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Friday, October 14, 2011

FICTION FRIDAY: One More Time, Chapter 23B

One More Time, Chapter 23B (Second half of the Chapter named "The Wreck"
“Who is that man—or rather those men—who have been hanging around, Paul?” Evelyn asked. “There was one on Monday, a different one Tuesday and Wednesday, and the first one’s back again today.”

Paul sighed. “They’re from the Sheriff’s Office. You might have read in the paper they got Sarah’s car out of the Agua Fria. The police think I was responsible. They still haven’t found her. The trouble is that it could be months before they find a body, if there is a body. I still wonder if maybe she might have gotten out of the river and someone gave her a ride somewhere. I know it’s a stretch, but sometimes people do lose their memories, don’t they? I mean, she could be wandering around with the homeless people, wondering who she is.”

“Paul, sit down,” she said, and he did. Evelyn got up from her desk and shut the door. In her sixties, Evelyn was a mother figure for everyone in the office, and Paul knew he was probably in for a lecture, gentle though it might be.

“You know the chances of her getting out of the river are pretty remote. These are hard words to hear, I know, Paul, but you need to accept the probability she won’t be coming back. I won’t tell you to pick yourself up and go forward with your life, because I know you need time to grieve. But listen to me—Sarah is no longer with us. I think you know that, deep down.”

Paul groaned. “Yes, I guess logically I should know that, but my heart doesn’t agree. I can’t believe that I won’t ever see her again. I can’t explain the feeling. Maybe it’s because I want so much to have a chance to start over, maybe it’s because I just have this feeling we’ll be together again.”

“You might be, Paul, but I don’t think it will be in this world.”

“I wish I believed in an afterlife, Evelyn, but I don’t. I sometimes envy you your belief, but I don’t subscribe to it.”

“Don’t tell me you’re one of those people who just think the universe just happened by accident.”

“Well, it’s either that or some being or beings caused the Big Bang and then stood aside to see what would happen. I’d rather believe that there is no God than believe there is a God who allows all the hate and cruelty in this world, who just sat there and watched Tamara die.”

“Hmm. You want God to have created puppets that have no choice but to obey Him? That’s the only way no evil or sorrow would exist in this world.”

“Well, maybe not puppets, but if He exists, He shouldn’t let bad things happen to children. Tamara did nothing to earn the misery she went through before she died; nor did she deserve to die.”

“Do you see dying as punishment for something?”

“No. Dying happens to everyone. My view of life and death is that when you’re dead, you’re dead. There is no heaven or hell, no reincarnation, just nothing. Tamara was just a baby. She will never experience the joys of falling in love or having her own child. Sarah and I’ll never see her grow up, and we won’t see the grandchildren she might have given us. And speaking of Sarah, the chances appear slim that I’ll see her again, either. Everyone I’ve loved has been taken from me. What did I do to deserve that?” As soon as he said it, Paul’s mind flooded with images of things he had done or said that weren’t what anyone would call “good

Evelyn shook her head. “I don’t see death as punishment either, but as the spirit’s—or soul’s, if you prefer—release from a body that no longer has the ability to live. There’s a lot of good in this world, Paul, including Tamara. Have you counted the blessings of having her in your life while she was here? That child was an angel in disguise if there ever was one.”

“Yeah, ‘too good to live’ I think is the phrase used by one of our friends,” Paul said. “If that’s not an overused bit of hypocrisy, I never heard one.”

Evelyn winced. “I agree. Every once in awhile, though, I hear a child giggle and it always makes me think of Tammy. She had the most infectious laugh. There are a lot of good people in this world, Paul. It may be hard for you to see them at this time, but they are there.”

“Yeah, you’re right, I know a few,” Paul said. “You’re one of them, Evie. Now, I’ve got to go or my students are going to think the police have hauled me off.”

Paul left her office feeling down. He knew it wasn’t her intention to make him feel this way. Evelyn was about as good-hearted as they came. What I told Evelyn was true. I have this unshakable feeling that Sarah is somewhere waiting for me, and that feeling keeps growing, despite all the logic in the world.
Paul left for home from work a few weeks later, his police tail following close behind. They didn’t follow him every day or watch his house every night any more. Either they got bored or they didn’t have enough people to spare.

Paul drove on the I-101 Loop freeway approaching the Arizona 60 Highway. He kept a close eye on the truck ahead on his left. It meandered off the highway and back into the wrong lane twice. The driver might not be paying as close attention or be sleepy. He waited for a while for the truck to pull over to the lane he should be in, but the trucker hugged the left, sometimes speeding up and sometimes slowing down. Paul gave up and started to pass on the truck’s right. The truck on his left drifted into his lane. Paul had nowhere to go. He slammed on his brakes.

The crunch of metal was deafening and the pain unbearable. Both truck drivers jerked their vehicles away from him, but it was too late. The car came to rest in the center of the freeway, three other cars sliding into him and more into them.

The pain stopped, and Paul opened his eyes. What’s this? He floated somewhere above the accident, looking down at the mess below. The County police car was one of the casualties, but the policeman was okay. He climbed out of his vehicle, talking into his shoulder mike. He ran forward to Paul’s car and looked inside, then pulled back, shaking his head. Paul could hear him talking to someone.

“It doesn’t look good,” the officer said. “Too bad—especially since you found his wife and he could have been cleared of suspicion. But I don’t see how he could survive this.”

An ambulance arrived in short order. Paul wondered how it got there so quickly.

“They were already close by—on Peoria approaching 101, in fact.”

With a start, Paul noticed a Man standing beside him. The Man was dressed in a glowing white robe. In fact, it seemed like the Man Himself glowed.

“Who are You?” Paul asked. “What’s going on? Why am I up here?”

The Man laughed. “So many questions. I have one for you as well. Do you want to see Sarah?”

Paul nodded. “Yes sir, more than anything.”

“You have a choice. You may go back to the car or you may go to Sarah and Tamara.”

Paul realized he was signing his own death warrant, but he answered without hesitation. “I choose Sarah and Tamara.”

“Then come with me, Paulos Anthony Johnson.” The Man extended His arm.

Paul reached for His hand without hesitation. When their hands connected, Paul smelled honeysuckles and heard a rushing wind. He was glad the Man held him. He felt like an unmovable rock in the middle of a killer storm. The Man pulled him through what felt like a black widow spider’s web, and the next thing he knew he stood on a dirt street wearing a brown robe, dozens of people staring at him.

Some of the people turned and ran away from him, into the town. Some gathered around him speaking in a language he hadn’t heard before. Oh, wait, maybe he had. He began to understand what they said. It sounded like a thousand questions hurled at him at the same time.

“Aren’t you Paulos?” “Where are your walking sticks?” “Where did you come from?” “How are standing without your sticks?” “How did you get through the gate?”

Paul didn’t know how to answer any of the questions, so he just stood there, bewildered. This didn’t look like any version of Heaven—or Hell—he’d ever heard of. And didn’t the Man say he was going to Sarah and Tamara? Where were they? Most of the people were shorter than he was, and he began to look over their heads.

A little girl in the same type of strange clothing as he and the others wore wearing away from a woman who looked like—wow!--like Sarah. The little girl screamed “Papa” as she ran toward him. He began running toward her, pushing past people in his way. He stared for a moment in shock, then picked her up and hugged her so tight he made her squeal. He shut his eyes. If this was a hallucination, he hoped it would last forever. When he opened his eyes, Sarah had reached him, and she was crying, holding her arms out to him. With a heart overflowing in gratitude, he pulled her to his side and held her tight.
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