All evening the wind howled and raged and tore at the house as if trying to level it, and a deep restlessness settled over me so that I paced the floor or stared sightlessly out the windows or knelt to rub Sheba, our little black angora rabbit, who in that way of familiars instinctively inferred something was amiss. I downed a beer and went to bed and lay there listening to the rhythmic slap slap slap of a loose shingle and the rattle of storm windows and felt the bed beneath me vibrate and thrum. The clock’s pale glow emphasized the emptiness of the room and nothing more. Closing my eyes brought no sleep but a view of a wooded knoll crowned with two stately pines and a sense of unfinished business down a narrow dirt road I did not want to go, and a question I was afraid to ask: what would change with her coming?
After a while I rose and made a pot of coffee. As it brewed I sat on the floor rubbing Sheba, who curled against me like a cat, and when the coffee was ready I told her I would return around midnight or a little later. At the last minute I slipped the Glock under my shirt, though I could not say why.
There were other questions of course, some half-formed and floating unspoken on the edge of consciousness, others that would come later. One I wanted answered was whether the dead depart or in certain circumstances are imprisoned in places where violence has occurred. Even considering it bordered on a madness that seemed all too proximate, so I tried to shunt it aside. Once raised, though, forever invoked: It clung to me like a second skin.
The night was sound and motion and a force battering at the door. Opening it unleashed a hurricane that rocked me back, and only with effort did I push back and exit the house. The plastic end table we keep by the door was missing and the trash can knocked over. The former was out by the street, legs upraised, rocking wildly in preparation for further flight. I retrieved it and stood listening to the gale roaring through the trees, a raw, elemental dissonance of mindless fury. It was easy to imagine pioneers in their ill-jointed soddies going mad from the sound. Madness I understood. It was madness to stand there beneath the creaking, groaning trees, already splintered and weakened by ice and now strained by winds funneled up from the Gulf.
I thought of a tree where a man had hanged himself and recalled the terrible emptiness I’d felt after reaching out and touching the rough bark.
After the howling and buffeting, the interior of the truck was anti-noise, more than silence, deeper than stillness. The sudden transformation was almost unnerving, but a respite, too. Beyond the thin layer of glass the nightworld churned and danced and I was immune to its cadence, sealed within my own atmosphere and realm.
At the end of the block a stop sign shimmered in the wind, wildly flapping back and forth as if angrily trying to free itself. Small branches skittered across the road like fleeting thoughts, briefly passing from darkness to light and back into darkness. The city looked different, a mere five hours’ time difference between my normal commute, and yet a quantum leap. Businesses normally closed were brightly illuminated and peopled, houses lit that were normally dark, vehicles traversing streets normally haunted by foxes, feral cats, and opossums. I felt like a stranger though one with a darkness in my soul and a loaded handgun sitting on the seat beside me.
It was the final disconnect. I would throw myself into work in an attempt to exorcise the wakefulness and something more, something that came to me when I left Washington earlier that afternoon. I had just crossed the bridge over Mill Creek and saw the knoll and felt a stab of loss as I sometimes do, but this time a different emotion welled up, one of breathless anticipation. But it wasn’t an anticipation coming from within—it came from the knoll, distinctly and clearly, and with it words that were not words, a statement fully formed, unsummoned and unmistakable: She’s coming.
Rattled, I wondered if I were injecting my own thoughts into the moment, but as the hours passed I mulled over the experience and grew more certain at what happened. Lori was gone to work and the house empty and in that emptiness fertile ground for imagination or clarity, depending on where one believes that nebulous demarcation lies.
She’s coming. Judy Burkett, the widow of Robert Glenn Bennett, was due to arrive in Washington for the weekend, and we were to meet at her request as friends. No news articles or interviews, merely a private act of closure privately administered, in and out, no fanfare and then the long miles back to Alabama. The newshound in me reluctantly agreed but I understood and could no more than accept her wishes. I would want the same for me.
But her coming created a storm of emotions and raised questions I found both fearsome and fascinating. And in asking those questions opened myself to a place outside the normal boundaries of existence, a place that once entered holds no escape or release.
And then there was that voice. I hesitated to even consider it or give the idea legitimacy, but if what I’d felt crossing Mill Creek was real, it seemed I was not alone in expecting her.
(Conclusion next week)