonah wasn’t gone long, returning with a smile. He opened John’s door, then helped him from the seat. “I got you as far as Amarillo. You won’t get there till mid-afternoon, but it’s a start.”
“Thank you so much.”
John put his left hand into his pocket, wishing to give a little money to Jonah. But Jonah shook his head. “Just travel safely and be sure to call Mr. Richardson when you reach home.”
“I’ll do that. Thank you for taking me this far.”
Jonah smiled. “My pleasure sir. All right, here he comes. His name’s Watson, didn’t say much else.” Jonah pointed to a tall older man, who didn’t seem surprised that John was white. He nodded to them both, then headed for his truck, motioning for John to follow.
John swallowed, but his mouth was dry. He stuck out his left hand, but Jonah didn’t seem to understand. Then he chuckled, shaking with his left. Then he handed John the paper bag, closing the passenger door. Quickly John walked to where Mr. Watson waited. He helped John into his truck, and within minutes all three men were back on the highway. Jonah returned to Fort Worth while John and his new companion headed westward.
Lynne was up early that morning, considering what kind of pies to bake for tomorrow as well as other tasks; laundry required her attention and Cary needed a bath. Lynne didn’t specifically think about Eric, but he hovered in the back of her head as Jane asked about her father. Lynne had been feeding Cary while during breakfast Jane posed that query. “What do you know that I don’t?” Lynne smiled at her eldest.
Jane looked at her mother quizzically, then ate a bite of toast. Lynne chuckled, feeling rather lighthearted for her situation. She prayed for Eric, then switched Cary to her other breast. After both girls finished their meals, Lynne would bathe her youngest, then start the laundry once Cary was napping. The phone rang, but Lynne didn’t attempt to answer it, although Jane pointed toward the sound. “They’ll call back,” Lynne said. “I only have two hands.”
Jane laughed, raising both arms over her head. Then she returned to her breakfast while Lynne stroked Cary’s small head. Blonde hairs stood on end, but the static electricity didn’t deter the baby from her meal. Lynne inhaled a deep peace, considering how this moment had once seemed an impossible dream. In due time, Eric would return, and these days would be the anomaly.
An hour later, a mother was busy in the laundry room, Jane at her side, while Cary napped in the living room. After filling the washer, Lynne led Jane into the kitchen, where they had a small snack. As Jane ate, Lynne stepped into where Cary slept, moving the Moses basket to the sunroom. Then she brought Jane into the living room where they played quietly. Rain fell outside, but the house was cozy. Then the phone rang again but this time Lynne answered it. “Good morning,” she said cheerily.
“Hello. I tried earlier, but thought you might be busy.” Marek’s tone was chipper. “I was wondering if you might enjoy some visitors today.”
“That would be lovely. Cary’s asleep right now, but probably won’t be for much longer. When should we expect you?”
“Whenever you like. I made some caramel slices to share.”
Lynne smiled. “Well come over now and we’ll have an early lunch first.”
“All right. We’ll be there in about twenty minutes.”
“Sounds good.” Lynne closed the call, then looked to see Jane standing in the doorway. “We’re going to meet Mrs. Henrichsen this morning. I wonder what she’ll think of you and your sister.”
Jane approached Lynne, wishing to be picked up, but Lynne wasn’t yet toting more than her baby or half a basket of laundry. She led Jane to the table, then helped her into the seat. “We’ll see what Klaudia thinks of caramel slices, unless she’s already tried one.”
Jane’s eyes grew wide, making her mother laugh. “But you have to have lunch first.” Lynne opened the refrigerator. “There’s cold cuts for us, peanut butter and jelly for you.” Then Lynne stared at her daughter. “I hope Klaudia doesn’t mind something simple. Looks like I need to get to the market.” Lynne sighed, staring at the large window where rain dripped down the panes. If Marek offered to watch the girls, Lynne would take the opportunity to do some shopping. She hadn’t yet been to the store with both of her daughters, that seemed a little much. Sam and Renee had taken care of picking up groceries, but even if Lynne felt Eric was on his way home, he wasn’t there yet….
Lynne shivered; while she knew he would return, the idea that he was actually in route was new. She glanced at Jane; was that due to her question earlier? “He’s on his way,” Lynne said softly, walking to where Jane sat at the table. Lynne ran her hand through Jane’s lengthy tresses, then leaned down, kissing the top of Jane’s head. “Don’t ask how I know, but he is, oh my goodness.” Lynne blinked away tears, then sat beside her daughter. “But we’ll keep it just between us. Uncle Marek has enough to consider already.”
Jane smiled, then clapped her hands. “Daddy come home?”
Lynne nodded, placing her hands over her daughter’s. “Yeah sweetie. I really think he’s on his way.” Then Lynne wiped her misty eyes. “Now, however, we have guests coming.” She stood, again caressing Jane’s head. “I’m gonna make a list and if Uncle Marek complains about the menu, I’ll excuse myself to the market.” Lynne went to the counter and within minutes had complied a substantial shopping list. She left it in full view, but would first gauge Klaudia’s ability with small children. Then Lynne shook her head, setting the list out of sight. “There’s no rush, he’s not coming home today. But soon, oh Jane, I can feel it like, like….”
Lynne laughed as Cary began to cry. “My goodness, if it doesn’t rain, it pours.” Lynne walked to where Jane still sat, helping her from the seat. “Let’s get your sister. Marek can see himself in, and Mrs. Henrichsen too.” Lynne held Jane’s hand, but the toddler ran toward the sunroom where her baby sister was now howling. Lynne wasn’t bothered, for as soon as she sat on the sofa, Cary would quiet, or at least be moments away from her next meal.
Half an hour later Jane entertained her uncle and his friend in the kitchen while Lynne and Cary remained in the living room. Occasionally Marek had peeked in on mother and baby, but Cary was in no hurry, and Lynne only shrugged. Marek smiled, then returned to find Jane drawing circles on a large pad of scratch paper, a blue crayon in Jane’s right hand. Initially Klaudia had been wary of the toddler, but Jane merely wished to draw, although one wouldn’t guess her father was a heralded artist. Jane’s attempts were true to her age, and had gone through several pieces of paper. Marek rejoined the ladies, sitting to Jane’s right. She smiled at him, then gave him her latest creation.
“Well thank you very much,” he said in English. Then he chuckled, adding in Polish, “but I think you can give this to my friend. It can be her first souvenir of the trip.”
Jane gazed at Marek, then looked at Klaudia. She handed the sheet to the dumbstruck woman, who was slow in taking it. Jane gibbered something, which at first Klaudia didn’t understand. Jane repeated herself, making Klaudia smile. “My God,” she said in Polish, “she knows what you’re saying.”
Marek nodded. “I’ve been speaking to her in Polish nearly as long as I’ve known her. Toddlers are smarter than people think. She has trouble with the verbal aspect, but her comprehension is incredible.”
Klaudia met his gaze. “Say something else to her, something she could respond to.”
“Why don’t you try?” Marek said slyly.
Klaudia frowned, then crossed her arms over her chest. Then she looked at the stack of pictures in the center of the table. “I think Marek would like one,” she said in Polish to Jane. Klaudia nearly motioned to the papers, but refrained.
Jane looked at the woman, then at Marek. In her own way, Jane asked Marek if he wanted a drawing. He said that yes he would. She handed him one from the stack, then returned to coloring.
Jane used an odd dialect, but it was clearly more Polish than English, what Klaudia then said to Marek. Then Klaudia leaned back in her chair, again folding her arms over her upper body. “I’ve never seen a bilingual child at such a young age. She’ll be fully….” Klaudia stopped speaking, then abruptly stood, stepping near the large window. Her arms remained tightly wrapped over her chest, and she shook her head. Yet she couldn’t stop staring at Jane, who had immediately caught Klaudia’s attention from the moment she and Marek had entered the house. It was Jane’s blue eyes, although Marek found more gray in those irises every time he saw the little girl. Now he gazed at his guest, still staring at Jane, who continued coloring. Marek wanted to comfort Klaudia, but knew his efforts would be in vain. In their few days together he had learned she desired little in the way of consolation, at least in how she presented herself. Underneath he assumed she ached for a loving touch, but he wouldn’t breach that barrier at the Snyder household. He wasn’t sure if he might have a chance before she left next Wednesday.
But Jane had made a chink in Klaudia’s well-built armor, for she couldn’t stop looking at Lynne and Eric’s daughter. Jane was a pretty child, but it wasn’t merely her appearance, other than maybe her vibrant blue eyes. Part of it was her linguistic ability, and maybe her artistic handiwork had piqued Klaudia’s interest. But something else had mesmerized Marek’s guest. Then he shivered; had Klaudia and her late husband hoped to raise their son to speak more than only Norwegian? Would Marek’s namesake also have learned Polish, or perhaps English? Marek smiled at Jane, then stood, peeking in on Lynne. She was burping Cary, and he nodded. Then he turned his attention to Klaudia, still standing several feet away from the table. “Lynne is about to join us. I’ll start some lunch for Jane, then we can eat in peace.”
He used English in case Lynne could hear him. Klaudia nodded blankly, then met his gaze. “Do you want help?” she said slowly in English.
“Not necessarily. Just keep Jane happy.”
“Of course.” Klaudia returned to her seat, but scooted back a few inches. Jane didn’t seem to notice, already working on another masterpiece, what Marek said to Lynne as she entered the kitchen with Cary in her arms.
“Sorry that took so long.” Lynne stepped close to Marek, showing off the baby. Then she turned to face those seated at the table. “Sometimes she’s a slowpoke. I’m Lynne, it’s lovely to meet you.”
Marek observed how Klaudia merely nodded, then she cleared her throat, standing and approaching where Lynne stood near Jane. The women shook with their left hands, as Lynne toted Cary in her right arm. Marek also noted how Lynne didn’t immediately ask if Klaudia wanted to hold the baby. He almost chuckled, but refrained; Lynne was so astute, but Klaudia couldn’t take her eyes off of the mother. Marek didn’t think Klaudia wanted to hold Cary, but something about Lynne had caught Klaudia’s attention.
Lynne didn’t seem to notice, taking Marek’s empty seat, then admiring Jane’s drawings. “I see you’ve been busy,” Lynne said to her daughter. Then she gazed at Marek. “I can do that if you wanna hold Cary.”
“That would suit me fine.” He rinsed his hands, then walked to the table where Lynne handed over the baby. Cary was alert, gazing up at him. Marek tickled her chin, then retook his chair. “Well hello there Miss Snyder. How are you today?”
Cary made small sounds, then closed her eyes. She reopened them, and while she looked at Marek, he knew she wasn’t focusing on him. Then he gazed at Klaudia; he could see she was full of questions, although she didn’t wish to ask them in front of Lynne. He hid his smile; she could inquire in Polish, but that would be rude. Lynne spoke in the background, asking how were they and had they done any sightseeing. Marek answered on their behalf, occasionally making eye contact with Klaudia when she wasn’t staring at either Jane or her mother.
Then Klaudia stood, walking to where she could inspect the baby. Cary made more cooing sounds, but Klaudia didn’t ask to hold her. She looked right at Cary’s face, then at Lynne, who was busy making sandwiches. Then Klaudia tapped Marek’s shoulder, pointing at Jane, then at her mother. Her eyes, Klaudia mouthed in Polish. Where did Jane get her blue eyes?
Marek shrugged, yet if one believed in miracles, of course Jane had her Uncle Sam’s irises, although they were becoming more like her father’s gray eyes. Perhaps Klaudia hadn’t noticed in all the paintings of Lynne that she had brown eyes, or maybe Klaudia hadn’t examined more than the nature scenes, then finding herself staring at Marek’s image. She retook her seat, still looking confused, but it was mixed with tenderness, making Marek’s heart race. Klaudia pulled her chair back to where it had been before, then she scooted it even closer to Jane. In Polish, she told Jane she had beautiful eyes, and so did her sister. Her voice was that of a mother, the first time Marek had heard her speak with such affection.
Lynne didn’t ask what had been said and Marek didn’t attempt to translate. Jane smiled, then said something to Klaudia along the lines of thank you. Then Marek nearly gasped as Klaudia nodded, her eyes brimming with tears. She excused herself, asking Marek in Polish where was the bathroom. He directed her, then set Cary over his shoulder. Waiting until he heard the door close, he finally spoke to Lynne. “How long until lunch?”
“How long does she need?” Lynne said softly.
He stood, then came to Lynne’s side. “Feed Jane certainly, but perhaps we won’t stay much longer.”
Lynne nodded, cutting Jane’s sandwich into triangles. She took the plate to the table, removed the papers and crayons, then set lunch in front of Jane. She ate one bite, then looked around the room. Meeting Marek’s gaze, she asked him where had the lady gone? Marek chuckled, then answered in Polish that Klaudia would be right back. Jane nodded, then had another bite.
“She’s so smart,” he said to Lynne. “But I’m glad we came today. This broke the ice if nothing else.”
“Is she all right?” Lynne whispered.
Marek wasn’t certain, but didn’t want to worry Lynne. “It’s been a strange week.”
“I can imagine. Are you sure you want us to come tomorrow?”
“Oh yes.” He smiled at Cary, then handed her back to Lynne. “The children will occupy themselves and Klaudia met Sam at the market on Wednesday.”
Lynne nodded, cradling her baby. “Well, if you change your mind, just call.”
“I’m sure it will be….” He paused as Klaudia reentered the kitchen. Her eyes were red, but she smiled, then sat beside Jane, asking in Polish how was lunch? Jane jabbered, taking another bite.
Then Klaudia met Marek’s eyes. “What is she eating?” she said in English.
“It’s peanut butter and jelly.”
Klaudia wore a thoughtful gaze, then she looked at Lynne. “Do you think I could try that?”
“Of course. I have strawberry jam and grape jelly. Which would you prefer?”
“Whatever Jane is having,” Klaudia smiled.
“Strawberry it is. Marek, you can do the honors or take the girl here.”
“I’ll hold Cary,” he chuckled. “You’re the PBJ expert.”
Lynne laughed while handing over her daughter, then she went back to the counter. Marek sat down, keeping Klaudia in his sights. She met his gaze, then in Polish asked what PBJ meant. He explained and she giggled. That sound pierced his heart, for it was as if they were seated in his mother’s kitchen, waiting for a similar treat. Within minutes, Lynne set a plate in front of Klaudia, then asked Marek what kind of sandwich he wanted. He smiled, asking for the same as Klaudia. That made her giggle again, but this time he wished to place that joy into Klaudia’s heart like a transplant. Lynne brought Marek his lunch, then sat down with her own peanut butter sandwich. After Klaudia finished hers, she shyly asked Marek if she could hold the baby, so he could eat in peace. He smiled, setting Cary in Klaudia’s arms. After he was done, Jane asked to be put down, but instead Marek hoisted her onto his lap. Lynne said nothing while Marek glanced at Klaudia, who was captivated by the drowsy infant. A few times Klaudia blinked away tears. Otherwise she gazed at Marek, wearing a smile as if time and circumstances had disappeared. His heart pounded, but he only chuckled as Jane started drawing another picture, of her father she said, who was coming home soon.
The Aherns arrived at the Snyder home early on Saturday morning, but Sam didn’t stay for more than one cup of decaf. Lynne had a long list, and while Renee watched the children, Sam headed to the market. The families would have lunch once Sam returned, but it wouldn’t be the same as Lynne had eaten yesterday with Marek and Klaudia; Lynne had called Renee not long after her guests had departed, and Renee had shared those details with Sam. He mulled over those facts as he shopped, wondering how Klaudia would react to a host of children, one of them a boy. She had seemed amiable a few days ago when Sam met her, also slightly aloof, which he’d chalked up to her foreignness. Her English was good, but he wasn’t surprised she’d been taken aback at Jane’s comprehension of Polish. Renee had mentioned asking Marek to speak it to their children, and while it seemed a strange language in which to become fluent, what harm could it do?
Sam chose a few staples for his own kitchen, and when he reached the tills, he helped bag groceries; Lynne had run low on many items, and Sam felt guilty for not having done her shopping sooner. Renee had been busy helping Ritchie and Brenda, for now Renee’s brother was back home, and while the transition was going well, it was still much for that family to process. Sam had been caring for Ann most of the week, and had also given his notice at the hospital. His last day was set for next Wednesday, and perhaps it was the perfect time to free up his schedule. That morning Lynne had mentioned she felt Eric was on his way home, and while at this point it wasn’t more than one woman’s intuition, Sam wouldn’t be surprised if Lynne was right. As soon as she’d said it, Sam felt a slight shiver, then a healing aroma filled his nostrils. He’d smiled, squeezed Renee’s hand, then nodded to Lynne’s declaration. Then he’d drained what remained in his coffee cup, excusing himself to the store. As he bagged more groceries, he laughed inwardly; he had bought a full trolley, and very little was going to his house. Then he wondered if he might shop again later; all the food he had made, then frozen for when Cary arrived, had been eaten. Perhaps Sam needed to do some extra cooking, for now there were many mouths to feed. Laurie had called a couple of days ago, asking how everyone was. He’d sounded slightly forlorn, as if needing a reason to return. Sam wasn’t sure if Lynne’s premonition was enough to seek Laurie’s presence, although if Sam had a choice, he’d prefer Laurie Abrams over anyone else in this situation. Marek had his hands full, and even if Klaudia was gone, that man wouldn’t be the best for what Sam knew was coming. Then he sighed as the checker announced the total, but it wasn’t the bill to cause him anguish. Sam wrote a check, thinking how Marek would look after Lynne and the children while Laurie could assist Sam with Eric’s care.
Laurie and Renee, although Sam didn’t wish to saddle his wife with more than what she had attended to the last time Eric required such convalescence. Maybe it was just that regardless of Eric’s condition when he got home, he would feel better if surrounded by those who understood his battle with…. Sam thanked the bagger for his assistance, but said he could get the groceries to the car unaided. Sam needed a few moments alone; if Eric was still a hawk, who knew how long his recovery would take. If he was a man…. Sam sighed, quickly putting bags in the trunk of his car. That too was fraught with unknowns; what had happened to him between Miami and…. Sam shut the trunk, put away the cart, then got into his car. But he didn’t immediately start the engine. Gripping the steering wheel, he closed his eyes, asking for peace and healing. God was keeping Ritchie sober, even if his leg would always cause problems. He limped badly, alternating between needing crutches and getting by with a cane. Yet according to Renee, he didn’t seem troubled, nor did Brenda. Profound changes had occurred within the Nolan household, and perhaps another family was on the brink of reconciliation.
Sam started his car, then drove back to Lynne’s, where Renee helped him bring in groceries. Lynne chuckled that Sam had bought enough for a month, then she laughed when he mentioned shopping again later. “Let’s give it a few days,” she said. “If nothing else, all this will feed an army.”
Paul and Ann gathered around their father while Jane sat in Renee’s arms. Cary was sleeping, which had given Lynne time to bake. The kitchen felt homey to Sam, smelling of sweetness and sounding like Frannie’s house. He sat down with another cup of decaf, then took Ann onto his lap. “I spoke to Laurie recently,” Sam began. “Do you think I should call him back?”
“Not yet.” Lynne sat beside Sam, while Renee took a chair on his other side. “I can’t tell you more today than what I knew yesterday. He’s on his way, we just have to be patient.”
“Who’s on his way?” Paul asked, standing next to Renee.
“My husband Eric.” Lynne smiled. “You haven’t met him yet, but he’ll be back soon.”
Sam noticed the conviction in Lynne’s voice, also the suspicion on Paul’s face. “How do you know he’s coming back?” Paul asked.
“God put a feeling on my heart.” Lynne pointed to the center of her chest. “Actually, he told Jane first, then she told me.”
Paul’s eyebrows shot up and he gazed at Jane, still in Renee’s grasp. “How does she know?”
“I’m not sure, but she said her daddy was coming home soon, then I had the same feeling. We just have to wait and trust.”
Sam’s heart pounded, for on the surface, Lynne’s statement presented a host of questions. Ann seemed nonplussed, talking to Jane about dolls. But Paul still appeared apprehensive. Sam wanted to add to the conversation, but something held him back. He watched as Paul approached Lynne, staring right at her.
Lynne smiled at Paul, then caressed his cheek. “I know that might sound strange because Eric’s been gone a long time, you and Ann haven’t even met him. All you hear is us talk about him, but other than pictures, you’ve never seen him. Yet he’s real, I’ve been married to him for a long time.” Lynne giggled, then motioned toward the large window, where the sun shone intermittently as clouds streaked past. “He turned our backyard into the garden it is today, he painted the pictures at your house, and when he comes home, there’s plenty of work for him to do, not to mention meeting Cary, you, and Ann. You can tell him how much you like the painting of the boysenberries, I know he’ll love to hear it.”
Sam blinked away tears; both Paul and Ann adored that canvas, bright fat berries captivating the children’s imaginations. He wondered what they would make of the barn; he couldn’t wait for that painting’s return, perhaps by Easter. The exhibition would run through the beginning of March, and if Lynne was right, maybe Eric would be back by then too.
Paul nodded, then he turned to face Sam. In his son’s eyes, Sam saw the desire to believe, also unwillingness. Sam ached for that reluctance, but other than prayer there was nothing he could do about it. Lifting his son and best friend to Christ, Sam then ruffled Paul’s cowlick, which made the boy smile. But he didn’t seek further attention, running from the kitchen into the living room. Renee started to put Jane on the floor, but Sam shook his head. “Just let him be.”
Renee sighed, then nodded at her husband. Sam would treat this in the same way as he did his children’s budding faith. He couldn’t force them to believe in God, but maybe when Eric came home, Paul might better understand the idea of trust. Sam didn’t think Paul would assume Roy and Beth might return; Paul knew his parents were dead. Then Sam shivered; Jane seemed to think just the opposite about her father. Sam gazed at Jane, her eyes not as blue as they used to be. She still looked just like her mother and perhaps she possessed Lynne’s capacity for…. Sam stood, putting Ann in his chair. “I’ll be right back,” he said.
Mothers nodded as Sam stepped out of the kitchen. He found Paul at the French doors, his hands upon the panes. Sam cleared his throat as he approached his son, causing Paul to turn around. His face was somber, his blue eyes dry.
Sam smiled as Paul met him not far from the doors, the little boy shoving his hands into his pockets. Sam chuckled inwardly; it was like staring at a younger version of himself, trying to ponder difficult information. This wasn’t as miserable as Paul learning his parents were dead, nor was it like when Renee told Sam the truth about Eric. Still it was hard for a five-year-old, and Sam knelt in front of Paul. “What were you looking at?” Sam asked.
“I dunno. What does Jane’s daddy look like?”
“He’s taller than me, skinnier too. He has blonde hair and gray eyes and….”
“Why’d he leave?”
“He went to help Uncle Laurie’s cousin. It’s just taking him a long time to get home.”
“Do you really think he’s coming back?”
Sam smiled as a wave of peace engulfed his heart. “I do, just like how I felt when I met you. I didn’t really know you or Ann, but at the very same time I knew….” Sam paused only for a second. “That I was gonna be your dad and Renee was your mom.”
Paul nodded, then he sighed. “Why do things like that happen?”
“Things like what?”
Paul hesitated, then spoke. “Bad things, but then something good happens.”
Sam’s heart lurched, then he went to his feet. “Let’s sit down a minute.”
Paul followed Sam to the couch and both sat down. Paul left space between them, but Sam didn’t mind. He prayed for the right words, then smiled at his son, who still looked skeptical. “Sometimes life goes along and we don’t have to think too hard about what’s happening. We get up, eat breakfast, go to school or work or….” Eric’s voice popped into Sam’s head: I know I’m new at this faith stuff, but he didn’t spare his own son. Why shouldn’t we expect some heartache along the way?
Sam couldn’t share that verbatim with Paul, but how to impart what now hit Sam like a slap along his face. “Son, a good friend once reminded me that not everything’s gonna be easy. But no matter how confusing it seems, or even painful, there’s a reason for it. Now, we might not see any reason right away, or maybe we’ll never know why.” Sam blinked away tears, for fresh in his mind was that night he met this little boy and the girl Sam could hear in the kitchen, asking if she could go see what was happening between Paul and Daddy. Not quite four months had passed since that evening at Vivian’s, four months of being someone’s father, days spent wondering when Eric would come back, moments being thankful for this tremendous blessing…. Sam smiled, wiping the tears still falling down his cheeks. “Jane’s daddy told me that, and at the time I thought he was crazy.” Now Sam laughed. “But he was right, because if we don’t learn how to deal with the bad things, we’ll never be able to help others when they’re hurting.”
Paul stared at Sam, then he began to nod. He also wore a small smile, then scooted next to his father. As Paul grasped Sam’s hand, Sam squeezed back, then a sharp pain seized him in the center of his chest. Sam shut his eyes, but the ache didn’t cease, although he was able to breathe through it due to the pressure of Paul’s grip. Yet, inhalations remained painful, and Sam took care to breathe as evenly as possible. He was steadied by his son, although the ache persisted. As Ann ran into the room, Renee on her heels, Sam opened his eyes, smiling at his daughter, then finding Renee’s relieved eyes. Those opaque irises went wide and her smile faded, but Sam merely nodded, gathering his children on his lap, hugging them tightly. Eric’s words again rang through Sam’s head, but instead of acting as a balm, they were a warning. Renee sat next to Sam, and he leaned against her while the children began to giggle. Still Sam’s heart raced; as soon as he had a minute alone with Renee, he would share his thoughts. He wasn’t certain if he would tell anyone else. No use worrying Lynne, Laurie, Marek, or Stanford unnecessarily.
The savory scent of beef met the Snyder and Ahern families as they entered St. Matthew’s that evening. Marek joined his guests as they approached the kitchen, taking from Sam a large covered dish. Sam went back for the pies as Lynne and Renee ushered the children down the corridor, Cary making the only noise. Lynne stepped into the library to feed her daughter as Marek made the introductions; Klaudia shook Renee’s hand, then nodded at Paul and Ann. They were shy, but Jane stuck out her arms to be picked up. Klaudia hesitated, but Jane insisted. Marek laughed softly as one little girl claimed a new member of her family.
Supper was served in the kitchen, children interspersed between the adults, although Klaudia paid more notice to the Snyder girls. Marek had wondered if that might be the case, and as he’d suspected, Klaudia seemed unable to give Paul much of her attention. He wasn’t aware, happily seated between Sam and Lynne while Renee made sure Ann ate her dinner. The promise of pie afterwards was reason enough, although the youngsters found the Yorkshire puddings interesting. Paul filled his with potatoes and gravy while Ann ate hers on its own. Jane put vegetables inside her pudding, making Klaudia chuckle. Marek relished that sound, finding honest joy on her face. That happiness made her appear years younger and he had to look away, a growing discordance rising within his soul.
The talk centered around the weather, although Klaudia laughed at the group’s idea of cold temperatures. Then she cleared her throat, as if having made a faux pas; that afternoon she had asked Marek several questions about Eric, finding Lynne’s stoicism strange for her situation. Marek explained that throughout the couple’s marriage, Eric had often been away on retreats. But Klaudia was still puzzled by how optimistic Lynne seemed. Finally Marek laid a small test at Klaudia’s feet; he’d said that Lynne had great trust in her husband and saw no reason to mope. Klaudia said nothing more about Eric or his wife.
Sam chuckled, then helped himself to another slice of beef. “We’ve never had weather like what you’re used to in Oslo, although you might find our summers pretty warm.”
Klaudia nodded, then she sighed. “Yes, I suppose I would.”
“Where do you live?” Paul asked.
Marek watched how Klaudia slowly looked toward Paul, who was staring right at her. “I live in Norway. It’s close to the Arctic Circle.”
“Where’s that?” Paul asked.
“Near the North Pole,” Klaudia said.
Paul’s eyes grew wide. “You mean you live next to Santa Claus?”
The adults laughed, even Klaudia giggled. “Well yes, I suppose I do.”
Paul smiled widely. “I bet he gets to your house first. Have you ever seen him?”
Sam and Renee still chuckled, but now Klaudia looked at Paul. “No, I never have. He gets to our houses before yours because we are several hours ahead of America.”
That idea confused Paul; he shrugged his shoulders, returning to his dinner. But Ann gazed at Klaudia. “Do you have any children?” Ann asked.
All the adults became quiet as Klaudia nodded. “A son. But he is much older than you.”
“Does Santa still stop at your house?” Ann said.
“Not anymore,” Klaudia answered.
Paul tugged on Sam’s shirtsleeve. “Daddy, does Santa not visit grown-ups?”
“He only goes to houses where little kids live. He has to draw the line somewhere.”
Sam’s tone roused Klaudia’s small grin and seemed to answer his children’s inquires. Then Paul asked if Santa brought gifts to the older Canfield kids. As Sam struggled to find an appropriate reply, Klaudia stood, taking her plate to the sink. She stepped from the kitchen and while none of the children noticed, both Renee and Lynne looked at Marek. He suspected that Klaudia needed a cigarette, as well as a break. He smiled, then got out of his chair, heading after his guest.
He smelled smoke coming from the vestibule and he walked the length of the hallway, but she wasn’t there. Then he turned left, finding her near the altar, a cigarette in her hand.
He’d found her smoking in there since asking her not to smoke in the kitchen. Initially her choice of location had irritated him, but he permitted it as it was too cold to ask her to step outside, although she probably wouldn’t have minded. Perhaps he should have insisted she smoke outside from the beginning, but allowances had been made, and now he felt she came here out of defiance. He hadn’t found ashes on the carpeting, then as he approached her, he noticed a small ashtray in her other hand.
He grinned at her inability to completely defy convention, then cleared his throat. She turned around, immediately blushing. “Sorry,” she said in Polish. “Just needed a smoke.”
“No worries,” he answered in their native language. “Just wanted to make sure you were all right.”
She huffed, which turned into a cough, which she quickly tried to calm, but instead she began to choke. Marek came to her side, setting one hand on her back. She tried to wave him off, but kept coughing. He took her cigarette and ashtray as she finally cleared the blockage. Now a few tears ran down her cheeks and she looked nervous. “Thanks,” she mumbled.
“Are you all right?”
She nodded, then met his eyes. Her tears continued, making his heart pound. “I don’t think I can go back in there.”
Marek set the cigarette in the ashtray, then placed that on the first pew. He grasped her hands, which were cold, gently rubbing them between his. The ache of his heart spread all through him, for she didn’t try to move away, still weeping. “They know about Marek,” he said. “Don’t worry.”
She stared sharply at him. Then she sighed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to….”
“It’s not a problem.” He leaned close to her, stroking her damp cheek. Marek squeezed her hands again, then released them. As he stepped away, he lost his breath; Klaudia’s eyes sparkled, her smile unhidden. She caressed his face, her lips trembling. She made no other advances, although she then grasped his hands and to his shock, hers were no longer icy.
He had never kissed her, although as a teen, he’d imagined it numerous times. As a man, he’d never considered it, for to do so would have been beyond painful. As she had thought him dead, now he realized he’d assumed the same of her, easier to move forward that way. He didn’t consider their dinner guests or where he was standing; Marek only knew that after years and years, he was close to a faraway dream.
Just as he leaned to kiss her, shrieks could be heard. He turned around, seeing Jane and Ann being chased by Renee and Sam. Marek smiled while Klaudia giggled as both little girls laughed hysterically.
“Oh my goodness Pastor, I’m so sorry.” Renee sounded flustered as she finally reached her daughter, picking up Ann while grabbing Jane’s right hand. Sam then hoisted Jane into his arms, the little girl still laughing.
“It’s no bother, we were just….” Marek paused only for a moment. “Heading back to dinner. Or did we miss the end?”
“Pie?” Jane smiled at Marek, putting her arms out toward him.
Marek laughed loudly. “Oh well yes, it must be time for pie.”
Renee said that Cary was being fed again as Marek set Jane on his other side, closer to Klaudia. Marek didn’t initiate handing Jane over, but Klaudia brushed aside some of Jane’s hair which had fallen into her face. Never before had Marek wished for a child, but he couldn’t deny that yearning now, and he wondered if Klaudia felt similarly. He fought meeting her gaze, but found himself turning her way. No tears lingered on her cheeks and again her eyes sparkled, her smile small, but as though in total agreement.
He ignored a sharp ache in his heart, instead kissing Jane’s cheek. “Well, let’s clear the table, then get out the ice cream. When Cary is done, we’ll all have dessert.”
“Yay,” Ann said while Jane clapped her hands.
“We’ll clear the table if you’ll watch these two.” Sam’s tone was conciliatory, then he chuckled, ruffling his daughter’s hair.
“We’re right behind you,” Marek said, handing Jane to Klaudia. Marek then grasped Ann’s hand, and that foursome walked slowly back to the kitchen as Ann explained to Mrs. Henrichsen just how good were Aunt Lynne’s pies.
Lee Watson drove John Doe as far as Amarillo, neither man saying much. John wasn’t sure if his race triggered Mr. Watson’s silence, perhaps the man wasn’t gregarious. John tried to give him some money, but Mr. Watson refused to take any. Then to John’s surprise, he drove to a motel on the eastern side of town. Pulling out his wallet, he gave John a five dollar bill. “Get yourself a room for the night. You’ll need a good night’s rest what with that shoulder.”
For a moment, John was speechless; they hadn’t said more than ten words over the seven hour drive. “No sir, I need to be paying you.”
Lee Watson shook his head, then stuck the money into John’s coat pocket. “Just git now, or do you need help with the door?”
John’s heart raced for the man’s odd kindness. While he didn’t wish to trouble him further, he required assistance getting out of the cab. He nodded, then sighed. “I do need some help, and thank you so much.”
Mr. Watson sighed, then quickly got out of the truck. By the time he opened John’s door, John had the paper bag tucked against his right side. Mr. Watson gripped John’s left hand, then hoisted John from the cab. The men gazed at one another, then John smiled. “Again, thank you so much. I can’t tell you….”
“Go on,” Mr. Watson said gruffly. He thrust his hands into his pockets, then headed for the driver’s door.
John stepped back, now gripping the paper bag. He watched the truck pull back onto the road, puffs of smoke coming from the tailpipe. John said a prayer, then walked toward the motel. One vacancy remained and John slept well, then ate breakfast at a diner next door. The clientele was all white, and he struck up a conversation with a man heading to Denver. Harvey Saperstein was a chatty fellow, asking John about his bad arm, his trek northward, and from where he had traveled. John revealed his amnesia, which at first Harvey didn’t believe. By the end of their meals, Harvey told John about his cousin Benjamin, who had fought in World War II, losing much of his memory from a shot to the head. John listened to Mr. Saperstein with more than curiosity; something about this man was very familiar, although John couldn’t attach more than Harvey was Jewish, as was Seth Gordon.
Saturday was spent on the road, Mr. Saperstein still loquacious. John found it hard to concentrate, so instead of trying to remember anything, he allowed this man to share his life story. Yet, links between John’s past and Harvey’s life stirred John’s memories; Harvey had been born in Brooklyn, but moved west due to the warmer climate. He remained in touch with his cousin, although the two rarely saw each other. “I spend most of my time on the road,” Harvey laughed. “Mom just wishes I’d make a run to the East Coast every now and again.”
John smiled, for something about this man was so familiar. “You remind me of somebody, I just can’t figure out who.”
“Well, I can’t say why that is. Don’t imagine you meet too many New York Jews wherever it is you’re from.”
John smiled, then shivered. He did know a New York Jew, as Harvey had put it, but who was it? “You’d think that’d be the case, but I swear you remind me of….” The man’s face was so clear to John; green eyes, blonde hair, a bright smile…. “Laurie, oh my God, Laurie!”
“Who’s she?” Harvey chuckled.
John laughed. “It’s short for Lawrence, but I can’t remember his last name. He’s the last man I….” Now John wished to weep; while he couldn’t recall Laurie’s surname, much about him was vital within John’s mind. He was a witty art dealer, he was one of John’s best friends. He was also…. “He’s the last person I saw, or that I remember seeing, before I was shot.” Now John grew still. Had that happened in Florida or had he been in New York, where Laurie lived with his…. John smiled inwardly, yet Laurie’s partner was someone John also knew well, somebody much like…. Laurie’s lover was a lot like Dora Richardson, and John had known that man longer than he’d known Laurie. John closed his eyes, wishing for any additional scraps. Then he sighed, opening his eyes, gazing at his companion. “I don’t know his last name, suppose it doesn’t help without that.”
“Well maybe not, but you said you’ve been like this since the end of November. Maybe it’s all gonna come back to you now.”
John nodded, but didn’t feel optimistic. Then Callie’s words from their drive earlier in the month stirred in the back of John’s head, ideas about faith, trust, and…. John would never forget the hope in Callie’s voice when he spoke about life being better for his daughters. Perhaps John could play a part in that improvement. He smiled, then faced Harvey. “Maybe it will. Thank you Mr. Saperstein for more than I can say.”
“Just call me Harvey and don’t call me late for dinner, that’s all the thanks I need.”
John laughed alongside his acquaintance. He would get Harvey’s address from him before they arrived in Denver, wishing there was some way he could repay Lee Watson too.
The men reached their destination at suppertime. John hadn’t recalled anything new, but felt that another good night’s sleep might provide answers in the morning. Harvey was staying over as well, snow predicted overnight. They shared dinner together, then took rooms at a motel on the north end of town. Harvey was going east in the morning, weather permitting, but John’s destination was still westward.
All night John dreamed of those he loved; his wife and eldest daughter were clear in his mind, although their names remained lost to him. He didn’t think much about his youngest child; instead he dwelled upon familiar personalities, a few clearer than others. He still couldn’t conjure Laurie’s lover’s face, but John’s pastor, the church secretary, and a cantankerous old woman who gave the minister no end of grief were set in John’s subconscious. Mrs. Harmon especially, then John woke suddenly, wiping sleep from his eyes. “Mrs. Harmon,” he said aloud, as if calling after a ghost. He didn’t know her first name, and he laughed at his scattered memory. “I suppose you wouldn’t be pleased for how I remember you. If I see Harvey in the morning, he’ll get a laugh out of it.”
John wondered the time, then sat up, staring into the darkness. Gripping his right arm, he winced, for the limb was numb. He tried to make a fist with that hand, but couldn’t tell if he had done so. “You might not be good for anything,” he said softly, “but that doesn’t mean my head’s just as screwed up.” He closed his eyes, picturing Mrs. Harmon waddling along the sidewalk in front of John’s church. Then the reason for her presence became clear; she was lecturing the pastor about missing daffodils.
Thinking about daffodils made John’s heart pound, but what was significant about those flowers? He tried to focus on the pastor, but while that man’s face was clear, his importance was also shrouded. John lay back down, then considered Laurie; was he connected to Seth Gordon? He must be, John allowed. How else would he know two Jews?
As John tried to fall back asleep, various faces teased, that of Mrs. Harmon, an unnamed cleric, John’s best friend and that man’s wife, Laurie, and…. John’s wife’s image wasn’t at all clear, but early on that Sunday morning she was awake and was praying for him. Maybe she was up with their baby daughter, or had she merely stirred to intercede on John’s behalf? “I love you honey,” he murmured. “I swear I’m gonna find you and the girls and….” He started to weep for how deep were his feelings for her, as well as the strength of her love and the power of her prayers. He opened his eyes, but saw only the dark. “This’s just for the night,” he whispered. “It’s gonna be brighter in the morning.”
John fell asleep not long after that, then woke to someone knocking on the door. “Harvey?” he called out.
The knocking ceased, followed by a hearty laugh. “Yup. Just wanted to tell you goodbye. Storm wasn’t as bad as they feared, so I’m making tracks while I can.”
John got out of bed and reached the door as Harvey stopped speaking. Opening the door, John was met by a wide smile. “Sorry we didn’t get to have breakfast together again,” Harvey said. “But I didn’t wanna go without saying how good it was to meet you.”
John took a step outside, but it was still dark, and Harvey shook his head. “Freezing cold out here, best you stay put. Actually, if you’re looking for a ride, you should head over to the café. Most fellas are still in bed, probably thinking they’re snowed in for another day or more. Me, I like to be up early.” He pointed eastwards, no light on the horizon. “I realize I got you outta bed, but I just couldn’t leave unannounced.”
“It’s no trouble. I’d have hated not to have seen you before you left,” John smiled.
“Well, good then. All right, I’ll be off. Like I said, if you’re looking to head out today, get over to breakfast early. You remember anything last night?”
“Nothing overly important. But I’ve got plenty to think about from yesterday.”
Harvey stuck out his right hand, then laughed, offering his left instead. John shook it, then smiled. “Drive safely and thanks for the lift.”
“My pleasure. Take care now.” Harvey nodded at John, then headed toward where his truck was parked. John closed the door, watching him from the window. Lights illuminated the parking lot, then the truck departed. John remained at the window another minute, then got back into bed.
He wasn’t certain of what to do next. He had no sense of direction, other than where Callie had noted. Harvey had paid for John’s room; perhaps John might stay another night. But if the snowstorm fell that day, he might be stuck in Denver, and with limited funds, he didn’t wish to run out of money before he got…. Where was home, he wondered, staring into the still dark room. Wherever it was, people were waiting for him. It would do none of them any good for him to waste a day in Colorado.
He showered, then dressed, making sure Harvey’s address was still in his pants’ pocket. The paper bag was almost empty, only some crackers and the thermos remaining. He would fill that with coffee at breakfast; perhaps he could make his way across the southern end of Wyoming and into Utah that day. If he was careful with the rest of what Walt and Dora had given him, he might have enough money to stretch over another three days, perhaps four. The weather was too cold for him to sleep outside, not even Harvey had wanted to sleep in his truck last night. But unless John recalled exactly where he was going, his destination was an unknown. He sat on the edge of the bed, drumming the fingers of his left hand along the mattress. He’d had no choice about leaving Karnack, and now his options seemed too numerous to contemplate.
All of yesterday John hadn’t considered why he’d had to leave. He tried shutting that out, but the memory pushed aside everything else he’d recently recalled. He closed his eyes, trying to pray, but not even that was possible. His head was filled with an overwhelming sense of survival, stained by violence.
Then he gasped, gripping the edge of the bed with force; that wasn’t the first time he’d had to defend himself. He hesitated, then probed his memory, but the glimpses made no sense; a barn figured prominently, mice scurrying about, a falcon falling to the ground, screeching in pain. John rubbed the back of his leg as if searching for scars. Nothing hurt there, and he bent his ankle. No pain was felt, or at least not in accordance with what had happened years before. Then he trembled as an impossible but concrete idea formed in his mind; he had attacked that falcon, but for what reason? John’s whole body shook, his right arm the only part to remain still, but a sudden pain in his shoulder made him sick to his stomach, as did the scent of fowl, ripe within his nostrils. He coughed, then stood, heading to the bathroom. He gagged over the toilet bowl, but nothing came up. Yet the stench was thick and his arm throbbed. What kind of man was he?
An hour passed, during which he tried to pray, then rest, but he was still unsettled. Unable to fall back asleep, he got out of bed, then gazed out of the window. Morning had dawned, and the café across the road looked open. John put on his coat, shoving the room key into his pocket. Then he grabbed the paper bag, stepping out of the room, closing the door behind him.
He checked out, then walked across the road to the diner. He sat at the counter, ordering eggs, toast, and coffee. A few truckers sat in booths, but no one approached him. John ate slowly, getting a refill on the coffee. Then he asked the waitress about filling his thermos. She smiled, nodding her head.
Customers came and went without anyone taking a seat beside John. Then a burly man sat to his right, ordering coffee and pancakes. John’s stomach rumbled, but he didn’t speak. He finished the coffee in his cup, then cleared his throat. “Looks like the storm didn’t land like they said it would.”
The man nodded, then looked John’s way. John still wore his coat, but the right sleeve was empty. It was too difficult to put his arm through it, plus by hanging loosely, his disfigurement was noticeable. The man grunted, then spoke. “What happened to your arm?”
John gazed in the man’s direction. “I was shot, just lucky to be alive.”
“I see,” the man said. “The other fella get off worse?”
“I don’t know,” John smiled. “Never saw who did it.”
Conversation was silenced as John felt eyes all over him. The man beside him took a sip of coffee, then set the mug on the counter. “Well, that’s a helluva story. Ain’t heard nothing like that for a while.”
“Well, I don’t mind telling you the rest if you’ve got a minute.”
The man laughed. “Don’t hafta be in Salt Lake until nightfall. But I ’spose you got other places to be.”
“Actually….” John noted his circumstances, finding slight shock on the man’s face. “I can give you money for gas, but I sure could use a ride.”
The man nodded, then looked at John’s empty plate. “Well, all right. Ain’t got nothing better to do than drive all day, might as well hear what you hafta say.”
“Thanks. I appreciate it.” John inhaled deeply; he wouldn’t mention everything to this man, but at least he’d secured another day off his feet and out of the weather. And perhaps this fellow might prove as meaningful as Harvey Saperstein in uncovering more of John’s memories. Introductions were made; the man only nodded as John gave his name along with a brief explanation. “And you’re….” John said.
“Folks call me Hawk,” the man smiled. “Guess we’re both kind of anonymous, maybe that’s for the best.”
John grinned back, shivering slightly. “Well, it’s very good to meet you, Hawk.”
“We’ll see if you’re still saying that at the end of the day.” The man set a dollar on the counter, gazing at John. “You pay your bill yet?” he asked.
The man nodded, added four quarters, then stood from his seat. “Well, consider it covered. Now let’s get on the road. I believe you’ve a story to tell.”
“Thanks.” John went to his feet, then reached for the paper bag. Men stared at him, but he didn’t meet their gazes, walking quickly behind his companion for the day. Hawk helped John into the cab, then got into the driver’s seat. Within minutes they were on Interstate 25, heading north for Wyoming.
Cary Snyder turned three weeks old that Sunday, the second of February. While she garnered plenty of attention from those at St. Matthew’s, within her family circle she had easily settled into her role as a second child, a placid infant who didn’t notice her father was missing. She appreciated being held by a variety of relatives, which on that morning included Klaudia Henrichsen. She sat in the back of the church, next to Lynne, who had driven herself and her daughters that morning. Sam had offered, but Lynne felt it was time, although once she’d parked, others were eager to escort the new mother into St. Matthew’s. Yet it was to Klaudia Lynne had handed Cary once they stepped inside the vestibule, and now half an hour later, Klaudia still cradled the baby, who had fallen asleep right as communion was announced. To Marek’s delight and Klaudia’s slight chagrin, that meant that Klaudia would go up with Lynne and Jane. Klaudia had planned to stay in her seat, but Cary needed a blessing. Now as the four ladies stood in line, Jane hummed while Lynne smiled at Klaudia, who seemed inundated with too many considerations. Jane’s little song was Polish in origin, caring for an infant was new, and Klaudia craved a cigarette. Yet she swayed back and forth as if having raised several babies, keeping Cary contented while trying not to focus on where she actually was.
Klaudia wasn’t sure which was more novel, being in a church or holding a baby. To her surprise, neither was overtly painful, although she ached for a smoke. Then she gazed at Marek, handing out communion wafers; when she approached him, what would he do? What would she do, Klaudia then mused. She hadn’t taken communion since right before her parents died; Gunnar had taken the Lisowskis to his Lutheran church, and while her mother and father stayed in their seats, Klaudia went up with her intended, eager to accept the Eucharist in a non-Catholic setting. Maybe her enthusiasm had been due to youth, or wishing to ingratiate herself with her new country and soon to be husband. Yet they rarely went to church after they married, and once he took Marek away….
Klaudia looked at Cary, who was still sleeping. Was it easier holding this child because she was female, or was it due to…. Klaudia shivered, keeping her eyes on the baby, who looked so different than how Klaudia recalled her own son at this age. Cary’s face was peaceful, not anxious, her tiny fingers outstretched, not curled into painful fists. The only time Marek had been calm was when Klaudia had nursed him. Otherwise he cried often, rarely slept, or that was how it had seemed to a young mother with no family of her own to assist. If Klaudia’s mom had been alive, would Gunnar had dared taken their baby away? Klaudia wasn’t sure, and she cuddled Cary as if that man stood near. Maybe Klaudia’s parents would have agreed with Gunnar, yet that might have eased Klaudia’s mind. She rarely considered such details, and was lost to the proceedings until suddenly she stood a foot away from the one man who would have made damned certain a tiny boy stayed right where he belonged. Marek Jagucki smiled at Klaudia, then set his hand on Cary’s head, offering a blessing in Polish. Klaudia had to bite her tongue not to laugh as he did the same to Jane. He gave Lynne a wafer, then met Klaudia’s gaze.
She nodded so slightly perhaps he would have been the only one to see it. The wafer dissolved in her mouth, then was followed by a sip of sweet wine which made her momentarily close her eyes. As she walked back to the pew, Klaudia felt drunk, then grew cross with herself. She hadn’t meant to allow that sacrament to occur, and now that it had, she hated how easily the memories of communion tingled all through her; the joy of the ritual, then the deeper meaning of what it symbolized. If she wasn’t holding an infant, Klaudia might throw up her hands in rage. Yet Cary remained asleep, her lovely face in direct contrast to all Klaudia felt. The baby didn’t know any better, Klaudia thought. She was too ignorant to complain.
Within minutes, Cary began to whimper, which initially made Klaudia smile, then guilt swirled through her. Lynne retrieved her daughter, then left the pew. Klaudia watched her walk to what looked like a restroom as Jane scooted to where her mother had been seated. Then Jane snuggled against Klaudia’s side. Slowly Klaudia set her arm around Jane, and the little girl began humming again. The tune was off key, but the melody wove through Klaudia like steel bands, reattaching forgotten memories. How many times had her father whistled that song, how often had she heard the man now closing the service sing it aloud? How had she kept it from her brain all these years was a better question, but the answer was simple; she’d resided in a nation where no remnants to her past could haunt her. Only Eric Snyder’s painting had hinted to her upbringing, but that damned artist was nowhere close to answer for his crime.
Now if she ever met him, Klaudia might slap Eric’s face. She thought of him as Eric, for Lynne spoke about him like his return was imminent. What were the chances he would appear before Klaudia’s departure on Wednesday? If she and Lynne were lucky, Klaudia would make her argument known. But Klaudia probably wouldn’t be that blessed; he would likely waltz in right as her plane sped down the runway. Then she grimaced, staring at Marek. She never thought anything was blessed, but he’d just dismissed the congregation with that word. What in the hell was she doing in a church, having taken communion, thinking anything remotely religious? Resentment stewed in her gut, but strangely it didn’t develop into the usual mass of fury. Then Klaudia peered at the reason for her relative composure; Jane still hummed that merry tune, swinging her little legs to and fro. Klaudia’s mouth trembled and she fought tears while the song continued as if Ania Jagucki was seated beside her.
Marek didn’t join those ladies until Lynne returned with Cary. The rest of his parishioners were gone, although a few older folks had lingered, hoping to get another peek at the adorable Snyder baby. Yet now it was merely Marek and his closest kin, how he thought of them as Lynne stood behind Klaudia as though they were sisters. They didn’t look at all alike; Lynne’s eyes sparkled with an inner happiness, while a storm brewed in Klaudia’s. Marek knew one reason for that gale, but they hadn’t talked about communion, and he did give her the opportunity to refuse. He was somewhat pleased for having tendered that sacrament, but the repercussions might later outweigh his small victory. Yet he approached the women with no outward sense of achievement. “Well, it looks as if Cary outlasted all those wishing to see her.”
Lynne smiled. “I wondered if anyone was still waiting. I’m glad they’re not; she gets enough attention as is.”
Marek chuckled, finding surprise on Klaudia’s face. “A few folks stayed longer than usual, however lunch beckons.”
“Indeed. Cary got hers early, but we should be on our way.” Lynne patted Jane’s head.
“You’re welcome to stay,” Marek said. “There’s leftover beef and potatoes.”
“Pie?” Jane asked, looking first at her pastor, then to her mother.
Marek nodded. “I wasn’t going to bring that up, but….”
“Wait till she can say caramel slice,” Lynne chuckled. “Then you’ll never hear the end of it.” Lynne set Cary over her shoulder, then raised her eyebrows. “If you’re sure we won’t be an imposition.”
Marek almost laughed, for Klaudia wore a small frown. “It’s no trouble,” he said. “Let’s get the oven preheated, or maybe I’ll warm everything in a skillet.”
Klaudia remained silent as Jane clapped her hands. “I’ll let you do the cooking,” Lynne smiled. “I need to change the girl here, and Jane could use the potty too.”
Marek nodded as Lynne reached behind Klaudia for Jane’s hand. “C’mon,” Lynne said to her daughter. Then Lynne gazed at Marek. “We’ll meet you in the kitchen.”
“We’ll be there,” he said, stepping to the middle of the aisle, giving Klaudia room to join him.
She didn’t move until Lynne was at the other end of the pew, and then Klaudia’s steps were slow. Marek let her set the pace, but still she dawdled. He reached the kitchen first, but waited for her. She had crossed her arms over her chest, her face in a pout. Turning on the light, he spied the painting, making him chuckle as if Eric was in the room. When that man returned and was well, Marek would reveal his heart. In the meantime, he had to hope Klaudia didn’t jump down his throat.
But she said nothing as he took leftovers from the refrigerator, although she set the table. Then she excused herself for a cigarette and Marek wondered if she would return to share lunch with them. When the Snyder ladies appeared, Lynne didn’t ask where Klaudia was, nor did Jane. Cary made small sounds and Marek stepped their way, finding that girl’s eyes were still as brown as when she was born. “Three weeks old today,” he smiled. “She gets more beautiful every time I see her, you too Miss Jane.”
Jane didn’t reply, peering around the room. She lifted the tablecloth, then gazed at the adults. “Auntie?” she said.
Marek sighed, then collected Jane, kissing her cheek. “Klaudia stepped out for a moment. Let’s get you seated, lunch won’t be long.”
Jane said nothing more as Marek put her in tall seat. Lynne sat beside her, but she didn’t speak either. Marek didn’t mind the silence, it gave him time to reflect on what swirled within his heart; a great joy for those near him, but still that ache lingered. During the service it had pierced him sharply every time he glanced at the women; finding Cary in Klaudia’s tender grasp was a scene Marek had never wished to view. It was his mother alongside Klaudia, or his sister with her own daughter in tow. It was the family he’d lost resurrected in a manner he’d not thought possible. Yet here they were, or most of them. Perhaps Klaudia would remain a ghost, but Lynne, Jane, and Cary were permanent.
He praised God for that gift, then again glanced at the painting. He didn’t see himself holding Jane; Eric stared into his child’s eyes. Marek smiled, then turned to see Klaudia standing in the doorway. Her eyes were red, her jaws clenched. He wanted to motion for her to come to his side, but instead he permitted the distance. “Are you hungry,” he asked.
She shook her head, then stared icily at Jane, who thought the question was directed at her. “Lunch?” she said in a chirpy voice.
“In a few minutes,” Lynne answered, not looking to whom Marek had actually spoken.
Klaudia scowled at him, then took a deep breath. As she exhaled, Jane turned around. “Auntie!” Jane extended her arms, but Lynne grasped Jane’s right hand, kissing the back of it. Jane began to laugh as though it was a game.
Marek checked the beef, then turned the flame to low. He wanted to lead Klaudia to the table, but she would bristle at his action. For a moment he regretted inviting Lynne for lunch. Then he smiled. “Sam made plenty of potatoes. Shall I heat up the gravy separately, or pour it over the meat?”
“Pour it over the meat,” Lynne said. “What a sumptuous feast.”
“The English do like their Sunday lunches.” He returned to the stove, not paying Klaudia any attention. Within a minute, he heard her joining those at the table, Jane calling for her auntie over and over. When Marek looked their way, he found Jane seated on Klaudia’s lap and what could be called a smile on that woman’s face.
The chatter was lighthearted and after the meal pie was served, but no ice cream at Lynne’s request. She wanted Jane to take a good N-A-P, and that word being spelled out roused Klaudia’s giggle, which Jane immediately copied. The Snyder ladies left to chuckles all round, as Marek spelled out nap in Polish, followed by other words Lynne wished to keep from Jane’s understanding. Marek walked them to Lynne’s car, then stood on the sidewalk until the vehicle was out of sight. He didn’t shiver from the cold until he stepped back inside St. Matthew’s, the scent of cigarette smoke wafting from the altar.
He looked in that direction; Klaudia stood exactly where she’d been when he had given her communion. Was she aware of her location, or was it a random action similar to how she and her friend had gone to see Eric’s paintings? But random wasn’t how Marek considered any occurrence, especially not when connected to the woman tapping ashes into a container within her hand. He was relieved she still used an ashtray; he had half expected her to let those remnants fall to the floor.
Her disdain for so much of what he held dear would forever remain a hurdle, regardless of the sacrament she accepted that morning. Perhaps he shouldn’t assume her lack of faith was without recourse. Then he smiled at himself, where was his trust? Yet she seemed so far from him, although she stood less than a meter away. She wouldn’t meet his gaze, and if not for the objects in her hands, he predicted she’d have those limbs crossed over herself as tightly as possible. He was glad Lynne had gone home. Jane and Cary revived this woman, but not even those precious children could free Klaudia now.
Could he? Marek wasn’t sure, nor did he wish to try. He was tired, his heart ached, and he wanted to take a nap. Then he smiled. “I think I’m going to lay down for a bit. An N-A-P is calling my name.”
He spoke in English, still easier to converse with her in that language. He never used Polish during church services, but he’d blessed both Jane and Cary in that tongue, as if blessing Klaudia as well. Yet, she had taken communion, he hadn’t forced it upon her, and he wouldn’t press for a discussion now. “There’s enough beef left for supper,” he said, “unless you feel like something else.”
She shook her head, to which he nodded, although he wasn’t certain what she meant. “All right then, I’ll see you in a bit.” He smiled again, but the pain had turned into a miserable throbbing in the middle of his chest. He gave thanks it wasn’t a headache like what had plagued him during the Missile Crisis, then he turned around, wondering how he might gain any meaningful rest. If nothing else, this might give her time to cool off. Perhaps dinner wouldn’t be fraught with….
“How dare you give me communion?” Klaudia said loudly in Polish. “What the hell were you thinking?”
Marek paused as a wave of pain traveled from his chest to his temple. He closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, then prayed. Opening his eyes, the pain teased along his forehead, then slipped away. He faced her, but didn’t smile. “I gave you time to refuse. Why did you come up if you didn’t want it?”
“What was I supposed to do with the baby in my arms? Obviously Lynne wanted her to receive a….” Klaudia took long drag from her cigarette, then stubbed out the remains in the ashtray, which she set on the first pew. “You had no right to….”
“I have a duty to offer that gift to all who step forward.” Marek approached her, leaving two meters between them. “You did not resist, so I bestowed it upon you. If my actions were faulty, I apologize, but in the future you must take responsibility for yourself accordingly.”
“Don’t use that tone with me.” She pointed her finger at him. “I’m no member of this church, you shouldn’t even have offered it to me.”
Marek stepped toward her. “The sacraments aren’t mine. I am merely a vessel God uses to….”
“Oh, don’t give me that. You baptize babies who don’t know any differently, you bless children who have no concept of a god who allows….”
She trembled, then wagged her finger in his face, but she didn’t speak. Marek wondered if that was due to not wishing to fully alienate him, or perhaps cut herself off from Christ. He’d seen her expression upon taking the bread and wine; it was as if she had glimpsed heaven, wondering if room remained for her.
He didn’t think she was aware of how deeply those gifts affected her, she probably couldn’t face such truths. Then he sighed, for she wasn’t the only one looking for excuses. He longed to take her into his arms, erasing all the lonely years both had lived. But if he did that, how much of his heart would he lose? A large hole would remain, for she could never fulfill him while so steeped in hatred. But it wasn’t merely God with whom she was angry. Klaudia loathed herself as much as she despised Christ.
Perhaps despise was too strong a word. She definitely scorned the Church, evident in how she continued to point at various items near the altar. Silently she accused candles, the stained glass window, finally motioning at Jesus upon the cross with her outstretched finger. As she turned back to Marek, her face was red, her eyes wide, her mouth in an ugly frown. But panic was her most striking feature; she feared what might happen if her shield was removed.
In only one way would Klaudia surrender that armor, but if that happened, Marek would put himself in great pain. Not risk, for Marek was certain of God’s faithful love. But anguish would ensue, of that Marek had no doubt. Was that what God wanted, he wondered, as Klaudia glared at him, although her resentment was bolstered by dread. Marek prayed for guidance as Klaudia tapped her foot, her arms again tight over her chest. As Marek inhaled the answer to his prayers, he exhaled the full acceptance of his impending actions. Perhaps this was how Eric felt last summer, turning into a hawk in order to save another man’s life. One’s own existence couldn’t matter. Obedience came first.
But not always did obedience mean self-denial. Marek reached out, gently removing Klaudia’s hands from where they were tucked against her upper body. Her fingers were cold, but quickly they warmed as he clasped his hands around hers. She released a soft sigh, followed by a slight groan, stoking Marek’s passion which no longer was mired in uncertainty. She stepped toward him, leaving little space between them. He nodded at her, then smiled. Her mouth quivered as Marek leaned toward her, caressing her cheek, still clutching her other hand.
“Please,” she whispered, as if his actions would free her from captivity.
“I love you,” he said. Then he kissed her not as he’d dreamed when a boy, but as a man aching to bestow what humans could best give as the closest semblance to what God offered his beloveds. Song of Solomon was one of Marek’s favorite Biblical passages, for God was an inconceivable lover, full of passion and tenderness and unrivaled affection. As Marek wrapped his arms around Klaudia, he knew for the first time a hint of that exceptional devotion, and he allowed it to fully possess him. He didn’t care where they were standing, he didn’t ponder what would happen afterwards. All that mattered was engaging with this woman who he loved. He’d had to tell her that first, for regardless of what came next, he would never have initiated this without making that clear. He was following his heart, but that desire had been born of the purest emotion humans could express. Klaudia broke the kiss, catching her breath. In her eyes, Marek saw freedom, also the wish to say the words he had offered. But he placed a finger over her lips, not wishing to cause her distress, or himself. Perhaps she felt the same, yet her declaration wasn’t necessary. God loved first, Marek knew. Our adoration for him came much later.
From Denver to the Wyoming state line, John regaled his companion with most of what he knew. John omitted the most distressing detail, yet as he spoke, a sense of danger permeated his thoughts. They weren’t connected to the man next to him, although Hawk alluded to a few close calls within his time. John couldn’t place the man’s age or where he was from. John still wasn’t sure of those facts about himself, although as they passed through Laramie, he felt Callie’s theory was correct. Heading toward the Pacific Northwest seemed to be the right direction.
The terrain was covered in snow, although it looked familiar to John. He mentioned that to Hawk, who smiled. “Maybe you’ve been here before.”
John chuckled. “Can’t imagine when, but then how I’d end up in Texas?”
Hawk gripped the wheel, then cleared his throat. “Maybe you’d been helping a friend.”
A slight shiver ran down John’s spine. He closed his eyes, thinking about Laurie, yet something about that man took John back to Florida. Had he been traveling from one side of the country to the other, but how to explain being shot in East Texas? How were the only Jews John knew related? Laurie and Seth had to be connected somehow, but…. “Maybe,” he said slowly. He hadn’t mentioned that Laurie was a homosexual, but Seth wasn’t Laurie’s partner. Perhaps the key was how those men were linked; it seemed more than a coincidence that John knew Seth’s full name. Then he smiled. “You believe in miracles?”
Now Hawk laughed. “Indeed I do. You got one to tell me?”
John nodded, explaining how he knew the first name of the man who had saved Walt’s life. “He’s Jewish,” John added, “as is my friend Laurie.”
“Well, Christians ain’t got the corner on producing miracles, you know.”
“I agree,” John chuckled. Hawk might look rough, but he seemed to have an open mind. “They’re both from Brooklyn, but….” Harvey Saperstein was too, but other than reminding John of Laurie, Harvey offered no other connection. Then John sighed, gazing out the window. The glare from the snow caused him to squint. As he did, he spied a large bird flying low to the ground. It looked like a falcon or a…. John trembled, making a fist with his left hand. His head pounded, his heart raced; at some point in his life he had inspected this terrain in this very weather. Then he felt sick to his stomach; his father had been incarcerated somewhere nearby. He’d visited that man not long before he died, which was just a few years ago. Then John opened his eyes. His wife had been pregnant with their first child, and when he got home, she’d had to care for him, for he’d returned terribly ill. So ill, he remembered, he had nearly died.
“You all right?” Hawk asked.
John shook his head, but didn’t face that man. He eyed the landscape, but the hawk was gone. “I just remembered something.”
“Was it another miracle?”
John faced Hawk, who had spoken somberly. “Yeah, I think it was.” He shared what he could recall, that he’d been delirious with fever, and that on Christmas Eve morning the fever had broken. John had stirred before his wife, gazing at her beside him, fully aware of how close to death he had been. He’d also realized his need to attend church that day, about which his wife hadn’t argued. They had turned up at St. Anne’s just as communion was being offered, shocking Renee and….
Now John smiled. “My best friend’s wife’s name is Renee, oh my God!” But what was her husband’s name? John sighed, then brightened. “At least I remember Renee, my goodness she’s like Walt’s daughter Tilda.” He stared out the window again. “But I don’t remember flying or driving to see my….” He paused, then swallowed hard. “My father died in prison, he was a murderer. I went to see him, but I wasn’t there when he died.”
“But you made your peace with him it sounds like.”
“Yeah, I did.” John looked at Hawk, then back out the window. “I became a Christian when I got home, maybe that sounds funny, but I knew God had spared my life. My wife was already thinking about it, she’d been considering it since….”
John fell silent as a wave of memories overtook him. He’d been away several times, although not all of them had been to visit his father. Then he grimaced; he’d left his wife for months, that was when she started investigating religion. She had attended church with Renee and…. That man’s name was still lost, but so much more about him was now known; he’d been shot in Korea and couldn’t father a child. John had been in the middle of finally painting his portrait when….
“I am an artist,” he said softly, still gazing at the snow-laden ground. He tried to make a fist with his right hand, but could barely curl his fingers. The pain was tremendous, but for the first time, he didn’t lament it. “I’ll never paint again, but I used to. I know I did.”
“Nope, I ’spose you won’t. That gonna be okay?”
John met Hawk’s brief gaze. “All that matters is getting home to my family, seeing my wife again.” Then he shivered; he had said those same words before, or had at least acknowledged that sentiment. Slowly he faced the horizon; he had offered that pledge right here, although he hadn’t been in vehicle or airplane. Yet he knew without a doubt this is where he had been, as if stepping back into that very moment. He’d been just coming down with that awful cold, his wife was waiting for him and…. And now two daughters waited as well, offspring John and his wife had never thought possible. But it hadn’t been her fault, although she’d assumed differently. John breathed deeply. “I don’t know the circumstances, but I was here two and a half years ago, right before Jane was born.” Now tears fell down his cheeks. “My oldest daughter, Jesus Christ, Jane, oh baby!”
He wept aloud, for he could envision her face, so much like that of her mother, although Jane’s eyes were the same color as her Uncle…. What was that man’s name, John wondered, wiping his face with his left hand. John then looked toward Hawk. “Do you have kids?”
Hawk nodded. “Hard being away from them.”
“We couldn’t for a long time, have children I mean. Then I came back and….” He flexed his ankle, the notion of it having been crippled now clear in his mind. Then he chuckled. “Miracles do happen, they’ve happened to me.”
Hawk flashed a smile. “Seems that’s true. Although you’ve suffered some mighty bad luck recently.”
John nodded, again trying to grip with his right hand. Now it was numb, and he sighed. “I’ll never paint again but….” He stared at the snowy ground; so strong was the sense of coming home once before. He’d felt absolutely terrible, yet had trudged on, knowing his wife was waiting, and their baby, who was Jane. Now John laughed. “I just wanna be home, that’s all that matters.”
“I can understand that. However, I’m starving. We’re twenty miles outta Rawlings, there’s a truck stop. You mind if we get some grub?”
“Don’t mind at all,” John smiled. “My treat.”
Hawk chuckled. “Sounds good to me.”
Over lunch the men said little; John wasn’t in the mood for idle chatter. He wanted to get back on the road to see how many other pieces of the puzzle could be located. As they walked back to the truck, Hawk paused, pointing at blue sky. “They call this God’s country.” Then he looked at John. “Wonder how you were here.”
John peered at the vast emptiness above them, then shivered. “I wanna say I was flying, but….” It was the sense of being over the ground, yet close enough to experience the cold; it had been so cold. “It doesn’t make sense,” he said, kicking at slushy snow. “But then, how’d I get shot?”
Hawk shrugged, then led them to the passenger side of the truck, where he helped John into his seat. Within minutes they were back on Interstate 80, but further ahead the sky was dark. “Storm’s looming,” Hawk said. “But I think we’ll reach Salt Lake in time.”
John nodded. “Suppose I might have to stay there a day.”
“Maybe,” Hawk said. “Hard to say.”
For half an hour neither man spoke. John focused on the darkening sky, wondering if Hawk still thought they would beat the storm. Then John cleared his throat, voicing his concerns. Hawk chuckled. “We’ll get there right before it starts, but I don’t expect to be leaving anytime soon.”
“Where’re you headed?”
“California,” Hawk smiled. “But it sounds like you wanna go more northerly.”
“Yeah, I guess.” John sighed. “Probably look for a ride to Idaho.”
“Yep, that’d be my choice.”
John wanted to say more, but sensed his companion desired silence. John closed his eyes, but didn’t feel sleepy. Conversation with Harvey had led to several memories, and while John had recovered more with Hawk, perhaps that was all John would recall. His heart ached thinking about Jane; how much had she changed, and when was the last time he had seen her? It couldn’t have been longer than nine months, for his wife had been a few months along with…. His youngest daughter was named for her grandmothers, although their names were just as elusive as his wife’s and best friend. Then John thought about Laurie; that man’s friendship had undergone a trial, yet came out even stronger. They hadn’t known each other more than a few years, but as if John now had two best friends…. Then John considered his pastor; he was in the same circle, but wasn’t an American. He was…. John chuckled out loud, how in world was he such good friends with so many different people?
“What?” Hawk asked.
“I just realized my best friends are Catholic, Jewish, and Polish.”
Hawk laughed. “That’s a motley crew.”
“It is. What else’s strange is that I’ve only know Laurie and my pastor a few years.” John tried to recall the minister’s name, then he sighed. “I’ve painted two pictures of him, the pastor that is. Both were with Jane, but I’ve never painted Laurie’s portrait.” John sighed inwardly. He had wanted to, but trying to get Laurie’s partner to pose was the issue. The pastor had been a willing subject; John felt they shared a bond beyond their faith. John tried to imagine the connection, but again drew a blank.
“Sounds like you’re surrounded with good folks.” Hawk coughed, then smiled. “Can’t say your life sounds boring.”
“No, I don’t think it is. But for a long time it was just me and my wife.” John recalled how they had kept to themselves as if guarding a secret. He mentioned this aloud, wondering if his incarcerated father had been the cause. “But Laurie and Stan knew, I mean….” John abruptly stopped speaking. Stanford was his art dealer; he was also Laurie’s….
“Who’s Stan?” Hawk asked.
“I’m his client.” John was thrilled for this revelation, yet kept his voice even. “He and Laurie know each other in New York.”
“Laurie’s an art dealer too?” Hawk asked.
“Yeah, I guess he is.” Now John chuckled. “I’ve known Stan for ages, God, longer than I’ve known….” Renee’s husband’s name remained a mystery, but Stanford was now clear in John’s mind. “He’s pretty insufferable until you get to know him.”
“Another unique friend you’ve got, it seems.”
John nodded, but didn’t hear anything derogatory in Hawk’s tone. “Yeah, we’re quite a bunch.”
While trying to piece together this latest realization, John studied the western horizon. Dark clouds remained where they had been the last time John looked, making him smile; perhaps they would reach Utah before the weather turned. Then he gazed to his right; another bird was flying right alongside, this time so close that John could see its face. It was a hawk, and so familiar. Maybe he’d painted one, although all he recalled doing were portraits. “You see many hawks out here?” he asked.
“Some. Not too much for them to eat right now.”
“Yeah, I suppose not.” John glanced out the window, the bird keeping pace. “Boy, how fast do they fly?”
“I’ve heard up to fifty miles an hour. That’s what I’m doing.”
“God, that’s….” John felt a tingle along his right forearm, but this was different than the usual pain he endured. The ache traveled up his shoulder, then headed to his left shoulder, going down into his left elbow. As it reached his left hand, it was more of sting, then it disappeared. He made a fist with that hand, slowly uncurling it. Then he gazed back to the window, but the hawk was gone.
During the next hour neither man spoke. John kept looking for the hawk, also wondering about the nature of that strange pain, which seemed somewhat familiar. It had nothing to do with having been shot, although it carried a sense of foreboding. The storm remained far in the distance, for which John was relieved. If he had to stay a couple of nights in Utah, maybe he could use that time to piece together all he’d learned. First names gave him comfort, but weren’t enough information to put to good use.
They passed a small town, which Hawk noted was Rock Springs. The landscape hadn’t changed much, although mountains loomed in the distance where dark clouds remained. John glanced to his right and he smiled as a hawk was again flying beside them. “There’s that hawk,” he said. “Wonder where it’s heading?”
“Been following us since Laramie. Been watching it out the side mirror.”
John chuckled. Then he gasped as that tingle shot up his left arm, across the top of his back, down into his right shoulder. It lingered there, then emerged as a sharp pain all the way into his right fingers. He tried to make a fist with that hand, but still couldn’t do more than curl his fingers. “God that’s strange,” he said.
John explained the sensation, then glanced at the hawk. “Never felt anything like that before.”
“Or not that you remember.”
Now John gazed at his friend. “Yeah, I guess.” He flexed his left ankle, then stared at that foot. “Jesus Christ,” he exclaimed, again bending his ankle. “I can’t believe it.”
“What now?” Hawk asked.
John reached down with his left hand, running his fingers along where faint scars remained. “You might not believe this, but….” He told of what he remembered, from his father’s brutal actions to waking up, finding he no longer needed to wear a corrective shoe. Then he shivered. “I’d been away from my wife for five months. Then suddenly….” Now he gasped, uncertain if he was recalling facts or something from a dream.
“Suddenly what? Don’t leave me hanging.”
John smiled at Hawk’s inquisitive tone. “I swear my foot went from being deformed to just like it is today. There’s a few scars, but otherwise it’s fine.”
“Another miracle it sounds like,” Hawk chuckled.
“Yeah, seems like it.” Then John closed his eyes; more than his foot had been healed. Six months later his wife was pregnant. He opened his eyes, then prayed for further healing. As he did, that strange pain emerged in his right hand, going up that arm, across his shoulders, then down into his left side. But instead of giving John peace, a bizarre thought coursed through him. He glanced out the window, where the hawk kept pace. It looked toward John, flapping its wings. Then it veered right, soaring out of John’s view.
He sat forward, but didn’t see it ahead. Then he looked left. “Is it on your side?”
“Is what?” Hawk asked. “Oh, I know what you mean.” He glanced into his side mirror, then shook his head. “Musta decided to go somewhere else.”
John’s mouth trembled, but he nodded. Then he looked out his window, searching for that bird. All he saw was snow, which made him shiver. He’d been so cold, as though his limbs might freeze. Yet she was waiting, carrying a baby they never had thought possible. He’d had to get back to her, regardless of the weather, his hunger, or the dreadful illness spreading into every part of him. That malady had almost killed him, then again he’d been near death at Caddo Lake. But what sort of man was he to continually find himself in such dire straits? Within John’s mind stood a door; if he had the courage to open it, might the truth set him free, or would he wish himself dead?
That sentiment made him shake; for years death was all that Seth thought he deserved. The reasons were numerous, yet The Holocaust hadn’t been his fault. John had intervened on that man’s behalf, John and Laurie both. But while Laurie loved his cousin dearly, it had been upon John’s shoulders to…. John gasped; Seth and Laurie were related, they were practically brothers. John had been in Florida where Seth had again tried to kill himself, where Laurie had been since late June. In early July, John had flown to Miami and….
The screech came from right outside John’s window. He turned to see the hawk merely feet away, gazing at John, then looking straight ahead. John placed his left hand on the window, the glass frigid under his touch. How cold was it outside, he wondered, and how was that bird of prey traveling so fast? It was one thing for hawks to fly at top speed in summer, but in winter…. John shut his eyes, shaking his head as from deep within a terrible fact bubbled. Then he retched, for that bird’s smell was all he could inhale. Both of his arms ached, and he leaned over, trying to catch his breath. Each inhalation reeked of bird, just like every time he returned home to his wife, who forgave him without reservation.
How had she done that, John wondered, still uncertain of what lingered in the back of his brain. Yet how else had he known this terrain, how else would he have suffered the cold? For what other reason would he have left his pregnant wife and Jane if not to fly to Miami for Seth, but John hadn’t traveled by jet. Now the purpose for his amnesia was startling clear; who in their right mind could believe something so implausible and ungodly, a fact so disturbing that only a select few could accept it. Seth had, John’s wife, his best friend and Renee, a Polish pastor, Laurie…. Laurie had fought the truth until John had spelled out his wife’s name. What was her name, he wondered, and how in the hell had she stayed with him all these years?
He couldn’t sit up, although the stench of fowl was gone. He doubted the bird of prey remained, but slowly John leaned forward, then carefully he looked out his window. To his amazement, the hawk glided alongside, but didn’t make eye contact. John nodded, although he wished the hawk would look his way. If that happened, no questions would linger. Then John had a sarcastic laugh. How much remained unknown, not the least of which centered on John’s wife; her name, why she had stayed with him, why she’d borne him two children. He let out a cry, unable to hold it back. Sobs quickly wracked his frame and again he leaned forward. Then a hand was laid upon him, right between his shoulders. “It’s all right Eric. We’ll stop in Salt Lake and you can rest there.”
The call of his name made Eric break down further, but the touch along his back alleviated his heaving sobs. Still Eric wept for the weight of his identity, the injury to his arm, the relief of Seth’s healed mind. And for two key elements; who was his wife and where did his family reside?
As Eric and his companion settled in Utah for the evening, Lynne read stories to her daughters, expectant joy in her voice. All day she’d been feeling Eric was near, yet she had kept that notion to herself despite speaking with Laurie, who had news to share. Seth had met someone in Tel Aviv; Adrienne Ross was Scottish, also a painter, and from the delight in Laurie’s tone, perhaps just the woman Seth needed. Laurie didn’t ask about Marek and Klaudia, for which Lynne was relieved. She wasn’t certain how that twosome might develop; at times Klaudia’s bearing was so guarded, but when near either of Lynne’s children, Klaudia softened considerably. Lynne looked forward to speaking with her pastor after his guest had departed. But perhaps their conversation might be postponed; Lynne wondered if her husband’s return was merely days away.
Marek hadn’t given his friend much thought, but as Klaudia slept soundly, a cleric stood in the chapel, gazing at where he had baptized Eric, Lynne, and their eldest daughter. In a few weeks, the couple’s second child would receive that sacrament; would Eric be here to witness it? Marek hoped so, for Cary and her father’s sakes, also for Marek’s own well-being. Many ideas teemed within his head, but those were outweighed by all that rested upon his heart. The woman sleeping in his bed seemed completely unaware of his dilemma; while Marek had known a cost would be paid for their intimacy, now he understood more of it would be for Klaudia to bear.
Not that he felt peaceful, although he was sated. Marek sat in the first pew, gazing at Christ, who hung from a cross at the back of the church, his head bowed, arms outstretched, hands and feet nailed to planks of wood. A cloth was draped over his midsection, a crown of thorns atop his head, yet the image suggested nothing like what Marek assumed his savior had suffered. There were no gashes from where Jesus had been flogged, no marks from where he had been beaten. It was a symbolic piece, safe for all to view. But when Marek closed his eyes, a more realistic picture emerged; a man thoroughly ravaged both in body and spirit.
Opening his eyes, he again studied the figure, wishing modern churches could display the true bearing of a man who was God, a deity who had lived and loved and suffered and returned to alter the course of history, but for thirty-three years had also been just as human as those he called his own. Marek ached to discuss with another person all that troubled him, yet for now he prayed. Then he chuckled as though Jesus was seated beside him, offering his support and understanding. Marek concluded his prayers, lifting all four Snyders up to a most gracious and gentle savior. Then he went back to bed, falling into a deep sleep.
In the morning, Marek rose first, quietly slipping out of bed while Klaudia snored solidly. Marek had dreamed of her during the night; he’d also felt keenly aware of Eric’s difficulties. Yet, that man was in the best possible hands, not that Marek would reveal such an idea to Lynne. Then he smiled, heading into the kitchen, making a pot of coffee. She was probably just as aware of her husband’s situation, not that either of them knew where Eric was, but he was close. He was close, although…. Marek shivered as the percolator bubbled, the scent comforting, but something else troubled him. He knew part of it was related to his guest, with whom he would have words as soon as Klaudia was alert enough to comprehend what Marek wished to tell her. But even if Eric was almost home, something about his return left Marek uneasy. He got out two cups, then sat at the table, gazing at his and Jane’s portrait. So much happiness was translated in that canvas; Eric possessed a fantastic capacity to relate life’s joys. Then Marek was struck by a severe pain at his temples. He closed his eyes, but the ache was similar to his migraines during the Missile Crisis. Then the pain disappeared as quickly as it had set upon him, leaving him unsettled. Was it related to Eric or….
Shuffling footsteps paused at the bathroom door, which then was closed. Marek inhaled, then stood, exhaling as he approached the percolator. He waited another minute, then filled the cups, taking them to the table. He didn’t set them next to each other; his was across from Klaudia’s, for he needed to see her face. Gauging her mood was essential, for he had much to say, but didn’t wish to overwhelm her. Perhaps little would be spoken. He hadn’t shared a morning after in years, and Maggie hadn’t been much for words. Now he knew why that was, for their times together hadn’t been meant for more than those moments. But what he had experienced with Klaudia would never leave him.
He mulled that over while the coffee cooled; that they weren’t married caused him no grief. He’d told her he loved her, which was tantamount to matrimony. Then he sighed aloud; he had never felt this attached to Maggie, perhaps making love with her had been wrong. Then Marek shook his head. He had given himself to her as fully as he had been able, which at the time had felt correct. He smiled, then sipped his coffee. He burned his tongue, then laughed at himself. Acting in haste, even under the best circumstances, could be erroneous. He blew on his coffee, but wouldn’t take another sip until it was a cooler temperature.
Much of yesterday afternoon had been spent defining love; Marek had found it was animated alternating with moments of stillness which had only been punctured by the echoes of their heartbeats. He had never felt so naked but assured, even for the uncertainty of what this day would bring. He had been protected throughout their intimacies, and again he smiled; Klaudia had provided the prophylactics, but a more thorough defense had encased Marek’s heart, allowing him to revel in pleasure while repercussions waited behind the door.
Now he sat outside that safety zone, and in this new day, a different mood clung to him. He wished to return to his bedroom, which was equally a space for another; they could drink their coffee, then fall back into one other’s arms, discovering just how wonderful was the gift of physical love when grounded in…. He sighed, for they had used all the condoms, but more importantly he needed to tell her the truth. Yes he loved her, but….
She cleared her throat, then stepped into the kitchen, a small smile on her face, her blonde hair tousled. Wearing his robe, she sat where her coffee waited. She gripped the mug, but didn’t make eye contact. Marek’s heart ached, his pulse raced, and he longed for one more day without any intrusions. Not that Mrs. Kenny was coming to work; he wouldn’t see her until Wednesday. He wanted to return to last night’s perfect world, which only had space for himself and the vision across from him.
He smiled, for she looked in dire need of a cigarette as well as several cups of coffee. Her eyes were bloodshot, for at several points she had wept copiously, both while they made love and in the quiet afterwards. Marek was grateful she still had a day to recover, but that day might be fraught with as much tension as her first days last week. He briefly closed his eyes, asking for one more night with her undisturbed. Opening his eyes, he saw her smile, for now she looked right at him. Marek was struck by how honest she appeared, then he understood the need for a mostly unblemished savior; to view the true soul was almost too much for even him to take.
He leaned forward, reaching for her hand. She obliged and he gripped fingers that weren’t cold. He inwardly shivered, for her digits had lain upon his skin, proffering adoration and affection and…. She had given to him all of her heart, or that with which she could part. He smiled, clutching her hand, again beseeching God to let yesterday’s blessing continue through this day. He would be honest with her, but could he just have one more day….
“How long’ve you been up?” she asked in Polish.
That language made him tremble, although they had spoken entirely in their native tongue since their argument near the altar. He’d said I love you in Polish, as if to speak those words in any other dialect would have rendered them meaningless. Had he done so to also hearken back to when that love had first blossomed? He’d loved this woman a long time, although she wasn’t the same as the girl he’d left behind. Now he understood how that had harmed her; he should have tried to assure her of his survival. But the past was unchangeable, all they had was this moment. God please, he begged, just let me have this moment.
“I’ve been up about half an hour,” he said softly, reiterating his inward plea. “How are you?”
She smiled, then giggled, running her free hand through her hair. Then she gripped his hand with both of hers, her lip trembling. She released him, grasping her mug, taking a small sip. She inhaled the fragrance, then looked around the room, setting the cup back on the table. She met his gaze, her lip still quivering, tears forming in her eyes. “I’m….” She couldn’t finish, wiping her damp cheeks with the back of her hand.
Marek nodded, uncertain of what happened next. He didn’t feel compelled to speak, but taking her back to his bed seemed presumptuous, although he assumed that was what she wanted even if they had no birth control. He wouldn’t make love to her until that had been rectified, if they happened to find themselves again in that position. He smiled, then sipped his coffee, which was the perfect temperature. God had heard his petition and Marek would await the response.
“Are you hungry?” Her voice cracked. She cleared her throat, drank more coffee, then took a deep breath. “I could make us breakfast.”
“I’m not particularly hungry. Are you?”
She shook her head, then nodded, then sighed. “What happens now?”
He still wasn’t certain, but didn’t want to worry her. “I’m not sure.” He nearly chuckled, then grasped her hands, which were just starting to feel chilled. That made his heart race, yet he stayed seated. “A part of me wants to just sit and enjoy this, I never imagined anything like this you know.”
He wanted to be as honest as possible and that was indeed the truth. Not even when he spoke to her the day President Kennedy had been killed did Marek conjure anything so…. He’d merely wanted to see her again; how naïve had he been, or perhaps again protected. If he had pondered such a connection, it might never have happened.
Now that it had, responsibility filled his heart, yet it wasn’t merely toward her. His personal concerns were mixed; he loved her deeply, but she would return to Norway in two days, not to mention…. He sighed softly, for now she stroked his hands with definite intentions. Then she whispered his name as she had last night when no other words were possible. Tangled emotions raced through him, but the strongest set him on his feet, then led him to where she sat. He put out his hands, which she grasped, then she stood beside him. He kissed her, giving thanks for this blessing. As they parted he stroked her face, then led her back to his room where they remained until lunchtime.
Eric didn’t wake until well after twelve noon. He wasn’t sure what time he’d fallen asleep; all he recalled was getting into bed, hearing the door lock, then…. Now he sat up, taking note of his surroundings; the space was small, the paper bag resting on a shelf on the opposite wall. He’d forgotten about the thermos, which now seemed to belong to someone else; John Doe remained a part of Eric, but no longer guided his steps. Not that Eric knew where home was, and his wife’s name also remained a mystery. But much had been revealed to him, although he wasn’t sure where was the man who had brought him to this place. And just who was that fellow, Eric mused, sitting up in bed, inhaling deeply. As he exhaled, he gripped his right arm, feeling a great loss had been incurred. He was an artist, or he had been, but as he had told Hawk yesterday, all that truly mattered was reaching his wife, their new baby, and Jane. Eric smiled, releasing his useless limb. He hadn’t seen his family in nearly seven months; would Jane remember him?
Now that he recalled her, he wanted to get back on the road. Then he sighed, for his destination wasn’t any clearer than it had been when he left Karnack. He inhaled, then exhaled, as two lives clamored within his brain. The man he had been yesterday morning felt like a stranger, yet his arm remained damaged, and questions lingered. Then he closed his eyes, a weight having been lifted. His name was Eric, how had Hawk known that? Eric shivered, then stood, staring at himself in the small mirror under the shelf. Dressed only in underwear, he looked mostly the same, although the right side of his upper body was a mess. He gazed at his ankle, then shook his head. For years that limb had been a burden. Now it was his right arm, but he was alive, he knew who he was, and his wife was thinking about him. Eric smiled, then spoke aloud. “I love you honey. I’m almost home.”
The despair which had plagued him since late November was absent; he might not recall her name, nor that of Renee’s husband, but much of Eric’s life was again his own. It was odd that he knew no last names other than Mrs. Harmon’s, but he would continue to head northwest like Callie had told him, then…. Eric sat on the edge of his bed, Callie and Walt’s faces like those of his ancient past. To them, he was still John Doe, maybe he always would be. He desperately wanted to find his wife and children, but just as important was letting the Richardsons and Boldens know that he had made it safely back to his family. Eric put on his shirt, then stepped into his trousers. Then he walked to the window, pulling aside the curtain. Snow had fallen overnight, but he didn’t see Hawk’s truck, although maybe he had parked elsewhere. A chill traveled up Eric’s spine; just who was that man, and would Eric see him again?
Then Eric closed his eyes as a wave of nausea rolled through him. The other side of his identity settled like a thud upon his consciousness, and he staggered to the end of the mattress, sitting down before he fell. He set his head into his left hand, and while he didn’t weep, he wanted to be sick. For two months he had merely been an ordinary man. Once again he was an aberration, which had nearly cost him his life. The pain hit him then, both of his useless arm and the tragic loss of his talent. Maybe he could manage crude sketches, but never again would he paint. Tears stung his eyes, a few rolling down his face. Maybe he wouldn’t transform again, perhaps this had been the last time. Seth was better and Laurie knew the truth, but neither compensated for the magnitude of what had been forfeited for those blessings. Eric prayed for peace, then to see his wife and daughters. His life had been spared and Seth was well. The rest was in God’s hands.
The reappearance of his identity also brought the return of his faith, to which Eric now clung. John Doe hadn’t been at all certain, but Eric knew God had saved him that fateful day at Caddo Lake. Now God’s presence was all Eric could fathom, then he shuddered; God had placed Eric into the hands of a man who at first seemed commonplace, but now Eric needed to speak to…. He smiled, then pulled out his money clip. The bills were undisturbed from how Eric had arranged them after buying lunch yesterday in Rawlings. His companion must have paid for this room, but where was he?
Eric put on his socks and shoes, then pulled on his overcoat. The room key sat on the shelf by the paper bag; Eric put the key in his pocket, then opened the door. A blast of frigid air made him tremble, several inches of snow on the ground causing him to reconsider trying to find the person who had brought him here. A diner across the parking lot was open, but Eric couldn’t see Hawk’s truck anywhere. Eric’s stomach rumbled, so he closed the door to his room, then slowly made his way to the café. Hawk wasn’t there either, but Eric sat in a booth, ordering breakfast and coffee. He wasn’t expecting to leave Utah that day, and didn’t feel like making small talk with anyone.
As he ate, he considered all he had remembered; now he recalled Marek’s name, as well as Mrs. Kenny’s. The last names he knew were useless, but he didn’t wonder why that was. He still had at least two more days on the road; he would find a ride to Boise, then go west to…. He sipped his coffee, gazing out the window. Myriad questions filled his head; why had this happened now topped the list, but not as he’d considered while an amnesiac. What he and his wife had often feared had occurred, yet he was alive. But how was she, and not only in regard to having just had their daughter? Yesterday’s drive along southern Wyoming made him shiver; he’d flown over that terrain to see his dying father, coming home so sick. How had his wife continually coped with his extended disappearances, what kind of woman was she?
Had Laurie gone to see her after leaving Miami, and what about his well-being? Had he told Stan, and if so, what had that man made of such a tale? Eric finished his meal, but the final bites were tasteless. He ate because he needed to maintain his strength. The answers were waiting for him further west.
Yet he wanted one thing solved that day, but maybe he would never see…. He couldn’t help but smile thinking of that man, his name and bearing more otherworldly aspects of a life that again was Eric’s reality. Easily he recalled perching on the cypress tree, watching the boys approach; why hadn’t he heeded Luke’s warning, why had he…. Eric wiped his mouth with a napkin, then stared at his good hand. That existence was firm in his mind, yet it was odd to consider himself left handed. He tried making a fist with his right, but pain made him close his eyes. When he opened them, he nearly gasped. Hawk stood at the table, motioning to the open seat. “Mind if I join you?” he asked.
Eric smiled. “Please. I wasn’t sure I’d see you again.”
Once Hawk was seated they faced each other, then Eric glanced to the counter, wanting to get someone’s attention. Strangely the place was empty; no waitresses, customers, or cooks. Eric gazed around, finding the entire establishment deserted. Then he met Hawk’s eyes; that man simply nodded his head.
“Who are you?” Eric asked softly.
“You know who I am.”
Eric inhaled, then nodded as the scents of St. Anne’s filled his nostrils. He wasn’t sure what to say, then he smiled. “Thanks for taking care of me yesterday.”
“It was my pleasure.”
Eric gazed at his empty plate, then back at the man’s eyes. Their color was indiscernible and they sparkled. “What happens now?” he asked.
“Today I want you to rest. You need sleep, for the end of your journey awaits.”
Eric nodded, he was tired. Then he grinned. “Are you still heading to California?”
The man chuckled. “In a manner of speaking.”
“What happens tomorrow?”
The man clasped his hands together, placing them on the table. “You let tomorrow sort itself. Today just rest. You’ve done good work for me Eric.”
The man nodded, grasping Eric’s hands. “You trusted me. There’s still more to do, especially trust. But first, rest.”
“What can I do for you now?” Eric trembled, wishing the man’s touch would initiate healing. His right arm ached badly while his right hand was numb.
“Trust me, that’s all.” The man smiled, letting go of Eric’s hands. Then he stood, pulling money from his pocket. He set the bills near Eric’s plate. “Use what is necessary, then give the rest to whomever needs it. You have been greatly blessed, but you know that. And remember I love you.”
Those words echoed inside the empty diner as Eric nodded his head. Then he turned around, but the man was gone. Eric glanced at the wad of cash, which seemed larger than what had originally been set there. He tried to count it, but his eyes grew teary; the magnitude of exactly who had been seated across from him was more than Eric could ponder. He peeled off a twenty dollar bill, then set it near his empty plate. He put the rest inside his jacket, too much to stuff into his pants’ pocket. As he stood, he nearly bumped into a waitress, for now the diner was full of customers. He smiled, thanking her for a delicious meal. Then he returned to the motel with much over which to pray.
Again Klaudia woke alone, but this morning no fears plagued her. She had one more full day in America, and while Marek hadn’t mentioned when he would travel to Oslo, she felt his presence would accompany her back home. She wouldn’t badger him to visit; this trip had cost him plenty, but the result of their reunion was more than money could buy. She smiled, then sat up slowly needing coffee, at least one cigarette, and a bath. Then she giggled; she had never felt this weary but so happy. Not even in their earliest days of her marriage had Gunnar satisfied this way.
Briefly she allowed it was love leaving her so sated; more she wondered just who was the man beneath the collar. He wasn’t at all whom she had spent last week, or who she had known in Poland, yet at times over the last two days that Marek had been within her grasp, an adventurous lad who possessed a quiet side, then Klaudia frowned. He’d been in Dominik’s shadow for much of their youth, but during those last years Marek had distinguished himself as a budding linguist as well as…. She couldn’t quantify how he was different from his older brother, then she tried to imagine how those young men had appeared; Dominik had been taller, but he was nearly seventeen when…. She shivered, then got out bed, needing a smoke. Smelling the coffee she smiled, then put on Marek’s robe which had been waiting at the foot of the bed. Leaving his room, she used the bathroom, then walked toward the kitchen. She could hear him shuffling about, and her heart raced. They had gone out yesterday for more condoms, otherwise her whole world was this building. Funny that she could find such peace within a church.
Yet, she hadn’t returned to the chapel since Sunday; she had fixed meals for them, then slept in his bed. She had only gone into her room to change clothing, but today she needed to pack, for he would take her to the airport early tomorrow. That notion didn’t bother her, for other than an act of God, they would never be separated again.
She grinned at herself, then cleared her throat. Stepping into the kitchen, she saw him at the table, her cup of coffee waiting like yesterday. Yesterday she’d had no idea what might occur, but after another full day doing little more than making love, Klaudia imagined the same would be on Tuesday’s agenda. The first half of her trip had dragged, but now she resided in a different realm. She sat at her place, smiled at him, then reached for her pack of cigarettes, which she had left here last night. She wouldn’t smoke in the kitchen, but holding the package soothed. She would drink her coffee, then walk to the foyer, smoking there.
For now she only wanted to stare at the man who…. He was the love of her life, which she had grudgingly admitted to herself yesterday. Today he owned her heart just as he had previously. A small part of her flinched, but maybe the impending distance would make it easier for her to accept such changes. How simple would it be to love him from afar, which brought peace to her heart. To love him every day in person might drive her mad. Then she giggled. “Good morning,” she said in Polish, which was all they had spoken since fighting in the chapel. Then she laughed. “How are you?”
She said that in English, which made him smile. “I’m well,” he answered. “Are we using this tongue now?”
“At least this morning. I do not want to look like an ignorant foreigner on my way home.” She laughed as she spoke, then a chill overtook her. She’d had that same thought planning for this trip, but didn’t feel at all the same to who she had been. She gazed at her coffee, then took a sip. Klaudia glanced at Marek, who was drinking his own coffee, looking the same as how Eric Snyder had painted him when Jane was tiny, then a little bit older. Klaudia then saw the adolescent he’d been the last time she had seen him, also a man much older, as if the weight of the world rested upon him. Was he already missing her she wondered, drinking more coffee. She wouldn’t delve into that until she was on the plane, or perhaps not until Sigrun collected her from the airport on Thursday. It would take Klaudia two days to reach home, but maybe that was due to more than the hours separating America and Norway. It would be ages for her to understand all that had happened here, for it was as though her previous existence could no longer accommodate who she had become. She loved this man, and had been well loved by him. Neither of them would ever be the same.
She wished to say all this; she wanted to keep nothing from him, not how much she loved him or would miss him. For over twenty years she had regretted not being honest; how much pain had that caused her, and him too. “Marek….” Then she paused, for he met her gaze with a tortured look on his face. “What’s wrong?” she said, putting down her cup and cigarettes. “Just tell me.”
The sorrow in his eyes made her wish to run away, then she felt utterly foolish for her considerations. Yet, he must have some feelings for her; the love they had made yesterday was hard for her to qualify; she had never been so enraptured, nor so giving. He brought something out of her that had been dead since…. “Marek, what is it?”
He stood, then pulled out the chair beside her, seating himself. Grasping her hands, he sighed heavily. “I love you very much.”
He spoke in Polish, his voice tender, adoring, and not at all akin with how distressed he still appeared. “I have loved you my whole life,” he continued. “And I will always love you.”
But…. That word hadn’t been spoken in any language, yet it hung thickly in the kitchen, and with every breath Klaudia took, it crept down her throat, filling her lungs the same way Gunnar’s words had as he told her what he was doing with their baby. Klaudia nodded to Marek just as she had to Gunnar, but with her husband her acquiescence had been that of a frightened young woman too stunned and sad to argue. What she had shared with Marek had been too good to be true, she coolly accepted, gazing at her coffee cup, then to her cigarettes. She took her hands from Marek’s, removed a cigarette from the pack, and lit it. She inhaled deeply, exhaling away from Marek and the painting.
“I understand,” she said in Polish, keeping her face turned away from him, her voice terse. “I suppose I should’ve known this was how it would end.”
He cleared his throat, then stroked her face. “I don’t want it to end, not at all.”
Now she looked at him, tears falling down his face. “Oh really?” Then she let out a small cry. “It certainly sounds like you’re leading up to….” She couldn’t say the words, for they seemed incongruous to everything she had shared with him over the last two days.
He nodded, then sighed. “I realize that’s how it sounded, and I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to think that, I mean….” He leaned back in his chair. “I do need to say something which might….” He paused, then sighed again. “I need to be honest with you.”
While trying to fathom what he might say, she stared at him. Then she gasped, for he looked just like his father, wrinkles deeply etched along his brow and mouth, his posture slumped. As the Nazis rounded up the Jagucki family, Klaudia had peered from her bedroom window, trying to locate Marek among them. Instead she’d seen his father looking positively aged, Ania in his grasp as if shielding her from…. “Just tell me,” she mumbled, then she cleared her throat. She took another long drag from the smoke, looking for the ashtray. She didn’t know where it was, so she went to the sink, letting the ashes fall there.
He got up, then approached her. Again he caressed her face, and she couldn’t move away from his touch. Only for moments had she peeked from her window, not wishing to be hauled out of her home, nor could she view the slaughter that was waiting. There were no illusions with the SS; that they had descended upon her tiny village was as if Satan had chosen that spot as another death camp, which is what it turned into as soon as the first match was lit. She glanced toward her cigarettes, but not at the pack of matches. Then she dropped what remained of her smoke into the sink, wishing to be sick. She coughed, which made Marek remove his hand from her face. Gripping the counter, Klaudia bowed her head, smelling smoke, hearing screams, then the awful silence, compounded with an even fouler odor, which hadn’t lingered yet remained trapped in the back of her brain. All those elements now teemed in her mind, yet Marek was close, she could detect his breaths. He grasped her hands again and without thinking she squeezed back, needing to know where she was. She wasn’t in Poland; this was America and he was alive and…. “Just tell me,” she again muttered. Whatever he had to say couldn’t be worse than what she had already endured.
“I love you so much,” he began, his voice soft in her ears. “Nothing more would please me than to spend the rest of my life with you.”
“But you can’t because you have to stay here, right?” Possibilities raced through her mind; was he bound to wherever the church sent him? Maybe if he returned to Europe, they might want him to return to Poland. Then she met his gaze. “Does this have to do with my son?”
Marek shook his head. “This has to do with….”
His mouth trembled and for a moment Klaudia wondered if he would break down. “My God, sit down.” She led him back to his seat at the table, then sat beside him. “Marek, what is it?”
She wanted to look at him, but all she saw was his father, who must have been fully aware of what was coming. Ania hadn’t known, but then she’d been eleven, and no child could have predicted the disaster that was minutes away. Yet Marek’s father had understood; his brother had hidden Jews, what Klaudia had overheard her parents discuss months later. Just as disturbing to her had been why this had occurred, although knowing the reason hadn’t assuaged her pain. The children had been innocent, their parents as well. Why kill them all, she had wondered, but never did she broach this with her mother and father. Only later, when the full horrors of Nazi Germany were revealed, did she no longer mull over such incomprehensible facts, except for one detail; why had Marek not raised any dissent? Dominik had loudly argued with the soldiers, but Marek’s voice had been strangely absent. Then she peered at him. “This doesn’t have to do with how you got away, does it?”
Since he told her about the hawk, she had paid it scant attention. She still wasn’t sure if she even believed him, but something had kept him from the village. Had a penance been demanded? “Don’t tell me that hawk made you promise….”
She felt ridiculous even mentioning it, then she fought a giggle. Was that why Marek had no wife? Yet, sex seemed to be permissible, and Klaudia found herself laughing uncontrollably. “Oh for God’s sake, if you only wanted to sleep with me, just say so.” She continued to chuckle. “Why do you think I packed the condoms?”
She had expected that to rouse his smile. Instead he shook his head, still looking like his father. Now Klaudia was stumped. She cleared her throat, crossing her arms over her chest. Strangely she didn’t want a smoke, but another cup of coffee would clear her mind. Then she huffed. “Tell you what, when you have the guts to be honest with me, you can find me in my room. I need a bath and….”
As she stood, he did too, gently grasping her right arm. She looked at his hand upon her, then met his gaze. The pain in his eyes traveled through his touch into her heart, stealing her breath. It was as if her memories of that terrible day were now his too.
He began to speak, not about that tragedy, but of yesterday morning. How he had prayed for one more day with her, but now having received that treasure, perhaps he had been selfish. In Polish, he again reiterated how much he loved her, but that anything further between them was most likely impossible to consider due to…. Now she closed her eyes, hearing something as malicious as the laughing soldiers while shrieks from inside the burning barn faded away. Marek’s God wouldn’t allow him to pursue a relationship, although those weren’t Marek’s exact words. But that was his excuse; he loved her but her lack of faith wouldn’t permit further contact.
If not for the grief in his voice, Klaudia would slap his face, or maybe spit at him. Her furor was only tempered by his sorrow, which she knew was genuine, although rage bubbled in her gut, itching to spew forth. She gritted her teeth to control what crawled up her throat, then swallowed hard, yet venom escaped. “You don’t love me, you just wanted to screw me. That’s why you brought me here, you bastard!”
She raised her hand toward him, but the agony on his face halted her actions. He was truly suffering, but how did his pain compare to that of others? Klaudia didn’t think of herself, but of his parents, siblings, his entire family. “Do you know how lucky you are to be alive Marek? I don’t think you actually do. I certainly can’t fathom why you’re here, your God must have a wicked sense of humor, keeping you alive, putting us in touch, putting me in your bed even, and now for you to tell me this?” She had a cynical laugh, but her heart pounded, her eyes filling with tears. “You can’t be with me because I don’t believe in your God, well, that’s quite a statement. It certainly lets you off the hook. I’ll be gone tomorrow and you’ll have had your way with me and….”
He grabbed her by the shoulders, his eyes wide. “I love you, don’t you understand? Don’t you think if there was some way I could go back and change what happened….” He dropped his arms to his sides, but kept staring at her. “But I can’t. And just the same I can’t….”
He closed his eyes, shaking his head. Klaudia trembled from the anguish in his tone and from how badly her heart ached. His sentiments were truth; was it his plaintive voice, his bedraggled appearance, or that after two days time had been erased? All their years apart counted for nothing, for once they had claimed the other, some new thing had emerged. She wanted to scoff at that, but inwardly she couldn’t discount how free she’d felt since his first kiss, how happy she’d been since lying beside him, how complete he had made her feel. Yet for him there was a caveat, his fickle and feeble God who had allowed beasts to murder his family, who had brought them together and now was tearing them apart. That same God had given Klaudia a retarded son, and she lost her composure. “You can’t love anyone but Jesus. All right Marek, you follow that savior of yours, see where he puts you. I’ll tell you what good he did for your family, not very much at all. I can still hear Dominik’s screams in my head, I’ll never forget them. I was listening for you, but all I heard was your brother. He was calling your name, damn you, calling for your puny God too while the Nazis laughed at him. They laughed as he burned to death Marek, and where the hell were you? Out following a goddamn hawk!” She bristled at her language; for some reason speaking ill of a bird felt wrong. Then she shivered; that hawk had saved Marek’s life, for some reason she still loved him. A wave of self-loathing crashed upon her and she again gritted her teeth, trying to hold back the worst of it. Yet, memories prickled at the surface, the most painful being those from hours ago when she had lain against his chest, listening to his beating heart. “I watched your father trying to protect Ania, I watched that Marek! But there was no protecting anyone that day, not the members of your family or any of us who were helpless.” She smirked, then smiled. “Nobody did a goddamn thing to stop it, and when it was over, they left it all, they didn’t even have the decency to bury the remains. I walked through it, wondering where you were in those ashes. People called me crazy, but I had to know, I had to….” Tears burned her eyes, then tumbled like flames along her cheeks. “We listened to them die, we couldn’t get away from it. I will never forget those screams Marek, not as long as I live!”
Now she sobbed, but no longer was the recollection only hers. He wept, still shaking his head. “I’m sorry, dear God, I am so sorry Klaudia.”
Anger seethed within her, and she slapped his face. Their eyes met, hers filled with indignation, his with…. She couldn’t face the level of his pain, so she ignored it. “You’re sorry, oh Marek, that means nothing to me. This whole trip was a farce, you disgust me.” She stripped off the robe, standing stark naked. “This is all you wanted, well, I hope I suited your needs. I wish you’d died with the rest of them, I wish….” Sobs formed in the back of her throat; she rushed from the kitchen to her room, slamming the door with all her strength. Then she flung herself on the bed, weeping hard. If Marek had thought his confession would reconcile her to his faith, he couldn’t have been more wrong.
The weather in Salt Lake remained gloomy all day Tuesday. Eric spent that day reading the gospels, having found both a Bible and the Book of Mormon in his motel room. He’d smiled at the latter, but the former held his attention while a few more facts were revealed. He recovered most of his memories associated with his pastor, even those connected to the woman Marek loved. Last names still eluded Eric, but he prayed for Klaudia, feeling strongly drawn to both of those Poles. There was something connected to the minister that Eric couldn’t discern, yet it was a vital point within their friendship. Eric missed his best friend, whose first name remained as elusive as that of Eric’s wife, but a different level of fellowship existed between Eric and his pastor. Perhaps some of Eric’s memories would never return.
He didn’t think that would last when it came to two names right on the tip of his tongue. He felt even more akin to his best friend, for both men had…. Eric resisted that notion, but it was too strong to ignore. While he hadn’t fought in Korea, his life was now tainted by a similar brush. He longed to speak with Seth, then Eric smirked. The few last names he knew were still of no use. Then he closed his eyes, offering a prayer of thanks. Perhaps tomorrow the weather would clear. He would find a ride to Boise, then maybe further west if possible. He hadn’t counted the money Hawk had given him, but most of that from Walt remained. Eric didn’t mind spending that cash, but Hawk’s held a different sort of blessing. Eric smiled, wondering who would benefit from it.
He ate lunch and dinner at the truck stop, sharing conversation with men planning to head west the following day. One fellow was driving to Boise, and Eric arranged to meet him early the next morning. Frank Cooper wouldn’t take any money, but Eric offered to buy breakfast, to which Mr. Cooper agreed. Eric slept well, then woke with newfound energy. He was animated during the meal, and by seven thirty Wednesday morning, he and Mr. Cooper were on their way to Idaho. The sun shone and Mr. Cooper was a fast driver. He estimated they would arrive by noon and if Eric was lucky, Frank might find Eric a lift further west. Eric mentioned Portland as a possible destination and Frank smiled, noting that Eric could see that city by suppertime.
As the men crossed into Idaho, Eric grew quiet. He was near his home state, and for the first time since waking in the Richardsons’ shed, a clear image of his property was firm in his mind. Boysenberry vines were prominent; he’d planted them right after buying the house. In fact, he’d done extensive gardening, for he and his wife had been downright poor. She had been a nurse while he painted, tending to the garden in his spare time. They had bought the place due to the abandoned greenhouse, which became his studio. The house, however, had needed renovations, which later turned into…. He closed his eyes, then took a deep breath. He was a rich man, his paintings on display in Europe. Opening his eyes, he gazed at his right hand, resting on his leg. He tried to make a fist, but his fingers ached, then he felt nothing. Never again would he paint, which caused him momentary pain. Then he knew a wave of thankfulness; by lunch they would reach Boise, western Oregon merely hours away. He didn’t live in Portland; another ride would need to be found, going southerly he decided. Maybe by tomorrow, he then smiled, again closing his eyes, trying to comprehend all that now swirled in his mind.
Mr. Cooper didn’t speak, allowing Eric time to pray, also to plan; when he got home, after speaking to Walt, Eric wanted to send checks to both Walt and Callie. He would include one for Jonah Thompson, then he would write to Harvey Saperstein, then…. Eric grimaced; his wife would attend to the correspondence, although Eric would speak to Walt personally. Eric’s abilities left-handed were limited, which again took his thoughts to painting. Could he teach himself to paint with his left hand? He stared at it, but felt no connection to it other than for simple tasks. Would he even be able to garden left handed? He smiled, recalling the pleasure of planting seeds, pulling weeds, harvesting boysenberries. Then he laughed out loud; his wife was an accomplished baker. It was her sweet potato pie he had eaten, a recipe from Agatha Morris, Stanford’s cook. Then Eric shivered; that woman had been praying for him extensively, although he doubted Laurie had told her the truth. Thinking of Laurie and Stanford made Eric’s chest tighten; how in the world would they take this news?
He didn’t mean his return, which he felt was imminent. He glanced at his right hand as a deep sorrow welled in his heart. Then Eric imagined a reunion with those men; a long embrace with Laurie would be shared and probably many words, privately spoken, concerning their time together in Miami. As a hawk, Eric had painstakingly pieced together selected verses from Psalm 100, and he still recalled how deeply those words had affected Laurie, who’d fallen to his knees onto the sandy ground. Eric then realized the bond between himself and that man, toward whom he now felt like a brother, the same way he thought about his best friend and pastor. But when Eric considered Stanford, reserve intruded. Eric had no idea if he knew the truth; if so, how had he taken it? And if not, how in the world had Laurie kept it from him? Both Eric and Seth had thought Laurie should tell Stanford, although it would have been much for the art dealer to face. Then Eric shuddered; he would never share with anyone what had driven him from Karnack, not even his wife. He couldn’t bear the thought of her knowledge; it was a burden for him to carry alone.
As the miles ticked past, Eric stared blankly out of his window. He could picture what his wife looked like; thick brown hair was sometimes cut to her shoulders, but he’d always preferred it lengthy, and had painted her portrait many times with her hair vividly displayed. Then he broke into a smile, thinking how he’d initially painted her nude, and how by one of those paintings he’d realized she was expecting Jane. He’d actually had to compare her image as a field to an actual nude, then he chuckled softly, remembering that as she had slept, he’d gone back and forth between canvases, yet he hadn’t asked her immediately if she was pregnant. He had given her time, for it was a somewhat difficult idea to accept. She had blamed herself for their infertility, yet it had never been her fault.
These pieces of his past were like gems, and he relished each one. Then he gave thanks for this rather strange manner in which to revisit his life, an existence he couldn’t recapture on canvas, but only within his mind. Gently he rubbed his right elbow; he was coming home as a cripple, but had to believe a noble purpose was waiting.
He turned to face his companion; Frank looked to be in his mid-forties, and Eric struck up conversation, learning that Mr. Cooper was a father to three girls, calling Montana his home. He’d been a trucker for over twenty years, his wife a teacher. His dream was to retire early, then move back to Wisconsin, where he’d been born. He liked cold weather, he smiled, but Montana was so dry compared to his boyhood home.
Eric recalled that he’d been born in Portland, but he didn’t regale Frank with the particulars of his childhood. That history was more of a closed book, and Eric didn’t wish to linger over it. All he wanted was to see his wife and daughters, then the rest of his family. None were related by blood, but no longer was he a solitary entity.
He grew still and Mr. Cooper didn’t press for further details. All Eric could ponder was that for years he and his wife had basically lived as hermits due to his transformations. Then Renee learned the truth, followed by her husband, and while Laurie had only learned last fall, it was as if Eric had gained a host of relatives in the span of a few years. There were Fran, Louie, and their large brood, Joan and Russell too, and now Eric could count Walt, Dora, Callie, and Susie among his kin. Then Eric considered Luke; if Eric ever had a son, might he be so lucky as to have a child so insightful? Then Eric frowned; a son could be sent off to war. Better that Eric had daughters, but did Walt feel the same?
A long silence followed the men across southern Idaho; Eric assumed he’d once flown over this terrain, but no memories were stirred. He considered past moments of his marriage, skirting around his previous occupation, concentrating on his wife and their garden. Then he pondered parenthood; now he had two children, but would Jane remember him? He ached to hold his new baby, but didn’t think her name was Emma. Then he smiled, recalling fond memories of his mother, also how overworked she’d always been. That strengthened his resolve to somehow repay Mr. Cooper’s kindness, but he wouldn’t reveal his address. Eric didn’t badger him, yet he also didn’t feel Hawk’s windfall was meant for this man. As they neared Boise, Eric mentioned buying lunch, which Frank accepted. Half an hour later Frank pulled in at a truck stop. Eric padded the left side of his coat; an inside pocket contained a large amount of cash, but Eric would pay for lunch with what waited in his pants’ pocket.
The diner was busy and Frank knew some of the patrons. Eric excused himself to the restroom, and when he returned, Frank wore a broad smile. “Got you a ride to Portland. You’ll get in sometime after eight, Ben’s got a few stops along the way. He’ll drop you off on the south end of town, since that’s where you said you’ll be heading next.”
“Oh thank you so much.” Eric sat down, then gripped the seat with his left hand. He was overcome with emotion, but managed to compose himself. “Mr. Cooper, I’d love to drop you a line when I get home, or rather, have my wife write a note.” Eric chuckled. “If I could have your address….”
Frank shook his head. “I trust Ben’ll get you to Portland. The Lord’ll take care of the rest.”
“I completely agree,” Eric nodded.
Mr. Cooper stared at Eric. “You a believer?”
“I am indeed.”
Frank smiled, motioning to a young man seated at the counter. “Well, you’ll have a good ride with Ben.”
Eric chuckled. “That sounds intriguing.”
“Ben’s got a few ideas about the man upstairs,” Frank laughed.
They finished their meals, then Frank led Eric to where Ben sat. Introductions were made, then Frank said goodbye. Ben Reynolds paid his bill, then he and Eric left the diner. Ben gave Eric a boost into the rig, then got into the driver’s seat, asking Eric exactly where he was headed. Eric chuckled inwardly; days before he wouldn’t have known what to say, but after his encounter with…. He still thought of that man as Hawk, perhaps he always would. While Eric couldn’t recall his wife’s name, their deeply held faith was again his. And once again he put himself in the care of a stranger, who by evening’s end would deposit Eric only hours from those he loved most. By sometime tomorrow, Eric smiled, he would be home.
After taking Klaudia to the airport, Marek sat in his car for a few minutes. They had barely spoken since yesterday morning, and while he’d wished her a safe flight, she hadn’t answered him, getting out of his vehicle, grabbing her luggage from the back, then slamming the car door. He looked at where she’d been seated, yet it was as if a ghost had visited, although the memories were fresh in his mind. He sighed, feeling as when he’d returned from the forest, his family dead but vivid in his head. Again he was faced with immense loss, but was it worse that Klaudia was still living?
He left the parking lot, driving aimlessly back toward town. Then he wondered if it was too early to stop at Lynne’s. Checking his watch, he smiled; it was seven fifteen. Instead he drove to a café, ordering a full breakfast and coffee. A few parishioners joined him, their pleasant conversations lifting his heart. Yet it beat irregularly, as if Klaudia had removed one chamber, maybe more, taking it back to Norway.
Had he been rash, he wondered. But to have continued what they had shared wasn’t fair to either. Did she understand that, he mused while trying to concentrate on what was being said around him. He then gave his full attention to a young couple who had been members of St. Matthew’s for only a few months. They were newly married; Marek had performed the ceremony last autumn. Then he smiled; the woman had long brown hair, her husband was blonde. After breakfast, Marek would return to church, then call Lynne. He needed to be with family today.
For two days, Klaudia had been his…. He’d never thought of her as his wife, but no longer was she a dream-like figure within his existence. Except that now she was, and he flinched inwardly. The newlyweds made their goodbyes, then Marek was again alone. He sighed, for that state of being was well-known to him. Yet after what he’d shared with Klaudia, no other woman would ever be right.
Marek paid his check, then left for home. St. Matthew’s smelled differently to him now, but many within his flock smoked. Never before had the scent bothered him, now he wanted to air out the entire building. He smiled at himself; it was too cold for such nonsense, not to mention in a few days it wouldn’t matter. But would this place ever be as it was before? Marek didn’t think so. He sighed, then gazed at his watch; it read eight ten. He walked into the kitchen, going for the telephone. Lynne answered right away and would be happy to see him.
Twenty minutes later he was seated at her kitchen table, a slice of sweet potato pie in front of him, coffee as well. Jane chatted across from him, while Lynne sat to his left, Cary in her arms. Lynne seemed tired, but Marek was too; he’d been up since three that morning, unable to sleep. He smiled at Lynne, then sipped his coffee. “Has it been a long morning?” he asked.
She nodded. “Cary was up about every two hours. Thank goodness Jane isn’t bothered.”
Jane smiled, as if comprehending her mother’s statement. Then she stared at Marek. “Pie please?”
Both adults laughed. “Not yet.” Lynne motioned to what sat on Jane’s plate. “You finish that, then we’ll see.”
Jane took a bite, then looked around the room. “Where’s auntie?”
Marek sighed. “Aunt Klaudia’s on her way home today.”
Lynne reached for Marek’s hand, squeezing it gently. “Will you hear from her when she arrives?”
“I’d be greatly surprised if I ever hear from her again.”
Lynne nodded, then stroked Cary’s head. “I’m sorry.”
“I am too.”
Marek wasn’t sure what brought on a brief spate of tears; was it Lynne’s anguished tone, or his own words? He wiped his face, then smiled. “I don’t even know if I’m glad she visited. It’s one of those blessings that seems without a clear purpose.”
“We’ve had our share of those lately.”
“Indeed.” Marek gripped Lynne’s hand, then released it. He longed to speak about what lay on his heart and would have no hesitation if Eric was present, but he couldn’t talk to Lynne in the same manner. “If nothing else, I have my memories.” His eyes watered, thinking how long yesterday had seemed after Klaudia left him in the kitchen. Had he eaten anything? He finished his pie, then took his plate to the sink. He sat on Jane’s left, then gazed at Lynne. Tears rolled down her cheeks, but he was the only one to notice.
He stood, handing her a napkin. With one hand, she dabbed at her eyes, then clumsily blew her nose. Then she chuckled. “Hard to do much with a girl in my arms.”
“Oh, let me assist.” Marek relieved Lynne of the baby’s care, placing Cary over his shoulder. Lynne stood, then left the kitchen. Marek heard her go into the bathroom, the door closing behind her. He walked Cary around the table as Jane called after her mother. Marek sat beside Jane again, urging her to finish her breakfast. In Polish she asked for pie, making Marek laugh. “We’ll see what your mother says,” he answered in that language, wondering if he would ever speak it with Klaudia again.
When Lynne returned, Marek stood, meeting her in the middle of the kitchen. He gave her a one-armed hug, then handed back her daughter. Marek cut a thin slice of pie, putting it on a paper towel. “I promised someone a treat,” he said quietly, looking toward Jane.
Lynne smiled. “Go on, it won’t kill her.”
Marek chuckled, taking the pie to Jane. She squealed in delight, making the adults laugh. “But just one piece,” he said in Polish, feeling a chill as he spoke. He repeated his comments in English, then wondered how long he would go between tongues.
“Marek….” Lynne shook her head. “I’m sorry. Guess I’m not very good company this morning.”
“Neither am I.” He smiled, patting her hand. “I don’t mean to intrude. Perhaps I’ll be on my way.”
Yet he didn’t make an effort to leave. Then Lynne grasped his hand. “Don’t go, I mean, it’s so good to see you.”
He met her gaze, finding tears again dotting her cheeks. “Are you all right?”
She shrugged. “For days I’ve been feeling like any minute he’s gonna step through the door. And every day it’s just me and my girls, our girls.” She stared at the kitchen door. “Today’s Sam’s last day of work. Don’t know if they’ve mentioned that. They’re coming over for dinner tonight, well, Sam’s gonna cook here.” Now Lynne wore a small smile. “Renee basically implied that would be the order of things until he….” Lynne’s voice cracked, then she kissed Cary’s head. “Until Eric came home. I don’t know if they feel the same, it’s hard to talk about that sort of thing now, what with young ladies around.”
Marek nodded. “What’s that saying, little pitchers have big ears?”
“Yeah, my father used to tell me that.” Lynne sighed. “I’ve been thinking about my parents lately, not sure why, other than how in the world would they have understood any of this?” She motioned around the room. “Here I am, and where’s that husband of mine?” Now Lynne had a long sigh, punctuated by a whimper. “I know he’s on his way home, it’s just that the last couple of days have felt like eons.” Now she giggled. “I don’t think Cary napped yesterday for longer than an hour at a time, then last night was hard and I’m just exhausted. If he doesn’t get home soon, he’s not gonna have much of a wife left.”
“Shall I mind the girls while you catch forty winks?”
“Oh, I didn’t mean that, but if you’re offering.” Then Lynne grinned widely. “I’ll feed Cary, then lay down. Oh Marek, thank you so much.”
Marek laughed. “You’re very welcome. Just looking after my flock.”
“Well, you’re a lifesaver today.” Lynne stood, then headed toward the living room. Marek took Lynne’s seat, telling Jane he was going to keep her company for a little while. He spoke in Polish, feeling no lingering sorrow attached to that language.
An hour after Lynne went to nap, Renee called. Marek explained his presence and Renee offered to join him. Marek accepted her assistance, and soon he was flanked at the kitchen table by Ann and Jane while Renee made coffee. Cary slept, but Marek hadn’t taken her to the nursery. She rested in the living room, for he wanted Lynne to sleep as long as possible. He shared all of this with Renee, who agreed. “We came by yesterday,” Renee said, “but we needed to get Paul from school, so we couldn’t stay long.” Renee stepped toward the table. “Did she tell you this was Sam’s last work day?”
Marek nodded. “Will he go back once….”
Renee shrugged, then sat next to Marek. “He’s not sure. We’ll just wait and see.”
“Yes, I supposed that’s best.” Marek inhaled, then gazed at Renee. “Did you make regular coffee?”
“Yes I did,” Renee chuckled. “Lynne’s been having a half cup of it now and again. I know she’s been running on fumes the last few weeks. Laurie called Sam a couple of days ago, Sam said he sounded….” Now Renee paused. Then she leaned toward Marek. “Laurie’s always said that he’s coming back, but Sam thought his tone was a little circumspect.” Renee snorted, then smiled. “It’s like when I was waiting for Sam. Been nearly about the same length of time,” she said softly. She wiped her eyes, looking right at Marek. “I just have this feeling. It’s not gonna be much longer.”
Marek grasped her hand, but didn’t speak. He’d had no sense either way, but easily recalled Laurie’s assurance that Eric would return. Lynne had shared that feeling as she’d rightly said until someone gave her proof otherwise…. Marek remembered their brief chat about that subject over dessert on Thanksgiving night. Now that seemed like ages ago, yet he had spoken to Klaudia a few days before that evening. Would they ever talk again, or had he bid her a permanent farewell at the airport? His heart ached, maybe not as much as Lynne’s did, or perhaps the sense of displacement was the same. He’d loved Klaudia not quite as many years as Lynne and Eric had been married, but what did time matter when the heart was involved?
Ann asked her mother a question and Renee answered, then was drawn into the youngsters’ conversation. Marek heard their voices, but his focus remained upon that query; God’s love was timeless, yet he knew when his flock was due to return, not to mention that God was God. His love couldn’t be compared to what humans experienced, yet the corporeal heart loved in a relative manner as Jesus had. Marek had followed his heart by allowing Klaudia into his bed, then summarily kicking her from that sacred spot. Had he been rash or prudent? She was avidly opposed to faith of any kind, she’d made that clear. Maggie had possessed a modicum of faith but never the desire to be wed to a cleric. Yet Marek had never truly loved that Englishwoman; his heart was always meant for another. Now he felt as weary as Lynne, waiting for Eric’s return. Would Marek ever get another chance, had he done the right thing?
He wondered if Sam regretted joining the army, although Marek didn’t consider it regarding Sam’s subsequent inability to father a child, only for the months spent apart from his wife. Sam probably would have been drafted anyway, but he’d made the conscious decision to leave. If Marek had left open the door for further visits, would the eventual disappointment have been greater? He ached to speak about this with another, but the only one was still…. When would Eric return, or was the real question would he come home? Marek sighed softly; assuming Eric did make it back, it would be a good while before he could listen to such ramblings. Perhaps Marek wouldn’t mention any of this, for what good would it serve? Klaudia was gone, their opportunity had been lost. Or maybe it was never meant to have been encouraged in the first place.
“Pastor, are you all right?” Renee spoke barely above a whisper, then cleared her throat. “Let me pour us some of that coffee.”
Before she could stand, Marek gripped her hand. “Renee, would you pray for me?”
She met his gaze. “Of course I will.” She squeezed his hand, then closed her eyes. Marek glanced at Ann while Renee made her silent appeal. Ann smiled, then closed her eyes, bowing her head.
Marek smiled as peace descended upon him. Renee released his hand, then she sighed softly. “How about some coffee?”
“Yes, that would be lovely.” He looked at Ann as he spoke, finding she had lifted her head and opened her eyes. She smiled at him, looking so much like her mother. Marek chuckled, which made Ann giggle. Then she returned to her chat with Jane as Renee brought mugs to the table. Adults sipped their beverages while little girls asked for pie.
Just as Cary cried, Marek heard Lynne’s footsteps along the stairs. He met her in the living room and she smiled, rubbing her eyes as she collected her daughter from the Moses basket on the sofa. Marek followed them into the kitchen, where Lynne sat near Jane while Renee fixed lunch. Cary ate first, the rest after Renee set plates on the table.
The talk was centered around what Sam would fix for dinner. At that moment he was collecting Paul from school; they would have lunch, then head to the store, Renee noted, then would drive to the Snyders. Ann clapped her hands, saying she wanted to play with her brother. Jane clapped too, but didn’t mention Paul. Marek was invited to stay for supper, but he hesitated. “I’ll make a boysenberry pie,” Lynne smiled. “It’ll be like old times.”
“You’re on,” Marek laughed. He hadn’t wished to impose, but the idea of dinner alone at St. Matthew’s left him cold. Mrs. Kenny would be there tomorrow, plenty of church business to keep them occupied. He would preside over Bible study as well, his usual activities easing the sting, as well as time spent with these people. But would another soon join them?
Briefly Marek glanced at Cary, snug at her mother’s chest. Then he looked past Lynne; when would Eric walk through the door? Suddenly the door opened. “Hi everybody,” Paul shouted. “Here we are!”
Sam stepped right behind Paul, but Marek wondered if anyone was on their heels. Yet it was only a father and son, both carrying grocery bags. Paul’s was small, but he proudly hoisted it onto the table. “Hey, are you having lunch already? Daddy said you’d wait for us.”
“Cary got hungry,” Lynne chuckled. “Then the rest of us did too.”
“Oh yeah.” Paul sat beside his sister. “Well, can I have a sandwich now?”
Renee stood beside Sam. “I’ll make you both something as soon as I get the cold stuff in the fridge.”
The banter was light, lifting Marek’s heart. Then he glanced again at Cary, finding her perched over Lynne’s shoulder. Lynne met Marek’s gaze, nodding her head. She still looked tired, but her sorrow was gone.
Marek left his seat, offering to help bring in groceries. He followed Sam outside, but the day was chilly, and neither man spoke. Marek grabbed two bags as Sam lugged one and they quickly walked back to the house. Marek put away sundries as Renee fixed lunch for her husband and son. Then Marek was again placed on baby duty while Lynne started a pie.
Paul regaled everyone with tales from school. Ann expressed her desire to go to kindergarten while Jane hummed her usual melody. Marek tuned out all but that song, praying for Klaudia and Eric. He stepped to where Lynne rolled pie dough, cradling Cary in his arms.
“Did you sleep well?” he asked softly.
“Yes, thank you.” Lynne smiled at him. “And thanks for staying for supper. Although if you need to leave, then come back….”
Marek chuckled. “Right now this is the best place for me.”
Turning around, Marek studied those at the table, then he shivered, yet it wasn’t from an unpleasant idea. He looked around the kitchen, then at Lynne. “Why a boysenberry pie?”
“Just felt like it.” She looked at her baby, then at Marek. “I dreamed about him, it was like he was almost home.” She went back to rolling out dough. “I just needed a nap, I guess. Sleep’ll do wonders for a person.”
Her tone was light and Marek smiled. “Indeed it will. I didn’t sleep well last night, perhaps tonight will be better.”
“I’m sure it will, especially if you spend all day here. Those three’ll run you ragged.” She laughed, then wiped her hands on her apron. Then she met Marek’s gaze. Her eyes were like chocolate, then Marek wondered if Ania had lived, would she be at all like Lynne. He placed his free hand on Lynne’s shoulder, then nodded at her. For a few seconds, Marek was afforded a miracle, finding in warm brown eyes understanding and forgiveness. He blinked away tears, then laughed out loud.
Lynne laughed too, squeezing Marek’s hand, then tickling Cary’s chin. “All right, time for me to get back to work. This pie won’t bake itself.”
Marek released Lynne’s shoulder. To his surprise, she leaned his way, kissing his cheek. “I’ll make a sweet potato too. If these don’t do the trick….”
Lynne didn’t finish her sentence and Marek only nodded. Again he glanced at the kitchen door, then to those at the table. He walked their way, taking a seat next to Jane, who spoke in Polish, asking for her daddy. “Anytime now,” Marek answered in his native tongue. “Anytime.”
As a plane touched down, Sigrun lit another cigarette. She’d arrived at the airport half an hour ago, but hadn’t wanted to be late. She peered out the large windows, then smiled. A jet slowly made its way toward the terminal and within minutes Sigrun would know if her friend would soon be making another trip.
Sigrun wasn’t sure how to tell Klaudia the news about Marek; she’d nearly called America, but Harald had insisted she wait until Klaudia came home. Sigrun wasn’t sure if that had been the right decision; she would have preferred a warning. She spoke with her daughters every few days, but her relationships with Astrid and Brita weren’t comparable with what Klaudia shared with her son. Although, Sigrun wondered, maybe that was also set to change.
Klaudia would have a decision to make, Sigrun thought, taking another drag of the smoke. She exhaled, coughed, then frowned. Then she smiled as the gangway door opened, a few passengers already looking for loved ones. Sigrun finished her cigarette, then headed to where people were gathered.
Several minutes later Klaudia appeared looking bedraggled, but Sigrun wasn’t surprised; Klaudia had been on airplanes for well over a day. Klaudia glanced at Sigrun, nodding her head, and Sigrun shivered, approaching her friend cautiously. Then Sigrun was glad she hadn’t called America. Perhaps the news about Marek would balance whatever had occurred in The United States.
“Well, how was the trip?” Sigrun said. Then she sighed. “Your flights, I mean.”
“Long, but all right.” Klaudia’s tone was weary. “Thank God I don’t work till Monday.”
“Yeah, you’ll need a few days’ rest to….” Sigrun paused, for a deep pain sat in Klaudia’s eyes. “Get back on Oslo time.”
Klaudia nodded, looking around the terminal. Then she met Sigrun’s gaze. “Everything okay here?”
Now Sigrun smiled. “I have some news to tell you.”
“Well, I think it is.”
Klaudia wore a small grin. “I could use some good news. What, Astrid’s pregnant?”
Sigrun laughed, then gripped Klaudia’s hand. “Oh God, she better not be. Let’s get your case and I’ll tell you in the car.”
Klaudia chuckled as Sigrun led them to baggage claim. Within minutes they had collected Klaudia’s luggage, but nothing was said until Sigrun drove away from the terminal. She wasn’t sure how to tell Klaudia about Marek, then asked for a cigarette. Klaudia lit two, handing one to Sigrun. She inhaled slowly, exhaled with force, then smiled. “So, your son was asking about you recently.”
Klaudia had just taken a drag and began choking. “What?” she sputtered.
“Oh God, are you okay?” Sigrun glanced at Klaudia, who was still coughing.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Klaudia tapped the smoke into the ashtray. “Marek said what?”
“Damn Harald, I knew I should’ve called. The hospital got a hold of me Sunday night. Marek seems to have made a miraculous recovery, he was asking for his….” Sigrun took a deep breath, then coughed. During Klaudia’s absence she had smoked less, perhaps she really should quit. “He asked for mamma. The nurse said he’d been unconscious for days, he’d had another seizure. In fact, they thought he’d slipped into a coma again, but he opened his eyes and distinctly asked for you.”
Sigrun wanted to see Klaudia’s expression, but traffic returning to the city was busy. Klaudia took another drag, then stubbed out her smoke. “When did they call you?” she mumbled.
“Sunday night, it was pretty late actually. Not sure what time that was in America, well, in the West. I wanted to call you, but Harald said I should wait.” Now Sigrun regretted having listened to her husband, although she understood his motives; what if Marek had immediately slipped into another coma? But Sigrun had checked on him yesterday; he was still awake, and had even gotten to his feet. And according to the nurse, again he was asking for his mother. She revealed these details, stealing glances at Klaudia, who didn’t seem to fathom what Sigrun was saying. Klaudia sat motionless, looking straight ahead.
“Listen, if you want we can go up there this weekend. I’ll drive. You just say the word and….”
“Sunday, you said Sunday, right?”
Sigrun nodded. “Klaudia, what happened in America?”
Klaudia shook her head, then leaned forward. She began to cry, covering her face with her hands. In an anguished voice, she kept repeating Sunday until sobs overtook her. Sigrun drove with one hand on the wheel, the other gently rubbing Klaudia’s back until Sigrun needed to shift gears. Then again she laid her hand along Klaudia, who didn’t stop crying until Sigrun reached their street.
Eric woke early that same day, having dreamed about his conversations with Ben Reynolds; Ben was ten years younger than Eric, but had been baptized at about the same time Eric and his wife were. Ben espoused his faith fervently, believing all Eric told him about Hawk, and promising to pray daily for Eric and his family. Ben had wished to take Eric all the way home, but he needed to return to Boise, plus Eric still wasn’t certain how far south he had to travel. Ben had gladly given Eric his address, and Eric said he would send Ben a letter as soon as was possible.
Ben had dropped off Eric at a motel on Portland’s southern side near a truck stop that Ben said would be busy come morning. Eric glanced toward the small window across the room, light just peeking through the bottom of the curtains. His heart began to pound, and he smiled widely. All he needed to do was shower, dress, then…. His eyes filled with tears, for the notion of seeing his family again was overwhelming; he had to find a ride to Eugene, maybe to…. He wasn’t sure if Medford would be too far, then he shivered. Somewhere between those towns was home.
He sat up, trying to concentrate, then he laughed out loud. He just needed to do as Ben had advised, not think about it too much. People tried to dissect faith, Ben had said, but how could one even attempt such nonsense? Eric had smiled at the young man, who despite his youth seemed to grasp a fraction the mystery of what God might be. Maybe Ben’s age was beneficial, for he recognized his limitations. Then Eric thought about what he’d been like at Ben’s age; he was just starting to come into his own with painting while at the same time having to face the possibility that he might never have a child. By then Eric had been married a few years and…. Then he smiled; why was he wasting time in that room thinking about his family?
An hour later, Eric sat at the diner’s counter. He’d made small talk with the waitress, explaining his need for a ride as far as Medford. She had smiled, noting she would see what she could do, but Eric had finished breakfast and still no ride had been arranged. He tried to be patient, but his wife’s face was so clear in his mind. As for the new baby, who knew, but Eric tried not to think about Jane. The last time he’d seen his eldest was through the nursery window. Renee had been holding Jane, waving the baby’s small hand as if to say goodbye. By now Jane probably wouldn’t need such assistance, unless she didn’t remember him.
He set that from his mind, then took the last drink from his mug. He put it on the counter, gazing around the room, but no one made eye contact. Eric didn’t want to monopolize his seat, but this was the best place in which to find transportation. The day was cold, he didn’t want to hitchhike. He waited a few more minutes, then paid his bill, thanking the waitress for her efforts. She implored him to stay, but Eric shook his head. God had gotten him to Oregon. Perhaps the last stage of this journey was to be on Eric’s own feet.
He stepped outside, the wind brisk, but the sky was clear and he smiled. He tucked his empty right sleeve into the waistband of his pants, but still could feel the breeze. Walking would warm him up, so he headed toward the road, the exit for Interstate 5 in view. He shivered as he reached it, but kept going.
He walked for fifteen minutes, then was picked up by a man driving to Salem. Eric said little on that stretch, but thanked the man profusely when he was dropped off. For another ten minutes he walked until a couple on their way to Eugene offered him a lift. Eric sat in the back of their sedan, his heart racing; Roseburg was next, then Ashland, Medford…. Eric inhaled deeply, then closed his eyes. He needed to reach Roseburg. From there everything would be discovered.
An hour later, Eric was once again on his feet, but the sun shone, the morning air still. He wasn’t sure how long it would take to walk to Roseburg, yet memories surrounded him with each step; how he and his wife had walked through an orchard while still in college, a painting depicting that grove on display somewhere in…. Stanford must know where the exhibition was, and not long after Eric was home either Renee or Marek or…. Eric slowed his speed, gazing along the freeway. Renee’s parents lived just outside Roseburg; Eric and his best friend had driven there together to collect Renee not long after Fran had lost the twins. Eric had forgotten all about that fight, then he smiled; two fights had transpired, one between Renee and her husband, another between Eric and…. What was that man’s name, Eric wondered, then he laughed. Perhaps by the end of the day, all the mysteries would be revealed.
For twenty minutes Eric walked, talking aloud to God, also to his wife and their daughters. Cars passed, but no one stopped, yet Eric wasn’t dismayed. For days he had been inundated with people who most likely he would never see again. How many times in Karnack had he thought that about his own family, and now he was so close to them. His wife’s beautiful voice filled his head, his best friend’s tone alongside that of Renee’s, Laurie’s New York accent complemented by Stanford’s dry inflection. Then Seth’s voice stirred in Eric’s mind, from his initial upset at Eric’s presence to the warmth of the man Seth had become. Where was he now, Eric mused, and how was he? Eric picked up his pace, so many he longed to see.
A few minutes later a car pulled over, offering Eric a lift. The man said he was driving as far as Roseburg. Eric smiled. “That’s where I’m headed.”
“Well, let’s be on our way.” The man introduced himself as Wayne Phillips, then asked for Eric’s name. Eric chuckled, explaining himself. The man glanced at him, then looked back at the road. “How long’ve you had amnesia?”
“Since late last November. But I think I’m just about home.”
“I see.” Wayne inhaled deeply, then let it out slowly. “Well, whereabouts in Roseburg do you need to go?”
Eric had been wondering about that. “Is there a Lutheran church there?”
Wayne nodded. “I think there’s one on the south end of town. Is that your church?”
Eric broke into a wide smile. “Yeah, it is! Marek Jagucki’s the pastor and….”
“Oh yeah, I’ve seen that Pole around. Keeps pretty much to himself, well, at least he seems that way. Maybe you know him better though.”
Eric trembled in excitement. Marek Jagucki; how had that man’s last name evaded him? Then Eric wanted to weep. “I live there, in Roseburg.” His voice cracked. “Not sure where exactly, but St. Matthew’s isn’t far from my home.”
“What’s your name again?” Wayne asked.
Now Eric chuckled. “I can’t remember my last name, maybe that sounds strange.” He paused, but still that fact was lost. “But I go to St. Matthew’s, I’m a painter.”
“What, like houses?”
“No,” Eric smiled. “I’m an artist, or I used to be.”
Wayne nodded. “What happened to you?”
“It’s a long story.” Eric sighed, then looked at Wayne. “I had an exhibit of my work in town a couple of years ago.”
Wayne shrugged. “Sorry, I’m not an art lover.”
Eric laughed. “That’s all right. If you can just take me to St. Matthew’s, that would be wonderful.” He imagined the look on Marek’s face, maybe similar to the last time Eric had seen his pastor on the Fourth of July. Marek had wished him Godspeed, and how ironic that it was to St. Matthew’s he would first return home.
Staring out the window, Eric blinked away tears. The landscape was familiar to him now as if every mile traveled removed a veil from his memories. They were nearly to Roseburg when Eric gasped. “What?” Wayne asked.
“I know where my house is. You don’t need to stop at St. Matthew’s.”
“You sure about that?”
Eric nodded. He would see Marek soon enough, but the town’s layout was firm in his mind. “Just take the last exit, I can walk from there.”
“You live out there?” Wayne asked. “That’s a pretty exclusive part of town.”
“Well, I’m pretty sure that’s where I live,” Eric laughed.
“You must be a talented painter to own one of those properties.”
“I must be,” Eric said softly, gently touching his right arm.
Wayne said nothing more, leaving Eric to his thoughts, which were scattered. He still couldn’t remember his wife’s name, or that of his best friend. But Laurie Abrams and Stanford Taylor were solid, as were Fran and Louie Canfield, Joan and Russell McCampbell, Renee Ahern…. “Do you know the Aherns?” Eric asked.
Wayne shook his head. “Sorry. I’ve only lived in Roseburg a few years.”
“Ahh.” Eric inhaled, then started to cough as he spotted the sign for the last exit of Roseburg. “Here, turn here,” he said.
“Yeah, I see it.” Wayne veered right, then signaled left. Making the turn, he pulled over. “Okay, where do we go from here?”
Eric wasn’t certain. His heart pounded, he needed a few moments alone. “Actually, I’ll walk the rest of the way. Not quite sure where, and I don’t wanna keep you. Thanks so much Mr. Phillips. If you give me your address….”
“If I see you around, you can buy me dinner.”
“I’ll buy you the best steak in town.” Eric smiled, then got out of the car, closing the door. Wayne waved, then turned back for Roseburg. Eric looked ahead; his road was fifty yards away. Tears fell down his face as he walked toward it.
Sam and Paul held hands as they approached the Snyder house. Paul chatted about his school day while Sam wondered what his wife and Lynne had done that morning. Renee and Ann had left shortly after the family walked Paul to school. Sam had spent his time paying bills, then running errands. He hadn’t given a single thought to the job he left yesterday; it was as if he’d never spent years counseling veterans. Yet now he mulled over that position while his son kept speaking. Sam gazed at Paul, praying this boy would never be drafted, nor wish to serve in the military.
Paul ran ahead, then opened the kitchen door, announcing their arrival. Sam also wondered if again Lynne and Renee thought maybe Eric had come home. Sam had seen the look on Marek’s face yesterday; it was as if that man had assumed one more was waiting to…. Sam looked behind him, but saw no one. He shrugged, then entered the kitchen to his wife’s waiting embrace, followed by hugs from Ann and Jane. Paul was already seated at the table, a plate waiting beside him, which Sam knew was his lunch. He wasn’t hungry, but he took a seat, listening to Ann’s conversation. Lynne wasn’t in the kitchen, but Renee motioned to the living room. Sam nodded. Perhaps Lynne had needed some quiet.
“How’s it going?” Sam asked Renee.
She sat across from him. “No change. Laurie called this morning, but they weren’t on the phone long.”
Sam nodded, then ate his lunch. He had made a large pot of soup yesterday, and they would finish it that evening. Tomorrow he would cook…. He sighed, set down his sandwich, then leaned back in his chair. He gazed at his wife; Renee looked exhausted, although she had slept well. Sam had too, yet fatigue dogged his steps. “Any coffee left?” he asked.
Renee stood. “Yup and it’s the real stuff.”
Sam chuckled. “Lynne doesn’t mind?”
“Not at all. And she said Cary slept fine last night.” Renee poured two cups, placing one next to Sam. He drank it without checking the temperature; it was luke-warm, but tasted good. He finished it quickly, then looked at Renee. “Any more?”
“Shall I make another pot?” she smiled.
“I love you.” Renee finished her cup, then went to where the percolator sat. A few minutes later she returned to her seat. “You need to finish your lunch however.”
Sam smiled, but Paul spoke. “Mama, I’m almost done.”
“Not you,” Renee giggled. “Daddy needs to eat his sandwich before he has any more coffee.”
Paul gazed at Sam’s plate, then at his father. “Aren’t you hungry Daddy?”
“Not really. But I better do as your mom says or I’ll be in the doghouse.”
“Yeah.” Paul chuckled. He quickly finished his lunch, then wiped his mouth with a napkin. “Mama, is there pie for dessert?”
“There might be.” Renee glanced at the counter. “Maybe some sweet potato.”
“Any boysenberry?” Sam asked.
Renee nodded. “There is for those who finish their lunch.”
Paul laughed and Sam chuckled. “All right, I get your point.”
Slowly he ate the other half of the sandwich. Afterwards, Renee brought him another cup of coffee. “We’ll have pie when Cary’s done eating,” Renee said.
“Why are babies so slow?” Paul asked.
“Because they know a good thing when they have it,” Sam answered.
Renee shot him a look and Sam chuckled. “Well, it’s the truth.” He sipped the coffee, then made a face. “Burned my dang tongue.”
“You deserved it.” Renee crossed her arms over her chest, then began to giggle.
“That I probably do.” Sam stood, then cracked his knuckles. “Listen, I’m gonna see if I locked the car.”
Renee merely nodded, then uncrossed her arms, folding her hands in her lap. “Go on. We’re not going anywhere.”
Sam walked to where she sat, then kissed the top of her head. Then he gazed at Paul. “I’ll be back soon. If Cary’s not done, you and I will have pie.”
Paul smiled. “Can I come with you?”
“Daddy will be right back. You just stay here, it’s cold out. Sam, don’t forget your jacket.”
He smiled at his wife, for he might be out a while. “Thanks honey.”
“I love you Samuel.”
He blew her a kiss, put on his coat, then stepped from the kitchen.
The Snyders’ garden looked no differently than the last time Sam had inspected it, which was yesterday afternoon with Marek at his side. They talked about baseball, of which Marek knew little, then soccer, or football as Marek called it, about which Sam knew nothing. They had promised to teach each other the finer points of those games, then went inside and ate pie as soup bubbled and children yammered. Cary had slept most of the afternoon, Lynne had too. Sam was glad Lynne had gotten another decent night’s rest, but he and Renee would continue to spend their days here until…. Sam sighed, wishing for the cry of a bird, the rustle of leaves, yet winter’s chill generated an eerie silence. Sam headed for the front gate, wondering if he had actually locked his car.
Renee had driven the Impala, while Sam preferred the old car. Maybe they should have given the Impala to Ritchie and Brenda, but from what Renee said the last time she had spoken to her brother, the Bel Air was suiting that family fine. Sam checked both vehicles’ doors, all were secure. Then he peered down the road, seeing a few stray leaves along the pavement. The street was bereft of cars or people. Not even a stray cat loitered.
As he turned back for the gate, something caught his attention. He looked to the right, then blinked. Was someone there? Sam walked ten feet in that direction, then squinted. Maybe it was one of Lynne’s neighbors checking their mailbox. Sam sighed, then squinted again. Then he shrugged, heading back to….
“Sam! Sam Ahern!”
In those seconds a multitude of images passed through Sam’s mind; watching Eric change form last July melded into the first time Sam had witnessed that transformation, which blended into the day he stood in Lynne’s kitchen, seething with anger while dripping water on her floor. Then he was hurling a glass across his living room, watching it shatter as it hit the wall. Then he was sitting in a hospital corridor, his wife’s handprint marking his face. Sharp pinpricks along his skin followed each image, which were then imbedded within his heart as again someone called his name. “SAM!”
He turned around, the figure making quick but clumsy movements along the street. Sam began to walk, picking up speed until he was sprinting down the lane. “Eric? Oh my God, ERIC!”
They met in the middle of the road; Eric wore a thin beard, his face was streaked with tears, and he looked frail. “Is it really you?” Sam said, his own face damp. He reached for Eric’s right shoulder, but Eric moved away, nodding and smiling.
“Is Lynne, are she and the baby all right?” Then Eric laughed. “Oh my God! I just remembered Lynne’s name.”
“They’re great, you have a daughter, Caroline Emma, oh Eric!”
Sam couldn’t restrain himself, hugging Eric with all his might. As he did, his chest throbbed, realizing something had happened to his best friend. Sam released Eric, then gripped his left shoulder. “What’n the hell’s wrong?”
“I’ll tell you, just help me get home. I don’t think I can take another step without you.”
“Here, lean on me.” Sam shivered, putting his arm around Eric’s left side. Then Sam gazed at Eric’s face, that beard looking strange. “Eric, where’ve you been?”
“What’s Lynne calling the baby? She’s not calling her Caroline is she?”
“She’s been Cary since she was born,” Sam smiled.
Eric paused. “Were you here? Who was with her?”
“Dr. Salters, Renee, and Frannie. I was downstairs with Marek, Laurie, and Stanford.”
Eric nodded, then chuckled. Then he stared at Sam. “Stan was here? Does he….”
“He knows, although nobody’s certain what he believes. Let’s keep walking. Lynne’s been waiting for you.”
Sam’s heart pounded, his own steps wobbly. Eric couldn’t move fast and Sam let him set their pace. Questions rested on the tip of Sam’s tongue, yet, Eric was home, he was alive. Something awful had happened to his right arm, but God had returned this man to his family. Sam paused, then stood right in front of Eric. “I love you. I need to tell you that. I’ve missed you so much and….”
“I love you and I’ve missed you too.” Eric’s voice cracked, then he began to sob. Sam pulled him close, and again embraced him tightly. This time Eric didn’t try to pull away.
Eric continued to let Sam steady him, but with each step Eric felt stronger. He had been near to collapse when he saw who he instantly recognized as Sam, recalling that man’s name in the same moment. Lynne’s name hadn’t popped into his head until he’d said it, but seconds from his house, Eric began to jog. “C’mon Ahern, we’re gonna be late for pie.”
“How in the world did you know?” Sam laughed.
“What else would she’ve been doing?” Eric said as they reached the kitchen. Then he gazed up; smoke swirled from the chimney, tree branches were stark. He gazed at the front door, then opened it, first seeing Renee surrounded by a red-headed girl, a brunette boy, then…. “Jane, I’m home.”
Jane turned around, then smiled. “Daddy!”
“What?” Renee looked up, then burst into tears.
“Who’s that?” the boy asked.
“This’s Jane’s daddy,” Sam said.
Eric heard all these words, but his attention was on his daughter, who mostly looked the same. She was older, she could talk, and she knew who he was. She hugged his legs, which brought Eric to his knees. She smelled like pie and…. He looked up, finding Lynne beside Renee, a baby in his wife’s arms.
“Oh God, oh my lord, oh….” Handing the baby to Renee, Lynne went to the floor, crawling toward Eric and Jane. Eric reached for his wife with his left arm, nearly tumbling over. Then he laughed as Lynne kissed him.
“I’m home baby, I made it.” He wanted to hug her with both arms, but the left one made up for what the right could no longer do. She clutched him, sobs wracking her frame, which made him tremble. Jane laughed beside them, saying Daddy’s home. It was music to Eric’s ears.
“Oh Eric, Eric, Eric….” Lynne kept repeating his name, then she pulled away, first stroking his bearded cheek, then gingerly tracing what remained of his right side. Unlike Sam, she didn’t inquire. She nodded, wiping tears from his face, then from her own. “I love you,” she said. “Thank you baby, thank you.”
He nodded, then smiled. “Speaking of a baby….”
“Let’s get you both vertical.” Sam hoisted Eric to his feet, then helped Lynne to hers. “Sit here,” Sam said. “Then you can meet your daughter.”
“My clothes are filthy, although I did shower this morning.” Eric wasn’t certain he could hold the baby, yet he ached to see her, wondering how much of her life he had missed. Renee came close, kissing his cheek, then holding out a quiet bundle. Eric caressed Cary’s head, then burst into laughter. “My God, she’s a brown-eyed blonde!”
“The best parts of her parents,” Sam said. “Renee, just put her in the crook of his elbow.”
“Like you’re an expert on holding babies,” Renee huffed. She met Eric’s gaze as if to confirm he could manage it.
Eric nodded. “Gotta try eventually.”
She smiled, tears on her face. “She just ate, so this’s the perfect time.” Renee set Cary along her father’s arm and Eric felt a surge from her presence. She stared at him, her eyes the same color as…. He sniffled, then leaned down, kissing her face. Then he gazed at Lynne, who was seated across from him with Jane on her lap. He inhaled slowly, exhaling with joy. Everything he’d endured had been worth it.
“I’m gonna call Marek, then Laurie,” Sam said.
“Thanks.” Eric kept his gaze on his wife, wondering how he had lived without her all those months. “Don’t forget the Canfields.”
“Don’t worry,” Sam chuckled. “Anyone else?”
“I have a number, but it can wait till later.” Eric would speak to Walt privately. But he doubted the Aherns would want to leave anytime soon. Marek would come over as well, and if Laurie and Stan made arrangements to fly that night, Eric wouldn’t argue. Then he thought of one more. “And don’t forget to call Seth.”
“It’s probably too late to speak with him,” Lynne said softly, grasping Eric’s right hand.
“Yeah?” he warbled. He’d seen her reach for him, but couldn’t feel her touch.
“He’s in Tel Aviv,” she smiled. “They’re ten hours ahead of us.”
“He’s in Israel?” Eric laughed. “Are you serious?”
“Lots of stories for us to share,” Lynne said.
“Yeah, a lotta stories.”
“But you’re here.” She kissed his right hand, which to Eric’s surprise he did feel. Her lips were warm and soft, making him shiver. “You came back to us.”
He nodded, still entranced by how she gripped his hand. “Thanks be to God,” he said in a shaky voice. “I’m finally home.”
Eric spent those initial hours surrounded by those who loved him, also meeting the newest additions to his family. He held Cary most of that time, but Paul and Ann were never far, although both children said little to this stranger. Yet Jane seemed to know her father well, which surprised everyone but Lynne.
She didn’t think it was due to all she had said to her eldest, nor was it that she had constantly shown pictures of Eric to Jane. A deep bond existed, much how Paul and Ann had readily taken to their new folks, or perhaps Lynne allowed it was human nature; the pull to belong to a group had kept people alive for thousands of years. It wasn’t merely embedded within the psyches of youngsters; Stanford had wanted to get on a plane that day, but after speaking with Eric, Stanford had relented to Laurie’s wisdom. The New Yorkers would give those out west at least a couple of weeks to acclimate to Eric’s return. Then Lynne had spoken to Stanford, hearing in that man’s voice unprecedented relief. She had been staring at her husband, seated in the kitchen, children around him, even at his right side. The damage pained her greatly, but more important was that Eric had come home.
They hadn’t told the New Yorkers about Eric’s injury, for at the time its background remained a mystery. Lynne had made that decision, and the rest followed her lead. Eric had been in no frame of mind to speak over the phone about something to which he had yet to explain to the rest, and it wasn’t until after Renee took Paul and Ann home that Eric could talk about the last two and a half months. Jane was in bed by then, and Lynne sat next to her husband on the sofa, Sam on Eric’s other side with Marek in the chair across. Marek held Cary, for Eric broke down several times, first seeking Lynne’s embrace, then Sam’s reassurance. Lynne wept softly, praying for the Richardsons and Boldens. Eric had called Walt a few hours earlier, leaving the kitchen door closed during their brief conversation. Lynne felt two more families had been added to their now sprawling clan, but she would let Eric dictate the pace of their inclusion.
However, a change had occurred within the Snyder family, and it wasn’t merely that Eric had come home, nor was it Cary’s still novel presence. As Eric revealed finding himself in dire straits in Walt’s shed, Lynne felt the earth move under her feet. She held Eric’s right hand, sometimes gently gripping it, occasionally finding him trying to do the same. Her husband had survived being shot, but the loss incurred was substantial; Eric never said he wouldn’t paint again, but it was relayed in every long pause between his sentences, his somber tone, and in something Lynne couldn’t measure, yet all through her a new world order rumbled. Perhaps the Missile Crisis had been averted, but a steep personal mountain loomed ahead for the Snyders. Lynne tried to set aside those feelings, but they wouldn’t budge.
However as Eric managed to clutch her fingers, she smiled, then leaned his way, kissing his cheek. He had taken a shower, changed his clothes, even shaved with her assistance, but he was thin, very tired, and…. A heavy weariness hung over him, but as Lynne glanced at Marek, that man was also dogged by an equal heartache. A rift had occurred between Marek and Klaudia, something about which Marek might speak with Lynne’s husband in the days and weeks to come. Perhaps that would usher in a reciprocal discussion for Eric with his pastor, or with Sam. Eric had been in a line of fire that Lynne might never understand.
Yet she could, and would in due time, soothe his other needs. They wouldn’t make love for a couple of weeks, for she was still recovering from Cary’s birth. But that night Lynne would lie beside Eric, letting him begin another phase of healing. However, this too was new, for he had never returned so debilitated, and with so much time having passed. Their lives had greatly altered in the last seven months, and for the first time in their marriage, those paths hadn’t been shared. There was Laurie’s long stay, Stanford’s change of heart, as well as…. Cary began to whimper, and Lynne released Eric’s hand, then went to her feet. “I’ll take her upstairs,” she said, relieving Marek of his charge. She shivered as that passed through her mind, wondering what the future held not only for the Snyders, but for Marek and Klaudia.
Lynne went to her bedroom where she changed Cary, then tried to feed the baby. Cary merely nibbled at her mother’s breast, preferring the physical contact. Lynne caressed the infant’s head, feeling more attached to her daughter than previously. “Daddy just needed to come home,” Lynne whispered. “Not that I didn’t love you before, but….”
Cary’s eyelids fluttered, then she fell into a sudden sleep. Lynne giggled inwardly. “Maybe you needed him to come home too. Now everyone’s right where they’re supposed to be.”
But something tugged within Lynne’s chest; Marek wouldn’t discuss Klaudia around Sam, nor would he burden Eric that evening. Marek was just as relieved as everyone else that Eric had made it back; a few times Lynne had seen tears on her pastor’s face. This was a watershed for more than Lynne and her husband; perhaps the only one not affected was Jane.
Cuddling her baby, Lynne felt a distinct alteration within her heart, but she didn’t chastise herself; she had given birth without Eric’s presence, but they had made Cary together, and now together they would raise her as though the last three and a half weeks would be forgotten. Not that Lynne could forget, but Cary would never know differently. It was akin to Jane’s month-long bout with colic; her placid nature had returned as soon as the Aherns set aside their differences, and now that Eric was home, Cary could be loved by both of her parents. Never before had Lynne realized the significance of Eric’s role within their family. She had missed him greatly in a variety of ways. But as a father, he was irreplaceable.
Yet Jane seemed not to have suffered from his absence; was that due to how strongly Eric had figured in her early days? Laurie had kept the paternal presence aflame, then Lynne shook her head. Maybe she was overthinking it; what mattered most was that Eric was downstairs in the best possible hands. Then she blinked away tears, for Laurie was a part of that group, maybe Stanford too. Lynne smiled, wondering if the New Yorkers would visit before Easter. Then she sighed; once they knew what had happened to Eric’s right arm, they might hesitate, especially Stanford. Eric was alive, but would never be the same.
That thought tumbled through Sam and Marek’s heads as Eric spoke about his days in Karnack. After Lynne left, a break in the conversation had emerged, but within minutes Eric touched on ideas that a woman might find hard to hear. Sam imagined that one day Eric would tell Lynne these things, but certainly not in the company of others. It was similar to stories he’d heard from vets, how one’s manhood wasn’t realized until facing desperate situations.
Eric didn’t recall what had happened right after Hiram had shot him, but he possessed vague recollections of intense pain. He didn’t remember transforming, but had done so with alarming speed while unconscious, which Sam found amazing considering the loss of blood Eric must have suffered in addition to the horrific injury to his right shoulder. While Eric hadn’t bared that wound, it was easily noticed for how Eric no longer seemed to have a right shoulder. His right hand was visibly smaller than his left, and Sam assumed the rest of that limb was withering from disuse. Eric never tried to lift his right arm; he could barely grip anything with that hand. All actions originated from his left, but it had been over two months, plenty of time for Eric to have acclimated. Some vets who had lost limbs recovered more quickly than others, and Sam wondered how Eric’s existence as a hawk had facilitated this process. Perhaps a residual animal instinct had hastened the manner in which Eric had abandoned his right hand in favor of his left. At the time he hadn’t known about that aspect of his character, which Sam thought was a blessing. Eric hadn’t been required to lie to the Richardsons; strangely enough amnesia had spared him. Sometimes Eric’s voice took on a newfound tenor, as though John Doe still dwelled within him. Eric admitted he had been a different man in Karnack, prone to depression and lacking in faith. Marek noted that wasn’t a surprise, and that Eric might experience those elements for the rest his life. Eric had laughed off Marek’s comment, but Sam had nodded at the pastor. Just because Eric was home didn’t mean his ordeal was over.
Yet again, Sam felt Eric had suffered what every veteran did, not only for the length of his displacement. Something else led Sam to that conclusion, although Eric hadn’t battled more than amnesia and a terrible injury. Then Sam reproached himself, for those were more than Eric should have suffered. He should have just had to deal with the burden of living like a hawk for months, as well as counseling Seth. But more had been exacted and Sam grew nauseous; Eric would never paint again, or never to his previous ability. For a second Sam felt comforted; his portrait would remain unfinished. Then he sighed as a tremendous loss flooded his heart. His lip trembled and he stood, excusing himself. He quickly headed to the downstairs bathroom, but didn’t attempt to relieve himself. Turning on the faucet, Sam wept, praying for Eric’s peace of mind, also to be forgiven for that fleeting sense of respite. He would pose for the rest of his life if only Eric could pick up a brush.
As Sam stepped away, Marek continued speaking, then he paused, for his thoughts had been disturbed. He gazed at Eric, who looked similar to the man Marek had known before, but the anguish in Eric’s eyes wasn’t connected to ministering to Seth or living without his memories for several weeks. It wasn’t tied into Eric’s injured arm, nor was it about how Eric had recovered from amnesia; Marek had no doubt to whom Eric referred as Hawk was similar to the bird of prey which had led him into the forest. Christ was as near as a person wished to permit him, and Marek was thankful for the gentle manner in which Eric’s mind was healed. Or mostly healed; he thought it intriguing that Eric hadn’t remembered Lynne’s name until actually speaking with Sam. He found it hilarious how Eric had recalled Mrs. Harmon, although her last name had done him little good. Then Marek was deeply affected at how Eric had learned firsthand the agonies suffered by Negroes, from his time with Callie Bolden, Jonah Thompson, and Lee Watson. Marek inwardly shivered for how those experiences would never be expressed upon canvas. How much beauty and truth could be shared if only Eric possessed the capability. Marek glanced to where Sam remained; had that been what drove Sam to regain his composure, or was it the overall return of one never thought dead, but had been so greatly missed. Marek rejoiced over Eric’s homecoming, yet a cloud hovered, and would never disappear.
“So, tell me a little of what’s happened in your neck of the woods.” Eric smiled as he spoke, then sighed softly. “I’m sorry to have missed Klaudia’s visit. That must’ve been….”
Sam stepped into the living room, but Marek was glad for his return. He wasn’t ready to speak about Klaudia, and would do so only with Eric. “Yes, she wanted to meet you. I’ll be sure to let her know you made it back safely.”
He tried to keep his tone light, for the Aherns knew nothing more than Klaudia had departed. Would Marek write to her? He hadn’t planned on it, not wishing to cause her further harm. He had greatly hurt her, but wasn’t sure what had been worse, initially making love with her, or then again engaging with her on Monday. He slightly regretted the former, heavily lamented the latter. He never should have asked for one more day; his selfishness had inflicted a wound as permanent as the one Eric now carried. Yet Marek loved her deeply, had needed to be with her. Now she suffered from that desire and his rejection, and he grieved for her pain. Why did people do these things to one another?
Then Marek gazed at Sam, his blue eyes looking far older than that man’s years. It wasn’t only Eric to have undergone a trial; this had affected all of them. Laurie might travel before Easter, but would Stanford accompany? Marek wasn’t certain if that would be best, not on Eric’s account, but for Stanford. Marek had no idea if Eric’s damaged arm would prove that he’d been a hawk, but what might that injury to do Stanford? Perhaps after Eric, Stanford Taylor might be the most aggrieved by that loss. Marek lifted that man in prayer, Laurie too. Then he wondered how would Seth be affected? He spoke that thought, finding worry on Sam’s face. Upon Eric, however, there was calm.
“One of the last things I told him was he had to let go of the past. That he could only go forward with open hands.” Eric wore a small smile, but pain flickered in his eyes. He blinked, then met Marek’s gaze. “Stan’ll take this harder than Seth will. God, I wonder what he thinks of me now.”
“From what Lynne said, he sounded greatly relieved that you were home,” Marek smiled. “Perhaps that will temper any other notion.”
“Yeah, he was happy, but….” Eric looked at his right hand. “I dunno, and probably won’t until I see him. Don’t know if he’ll be able to wait till Easter. I’m so glad Lynne asked them and the Canfields to be Cary’s godparents.” Eric patted Sam’s leg. “Not that you’re chopped liver, but….”
Sam chuckled. “I’ve got my hands full at the moment.”
“That you do. Sam, I’m so happy for you and Renee.” Eric’s voice cracked, then he wiped his face. “Those kids are carbon copies of you, right down to Paul’s cowlick.”
Marek laughed while Sam stared at Eric. “How’d you know about my cowlick?”
“There’s a family photo at Fran and Louie’s, you look about six, and my goodness how’d your mother do anything with what hair you had back then?”
Marek’s heart was lifted by Eric’s teasing tone, then he grimaced. Only an artist would store away such details. What would Eric do once the shock of being at home had lessened? Granted, now there were two children to occupy his time, but after a period of mental and emotional recuperation, a gaping hole would emerge. Then Marek wondered how he would heal from Klaudia’s absence, as well as the guilt he carried for having hurt her. He felt tremendous remorse, hoping that Eric might be willing to listen to his confession. Marek needed to clear this from his soul.
As Sam and Eric chuckled, Marek stood. He wanted to leave on a light note, and it was after nine, far later than he’d imagined staying. “All right gentlemen, that’s all for this cleric. Mrs. Kenny has plenty for me to do tomorrow, so I bid you both good night.”
“Oh yeah, I should be going too.” Sam stretched, then quickly lowered his arms. Marek had consciously not cracked his knuckles, but had seen Eric try to do so without success. Sam went to his feet, then extended his left hand to Eric. “Want some help?” Sam asked.
“All I can get.” Eric grasped Sam’s hand, then stood, shaking out his left arm. He started to speak, then shook his head. “I wanna say thanks for keeping the home fires burning, but there’s so much more than that.”
“Let’s end this evening with prayer.” Marek approached his friends, grasping Eric’s right hand, then Sam’s. He recited the Lord’s Prayer, joined in by the others. Eric said a rousing Amen, then he glanced upstairs, chuckling. “Hope I didn’t wake anybody.”
“According to Lynne, Jane sleeps like a rock.” Sam smiled, then cleared his throat. “But I suppose she did before too.”
“Well, from what I remember she did. A little sister in the house is different though, but she’s had some time to adjust.” Eric gazed at the stairs, then looked at Sam. “Not sure I can make all those by myself.”
“Oh, sure. Then we’ll see ourselves out, and um….” Sam cleared his throat. “Just call tomorrow if you want company. Or if you need anything. I’ll bring in more wood now and….”
“I’ll do that, then meet you in the kitchen Sam.” The Snyders needed time alone, but still required some assistance. Marek gently patted Eric’s right shoulder, receiving a warm smile in return. Yet Eric didn’t speak; he nodded, then headed for the stairs.
Sam followed him while Marek went out the French doors to the woodpile. He brought in an armload, then Sam did the same. Marek placed the grate in front of the dwindling coals, then both men stepped into the kitchen, putting on their coats. Sam turned off the lights, and they left the house without words. Only when they reached their cars did Sam speak. “Lynne was still awake. I told them to call whenever. Eric said we’d probably hear from him sometime after lunch, but he wasn’t sure about dinner together.”
“That sounds fine. They know we’re here for them, it’s just a matter of letting him….” Marek sighed. “He needs time, so does Lynne. But God will guide us all.”
“Yeah, that about sums it up.” Sam sighed, then leaned against his car door. “Marek, can I ask you something?”
Sam inhaled, letting it out with a beleaguered sigh. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wanna make something out of nothing. I mean, I’m so happy he’s home.” Sam paused, then kicked the ground, the sound reverberating through the stillness. “It’s just that….”
Sam stopped speaking, then he huffed. “Listen to me, going on about nothing.” He laughed, but it sounded forced. “I’ll see you soon. Gonna be a busy time for all of us.”
Marek grasped Sam’s right shoulder. “Give him time Sam. As you well know, it takes ages to properly process such trauma.”
“Yeah.” Sam sighed again, then shook Marek’s now outstretched hand. “Sleep well Pastor.”
“You too Sam.”
Both men got into their cars, starting them at the same time. Sam pulled away first, Marek right behind him. Marek gazed into his side mirror, seeing only darkness. Like Sam, he too felt something important had been left unsaid. Perhaps it was only for a wife to uncover. Marek drove back to town giving thanks for Eric’s safe return, and seeking peace for that man’s bruised soul.
In Manhattan, Eric’s return was all one trio could discuss; Agatha had been present when Sam called with the news, and on Friday morning it was still the main topic of conversation. Sam had known little more than Eric had been in Texas for most of those weeks living as an amnesiac, and while all three New Yorkers were dying to hear why, Laurie would wait another day before calling. He had phoned Seth, who was thrilled for the information. Once Laurie had a better grasp on the facts, he would tell his mother and aunt. For now, he drank coffee, surrounded by those just as relieved as he. Agatha had burst into tears and Stan had shed some late last night. Laurie had wept as well, both for Eric and Lynne. He expected a letter would arrive sometime next week with further details; he and Lynne were still dedicated correspondents, but perhaps their missives would decrease, at least in the next month or so.
Laurie wanted to fly west as soon as the Snyders were ready. Stanford did too, but Laurie would arrange their travel. Laurie’s tenure as Lynne’s housemate still sat awkwardly between the men, although not in a painful manner. Stanford never talked about those weeks, nor did he bring up what had sparked Laurie’s departure. Laurie wondered if that would change now that Eric was home. He gazed at Stan, seated at the kitchen table, but he wasn’t reading the paper. He spoke to Agatha, who sat on Stan’s right, both with coffee cups in their hands. Laurie smiled, for it was as if that woman was Stan’s mother. Laurie stood next to the percolator, then cleared his throat. “Anyone need a refill?” he said with a smile.
Agatha grinned at him. “Aren’t I supposed to be asking that?”
Laurie brought the pot to the table, filling all mugs. “It’s a special day. I’ll do the serving.”
Agatha chuckled, grasping her cup. She inhaled the brew, took a sip, then leaned back in her chair. “I’ll tell you, I was starting to wonder. But all’s well now.” She paused, had another drink, then set down the mug. “Sure look forward to getting a snapshot of all of them together. And you be sure to have them take some of you with the girls. The both of you,” she said pointedly in Stanford’s direction.
Laurie fought a belly laugh as Stan took a labored breath. “We’ll see.” Then he smiled. “There will be plenty of photographs without the need for one with me in it.”
Agatha patted Stanford’s hand. “I’m not just asking on my behalf. I’m sure your father would appreciate one too. You’re a godfather Stanford, it comes with the job.”
Now Laurie chuckled. “Indeed. Gotta pay your dues Stan.”
He shook his head, drank his coffee, then glanced at his watch. “Good lord, it’s nearly eight.” He gazed at the paper, then stood. “I’ll read that tonight. If you hear anything….”
Laurie gripped Stan’s hand. “I’ll be very discreet on the phone.”
Stanford huffed, but did squeeze Laurie’s hand. Then he gently grasped Agatha’s shoulder, but didn’t speak. He cleared his throat, then left the kitchen without a goodbye. Laurie wasn’t bothered, and from Agatha’s sly smile, she didn’t seem troubled either.
Neither spoke, drinking their coffee, absorbing Stan’s exit. Laurie wondered how long Stan would be that emotional, and if it would lead to a discussion about Eric’s…. Laurie stared at Agatha, a different smile on her face. It was that of relief, but not curiosity. Laurie was eager to know what had kept Eric away for so long, but this woman didn’t seem to require such resolution. He grasped her hand and she squeezed back much harder than Stan had. Laurie chuckled. “A penny for your thoughts.”
She nodded, meeting his eyes. “It’s gonna take time for them. Best you don’t travel till Easter.”
“Give them space Laurie. I know you wanna see him, Lynne and the girls too. But be patient. It’s been a long time since….”
She hesitated, making Laurie squirm. What did she know, or more correctly, assume? Laurie hadn’t told her when Eric left for…. He sighed, for other than noting Eric’s absence, he hadn’t relayed anything concrete. “I know, you’re right.” He sighed, then drank his coffee. It still tasted differently, but Agatha’s cooking was back to what he recalled. He wondered how Eric had coped not knowing who he was or where he was from. Then Laurie trembled; had he known about being a hawk, or had that been forgotten too?
“Honey, it’s gonna be okay, after time. Time has a special way of, well, healing, though sometimes it takes a hell of a long time.” Agatha smiled, then sighed. “But for now, let them be. Lynne’ll keep you in the know and Easter’s not far away.”
He nodded, feeling like a youngster awaiting a special occasion. He gripped her hand and she placed both of hers around his. “It’s just that he’s a brother to me and, and….” Laurie missed Seth, having heard in his voice such strength and optimism, traits never before associated with his cousin, yet it was as if that man had been waiting for release all those years. Eric was a similar sort, and all Laurie wanted was to embrace him, then thank him for bringing Seth out of that prison. Eric had done that, then been torn from his family…. Again Laurie shivered, then he shook himself, but still held Agatha’s hand. He smiled at her, then brought her hand to his lips where he placed a tender kiss. She giggled and he laughed, then they finished their coffee, quietly pondering the miracle out west.
Lynne and her newborn woke early, but Cary soon went back to sleep. Lynne tried, but Eric snored loudly, although Cary didn’t seem to notice. For a few minutes, Lynne watched her husband, but his depleted right side looked painful, even if covered by the blanket. She got out of bed, put on her robe and slippers, then went downstairs, starting a fire. The house was still and dark, but peace filled Lynne’s heart. It was a different calm than previously, solely dependent upon her trust. In order to maintain this harmony, Lynne would need to take each day with a modicum of secure answers. It was as if she had returned to the earliest days of her marriage when Eric’s absences and their infertility preyed on her mind. She smiled, watching sparks pop, the flames glowing brightly. How many fires had she sat near, fretting needlessly? Once again Eric had come home, and to a house and family far different than anything she had imagined in years past. Lynne considered how she too had changed, and she breathed deeply, giving thanks as she did so. She took an afghan from the back of the sofa, then snuggled underneath it. No longer did she feel alone.
She lay there praying, then pondering a letter she would write to Laurie later that day. After Sam helped Eric up the stairs, Lynne and her husband spoke briefly about how to tell the New Yorkers what had happened. Lynne had already been considering revealing Eric’s injury via the post, and he agreed. Lynne didn’t feel able to share over the phone all that Eric had suffered, nor did she want him to relive it. Sam would tell Renee; had he informed her last night? Probably, Lynne surmised. She hoped the Aherns were still sleeping, perhaps she was the only one of their family awake. She smiled, aware those on the East Coast were already busy, and Seth was too. Eric had mentioned him, but Lynne wasn’t sure if he wanted her to write to Seth, or for Laurie to inform his cousin. Without actually having met Seth, Lynne felt uncomfortable being the one to tell him. Better for Laurie to do it, she decided, pulling the blanket over her shoulders.
The other letter she needed to write was one for which she was eager; Eric wanted to send cashier’s checks to the Richardsons and Boldens, as well as others who had facilitated his return. She would go to the bank next week, as well as write the accompanying notes. Eric joked she would be his secretary for the immediate future, but Lynne felt it wouldn’t be long before Eric could print with his left hand. He would never paint again, but…. A few tears fell down her cheeks, and she wiped them, then rubbed the remnants between her fingers. He’d told her, Sam, and Marek about the few rough sketches he’d made in Karnack, yet drawing wasn’t the same as painting. Lynne closed her eyes, again breathing deeply. Peace returned to her mind, and she yawned, then giggled. She had left the bedroom door open to hear either her husband or their baby. No sounds were detected beyond the fire’s crackles, which eased her to some much needed sleep.
Eric stirred an hour later, at first uncertain of where he was. Rubbing his eyes, he breathed in the smell of an infant, although Cary didn’t possess the same scent as Jane had when she was first born. This was of a wet diaper, breast milk, and…. He smiled, then lay on his back. He wanted to turn to his right, but no longer could he do that without causing pain. Slowly he sat up, not wondering where Lynne might be, only gazing toward where his infant daughter snored very softly. He smiled, then scooted to the far edge of the bed, where the bassinette sat a foot away. Cary slept on her side, sparse blonde hairs making him smile. She looked just like Jane had, other than her hair and eye color. He wanted to cuddle her, but wasn’t sure how to collect her with one hand.
Yesterday someone had put her in the crook of his left arm, but he wouldn’t always have that luxury. He placed his left hand beneath her, then carefully lifted her up, keeping the length of her body along his arm. He sat on the bed, cradling her against him, reveling in the wonder of such a miracle. He and Lynne had created this new life, and now he could celebrate it in person.
“I know I wasn’t here when you arrived, but better late than never.” He spoke softly, then kissed her forehead. “I love you so much Cary, more than I’ll ever be able to tell you or….” His heart ached for portraits he would never paint, then he smiled. “I’ll draw you the best I can, then maybe you or Jane’ll do the rest.” His right side throbbed, but not even that diminished his joy. He’d told Walt how beautiful was his daughter, how grateful he was to the whole Richardson family, Callie’s clan too. He wanted Lynne to send checks as soon as they could be arranged. Then further letters would be shared, with photos enclosed of Eric and his…. He looked to the open door; Lynne must have gone downstairs. He kissed Cary once more, then gently laid her against a pillow. He had needed to hold her, but didn’t feel competent taking her downstairs one-handed.
He put on his robe, finding his slippers at the foot of the bed. He stepped onto the landing, the nursery door shut, but he heard a fire popping, and he smiled, taking the stairs slowly. Lynne slept on the sofa, the fire in need of more wood. He placed two pieces atop glowing coals, then set the grate in front of the blaze. All these tasks took far longer than before, but Eric didn’t mind. It was part of the learning process, sort of like Renee’s brother’s rehabilitation. She had spoken about Ritchie during dinner, and Paul had interrupted, which Eric had found just as fascinating as Ritchie’s recovery. Paul and Ann acted as though Sam and Renee had always been their parents. Eric hadn’t said much to the children; they’d seemed overwhelmed by him, but Eric wasn’t sure if that was due to his bad shoulder or merely his presence. Jane had made up for their shyness, wanting her father’s attention whenever possible. He looked forward to a quiet household that day, although maybe later he would change his mind. He wasn’t certain how the day would progress, other than he wanted to spend as much time by Lynne’s side as their daughters permitted.
He smiled, then sat near Lynne’s feet. She stirred, then met his gaze with a beatific grin. “Hello,” she said. “My goodness it’s wonderful to see you.”
“It’s absolutely fantastic to see you too.” He laughed quietly as she sat up, then scooted beside him. She wrapped her arms around him, and Eric closed his eyes. How many nights had he dreamed of this scenario, then he sighed inwardly. Within his dreams, he’d had two good arms, he’d painted his wife’s portraits, those of their daughters too. He never recalled those details upon waking in Walt’s shed, perhaps that had been a blessing in disguise. Sitting close to his wife was a great gift, even if much had been lost. “It’s a lot to take in,” he said. “I spent so many days certain I’d never see you again, oh Lynne, so many doubts clouded my….”
Now grasping his identity, Eric wondered who he had been during his time in Karnack. He faced his wife, staring into her gorgeous brown eyes. “How funny that Cary’s eyes are just like yours. Yours and….” He chuckled. “A certain pastor. Our daughters have eyes just like their uncles.”
Lynne nodded, caressing Eric’s face. “When Cary was born, I knew you were with me, like you were right in the room. Maybe you didn’t sense it, but I wasn’t alone, oh Eric, there’s so much I need to tell you.”
“Yeah, it’s gonna take ages before we’re caught up.”
Lynne traced along his right shoulder. “I love you, and I’m so sorry.”
“It doesn’t matter. All that matters is where I am right now. I truly wasn’t sure I’d see you again, I was a different man there.”
He shivered, not wishing for her to ever know John Doe. Then he smiled. “As I got closer, all those doubts just fell away. Now it’s like okay, the shoulder’s gone, but I’m here beside you. My God, I really am right here.” He stroked her head with his left hand, then kissed her. For several minutes they necked until he pulled away, chuckling. “Oh my God, I really am home.”
She smiled. “Is Cary still in her bassinette?”
“I left her in the middle of our bed. I don’t think she’s gonna get away.”
“No, she won’t go anywhere.”
Lynne stroked Eric’s chest, and he groaned. Then he flinched as she began undoing the buttons of his pajama top. But he couldn’t speak, and she continued, then carefully removed his upper clothing. The living room was still dark, but he knew she was inspecting his shoulder, and not only as his wife. Her touch was light along what remained of his right collarbone, then she grazed over where his arm had somehow reattached itself. Only to this woman would Eric bare himself, for the ugliness of how he had been healed, and the pain which still came and went.
Then he gasped, for she had set her lips along the twisted skin. He nearly asked her to stop, but this was necessary for them both. She pecked all the way to his elbow, where she gently lifted his right arm. “Is this all right?” she murmured.
“Yeah, oh baby….” The pain was slight, for her actions engulfed all of Eric’s conscious thoughts. She kissed each of his withered digits, then cupped his right hand within hers. Then she stared at him, nodding her head. “I love you, always and forever. Can I show you?”
“I think you already have,” he said in a husky voice.
She smiled, still caressing his hand. “Oh Eric, I haven’t even started.”
“Oh dear God….” He laughed, which turned into a throaty moan as she continued touching him. Then he was lost to all other notions, except the most lasting; he was Lynne’s beloved husband, what she repeated via her words and actions. Those activities were only halted by a baby’s whimper, then a little girl’s call for her father. Eric laughed as his wife moved from the sofa, heading upstairs, returning with their daughters. The family snuggled on the couch, Cary against Lynne’s chest and Jane secure in her daddy’s left arm.
Two long letters headed east on Saturday morning; the one addressed to Manhattan detailed Eric’s time in Karnack, leaving few stones unturned. Through Lynne’s handwriting, Eric spoke to Stanford and Laurie, not wishing to hide much from either man. A few times Eric had nearly broken down, telling Lynne exactly why he left Texas when he did. But within his home, his wife and daughters never far away, Eric’s actions as John Doe seemed like someone else’s existence. Only when Eric found himself alone did he permit snippets of that persona to surface, merely as ragged fragments within his mind. When Lynne returned from taking the letter to their mailbox, Eric breathed a deep sigh of relief. Within a week, the New Yorkers would know the same as Marek and the Aherns, only a few Texans aware of the truth.
The other letter was bound for Oslo, but Marek wasn’t certain if Klaudia would read it. He hoped so, not simply for the brief paragraph explaining Eric’s return. Marek omitted the painter’s devastating injury, but felt obliged to inform Klaudia that Jane and Cary’s father had made it home. Marek phrased it in those words, not necessarily to pique her curiosity, but it was the truth, and after noting that, another was revealed. Marek needed to apologize to one he had irreparably harmed.
He explained that their reunion had never been about more than giving thanks for their tandem survival. He would always love her, but regretted having acted upon that feeling when fully aware of her attitude toward the church. He admitted his failings as a man, wishing he had possessed more integrity, and he hoped one day she could forgive him.
At the end of the letter, Marek requested an opportunity to resume their previous correspondence. He wanted to know the state of her son’s health, and would be happy to share Jane’s progress in Polish. He didn’t expect Klaudia to acquiesce, especially after noting he would continue to pray for Marek. That teen had been on his namesake’s mind when Eric wasn’t. Perhaps it was easier to pray for a boy long damaged than a man newly disabled. As for Klaudia, Marek wasn’t sure about what to pray. As Lynne had done for much of Eric’s absence, Marek left his beloved in Christ’s care. If he never heard from her again, he would always have his memories of their time together, placing them in the blue barn when they became too painful to recall.
The Snyders didn’t attend church on Sunday, but they hosted lunch for their pastor and the Aherns, who brought greetings from various Ahern and Nolan families. Lynne noticed Paul’s wariness when around Eric, but Ann seemed to have overcome her initial reserve, smiling at Jane’s daddy, then asking if he liked sweet potato pie. It was her favorite, Ann giggled, then she grasped Jane’s hand, leading her into the living room. It was the first time Jane left her father’s side willingly, although she snuck into the kitchen for brief moments until again summoned back to where Ann remained.
Paul sat between his parents, but he looked uncomfortable. Lynne met Renee’s gaze, and they shared a nod. “Paul, you wanna go play with the girls?” Renee asked.
He shook his head, then crossed his arms over his chest. “Can we go home now?”
All five adults gazed at each other, then one by one they stared at the little boy. Sam put his arm around Paul’s shoulder. “We’ll go in a bit. Gonna have pie first.”
Paul nodded, then he wiggled from Sam’s hold. “Can I be excused?” His tone was petulant, and he didn’t make eye contact with anyone.
“Of course.” Sam pulled Paul’s chair from the table and quickly the boy fled the room.
Cary made the only sound, whimpering in Eric’s grasp. Lynne collected the baby, then sat next to her husband. She placed Cary over her shoulder, and the baby calmed, but tension filled the kitchen. “Is he all right?” she asked softly.
“He’s been testy since….” Renee glanced at Eric, then to her empty plate.
“He’s having a bit of a hard time.” Sam’s voice was circumspect, then he gazed at Eric. “I don’t think he believed you really existed.” Sam wore a small smile. “All this talk about Jane’s daddy, then here you actually are.”
“It’ll take time,” Marek said. “You’re not the only one to have had a rough autumn.”
Eric nodded, then took a deep breath. “No, I’m not.” He gazed at Renee. “How’s Ritchie doing?”
Renee looked flustered. “Oh, um, well, he’s still…okay.” She had nearly said sober, then she sighed. “He’s keeping an eye on the kids while Brenda works. Not that there’s anyone home during the day, they’re all in school, you know. But he’s, he’s….” She paused, for to her surprise, he had refrained from drinking. Her parents were just as shocked, most of her siblings feeling the same. “He’s keeping himself occupied. Not sure what he’s gonna do work-wise, I mean, he’s a millwright, but he’ll never be able to do that again.” She sighed, then shook her head. “Oh Eric, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean….”
He chuckled, putting his left arm around Lynne’s shoulders. “Actually Renee, I’m glad you brought that up. We’re lucky that Lynne’s not gonna have to wear her uniform again. But your brother and his family could probably use some help.”
“One of Renee’s brothers-in-law’s been coordinating a fund for them.” Sam patted his wife’s leg. “Charlie’s gotten most of the hospital bill covered.”
Eric smiled, then glanced at Lynne, who nodded. She stood, handing Cary to her father. Then Lynne exited the kitchen. The rest could hear her speaking to the children, telling them pie was only a few minutes away.
A collective hurray made the adults chuckle, but no one spoke. Lynne returned with a large manila envelope. She set it between Sam and Renee, then retook her seat on Eric’s left.
“What’s this?” Sam asked, picking up the envelope.
“It’s for Ritchie and Brenda,” Eric said.
Sam gave Eric a look. “Oh now, you don’t need to do this.”
“I didn’t,” Eric smiled.
Renee took the envelope from her husband, inspecting it. It was closed via a clasp on the back. “Eric….”
He chuckled, then kissed the top of Cary’s head. Then he met Renee’s eyes. “I don’t know if Sam mentioned who drove me from Denver to Salt Lake City.”
Renee blinked, then nodded. “He said something about that man.”
“His name was….” Eric laughed softly. “Hawk, and I’ll never forget him. Said he was going to California, where I suppose he headed after giving me that.” He pointed to the envelope. “Other than a twenty dollar bill I left the waitress that morning, I didn’t spend a cent. He told me to give it to someone who needs it and Lynne and I decided who better than Ritchie and Brenda?”
Renee started to cry, then she turned toward Sam, who wrapped his arms around her. Sam kept his eyes on Eric. He didn’t speak, but those blue irises were wide.
“Lynne counted it last night. Not sure what Ritchie was making as a millwright, but that should cover the next couple of years until he figures out his next move.”
As Renee began to bawl, Marek stood, closing the door to the living room. Sam shook his head, then gazed at the envelope. Then he stared at Eric. “I don’t know what to say.”
“If he wants to know where it’s from, have him call me. I’ll be glad to tell him exactly where I got it.”
Sam nodded, then whispered to Renee it would be all right. “My goodness,” Sam then sighed. “It’s an answer to prayer, I’ll tell you that.” Then he smiled. “He’s not gonna know what to say other than thank you and thanks be to God.” Sam chuckled. “You better expect at least a phone call. He might even drive over to thank you personally.”
“Maybe he can take me for a spin in the Bel Air,” Eric smiled.
“Maybe.” Sam flashed a grin, then turned his attention back to Renee, who only sniffled. He kissed her cheek, then handed her a handkerchief. Marek offered one too, and Sam nodded, giving that to his wife. Then he gazed back at Eric. “Thank you, I really mean it.”
“You know who to thank. I was just the courier.”
Marek chuckled, which seemed to lighten the mood as Lynne giggled too. Small raps on the door to the living room made Renee smile. “Just a moment,” she warbled.
“Can we have pie now?” Paul asked.
“Give us another minute,” Sam answered. “We gotta get out the ice cream.”
“Oh goody!” Paul laughed, then repeated that to the girls.
Lynne stood, stepping to where Renee still huddled near Sam. She hugged them both, then took vanilla ice cream from the freezer. Marek joined her, and together they prepared eight plates. By the time Marek asked the children to return, Renee’s face was dry, the envelope tucked into her handbag. Paul gave Eric a small grin, but sat between his parents, leaning close to his mother. The conversation centered on that night’s guests on the Ed Sullivan show; The Beatles were all the Canfield teens could talk about. Sam noted that Will wanted a guitar for his upcoming birthday, while Sally gushed about how cute was…. Sam didn’t know any of them other than the drummer. “Who ever heard of a name like Ringo Starr?”
“I think after tonight they’re all gonna be household words.” Lynne smiled. “Laurie called yesterday, said that Stanford’s been humming one of their songs since last month. He said he’s gonna watch them, just to see if Stan got the tune right.”
Everyone laughed, then Paul spoke. “Are Uncle Laurie and Uncle Stanford coming to visit again soon?”
“They’ll be here at Easter,” Sam said.
Paul looked at his plate, then toward Eric. “Do you know Uncle Laurie and Uncle Stanford?” Paul said softly.
“Indeed I do. Lynne, Jane, and I stayed at their house last year, and I sure can’t wait to see them.”
“They live together?” Paul asked.
“Uh-huh. They’re roommates,” Eric said.
Paul looked at his father, then shrugged. “Oh.” He ate a bite of pie, then gazed at Eric again. “How do you know them?”
Eric laughed. “Stanford sells my paintings. I’ve known him a long time.”
Paul nodded warily. Then he crossed his arms over his chest. “Why were you gone so long?”
“Paul, that’s none of your business.” Renee spoke sharply, then she sighed. “Finish your pie.”
“It’s okay Renee.” Eric motioned to his right arm. “I’d been helping Uncle Laurie’s cousin, and on my way home I had an accident. I hit my head, forgot my name, forgot just about everything. But some very good folks took care of me, and then I was on my way back home.”
Paul huffed. “That doesn’t really happen to people.”
“Well, it happened to me.”
Paul still looked skeptical. Then his eyes watered. He leaned toward Renee, and she took him onto her lap. He wept hard, burrowing against her.
Ann stared at her brother, then whimpered. Sam picked her up, then stood. “Maybe it’s time for us to go.”
Jane pointed at Paul, then she spoke to Marek. He answered her in Polish, then patted her head, looking at Lynne. “Jane wants to know if Paul will take home his pie.”
“I don’t want any more pie, I wanna go home.” Paul now faced the rest, then he stared at Eric. “I just wanna go home!”
“We’re going home right now.” Renee scooted away from the table, then put Paul down. She stood, collecting coats off the rack near the door. Paul grabbed his from her hands, put it on, then stomped to the front door. It took the rest of his family a few minutes to get into their jackets and as soon as Sam opened the door, Paul ran out without saying goodbye.
That evening, Eric and Lynne were no different than many in America, receiving their first introduction to a band from Liverpool. Afterwards, the couple put Jane to bed, then Lynne fed Cary as Eric read over a few letters that had recently arrived from Europe. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to go through all those Lynne had saved. He did want to read Klaudia’s initial query, but afterwards he would let Marek keep it if he desired.
Marek hadn’t said much about that woman, not that Eric was reluctant to listen. He itched to have a good conversation with his pastor, but shortly after the Aherns departed, Marek did too. Eric appreciated his discretion, for Paul’s outburst had rattled Eric. He was delighted for Sam and Renee, and didn’t wish to disturb their new family. Eric would let a few days pass, then call his pastor, but not for spiritual advice. Eric also wished to speak again to Laurie; they had only talked briefly yesterday afternoon, for Eric had lost his composure, and Laurie had sounded tearful too. Thankfully Stanford hadn’t gotten on the line; Eric didn’t know how to initiate conversation with that man. Then Eric thought back to Paul’s question of how Eric knew those fellows. For two and a half months, Laurie had been Lynne’s roommate, for which Eric was exceedingly grateful, but the anguish suffered during the New Yorkers’ separation had been tremendous. He wanted to see them, but not for a while. Fortunately Laurie made it clear that they would wait until Easter to visit. Stanford would be busy making certain all of Eric’s paintings ended up with their rightful owners, only a few coming back to the artist. Eric missed the orchard, those of Lynne, and of a pastor and Eric’s eldest daughter. A pang in Eric’s chest caused him to set down a note from France, then he gazed at his wife and baby. He would never capture this twosome on canvas, and so many others wouldn’t be depicted either.
He scooted up in bed, then smiled. He hadn’t noticed how uncomfortable his pallet in Walt’s shed was; he’d simply been grateful for a place to lay his head. Then he chuckled. “As soon as Cary’s down for a nap tomorrow, you can head to the bank.”
Lynne nodded. “We should send them by registered mail.”
“I agree. Wish I could’ve gotten addresses for Lee Watson and Frank Cooper. But at least I have Harvey and Ben’s.” He would send them ordinary checks, but the funds he wished to give those in Texas were significant. Eric smiled, trying to imagine the look on Walt’s face, Callie’s too, when they received those sums. He would send enough for each family to build a new house and get another car. Callie could replace his old truck while Walt and Dora needed a large sedan, maybe a station wagon. Then Eric chuckled. “We need a new automobile.”
Lynne smiled, setting Cary over her shoulder. The baby burped, then Lynne resumed nursing. “We do. Maybe something like the Impala.”
“Sounds good.” Eric sighed, then caressed Cary’s head. “Probably an automatic, unless you wanna do all the driving.”
Lynne nodded. “An automatic is fine with me.”
He sighed. “I never spent time wondering what it’d be like when I came home. Only at the end did I know I was an artist. So many things are gonna change.”
“Some things.” She met his gaze. “But not everything.”
“Suppose I can still garden one-handed.”
“I suppose you can,” she chuckled.
He turned to face his wife. “I’m glad you wrote to Laurie and Stan. But I’ll be honest, I’m not looking forward to….” He thought back to Paul’s tone when he asked how Eric knew Stanford. The child seemed proprietary toward his uncles, but Eric was clearly an outsider. “How did Paul react when he met Laurie?”
“Hmmm.” Lynne closed her eyes, then opened them. “I think he was intrigued by his accent. Jane treated him the same as she did Sam and Renee, so Paul and Ann followed her lead.”
“But something about me’s different.” Eric looked at his right side. “Do you think I scare them?”
“Ann likes you fine.”
Eric nodded. “I wonder if I remind him of his….” To say father felt wrong; Sam was Paul’s daddy, then Eric shook his head. “Hopefully after a few weeks he’ll realize I’m not going anywhere and….”
Lynne had grasped Eric’s right hand, but he wasn’t sure for how long she’d held it. What he felt within her touch was healing, also slightly painful. He had never lied to her since telling her he was a hawk. But now a darker secret loomed, was that why Paul didn’t trust him?
“Eric, the way Paul and Ann took to Renee and Sam was good, but so fast. Some might think it impossible that children would so quickly accept strangers to be their parents, but Frannie and I have talked about it, and basically we agree, that God didn’t want them to hurt any longer. But it’s hasn’t been all roses.” She explained the station wagon, noting that for now, a four-door sedan would be all the Snyders required. Then she stroked Eric’s face. “I’ll never forget the day Ann asked if you were dead. Jane had no idea what she was talking about, but the look on Sam and Renee’s faces, oh goodness. And now Paul’s asking the same in a roundabout way. You were this figment and now it’s like you’re back from the dead.”
She bit her lip, tears spilling from her eyes. “Laurie was sure you were coming back, and his conviction held me up when I got low. Then, oh Eric, I knew something had happened, something terrible. But in the back of my mind was as long as you made it home, that’s what mattered. And you have, and honey, while I’m so sorry that Paul and Ann had to suffer, even if Paul has a hard time now, they’re right where God wants them to be. You are too, and I don’t want that to sound flippant.” She laid Cary on the bed, then placed her hand on Eric’s ruined shoulder. “You have a road to hoe, maybe you and Paul can walk it together. I don’t know, it’s just that….” She moved her hand from his shoulder to his cheek, wiping tears that tumbled. “All we can do is take it not even day by day. I’ve missed you for so many days that I wanna be conscious of every moment, each minute. Oh Eric, I love you and….”
He kissed her, amazed at how she could still read his thoughts. Yet one remained only for him to bear. As Eric pulled away, Lynne smiled, then placed Cary in her bassinette. Then parents lay beside each other, allowing their tandem breaths to speak for them.
A week passed, during which Klaudia and Sigrun visited Marek. The teenager was happy to see his mother, calling for her as soon as she entered his room. Klaudia nearly broke down at several points, then wept copiously as Sigrun drove them back to Oslo. The women spent the rest of Saturday together; Klaudia had already told Sigrun most of her American experiences, although she had omitted how enjoyable it had been holding Cary and speaking Polish with Jane. Then Klaudia mentioned a letter she had sent to that man, how she referred to Marek Jagucki. In precise Polish she informed him to never contact her again. That chapter, she huffed to Sigrun, was most definitely closed.
Sigrun didn’t comment beyond asking how Klaudia might learn what happened to that painter. Klaudia sighed, lit another smoke, then shook her head. “I’ll see what the papers say. If in a couple of years he doesn’t make the news, well, maybe he never went home.” Yet she ached to know if Lynne was still raising her little girls alone. Then Klaudia shivered. That man would be helping, the Aherns too. How strange that their adopted children looked as if Renee and Sam were their biological parents; Marek had revealed that to her at some point during their…. Klaudia clucked aloud. How long would it take before that man was merely a figment of her past? She inhaled deeply, but couldn’t get him from her mind. Then she coughed, gazing at Sigrun who sipped coffee, but didn’t hold a cigarette. Klaudia looked at the pack, not far from her own mug. Had Sigrun smoked any? “What, you quit while I was gone?”
Sigrun chuckled. “I’ve cut back. Put on at least two kilos, but believe it or not, I feel a lot better.”
Klaudia stared at her friend. “You don’t look like two kilos found you.” Then Klaudia laughed. “I think they found me. Damn Lynne Snyder and her pie.”
She didn’t mention how many of Marek’s caramel slices she had eaten and she frowned briefly. Then she smiled. “Actually, I didn’t smoke much while I was there. Not sure why, but….” She bristled at the truth, which was a mix of factors. None of Marek’s friends smoked, she hadn’t wanted to do so near the painting in the church kitchen, nor had she felt right lighting up near Jane and…. Klaudia felt sick to her stomach, then stubbed out what remained of her cigarette. “Maybe we can quit together. That would give Harald something to think about.”
Sigrun laughed. “He’s already wondering if I’m hatching a plot.” She finished her coffee, then cracked her knuckles. “But Astrid says it’s good, so at least I have one person in my corner.”
Klaudia reached over the ashtray, grasping Sigrun’s hand. “Now you have another. Tell Astrid to keep me in her thoughts too.”
“I will. She and Knut are coming for dinner next Saturday, and I know she’ll want a full report.” Sigrun smiled. “Why don’t you join us? Then she’ll know I have a co-conspirator.”
Klaudia shrugged. “Maybe, well, all right. Not like I have anything else to do.” Her life post-America had felt empty, although she had been fretting over seeing her son. And while that had gone better than Klaudia had imagined, something about it still troubled her. It wasn’t that suddenly she now thought he would turn into a normal teenager; every time the phone rang, she half-expected it to be the hospital with news that he’d had another seizure or was already dead. Then she grimaced; if Sigrun was correct, Marek had snapped out of his malaise at the same time she was…. She closed her eyes, unable to shut out lying next to that man, how hard her heart had beat, his too. How gentle was his touch while at the same time translating more passion than she had ever known. Damn him, she thought, blinking away tears. Damn Marek Jagucki straight to hell!
When Klaudia opened her eyes, Sigrun was gone. For a few seconds, Klaudia wondered if Sigrun had truly been in her kitchen, for in Sigrun’s seat hovered an apparition, stirring goosebumps all along Klaudia’s skin. Marek Jagucki looked deeply pained, then held out his hands to her across the table. She shook her head, so wanting to reach out, but even if he’d been real, she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. She inhaled sharply as Sigrun stepped back into the room, gazing at her chair as if she too saw the interloper. Then Sigrun yawned, stretching her arms over her head. “Goodness, but I’m getting old. Used to do drives that like in my sleep. Now I have to be careful not to snooze behind the wheel. I’ll tell you, if Astrid and Knut are expecting a baby, better to do it now while I can still be helpful.” She giggled. “Soon enough they’ll be taking care of me.”
Klaudia glanced at her friend. Sigrun didn’t look old, but her daughters were adults. Back in Oregon, Klaudia had held a baby, but not feeling as if being a grandmother was right around the corner. Then she chided herself; she would never be anyone’s babcia, but Sigrun soon might be a mormor. Klaudia laughed, Polish and Norwegian rarely intersecting within her brain.
Then tears dribbled down her face. Every time she’d held Cary, Marek had been near, that lovely girl as though their own. Cary had Marek’s eyes, Klaudia’s hair color, and…. Quickly Klaudia shook a cigarette from the pack, lit it, taking long drags. She chuckled falsely, but didn’t gaze from the table. “Guess I’m not ready to give them up. I’ll skip dinner, don’t want Astrid to think I’m a bad influence.”
Sigrun didn’t speak, nor did she sit back down. Klaudia’s face was wet, and she didn’t want to look up. She kept smoking, then stole a glance at Sigrun’s mostly empty chair. A faint image peered at Klaudia, beseeching her forgiveness. She fought further tears, but they flowed as she shook her head.
“We’ll speak about it later this week.” Sigrun walked to where Klaudia sat, patting her shoulder. Then Sigrun placed a tender kiss on Klaudia’s head. “See you Monday.”
Klaudia barely nodded, all of a goodbye she could offer. She didn’t look up until the door had closed. Immediately she set her unfinished smoke in the ashtray, laid her head on the table, covering it with her arms, weeping hard. There was no way to keep that man’s face from her mind.
In Oregon, Lynne served dessert to those gathered at her kitchen table. Jane’s dish was small, but the rest enjoyed large portions alongside cups of coffee, although Ritchie asked for a glass of milk as well. He joked that was a leftover from his childhood, before his Grandma Nolan had passed away. Marie’s mother had been a baker, but she’d died of a stroke long before Ritchie’s youngest siblings could remember her.
Lynne had never met Renee’s eldest brother, but Eric had painted this clan’s family portrait in the Aherns’ backyard, and he seemed to get on well with Ritchie. Brenda was a quiet sort, but Lynne wasn’t surprised; she had nearly divorced her spouse only months ago, and was now living with a new version of him. Lynne didn’t miss the parallels between that relationship and her own marriage, but she said little, allowing Eric and Ritchie to carry the conversation, which initially had been stilted, but quickly turned pleasant. Once Eric had reiterated exactly where the money had come from, the Nolans stopped trying to give it back. They hadn’t truly believed Sam’s tale, yet Eric spoke honestly, buffeted by the occasional chuckle. God was indeed everywhere if one was willing to open their eyes.
Now quiet reigned, occasionally punctuated by Ritchie again noting how tasty was the pie. He finished his milk, then wiped his mouth with a napkin. “I know Renee’s got it good with Sam, but he’ll never top this pie.”
“I almost made custard,” Lynne smiled, “but I’d run out of eggs. I still don’t think mine turns out as well as his.”
Ritchie laughed, leaning back in his chair. “Yeah, he does make a mean custard. Still, ice cream goes good with just about anything.”
Eric nodded. “It’s better in summer, but I’m not gonna complain.”
Lynne met Brenda’s gaze; her grin was friendly, but she remained silent. Then Jane asked for more pie, although Lynne was the only one to understand. Lately Jane used Polish, but Marek had been stopping by most evenings. Not that he and Eric had spoken privately, but as if to merely confirm Eric was home. And, Lynne felt, to escape the emptiness of St. Matthew’s. Marek hadn’t spoken to either Snyder regarding Klaudia’s departure, but ten days had passed, and while they’d been blissful for Lynne, Marek’s unsettled mood spoke of a bitter parting between him and…. Eric tapped Lynne’s leg, then she cleared her throat. “I’m sorry, didn’t mean to….”
Eric laughed, pointing at Jane. “None of us knows what she wants. I keep telling her to speak English, but she just shakes her head at me.”
Lynne smiled, looking right at Jane. “Say it in English and we’ll see what happens.”
“More pie!” Jane giggled.
Brenda laughed. “Of course, what else would she have asked for?”
“What language was that?” Ritchie asked.
“Polish,” both Lynne and Eric said in unison.
“Where’n the hell she’d learn Polish?” Ritchie laughed, then he looked sheepish. “Oh, excuse my French.”
Eric explained as Lynne stood, bringing pie to the table. She cut a sliver, putting it on Jane’s plate, then offered more to the rest. Brenda declined, but Ritchie and Eric each took another piece. Lynne asked if they wanted ice cream, but both men shook their heads. “I’ll barely be able to get up,” Ritchie said, gently patting his left leg. “Thank God I have a cane.”
Lynne didn’t look at that stick, leaning against the side of Ritchie’s chair. He had a noticeable shuffle, and had sat down slowly, Brenda at his side. Lynne had been surprised the couple traveled here, but Brenda had said Ritchie enjoyed the drive. They would stop at the Aherns on their way home, as Paul wanted to see his uncle.
Lynne mulled that over as Eric and Ritchie bantered; Sam, Renee, and Ann had visited during the week, but only while Paul was in school. Just yesterday Ann had said Uncle Eric, which had made Lynne’s eyes water. Eric had laughed, calling her Niece Ann, prompting Renee to explain what niece meant. Ann chanted Uncle Eric for the rest of the morning while Eric always responded with her new nickname. Lynne had mentioned that to Marek last night when he came for supper. He had laughed, then said he might use that term to see how Ann responded. His smile had shone, but Lynne detected sorrow so slight Marek might not even have realized it. Since meeting him, she had wondered if a family would ever come his way. And while he was a part of their clan, Lynne didn’t feel that was enough. Never before had he dropped in so regularly, not even when Laurie had been in residence. He wouldn’t come by that evening; on Saturday nights he played poker with Father Markham. Lynne was glad Marek had a place to go, not that she wouldn’t have wanted him there. He needed to speak to Eric about Klaudia’s departure, and Eric could use one-on-one time with his pastor….
Again Eric tapped Lynne’s leg. She smiled, then sighed. “Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry.” She blushed, not wishing their guests to think her rude.
Brenda laughed. “Oh don’t apologize. I remember when our oldest kids were Jane and Cary’s ages. I could barely remember my own name.”
“God, that was a long time ago.” Ritchie chuckled, gazing at Jane. “Now Cindy’s a senior in high school, where does the time go?”
“And speaking of time, we should be on our way.” Brenda placed her napkin on her empty plate, then looked at Lynne. “Thank you so much for having us over. Lunch was delicious and as for this pie….” Brenda looked longingly at what remained, then giggled. “Thank goodness I can’t bake, I’d gain ten pounds.”
A quarter remained in the tin and Lynne stood, stepping to the far side of the kitchen counter where another pie waited. She brought it to the table, setting it between the Nolans. “This is for you to take home. It’s apple, peach, and boysenberry, Sam’s favorite. Just don’t tell him I made it.”
She winked at Ritchie, who chuckled. “Good lord, that’s a combination. Hmm, maybe we won’t go see them. We’ll just take this home and….” He burst into laughter. “If we take it home, I probably won’t get any.”
Lynne covered what remained of the boysenberry pie, then set it next to the whole pie. “Here, take this too. That way you’ll get a decent serving.”
Brenda shook her head, but Eric smiled. “We insist. That way Lynne will bake later.”
“But you have a new baby to look after and….” Brenda sighed, then smiled. “Thank you so much for everything, my goodness. I’ll get these tins to Renee as soon as possible.”
“No hurry,” Lynne said. “I’ve got plenty.”
Brenda stood first, then helped Ritchie from his chair. He leaned on the cane as Brenda collected the pies. Eric stood, then he and Lynne walked the Nolans to the door. Lynne saw how they tried not to stare at Eric, but Eric acted as if he didn’t notice. Brenda blinked away tears as she said goodbye, then she followed her husband from the house, again calling out her thanks before Lynne closed the kitchen door.
Eric retook his seat as Jane said goodbye alternating English with Polish. Eric laughed. “By the time she’s five we’ll all be bilingual.”
“Indeed.” Lynne sat between her husband and daughter. “She’s never spoken so much Polish before, not even before Klaudia left.” Lynne gazed at her child, then glanced at the clock. “Cary’ll be up soon, I better clear these plates before….”
Again Eric touched her leg. “I can do it. You’ve been on your feet all morning.”
His tone was definitive, which made Lynne shiver, then blink away her own tears. “You sure?”
“Yup.” He smiled, then leaned toward her, kissing her cheek. “I’m the man around here and what I say goes.”
Lynne laughed. “That sounds like something Ritchie might say.”
“Or what he used to say. It was nice to see them again, I mean….” Eric sighed. “He’s nothing like what I recall from when they posed. Well, his language is still colorful, but it’s like he really is a different man. I think he’ll stay sober, don’t ask me why, but there’s just something….”
Lynne nodded, although she had no basis for that sense other than how happy Ritchie had seemed, also peaceful. Then she gazed at her husband; Eric was staring around the room as though contemplating an impending departure. Her heart pounded, then she grasped his hand, which was cool, but warmed quickly within hers. He met her gaze, smiling as if nothing clouded his thoughts. She nodded, but still her pulse raced. “Eric, what?”
“Just thinking about when he gave me the money, telling me to give it to someone needy. At the time I thought he meant whoever was gonna get me home. I had no idea about Ritchie, but as soon as I was here, of course it was for them.” Eric sighed, then gripped Lynne’s hand. “Too bad I can’t paint their portrait again. I’d love to capture him now.”
Lynne smiled, but something sat under his words. Perhaps it was merely that wistfulness, which didn’t surprise her. How many times had he expressed a desire to one day paint this or that, but now…. She embraced him, careful not to squeeze tightly against his right side. But even for the joy of his presence, an issue tugged at her heart. She prayed, then kissed him, then pulled away, giggling. “Oh that girl.”
Eric nodded. “I hear her. Go on, Jane and I’ll join you in a minute.”
Lynne stood, ruffling his hair. She headed to the living room where Cary fussed in the Moses basket. Lynne sat down, retrieved the baby, then set her to nurse. As Eric and Jane entered the room, Lynne’s heart ached, but not for how Jane clung to her father’s withered hand. Eric’s eyes held a distinct sadness, over which Lynne felt helpless. But she said nothing as he sat on her right, leaning against her. Lynne closed her eyes, praying for Eric’s peace of mind. He’d returned, but still required that intercession.
When Laurie came home on Tuesday, a letter from Lynne waited on the dining table. He picked it up, whistling a Beatles’ tune on his way to the kitchen. That band had again been on Ed Sullivan, ending their spot with “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. Stan had hummed it all last night, and Laurie couldn’t wait to warble a few lines in that man’s ear once Agatha left for the day. But she might stay later than usual while all three digested what Lynne had written. Laurie was a little surprised his name wasn’t scrawled in Eric’s handwriting, but maybe a letter for Stan from Eric would arrive tomorrow.
Laurie hadn’t spoken to Lynne or her husband since right after Eric’s return. He had called Sam and Marek, and both noted that Eric was still recovering, and how well Jane had remembered her father. Sam did mention that Paul was having a difficult time, which had been hard for Laurie to hear, but upon reflection wasn’t overly shocking. The Aherns visited the Snyders while Paul was in school, but Sam hoped to stop there that coming weekend. Laurie had felt a sliver of envy, but he and Stan would see all four Snyders in just over a month. They had decided to stay for only a week, as not to overwhelm Eric, then possibly return in early summer if work permitted. Laurie had spent the last few weeks in close contact with his remaining clients, another reason March’s outing wouldn’t be a lengthy stay. Gripping the letter, he entered the kitchen finding an expectant smile on Agatha’s face. She wanted to know the contents as much as he did.
He approached her, kissing her cheek. “Well, shall I open it?”
She nodded, then stared at him. “Unless you wanna wait for Stanford.”
“Nah.” Laurie reached into a drawer for the letter opener. “He won’t mind.”
Agatha smiled, wiping her hands on her apron. “I was hoping one of you would get home early.” She stood next to Laurie. “I wrote to them last week, been dying to hear how it’s going.”
Laurie nodded, for he’d felt the same. It seemed slightly odd that neither Lynne nor her husband had been in contact, but they had been apart for more than half a year. A new baby needed her father’s attention, not to mention what Lynne and Jane required. Laurie was thrilled that girl had remembered Eric, and he hoped Paul’s agitation would be remedied as easily as when Sam returned the station wagon. Laurie grasped Agatha’s right hand as he began to read, but within seconds he gripped Lynne’s letter with two hands, an icy shiver traveling along his spine. After a brief greeting, Lynne hadn’t minced words, but in her gentle manner, those words contained no hint to what Laurie now pictured in his mind, for Lynne had rightfully assumed Agatha would be near when Laurie received the news: Eric had met with an unfortunate accident on his way back from Miami. His right arm was permanently disabled and he would never paint again.
Laurie shivered, tears falling down his face. He crumpled the stationary, feeling sick to his stomach. “No,” he whispered. “No, no, no!”
“Laurie, what’s wrong?”
He glanced at Agatha, so wishing she knew the truth, then wondering what had actually occurred; he would call the Snyders that evening, he needed to hear it from…. Not Eric, then Laurie bent over, dropping the letter, gripping his legs for support. “Jesus fucking Christ no!”
Agatha collected the pages, then rubbed Laurie’s back. “Honey, it’s gonna be all right.”
He shook his head, then slowly stood up straight. Pointing to the letter, he wanted to speak, but tears still fell down his face. How would he tell Stan? “He’s, he can’t, he’ll never….” To say the words felt wholly wrong. Laurie turned to face the counter, gripping it to keep himself on two feet. He wanted a drink, several of them, but there wasn’t enough booze in the world to erase this disaster.
Agatha scanned the first page, then gasped. “Oh lord, no!” She placed the letter on the counter near Laurie’s shaking hands, one of which she clutched tightly. Laurie squeezed back, his eyes closed, his stomach still rolling. He wished to simply turn around, finding Eric, Lynne, and Jane seated at his kitchen table. The last time he had seen Eric was in this apartment, or the last time he’d viewed him as a human being. Laurie opened his eyes, not wanting to picture Eric as a hawk. How in God’s name did he appear now, just how bad was the damage?
He peered at the letter, then read further; Eric had been shot in his right shoulder. Now Laurie felt dizzy; most likely he’d still been a hawk. Where had he been, Laurie wondered. Then he began to weep as though he was back on that Florida playground, sand clenched between his fingers, the hawk pecking at its right shoulder; Eric had been shot, but how in the hell had he survived? A ripple of peace wove through Laurie, for that was what Lynne conveyed in the next paragraph. Other than his right arm, Eric was fine, Jane so happy for her father’s return. Then Lynne wrote of how thankful she was for Laurie and Stanford’s support, Agatha’s too, and that they all looked forward to seeing whoever traveled for Easter and Cary’s baptism. Agatha hadn’t mentioned flying west; now Laurie knew she would stay here. Then he trembled; would Stan still want to go? Laurie did; Eric was his brother, and he had to see him in person. Yet, Eric wouldn’t be as Laurie remembered, was this even possible? How could Eric have healed Seth, then lost his…. “I gotta sit down,” Laurie mumbled.
Agatha led him to the table and he sat in Stan’s seat, Agatha on his left. He shook his head, glanced at the counter where the letter remained, then covered his face with his hands. Another wave of grief was released; while Laurie hadn’t lost Seth, a magnificent painter no longer dwelled among them. “Oh God,” he moaned. “I don’t fucking believe this.”
He sat up, taking deep breaths, but the throbbing within his chest didn’t subside. “I need to call them, I need to….” He looked at Agatha, who nodded, but didn’t speak. She stroked his damp cheek, her eyes brimming with tears. Then she stood, getting him some water. He drank it slowly, but felt no better, although he was grateful for Stan’s absence. Laurie needed to wrap his head around this before bludgeoning the man he loved with such horrific news.
“You want something stronger?” Agatha asked softly.
“I do, but I won’t.” He had to stay sober, although once Stan knew, maybe they would both get drunk. “Jesus Christ, after everything they’ve gone through, now this?” Anger bubbled within him. “They don’t deserve this, he was just trying to help, damnit!” Laurie banged his right fist on the table, then grimaced. Just how crippled was Eric? Maybe after time he could paint again, or perhaps draw. Laurie stared at Agatha; how much work had Eric planned for when he came home? There was still the Queens series, portraits of his new daughter, maybe some of Seth…. Laurie inhaled, then exhaled, but the fury didn’t lessen. “What the hell’s this all about?” he shouted. “He never hurt anyone, who in God’s name woulda….”
Agatha grasped his hand. “Listen to me. This isn’t the end of the world.”
He stared at her. “How can you say that?”
“Something terrible’s happened, I won’t say otherwise. But he came back to them, to all of us. He’s home Laurie, and right now that’s enough.”
He wanted to refute her words, but how she clutched his hand muted his contempt. Tears fell along her cheeks and now Laurie caressed her face; lines crowded around her eyes, furrows were etched in her brow and along her mouth. Yet she smiled, and while it was weary, it also spoke of trust. Laurie had always believed Eric would return and for now that bittersweet homecoming had to be enough.
Agatha left early, then Laurie called the Snyders. Lynne filled in the gaps, again making Laurie sick to his stomach. Yet she spoke with such optimism, which Laurie attributed to Eric’s presence, albeit compromised. She would pray for Laurie that evening, leaving unstated the nature of her petitions. Who knew how Stanford would take this turn of events?
Then Lynne mentioned Seth; Laurie bristled, but agreed that his cousin needed to know. Maybe Seth’s girlfriend would temper this news, and Laurie promised to keep Lynne updated. Then Lynne asked if he wanted to speak to Eric. Laurie sighed. “Uh, sure, if he wants to talk.”
“He’s right here, just has something he needs to say.”
Laurie inhaled, then coughed, as Eric got on the phone. “Hey, I just wanted to again tell you thanks for being here. I know it was hard, but….”
“Of course, I mean….” Laurie closed his eyes, trying to picture Eric beside him, seated on the library’s sofa, or standing beside Seth’s figurines. “Eric, I, I….”
“Don’t worry about telling Seth. I think he’ll be okay with the news.”
“He won’t like it, but….” Eric sighed, then gave a weak chuckle. “I’m home Laurie. That’s all that matters.”
“Yeah, it is.” Laurie still felt uneasy. He could write to his cousin, but had to tell Stan face to face.
“And Laurie, when you tell Stan, just make sure he knows….” Eric paused, trying to regain his composure. “Just tell him I’m okay.” Eric’s voice quivered. “I really am all right.”
“Of course. That’s all we wanted, you know?”
Laurie closed the call, but felt little relief. Something in Eric’s tone was different, as if a part of him had been killed in Texas. Then Laurie gazed at the trolley across the room. He ached for a drink. Instead he stepped toward Seth’s figurines. He wouldn’t tell Stan in this room, not in the kitchen or their bedroom either. It would have to be in the guest room, where neither spent much time. Laurie left the library, walking to where the Snyders had stayed last spring. Perhaps after tonight, Stanford might never step foot in this space again. Laurie headed back toward the library, again wishing for one gin and tonic. Just as he reached for the door handle, he heard Stan humming. Laurie winced, then straightened his shoulders. Then he prayed for strength, his steps slow along the hallway to where Stanford was waiting.
Dora stood on her front porch, a registered letter just having been delivered. It was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Walter Richardson, but Dora wouldn’t open it until Walt got home. The handwriting was lovely, then Dora blinked away tears, reading the return address; Mr. and Mrs. Eric Snyder. John’s wife must have written all this, then Dora shook her head. It was hard to think of John as Eric, then Dora wiped tears from her cheeks. According to Walt, Eric Snyder was a very talented artist. Dora breathed deeply, then placed her hand on the babies. “I can’t imagine what this is,” she said softly. “But we’ll wait till Daddy’s home to find out.”
The letter sat out of Esther and Gail’s reach, but when Luke and Tilda got home from school, Dora explained what had arrived. Luke wanted to open it, but Tilda said little. Dora observed her oldest daughter, who must realize why John…. Dora inwardly chided herself. “I just hope they sent some photographs,” she said. “I’m so curious as to what his wife and daughter look like.”
“And the baby,” Luke smiled. “What’d Daddy say her name was?”
“Cary.” Dora ruffled Luke’s hair. “Cary and Jane.”
Luke sat at the table. “Mama, you think we’ll ever see Mr. Doe, I mean, Mr. Snyder again?”
Dora sat on Luke’s right. “I don’t know.” She gazed at where the letter waited, then looked around the room. A few nights back Walt had spoken about adding onto the house, but their budget could only accommodate a room for Luke. Dora would love another bathroom, but she knew as well as her husband the state of their finances. She wasn’t sure what they needed more, another bedroom or a second vehicle. Dora sighed softly, then glanced at Tilda, playing quietly with her sisters near the television. Dora wanted at least one son, but two would be better, if only to give her daughters more space in the large room. Best to add to the house now. They could think about another car later.
Walt worked late, and dinner was waiting as he stepped through the doorway. He kissed his wife, greeted his children, then gazed at where someone else had sat for several weeks. John had been on Walt’s mind all day, then he frowned. Would he ever think of that man with his rightful name? Callie still called him Mr. Doe, then Walt chuckled. Perhaps it was better to think of him that way. Walt didn’t expect to ever hear from him again, regardless of which name he went by. “Sorry I’m late,” he said. “Did I miss supper?”
Luke chuckled. “Nope, but Mama’s got a surprise for afterwards.”
“Did Susie bring a pie?” Walt asked. “Luke, Tilda, sit down now.” He lifted Gail into her seat, then scooted Esther up to the table. Then Walt took his chair. “What’s the surprise?” he asked his wife.
Dora brought plates to the table, then sat beside her husband. “We got a letter from the Snyders, a registered letter.”
“What’s a registered letter?” Luke asked.
Walt stared at Dora. “Are you serious?”
She nodded, then looked at Luke. “Sometimes important mail requires a signature. I had to sign for it.”
Walt glanced at the countertop, finding the letter on the flour canister. “Why didn’t you open it?” he asked.
“I wasn’t gonna till you came home,” Dora clucked.
Walt retrieved the letter, then sat at the table. He studied the handwriting, a slight shiver running down his spine. He smiled at Dora. “Well, I’m here now.” Then he gazed at Luke. “Should I go ahead and….”
“Open it Daddy, open it!” Luke said. “We’ve been waiting since Mama told us about it.”
Walt nodded, finding a small grin on Tilda’s face. “Tilda, you agree?”
She tried to hide her smile, then she giggled. “I wanna see what he says.”
“Me too.” Walt pulled out his pocketknife, cutting through the seal. He pulled out the contents, which included a small envelope. “This’s for Mr. and Mrs. Bolden,” he said, placing that envelope back on the counter. Then he sat down, inspecting what had been sent. It was a letter, then Walt gasped.
“What?” Dora asked.
“It’s a….” Walt swallowed hard, then handed the check to his wife. The sum was more than Walt would earn in ten years, enough to build his family a large home, even buy a new car. Then he stared at the envelope for Callie and Susie; Walt assumed a check was waiting for them.
“Daddy, didn’t they send any pictures?” Luke’s tone was exasperated.
Walt was now comforting Dora, who wept softly. “Not that I see son.” He looked at the date on the check; it was from last Monday, the first business day that John had been home. “They sent this right after Mr. Doe….”
“Mr. Snyder Daddy,” Luke corrected.
Walt stared at Luke, then smiled. “You’re right, Mr. Snyder.” Walt skimmed the letter, which he knew had been written by Mrs. Snyder, then he stopped speaking. “Oh dear lord!”
“What?” Dora, Luke, and Tilda said as one.
Walt laid on the table a crude but clear drawing, that of a family. “He sent this instead.”
Luke leaned over, then gasped. “Oh Daddy, that’s him, that’s Mr….” Luke sniffled, then laughed. “He doesn’t look like how I remember him, he looks different now. Mr. Snyder,” Luke said slowly. “And that must be Jane, and that’s Baby Cary, and that’s Mrs. Snyder. Well, that’s a nice family he’s got. Boy, I still hope he sends some snapshots. And we’ll have to send some to them after the babies come.”
Walt studied the sketch, wondering how long it had taken that man to fashion it. Luke was right; as Eric, John appeared happier than Walt had ever seen him. His wife’s smile was wide, and from Walt could make out, Jane looked like her mother. The baby wasn’t more than a bundle resting against John’s left arm, but she looked at home there. Then Walt turned his attention to Dora, who was crying, also laughing. He nodded at her, recalling their recent discussion about adding onto the house. “It’s an answer to prayer,” Dora squeaked. “I just can’t believe they’d do this.”
“Do what Mama?” Luke asked.
Walt inhaled deeply, then stood, stepping behind where Luke and Tilda sat, laying his hands on their shoulders. “Mr. Snyder sent us some money to thank us for taking care of him. I’m sure he did the same for the Boldens too.”
“Well, that was mighty nice,” Luke said. Then he gazed at his mother. “I’ll write him a letter back. Maybe I’ll draw a picture of all of us too.”
Walt patted Luke and Tilda on their heads, then retook his seat. “I’ll call him after supper so he knows we got the letter.”
“Okay, but don’t tell him about my picture. I want it to be a surprise.”
“I won’t say a word.” Walt took a bite of his supper, which was growing cool. “Everybody eat up now, Mama worked hard to make such a good meal.” He looked at Dora, who wiped tears from her face, but her smile shone. Walt grasped her hand and she nodded. Then she placed his hand on her belly. Walt chuckled, then broke into laughter. His children asked what was so funny, but Walt didn’t speak. He glanced at the drawing, which to the untrained eye might appear as nothing more than random strokes along the paper. But the Snyder family was clear to Walt Richardson and he couldn’t wait to speak to Eric once supper was finished.
Long after the Snyder and Richardson families were asleep, Stanford Taylor sat in the library, a whiskey in his hand. He had tried going to bed several times, but slumber was elusive, even after he and Laurie made love. Laurie had been restless for a while, then had fallen unconscious, but Stanford remained wide-eyed. Finally he’d left their room, walking aimlessly around the apartment, seeing Eric everywhere he went. Only one place remained where Stanford might find peace, albeit chemically induced. He was now drunk, but still alert. Sharp within his mind was the last time Eric had been in this city, the hug shared as the Snyders’ taxi pulled in front of Stanford’s building. Stanford would never again embrace that man, for to do so would be demanding of Eric a feat he could no longer manage. That was how Stanford had accepted Lynne’s letter; never again would Eric hug anyone with both of his arms.
Laurie had gently broken the news, then given Stanford the crumpled pages of stationary. Lynne’s handwriting was her usual lovely penmanship, but the words she employed were as ugly as the gutter talk of Bowery bums. Laurie reiterated what she had told him, making Stanford cringe both from the violence and that Eric had been a…. He’d been a hawk at the time, which now that Stanford was inebriated made sense. A youngster had shot Eric, but the small slug had done significant damage. Thankfully Eric had been found before he’d bled to death, Laurie had said. Otherwise they never would have known the truth.
But what was truth, Stanford considered, slowly sipping his whiskey. Eric had flown to help Seth, and now no longer could paint. That was the essence of what had occurred over the last several months. Yet truth possessed many sides; according to Lynne, Eric had been a hawk when attacked. Now he was a cripple, although Laurie never said it like that. Stanford didn’t imagine Lynne had either. How did Eric see himself, Stanford wondered. He was a new father, perhaps that softened the blow. But a sucker punch had landed in Stanford’s gut as though he’d been the one assaulted. The most talented artist Stanford had ever known would never…. Stanford swigged what remained in his glass, then slowly stood from the sofa. The room was mostly dark, but Seth’s figurines shone like neon signs. For the first time Stanford understood Laurie’s dismay connected to that man’s lost talent. But Seth was working again, all thanks to Eric. Where the hell was justice in this godforsaken world?
Stanford poured himself another whiskey, then stared at Seth’s sculptures. He approached them, finding no peace in the woman’s call for help, nor any willingness to assist in the man’s pose. Then he gazed at the deformed lower limb; Eric’s foot was healed, but his right arm was…. It was useless, making Stanford blink away tears. He drank his whiskey, his throat burning, his eyes watering, his stomach woozy. But his chest ached most, although not as badly as when Laurie was gone. Yet this pain was substantial and suddenly Stanford realized it would be with him the rest of his life. He pounded the center of his ribcage; it felt hollow and the ache didn’t go away. “Why him?” he said aloud, uncertain if Laurie might hear him. And Stanford wasn’t sure which man he meant; perhaps Eric, maybe Seth, or was he beseeching the God from whom these figures sought mercy? “Why now, why him, why, why, why….” Stanford considered throwing his glass against the room, but he didn’t wish to wake Laurie or clean up after himself. Then he laughed, for he was in no shape to do more than stumble onto the sofa and hopefully lose consciousness. Tomorrow Laurie would find him in here, tit for tat, Stanford mused, taking wobbly steps back to the couch. But he didn’t sit; again he gazed at those figurines, wondering if Eric would ever admire them again. Not that Stanford thought the Snyders would avoid New York, but it might be better to put these out of sight when they did. No use causing Eric additional agony.
How did Eric actually feel, Stanford wondered, sitting with a clumsy plop in the middle of the sofa. He must be in considerable pain from such an injury. Yes, he was home, family at his beck and call, but what about the artist? Stanford felt he knew that person well, or he had. Now Eric Snyder was merely a husband and father. Did he think of himself as a painter, could he still draw? Stanford wanted to call Eric, but it was very late, and of course how could such queries be aired? Then Stanford shivered; how was he supposed to approach Eric next month? Maybe Stanford could gracefully excuse himself, yet he was Cary’s godfather. He had to be there for the baptism.
Then he laughed aloud, not caring if he woke Laurie. Who was he to worry about those unrelated to him? Sometimes accidents happened, and this wasn’t the first client Stanford had lost. He inhaled, feeling little pain, but he began to choke, unable to pull in any oxygen. He coughed several times, then finally dislodged the blockage. Taking slow breaths, he wondered how best to justify his absence. As he did, tears sprung from his eyes; he wanted to chat with Jane, wished to cuddle Cary, longed to embrace Lynne, and as for Eric…. Stanford began to weep, which turned to a howl. He bent over, his head in his hands, shaking as sobs wracked his frame. Moments later Laurie sat beside him, that it would be all right, and how much Laurie loved him. Stanford continued to wail, wishing he could alter time, snatching Eric from harm’s way before he’d been…. “He’s ruined, just ruined,” he mumbled. “It’s all gone to hell.”
Laurie said nothing as Stanford wept, grieving for Eric as though that man was dead.
It took Laurie until Thursday to call Seth, who took the news better than Laurie had expected. Seth was more worried for his cousin and Stanford, and Laurie spoke honestly; they were devastated, especially Stan. Laurie thought Stan might schedule an appointment with Dr. Walsh, which Seth believed would be helpful. Both knew that was Stanford’s move to make, yet Laurie wouldn’t permit Stan to brood over this. Laurie closed the conversation feeling oddly refreshed, then he called Lynne. She was relieved at how well Seth had taken the news, and wasn’t surprised at Stanford’s reaction. Again she reiterated how thankful she was that Eric was home, but Laurie picked up something else in her tone. He didn’t question her, nor did he ask to speak to Eric. Lynne noted that photos were in the mail and that she looked forward to seeing him next month. Laurie ended that call feeling somewhat unsettled, then he paused; rare were the times he gained more peace in speaking with his cousin than with Lynne. He wouldn’t mention this to anyone, but said a prayer, seeking comfort for them all.
That afternoon Klaudia found a letter from Marek in her mailbox. She hesitated retrieving it, then wondered if perhaps Eric Snyder had come home. She collected all the post, unlocked her door, then went inside, leaving the mail on the table. She made a cup of tea, inspected what else had been delivered, then stared at the envelope from America. Had Marek received her letter yet? He must have sent this right after she left, but probably not after hers had arrived. What might he have to offer, she mused, lighting a cigarette, then seating herself near a stack of bills that separated her from…. A few tears welled in her eyes which she brushed aside, but they weren’t all on behalf of that man. She had called the institution yesterday, curious to her son’s condition, which was still improving. Marek Henrichsen had been moved from the infirmary back to his room, and while he spent much of his time in bed, he continued to ask for his mother. Klaudia was tempted to drive up there that weekend, in part that she wouldn’t be around for Sigrun’s dinner party on Saturday. Klaudia didn’t necessarily need proof of the nurse’s words, but how odd that Marek had made such a sudden recovery. Then she grimaced; he was still nearly bedridden, yet never before had he asked for her. Klaudia wasn’t even sure he knew the word mor. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she recalled Jane calling for Lynne, that child’s tender voice not much different from how Marek had asked for his mamma. After all these years, Klaudia was in the position of being someone’s mother. She glanced at the letter from America, her heart throbbing. Setting her smoke in the ashtray, she tried her tea, but it was too hot to drink. Reluctantly, she opened Marek’s letter, then began to read.
She smiled in learning that Eric Snyder had come home. At least Lynne wasn’t raising two children on her own anymore. Then Klaudia gasped as Marek apologized for, as he put it, his lack of integrity. She stared at his handwriting, then reread that sentence, his Polish succinct. He had failed her as a man and her tears restarted as memories of those two days tumbled through her brain. Then she ached all over, recalling the bitter words she had said to him about his family’s brutal deaths. Yet she had been devastated at how he’d dismissed her due to…. For a moment she bristled, creeping back into her shell where she was safe from this man’s touch. Then she began to cough hard; he loved her and would continue to pray for her and her son. Klaudia began to shake and set aside the letter, gripping her mug. The heat wore through her chilly hands, reaching her heart; she was once again a mother because the one man she had allowed into her heart was seeking divine intersession on her child’s behalf. If Klaudia considered more than that, she might break down thoroughly. Continuing to grasp her mug, she gazed at the cigarette, most of which had burned to ash. She could torch Marek’s note as she had the others, but she would never extinguish the flame within both of their hearts. It would burn forever.
Slowly she drank her tea, looking at Marek’s penmanship. She never read Polish anymore, but that language would dwell inside her as long as she lived. Would she love Marek for the rest of her life, how could she not? She winced, then picked up what remained of the smoke, inhaling deeply. She coughed again, frowning as she stubbed out the cigarette. Peering at the rest of the letter, she collected it, skimming to the end. Marek wanted to continue their previous correspondence, wishing to share Jane’s progress in Polish as well as receive updates about his namesake’s health. Klaudia shivered at both of those intentions, shaking her head as if Marek’s ghost sat across from her. She looked up, but the chair was empty, which made her tremble more. How was that painter, she wondered, and had Jane remembered her father? Klaudia wanted to tell Marek that her son had asked for her, but she recoiled at the reason for his improvement. Then she returned to Marek’s apology; knowing fully well her attitude toward the church, he never should have acted upon his feelings. Yet those emotions were tied into his gratefulness for her existence, which had been the sole purpose behind his desire to see her again. He’d wanted to fete their survival, nothing more. If she wished to decline his request for further contact, he would completely understand.
Again the decision was hers, but no longer did questions linger, and perhaps Marek had made it easier on her by noting that Eric Snyder had made it home. Klaudia could forget all of them in one fell swoop, enough here to occupy her mind. Yet she knew that was a pipe dream, for every time she visited her son she would be reminded of…. She finished her tea, then stuffed the letter back in the envelope. She would show it to Sigrun, not that she could read it, but then Klaudia wouldn’t be hounded by her friend, or that man. She had already answered Marek, they were through. She wouldn’t travel to see her son that weekend, nor would she go to dinner on Saturday unless Sigrun made an issue of it. And even if she did, Klaudia would smoke all night. The shell fastened all around her until she felt fully secured. Then she lit another smoke, taking long drags as though sealing her coffin. After that smoke was gone, she lit another. She finished the pack before bedtime, coughing long into the night until falling into restless sleep.
Eric woke to an empty bed on Friday, but could hear his family; Lynne and the girls were probably in the living room. Eric smiled, although he was in terrible pain. He’d said little about that to his wife, and would hide it from Jane as long as was possible. Sometimes she tugged on his right hand, wishing to lead him around the house. Often his arm was numb, but on occasion it ached so badly that Eric wished Walt had cut it off. It had taken Eric hours to draw himself, Lynne, and their daughters for the Richardsons. Eric smiled despite the pain; Jane and Cary would eventually crowd out what had been lost.
Two weeks had passed and while Eric was thrilled to be home, unease plagued him, although he wasn’t surprised from where part of it originated. It was easier than he’d imagined keeping Lynne in the dark about why he’d left Texas, yet now that he knew exactly who he was, he had to face that missing element of his life. He had yet to discuss this with anyone, too busy getting to know Cary and reintroducing himself to Jane while trying to live without considering art. Fortunately his days were full, but in the past when Lynne was tending to Jane, Eric had the luxury of waking with the day’s agenda free for his perusal. Now he stirred debilitated, also feeling somewhat useless. He could keep Jane occupied, but couldn’t help Lynne with the most basic of chores; not only was his injury a death knell to painting, he wasn’t able to change a diaper or take out the trash. He did manage to keep the fire burning, but he couldn’t start it alone. His mind had healed, but much remained amiss.
He got out of bed, used the toilet, then put on his robe and slippers. Stepping onto the landing, he inhaled the warmth of the fire and his family, the homey scents of coffee and pie, and the awareness of massive alteration. It might take years before he was comfortable in who he now was, then he winced as Lynne giggled. What would she think if she knew the truth? They had yet to be intimate; could he make love to her as before, not due to his ruined arm, but with such a demon inside him? Thinking about it made Eric tremble. He gripped the landing, clearing his throat. “Good morning down there.”
“Daddy!” Jane laughed, then appeared at the bottom of the stairs. “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”
Tears welled in Eric’s eyes and he smiled, wiping them away. “Stay put girl. I’ll be right there.”
“Jane, come here,” Lynne said. “Do you want some coffee?” she then asked.
“Are you feeding Cary?”
“Well, not really. Oh, maybe I am.” Lynne chuckled as Eric came down the stairs. She looked at him, Cary against her chest. “She’s been playing for the last five minutes, but every time I try to move, she starts nibbling again.”
Eric sat on Lynne’s right, then stroked Cary’s head. “She’s just like her big sister was.”
Lynne nodded, blinking away tears. Then she leaned against Eric. He put his arm around her, closing his eyes as Jane climbed into his lap. He wanted to wrap her close to him, but all he could do was pat her leg with his right fingers. That action was very painful, but he did it anyway, hoping none of them noticed.
Lynne sat up. “Are you all right?”
He shook his head, biting his lip. Then he met her gaze. Tears were fresh along her cheeks, and he wanted to rub them between his fingers. Instead he gripped her left shoulder. “Just hurts a little today.”
In her brief nod, he saw the nurse who had cared for her husband as well as patients. She didn’t speak, looking at their baby, who rested along Lynne’s breast. Eric’s heart throbbed, for he had never imagined this scenario while trying to recall his identity. Reality was much different than all he had previously pondered.
“Laurie said that Stan might call his therapist.” Lynne spoke softly. “Maybe he’s not the only one who needs to see someone.”
“Are you saying I should go to a doctor?”
Now she met his gaze. “Perhaps. If nothing else, you should give Marek a call.”
Eric looked toward the fire, which needed more wood. “Jane honey, let Daddy off the couch a minute.”
Jane scooted from Eric’s lap. He stood, then placed two pieces on dwindling coals. Awkwardly he attempted to arrange them with the poker, then he sighed, replacing the grate. He remained on his feet, facing his wife and daughters. Jane had taken his spot, but Lynne was burping Cary. That was another task Eric couldn’t perform, and he tried making a fist. Pain shot into his right shoulder, and it took all he had not to cry out. He turned back toward the fireplace, then gripped his bad arm. His elbow was numb, but pain in his shoulder made him nauseous.
“Could you keep something down?” Lynne asked.
He nodded, still gazing at the fire.
“Jane, let’s go make Daddy some breakfast.”
Eric didn’t move until he knew he was alone in the room. As he turned around, he saw Cary in the Moses basket. He stepped toward her, finding she was asleep. “My little sweetheart,” he murmured. “I love you all so much and I am so damned sorry.” Eric wanted to kiss his daughter, but might disturb her if he sat. Kneeling would be worse, so he walked away as Jane called for him.
Later that morning Eric sat in the kitchen at St. Matthew’s. Mrs. Kenny was off that day, and Eric was grateful for the privacy. This was his first time back since he’d visited Marek on the Fourth of July. Eric could almost smile over that detail, but his shoulder still throbbed. He sipped coffee, then set down his cup, taking a cookie from the plate. “Thanks for picking me up this morning,” he said.
Marek grinned. “Let me just say thank you for the telephone call. Carla wasn’t coming in today and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. God had both of us in mind for this coffee klatch.”
Now Eric chuckled. “I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve missed….” He sighed, took another drink of coffee, then moved the mug near his right hand. He was just able to set his fingers around it and the heat felt good. “Lynne said you had a visitor right before I got home. I guess there’s plenty for both of us to discuss.”
“I nearly spoke to Jeremy Markham about this. He knows about Klaudia, in who she was to my past, but….” Marek sighed. “My goodness, here I am blathering on. Tell me, my friend, how are you?”
Eric leaned forward in his chair. “Marek, what happened?”
Marek had a long sigh, then unburdened his heart. Eric gripped his mug during much of the tale, but reached for Marek’s left hand when the crux of the situation was explained. Marek squeezed back with force, which Eric appreciated. Sometimes Sam shook Eric’s left hand the way Callie had, but Sam’s grip seemed tentative. Eric wanted to write to Callie Bolden, but there was little free time to dictate a letter. As Marek spoke, Eric compared his pastor’s heartache to Callie’s when he’d wondered if Susie would accept his proposal. Her move to The South seemed comparable with what Marek and Klaudia had shared, yet Susie’s faith had eased her into a hostile land. Klaudia had no such security upon which to rest.
“I’m sure she’s received my letter, I suppose I’ll have to wait to see if she responds.” Marek stood, refilling the men’s mugs, then retaking his seat. He ate a cookie, then sipped his coffee. “I guess I don’t expect her to answer, she might, I mean, but….” He shrugged. “My actions weren’t, I wasn’t….” Marek frowned. “Never before have I behaved so selfishly.”
“I don’t think I’d have done anything differently in your place. You love her and….”
“And I sat in this kitchen the morning after only wishing for one more day with her. I knew better Eric. No good could’ve come from that and now I’ve hurt her more than perhaps I did when I….” Marek drank his coffee, then gazed toward the painting near the sink.
“Go on,” Eric said softly.
Marek smiled, gently shaking his head. “You’ve let me confess some grievous sins.” He ate another cookie, then chuckled. “Have I told you yet how good it is to see you?”
Eric wore a small grin. “Have I said the same to you?”
“How are you, and be honest with your pastor.”
Eric breathed deeply. “It’s not what I thought, I mean, I really had no idea who I was till I was almost home. Maybe I was being completely naïve, I dunno. All that mattered was getting back to my….” Eric paused, then smiled. “I didn’t know Lynne’s name until I saw Sam. What’s that supposed to mean?”
Marek drank his coffee, then nodded. “It’s intriguing how we misplace certain details. In your case, if you had recalled Lynne’s name sooner, you might have remembered exactly why you were traveling through The South. And that element of your existence might have been, well, difficult to reconcile.”
“You mean being a hawk?”
“That and a….” Marek sighed. “You’ve lost a great ability Eric. That needs to be mourned appropriately.”
Eric nodded. “It’s hard, I won’t lie.” Inwardly he flinched, then he smiled. “I haven’t told her about not remembering her name, do you think I should?”
Marek stared at him. “I was honest and look where that’s left me.” Then Marek had a weary chuckle. “But Lynne isn’t Klaudia. I’m sure she senses something is amiss within you, I see it on your face. I’ve seen it since….”
Eric shivered. “Yeah, I’ve been trying to decide if I should tell her and how. She brought up me talking to you today, then you called and….” Eric wouldn’t go to a doctor, for there was nothing to be done about his arm. But if Lynne pressed him, he could spill one secret. “My God Marek, you don’t know how this’s been weighing on me.”
Marek nodded, but didn’t meet Eric’s gaze. “I feel the same.” Then Marek smiled. “I am so glad you’re home, and that too is partly selfish, although I have cultivated a strong friendship with Lynne, Laurie too.” Marek chuckled. “I’m so looking forward to seeing him and Stanford next month.”
“Me too, although….” Eric shared the New Yorkers’ reaction to Lynne’s letter. “When Laurie called yesterday, he didn’t ask to talk to me. It’s gonna be a rough few days when they first get here.”
“It was the same for Klaudia and me.” Marek sighed. “I wonder why she was reintroduced into my life. God works in ways beyond my feeble comprehension.”
“That seems to be the story of my life right now.”
Marek reached for Eric’s right hand, gently clasping it within his own. “I recall that very same sense of confusion. Please don’t hesitate to speak about this Eric. We’re here for you, and we’re also praying for you.”
Eric smiled, grasping Marek’s hand with all the strength he possessed. “Thanks.” He then used his good hand to wipe his face. “I need all the prayers I can get.”
“We both do.” Then Marek began the Lord’s Prayer, but Eric didn’t join him, unable to speak. When Marek finished, he offered intercessions on Eric’s behalf as well as those both men loved.
Marek ate supper with the Snyders on Friday night, during which Eric shared the contents of a letter from Callie Bolden which had arrived that afternoon. Callie admitted he and Susie were shocked by Eric’s generosity, but would put the money to good use. In addition to a buying new car, Callie would add onto their house, as well as improve the building where Susie taught school. Eric didn’t need to explain to Lynne and Marek the segregated nature of life in Karnack, but he lamented not sending extra money to the Boldens. “I don’t want them spending all of it on indoor plumbing. Maybe we can send another check and….”
“I’m sure they’ve thought this through.” Lynne patted Eric’s left hand. “They’re not building themselves a new house, so it will be fine.” She stood, taking empty dessert plates to the sink. She returned with the coffeepot, filling the adults’ mugs, putting the percolator back on the counter. She didn’t retake to her seat, standing behind Eric, gently rubbing his left shoulder. Cary rested in his grasp, Jane in Marek’s arms. Lynne sighed softly. “He said they were surprised by what you’d sent. Astonished is probably more apt. If we ever visit them, you can reassess what needs to be done.”
“Have you considered traveling there one day?” Marek asked.
Eric nodded. “Looking forward to meeting those babies. Might not be so small when we do head east.” Eric gazed at his infant daughter, then chuckled. “Cary might have six months on those twins, but….” Eric’s eyes watered; Callie had written that Dora was doing well, and that the furor of last month had all but disappeared. Essie and Hiram had moved to Oklahoma, but a warrant for Pop’s arrest was still active, yet Eric hadn’t mentioned those details to his wife and pastor. “We’ll get out there one day. I wanna see Walt and Dora’s new house, so there’s plenty of time.”
Eric spoke of those people like they were long-lost relatives. He harbored no ill feelings toward them, missed seeing Luke’s bright smile. Every time he thought of Tilda, Renee’s face popped into Eric’s mind. He didn’t wonder if that was due to what Tilda knew, or just that she was a Texan version of Lynne’s best friend. The Aherns were coming over tomorrow for dinner and Eric hoped Paul wouldn’t be troubled. Eric mentioned that, in part to change the subject. Lynne released his left shoulder, then sat back in her seat. “Actually, Renee called this afternoon. Paul’s come down with a cold, so we’ll try again next weekend.”
“Well, that’s too bad.” Eric wondered if the child was truly sick. “Is Ann okay?”
Lynne nodded, but wouldn’t meet her husband’s gaze.
Eric sighed, motioning for Lynne to take Cary. Then he stretched his left arm over his head, but didn’t ponder anything more than what he had previously taken for granted. His thoughts ranged from integrated facilities and cracking his knuckles to…. He felt as he had right after meeting Lynne, but before he told her about turning into a hawk. That news hadn’t driven her away, yet if she knew about the Bellevues…. Eric stood, then caressed his wife’s right shoulder. Who he had been in Texas needed to stay out of his life in Oregon. There could be no crossover other than correspondence with Walt and Callie. Maybe the Snyders wouldn’t visit Texas for several years; perhaps Eric could let those relationships wither. He firmly squeezed Lynne’s shoulder, then removed his hand. No longer was he John Doe, although who he was as Eric Snyder remained to be discovered.
Marek yawned, then chuckled. “All right, that’s all for this cleric. Jane, I’ll see you soon.” He kissed the top of her head, then moved her from his lap. Marek stood, then approached Eric, shaking his left hand. “This day has been an answer to many prayers. Thank you Lynne for sharing your spouse this morning, and of course for this lovely supper.”
She nodded, but didn’t speak as Marek put on his coat. Eric stepped to the counter, where pie waited in a spare tin. How many evenings had they shared dinner, Marek taking home dessert, yet this felt wholly altered. Was it Cary, that Jane was so big, or…. Eric handed the tin to his pastor, who gazed at him kindly. Eric nodded, then gave Marek a one-armed embrace. Marek responded in kind and both men chuckled. “Be patient with yourself,” Marek said softly. “My prayers are with you.”
“Might see you on Sunday,” Eric said after clearing his throat.
“That would be wonderful, but take your time.” Marek then spoke in Polish to Jane and Cary, finally offering one more goodnight in English. He saw himself to the door as Jane called out her farewell.
Cary began to fuss, so the family moved to the living room. Eric added wood to the fire, then joined the rest on the sofa. Jane jabbered in English and Polish, making her father laugh. Lynne only murmured to Cary, then she stared at her husband. Eric nodded, holding her right hand in his left. Now he always sat on her right side, had that been the case before? He winced, then sighed. “Before is starting to irritate me probably the way it once bothered you. But all we have is right now.” He stroked her hand, which stoked deeper sensations. Eric was overcome by youthful passions flavored by marital dependence. “I love you so much Lynne, but I have to tell you something.” He paused, seeing in her eyes a need for answers. He swallowed hard, hoping what he was about to tell her would satisfy that desire. “Yours was the last name I recalled.” He caressed her face, finding how soft was her skin as a few tears trickled along her cheeks. “I couldn’t understand how I was remembering other parts of my life but not your name, then Marek pointed out maybe that was due to….” Eric recounted that conversation and Lynne nodded, but still she wept. He wasn’t sure why she cried, but he prayed it was simply that he was making this confession. Then he asked God to let this admission be enough. “Anyway,” he added, “I just couldn’t keep this to myself anymore. I’m sorry baby, I didn’t mean to make you worry or….”
“Oh Eric, I knew there was something you hadn’t told me.” Lynne began to sob, then she laughed, putting Cary in the Moses basket. She reached for a nearby burp cloth, wiping her face, then trying to blow her nose, but the material was too thick. Eric pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, and she used that, then chuckled. “Honey, you can tell me anything. I love you.”
He nodded, but didn’t speak, instead kissing her. If not for their daughters, Eric would have initiated further necking, but Jane started to holler, Cary wailing in harmony. Parents pulled from one another in laughter, then tended to their children. As Lynne again blew her nose, Eric smiled, relief flooding all through him. He would carry one secret to his grave, making certain his wife and daughters never knew that side of him.
The next day two letters arrived in Oregon; Luke’s drawing of his family didn’t disturb Eric’s newfound peace, or his relative calm; all night Eric had dreamed of living in Walt’s shed, Lynne knocking on the door, but Eric hadn’t granted her permission to enter. He pushed that dream aside, introducing his family to the Richardson clan. Luke’s illustrations weren’t much better than what Eric could muster, and Lynne attached the picture to their refrigerator. Eric glanced at it throughout the day, not feeling overt discomfort. Having proffered to Lynne a small portion of his guilt, Eric believed his past wouldn’t further trouble him or those he loved.
Marek felt little peace upon reading Klaudia’s brief note, in which she ordered him never to write to her again. Marek nearly called the Snyders, wishing to share this with Eric, but he refrained. He did telephone Jeremy Markham, cancelling their poker game for that evening. Marek spent the afternoon working on his sermon, then he put on his coat and wraps, taking a long walk. He ran into Mrs. Harmon, who seemed ready for an argument. But she merely lectured him about the impending daffodil season, then sheepishly bid him farewell. Marek inwardly chuckled, finding small relief in her abbreviated tirade.
When he returned from his outing, he made tea, then sat in the kitchen, staring at the painting, then to his usual seat; he sat where Klaudia had, and tried to see this room from her perspective. Yet her vision was narrow, also clouded, and how much of that was his fault? If he hadn’t slept with her at all…. He sighed, sipped his tea, then burned his tongue. What I deserve, he thought to himself, again gazing at his image. He was grateful Eric had painted it in profile, for the joy Marek possessed when near Jane, and now Cary, was hard to hide. He cared about those little girls, had briefly wondered if fatherhood might ever come his way. Making love with Klaudia had exacerbated it, but Marek’s feelings for that woman weren’t solely tied into making a family with her. He ached terribly for again losing her, but this time no one else was to blame.
Marek considered calling her, although again that was an egocentric thought. It was the middle of the night in Oslo, and how furious would she be if he rang her now? He smiled, for how much angrier could he make her? She’d not had a temper when they were younger; she was so much like his sister in that both girls were usually giggling about this or that. Marek closed his eyes, the image Klaudia had described now vivid in his mind. Ania was wrapped tightly against their father, but not at all safe. Yet Marek couldn’t dwell on that catastrophe; his entire clan was happy and well inside Eric’s blue barn.
Marek kept his eyes shut, concentrating on various relatives celebrating within that structure, however his presence wasn’t sought. His parents mingled with their siblings while Ania and Dominik chatted with cousins. Warmth rose in Marek’s chest, then he opened his eyes, a smile on his face. How grateful was he to have met Eric, and how blessed was that particular canvas.
The evening passed quickly; Marek finished the sermon, ate supper, then prayed in the chapel. As he rose from his knees, he felt dizzy, then seated himself in the pew nearby. He took deep breaths, his vision a little blurry. As it cleared, he focused on Christ’s image behind the altar. Again he was struck by how sanitized his savior appeared. “Perhaps it’s better this way,” Marek said aloud. “If we were to see you as you had actually been….”
Marek gasped as pain in his temples cut short his words. Then he cried out in anguish, leaning over, gripping the sides of the seat. He felt as stricken as when the Missile Crisis occurred, wondering what disaster had brought about this, or maybe it was a delayed reaction to his own guilt. The headache lasted for several seconds, then it disappeared as quickly as it had set upon him. Marek opened his eyes, blinked a few times, then stood, no aftereffects plaguing him. He returned to his knees, beseeching God’s forgiveness, then prayed for all he knew. When he stood, he paused, but felt fine. He went to bed, praying until sleep overtook him.
The Snyders didn’t attend church on Sunday morning, but the Aherns slipped into a back pew just as Marek began the service. When communion was offered, Renee got in line, Ann in her arms. As they stood in front of him, Marek noticed Renee’s bloodshot eyes, although Ann was in a good humor. To Marek’s astonishment, Renee sought out the bread and wine, and Marek offered those sacraments without hesitation. He blessed Ann, wondering what family issue had occurred.
After Marek gave the benediction, the Aherns remained in their seats until everyone had gone. Marek walked toward them; Renee seemed calmer, yet Sam looked as if he hadn’t slept. Paul fidgeted while Ann colored on a large pad. “Good Sunday morning to you all,” Marek said, joining them in the pew. “What a lovely way to begin my week.”
Paul glanced at Marek, then returned to fidgeting. “Doesn’t the week start on Monday?” the child asked softly.
“For most, but not us pastors. Do you have plans for lunch?”
“Do you have caramel slices?” Ann smiled.
Marek chuckled. “I’m afraid not, but there’s a new package of baloney, or maybe some of Lynne’s nice peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”
Marek said Lynne’s name deliberately. Paul went to his feet, staring all around the church. “They’re not here are they?”
“Who?” Marek asked.
Paul shoved his hands in his pockets, then frowned. “I don’t ever wanna see that man again.”
Marek grasped Sam’s hand, a firm squeeze offered in return. Marek released Sam’s hand, then stood. “Well, right now it’s just the five of us. Shall we head to the kitchen and see what I can find?”
Paul sighed but Ann clapped her hands. “I wanna stay for lunch. Mommy, Daddy, can we?”
Renee nodded. “I’ll take the kids to the restroom. We’ll meet you fellas in the kitchen. C’mon kids, let’s go.” She gathered Ann’s things, then stood, leading Paul and Ann to the other end of the pew.
Marek offered a hand to Sam, then helped that man to his feet. “What brings you here today?”
Sam shook his head. “Paul’s having a bad reaction to Eric being home. We were supposed to have dinner there last night, but….” Sam sighed loudly, following Marek to the kitchen. “This morning he didn’t even wanna go to church, then Ann brought up coming here. Renee and I thought he’d dismiss that too, but he said okay. Which seems strange, I mean, they could’ve been here, but I’ll tell you, I’m sure glad they weren’t.”
Marek turned on the kitchen light as Sam sat at the table. Marek pulled cold cuts and jam from the refrigerator, then took peanut butter and bread from the cupboard. He left those items on the counter, taking a seat beside Sam. “What has he said about Eric?”
“Nothing more than he doesn’t wanna see him. Maybe he thought just Lynne and the girls would be here today, hell if I know.” Sam crossed his arms over his chest. “Sorry Marek, it’s been a hard week.”
“Well, you came to a good place today.” Marek studied Sam’s face; lines were prominent, but his eyes were as blue as usual. Marek felt as if the barn sat in Sam’s irises, then children’s voices made Marek look toward the door. Paul entered first, Ann on his heels, Renee behind them.
Paul sat on the other side of the table, also crossing his arms over his chest, staring at the floor. Marek hid a smile, for the boy looked exactly like Sam, yet he didn’t make eye contact. “What will it be Paul,” Marek asked. “Meat or PBJ?”
Paul barely lifted his head. “Um, peanut butter and jelly please.”
“PBJ for two,” Marek smiled. “Unless someone else wants one,” he said, looking at Ann.
“Me too,” she giggled.
“Sam and I’ll have baloney. Actually Pastor, you sit. I’ll….”
Marek shook his head. “Renee, allow me.”
She nodded, walking to where Paul still glowered. She pulled out the chair beside him, but he shook his head vehemently. “Don’t sit here,” he mumbled.
“What did you say to your mother?” Sam asked.
Paul grunted, then mumbled what to Marek sounded like an apology. Renee gently ruffled Paul’s hair, then sat next to him.
During the meal, Ann asked about Jane and Cary, Aunt Lynne and Uncle Eric. Every time she mentioned Eric, Paul flinched, although when she spoke about her uncles in New York, Paul made no notice. Several times Ann spoke to her parents, referring to them as Mommy and Daddy. When Paul did speak, he omitted any reference to who he was talking. Purposely Marek answered once on Sam’s behalf, which caught Paul’s attention. “I didn’t mean you,” he said.
“Then who did you mean?” Renee’s voice was soft.
Paul shook his head, then motioned toward Sam.
“You mean Daddy?” Ann asked.
Paul nodded, then froze. Slowly he stood, then looked at Marek. “Can I be excused?”
Marek’s temples pounded and he briefly closed his eyes. When he opened them, tears trickled down Paul’s cheeks. “If your father says it’s all right, of course you can be excused.”
Paul stared at Marek, then he gazed toward Sam. “Can I?”
“Yes Paul, you can.”
Paul ran from the room and Renee went after him as Ann asked what was wrong. Sam tried to stand, then he plopped back in his seat. Marek went to his feet, patting Sam’s shoulder. “I’ll be right back.”
“Better you than me right now,” Sam muttered.
“Daddy, what’s wrong with Paul?”
Marek exited the kitchen to Ann’s quivering voice, hearing from the chapel a little boy’s howls and a mother’s attempts to sooth them. When Marek reached the vestibule, he saw Renee on the floor in the middle of the aisle, Paul sobbing in her lap. Marek stayed where he was as Renee stroked her son’s head, telling the distraught child how much he was loved and that no, they weren’t going anywhere.
I started this novel in October 2013; at the time, I assumed I’d be penning another short story, the form I had been working in for much of that year. However, with one installment left to publish, The Hawk currently stands at over 700,000 words. Never before have I embarked upon such a large project.
Over the last three and a half years, other than poems for NaPoWriMo, I have written nothing else. Quilting has overtaken some of my free time, as has caring for my family; recently I have become a grandmother. I have also nursed my father through the end of his life, which fell upon the heels of my first grandchild’s arrival. Now with time to write and revise, I have chosen to share this behemoth in a beta-type manner. Part Twelve will most likely be released in late autumn, but please bear with this author while grandchildren, fabrics, and a new familial normal take precedence. In the meantime, thank you for joining me on this journey, which is a search for my Father as well as Eric’s. As this is a novel in progress, comments concerning this tale are welcome and can be sent to annascottgraham at gmail dot com.
Anna Scott Graham was born in 1966 in Northern California. A mother and grandmother, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, some hummingbirds, and numerous quilts.
Other books by [+ Anna Scott Graham+] are available on Shakespir.