Time Of Our Death
By Paul D Aronson.
Lori agreed to accompany me to the hospital to find out what we could about survivors, but she wanted to stop off at home first to check on Dawn. With Donald off wandering, and Brian accompanying Kelly to her house, it was just Lori and I once again returning to our neighborhood of South Maine Heights. We walked by my house first, but we didn’t stop. The lights were out ands cars weren’t in the driveway. My parents still weren’t home , and it was starting to concern me. Where were they? This time of the evening, they would normally be home, but ever since the accident they were just gone.
At Lori’s house however, everyone was home. Both her parent’s cars were in the drive, and once we passed through the walls and into the house we discovered everyone was sitting down to dinner. Her mom and dad sat across from one another, engaged in conversation about his work day, while Dawn occupied another place at the table, eating in silence. I noticed her Mother had a haunted, far away look on her face, as if she wanted to interrupt the whole meal and scatter food all across the table in anger. But as it was, she kept it contained, much to my relief. Even if that anger was self directed, I didn’t really want Lori to see it.
There was a spot at the table for Lori. The chair was pulled out as if they were waiting for her to walk in and place herself in it. An empty plate with knife and fork sat on the table in front of it. One of her family had even poured a glass of sweet tea and set it at the place setting. If I had to guess, I’d say it was Dawn, as she was the only one at the table drinking tea. The parents seemed to be having coffee with their meal and were oblivious to Dawn, who kept looking over her glass at them. Like her mother, it looked like she had something to say, but just like the adults she didn’t talk about any of the things that bothered her.
“So I guess I’ll be training a new supervisor next week,” her father said. “I hate that, but what can you do? Dennis isn’t coming back to work. It’s hit him too hard. Sammy was his world.”
“I guess I was nobody’s world,” Lori said sadly. “Because nobody is even talking about me.”
“They did set a place for you,” I tried to reassure her.
“That was Dawn. Dad has always been too wrapped up in his work, and we know what mom has been doing. They could care less.”
“I’m sure they love you.”
“I’ll take the next couple days off,“ her dad continued, oblivious to our conversation. “We’ll decide what to do and make whatever arrangements we need.” He sighed, and I could see the pain written on his face. Lori was wrong; he really loved her. Finally, he looked at Dawn. “Life must go on, baby. As difficult as it is, it is the only thing we can do now, okay?”
Dawn opened her mouth like she was going to lodge a protest, but then just looked down at her plate. She set her fork down right in the middle of her food. “Do I have to go to school tomorrow?” She finally asked.
Her mother looked at her. “We can’t stop living because Lori…”
“She’s not dead,” Dawn muttered, but they still heard her.
Her mother reached her hand across the table and touched the girl’s own. “Dawn, we all love Lori, but we have to face what has happened. There’s no use in pretending. She’s gone. There’s nothing we can do.”
The little girl looked up. “We can pray that God finds her and brings her back home.”
Her father hung his head. I looked at Lori. She was crying. I reached for her but she sat down in the empty chair at the table. “I’m right here, “ she sobbed. “I haven’t gone anywhere.”
“Sometimes,” her father said, “God’s wisdom is different than ours. He knows what is best for us, more than we do. She was on that bus; now she’s gone. She’s not going to come walking through the door. You have to understand that.”
Lori swiped her plate across the table, and it went over the edge, crashing to the floor. “I’m right here!!” She screamed, tears streaming down her face. She knocked the glass of sweet tea over. She let out an anguished wail and reached for her sister, who had suddenly slid her chair away from the table in fear.
I grabbed Lori, wrapping my arms around her, and dragged her out of the seat. “No, don’t!” I shouted at her. This was going all wrong. I had to get her out of there, or at the very least talk her down to some level of calm. I held her back against my chest. “You can’t do this. You have to stop. It’s just going to scare people.”
“I’m scared,” she cried, struggling against me.
“Shhh, I know. I’m scared too, okay? But we can’t disrupt their lives anymore than its been already.”
We both looked at her family. No one was saying a word, but all were freaked out by what happened. Her mom’s face wore an expression of terror. First the library, now this. Her dad had a look on his face that was pure confusion. Had he missed something? Did Dawn jerk the tablecloth to make everything go flying, or had she reached over and just swept the plate in the floor while his attention was diverted to her mother? He seemed to be the kind of man who always sought rational answers, but this was defying his own judgement. Dawn herself had a completely different reaction. She was looking around the room everywhere, eyes cast in every direction, at the ceiling, the walls, the floors. She knew something was off. That maybe someone or something was in the room. She just couldn’t see it. Her mouth opened in a silent “Lori,” but her parents missed it. The message that her big sister had left her earlier was still fresh in her mind, and this was just adding to it.
“Lori, we have to go. Don’t do this. I know you want them to know you are okay now, but this isn’t the way to do it.”
“What is the way to do it then?” She asked, amidst her tears. “How else can we talk to our families?”
“We can’t,” I replied. “We have to let them find their peace. In each other. If we interfere too much, we stop the process. We add more confusion and grief. We have to let them go.”
“I don’t want to.”
“I know. That’s natural. It’s okay.”
Her sobs and cries were starting to subside. Her parents were beginning to look at Dawn with suspicion. The younger sister was picking up the broken pieces of plate and putting it back on the table. She righted the glass, and with her napkin began sopping up the tea. They didn’t say a word, but watched her go about her task in silence.
“I think I’ll go to bed now,” she said, and turned around to go.
“Dawn,” her father said, carefully choosing his words. “It’s going to be alright.”
She nodded. “I know, daddy.” Then she left the room, her bewildered parents looking at each other, hoping one of them had the answer to what had happened. Neither of them did.
Lori followed her sister up the stairs. I decided to hang back and give them some privacy. There are some places a boy just doesn’t belong. Even dead ones. Instead I went outside and sat on the porch. The rain was still coming down steadily. I imagined some of the lower lying streets in town could be flooding with all the precipitation. Perhaps even the banks of the Murray were overflowing. It made me wonder what that meant for the sunken bus. I glanced across the yard to the house next door. I didn’t know who lived there, but I could see the flickering light of a television through the window. At this distance, I couldn’t hear it, but I could just barely make out what they were watching. The news.
I got up and walked over. An elderly couple were inside the house, but I moved about freely without any of the odd vibes younger couples got. Perhaps as we get older, our senses dull and we no longer feel those unseen presences in our lives. A cold draft is just bad insulation. That shadow out of the corner of our eye is just our imagination. Because of that, I was able to sit down in the room with them and watch television just as easy and peaceful as sitting down with my own grandparents.
The news reporter on the television was of course talking about us. The storm and continuous rain showers had slowed down rescue efforts. In addition, the driver Mr. Mills hadn’t survived the crash. Because it had been impossible to question him, no details on the cause of the accident were known at this time. The sheriff’s office was saying the accident had been called in from a nearby phone booth, but trying to locate this witness was proving difficult, as no prints had been taken.
This made me wonder who could have seen us go off the bridge. A fisherman perhaps? Maybe someone out for a morning jog? A motorist broke down on the side of the road? Wait a minute, I thought. I did see somebody that morning. On the other side of the bridge as we started across. A work truck or van broke down it seemed like. It was straddling the road, but I wasn’t sure if it had completely blocked our path. I think the hood had been up as if someone were working on the engine, but I wasn’t positive on that. The vehicle had been white and might have had writing on the side, but either we were too far away or I just wasn’t paying attention.
I closed my eyes, trying to bring my memory of the day back into focus. There had been something on the side of the vehicle. A picture of something. A bee hive perhaps? Maybe an insecticide can? An anthill? It was all vague and fuzzy. What would these images be doing on the side of a truck unless it was…oh crap, I thought. I have seen these images. On the side of a van outside the theater. It wasn’t the same vehicle, but the design had been the same. The man and the woman coming out of the theater. She had been upset by the movie. They had gotten in the van. Was it Carter’s Exterminating? And then it hit me. Lori’s dream. She had dreamed of bugs.
I ran through the wall and out into the rain. Dashing across the yard back to Lori’s, I entered the house through the dining room hall shouting her name. I knew no one but her would hear me. Mom and dad were still in the room talking in hushed whispers. I bounded up the stairs and hoped I wouldn’t barge in on anyone’s embarrassing moment. But it was quiet on the landing, and when I dared to peek into the rooms, I discovered Dawn laying across the bed, still in her clothes and sleeping.
I called for Lori again, and there was no answer. Where had she gone? I had only been gone a moment. I made a mad run through the house, passing from room to room calling for her, and yet there was no sign of her anywhere. I passed through the floors all the way down to the basement. Shifting through the hanging bed sheets that served as walls for her bedroom, I stopped short. She was laying in the floor beside the bed. She looked up at me weak and frightened.
“I don’t feel so good.”