Yes, yes, I know…every chapter is revised and revised and there are never any new ones! I promise, 3.0 is in the works…it’s halfway done. I’m posting this because a couple of you (and I ) thought that “it” happened too quickly. It’s still fast and it’s meant to be, but this at least gives “it” a little more context as well as some more insight as to Brian’s past. Anyway. If you like reading my multitude of editations, please read on. If not, well, that’s ok too. =)
The Foolish and the Weak 2.2
The pancakes were hot, swathed in peanut butter and laced with maple syrup, the coffee black and bitter with the grounds that had slipped through a torn filter. Brian pushed back his chair and carried his plate to the sink, savoring the last few minutes of peace and quiet but entirely undaunted by the promise of a day in the sun with two boys. If they were back by two o’ clock, he would still have time to rain-proof the garage.
“Not on the concrete, Matthew!” Jen called out the window to where the boys where playing in the front yard. “You boys can run on the grass, but I don’t want you on the…”
“Jenn, they’re boys. They’re supposed to get hurt – sometimes scraped knees are good for them!” Brian said, slightly and irrationally annoyed as he always was when Jenn tried too hard to keep the boys safe. He could have bitten his tongue out a moment later when sudden hurt flickered over Jenn’s face. “You know…as long as it gets cleaned out and cared for afterwards,” he added, softly.
“With a paramedic for a daddy, I don’t think Matthew and Christian get to choose whether their cuts and scrapes get disinfected, bandaged, and whatever else it is you do to them,” Jenn replied, stirring her coffee that was mostly cream. She closed the window halfway and returned to the little kitchen table. The wounds faded from her eyes and turned to penitent regret. “I know I worry too much about them, but seriously – Matthew freaks me out! Yesterday he climbed up on the roof and he dragged Christian after him…they were playing that they were mountain climbers, he said.”
She paused. A shadow fell over the tiny, morning-bright kitchen, and Brian knew what was coming next. It always did.
Not now. I don’t want to deal with it all over again. Not today, not this morning. This morning the sun is bright and all the world is new, and the agony of that night does not belong.
But if it helps pull you, the real you, out into the light?
Darling, I would give up anything in the world.
Brian pushed his pancakes away and held his breath; waited for her hesitant probing of the scabs.
“But…” Jenn went on softly, “even so I wish. I wish that…things could have been different. That we could have had more.”
Brian poured the last inch of grainy black coffee down the drain and watched the boys from the window. “Yeah.” A startling clank as the mug bounced in the steel sink.
Years ago in a hospital room. Hours and minutes and seconds of pain, fear, numbness…
The second time she had nearly died.
When it was finally over, the utter agony complete once more, they sat in the in the silent white room which was the shadow of the gates of death. They sat there with their new-born son and waited for the doctor to come in and tell them what they already knew.
She could never carry another child. She would not survive a third pregnancy, would never live through the births of the children they still longed for. They were lucky, or blessed, or whatever they were supposed to call it, just to have Matthew and Christian, just to have Jenn there and alive and breathing. But there were pieces of each of their hearts, long ago given to a third and fourth child and never claimed…
“I’m sorry, Brian,” she whispered, childishly looping her arm through his. “We wanted so much…and now it won’t be.” A long, shuddering sigh. “So many things won’t be.”
“Yeah,” he said again.
So many things won’t be. So many…but that doesn’t matter now. What matters now is now. Us.
He pulled her close to him and rested his chin on her hair, let her fill his shirt pocket with the tears that four years had not entirely washed away. “It’s not your fault,” he breathed.
That night in the hospital room, a single petal was released from its protective embrace and for a moment he saw the golden center.
Matthew’s sturdy voice interrupted them from outside. “Dad, are you ready to go? The bikes and helmets are ready and Christian’s filling the water bottles.”
Really it wasn’t so bad that the bike riding venture had taken so long. The weatherman had promised that the rain wouldn’t arrive until early next morning and it was nice to get out, get clear-headed and clear-hearted in the open air. Brian pulled his sleeve down over his watch and deliberately relaxed his tensed muscles.
There was still time.
Nine years ago he had thought that there was too much time to spend alone wrapped in his own sorrow. There were too many years ahead to live without something to do and someone to love. Now he was getting tired and there was still time. Maybe he wouldn’t last…but he didn’t have a choice now. He had made that choice a long time ago.
Up ahead of him two small bikes split the lacy four o’ clock shadows. They were close to home now, very close. Just ahead, Matthew was looking both ways before he crossed the second-to-the-last street. And there was still time.
Maybe someday, if there was time enough, he could face the truth that haunted him. The truth of a pickup truck stalled on a rainy night and
By some sudden, gut-wrenching flash of intuition, by a dream never forgotten, he felt it coming a millisecond before he even saw the car. But now there was no time, not enough to say the word that would hedge the boys within the safety of the sidewalk, no time…
Squealing tires, the roar of a fleeing engine. A license plate number seared into his mind like a brand. The metallic tangle of a little blue bicycle, and intertwined with it the bleeding wreckage of his son.
Brian dropped his own bike, felt the pavement reaching up to crash against his feet as he ran. Christian was already there, kneeling next to the damp, twisted heap that was Matthew.
It’s happening again
God, don’t do it…don’t, don’t!
No time, not even to pray. Just work. He’s not breathing
He stretched out his arms instinctively, watched his son’s thin chest pump up and down under his frantic fingers. Heard his own voice shouting hoarsely, idiotically at Matthew to breathe, to have a pulse.
1, 2, 3, 4…there’s too much blood
I have a cell phone in my shirt pocket and there’s a number I’m supposed to call
Matthew. Matthew, stay with me.