Hero of the Quotidian
It was in the golden, grasshopper-drenched spring of my eighth year that I first purposed to become a police officer, when I watched the grim-faced deputies arrest and carry away Phillip Jurnigan, the hatchet-faced man who had murdered my best friend, Calvin. Later, in the waning days of that endless Florida summer, dangling my tadpole legs from the hard oak bench in a hushed rural courtroom, I raptly listened to the solemn oratory of the prosecutor’s opening statement, gripped my father’s hand tightly and quietly resolved to become an attorney instead. Seven days later, as I observed the precise, skillful and devastating cross-examination of the witnesses, and the steady, inexorable presentation of irrefutable forensic evidence by Horace Addison, the veteran white-haired attorney for the accused, I considered becoming a criminal defense attorney.
By the time the jury returned its verdict of not guilty, it seemed a mere technicality, and it was with profoundly mixed emotions that I watched Jurnigan, one arm draped across the shoulder of his lawyer, walk down the coquina stone steps a free man. Most everyone’s attention was drawn to the austere visage of Jurnigan, searching his implacable countenance for some sign, yet I could not tear my eyes from Horace Addison, solid as a cannonball, smiling broadly, stopping occasionally to shake a proffered hand, stepping with authority, exuding confidence. He had known from the beginning, I remember thinking, that he would win. He just knew. I longed for that type of certainty.
Even now, when I close my eyes I can vividly recall the heavy scent of orange blossoms hanging in the humid evening air, the familiar ratcheting burr of the cicadas homesteading in the towering Australian pines bracketing the courthouse, the dusty yellow, curly-tailed dog skulking around the edges of the crowd. And, when I squint hard I can clearly see the sweat-streaked face of Calvin’s father, pushing through the crowd, silently mouthing words. I see the big pistol rise up and over the heads of the bystanders, the shooting flames, the deafening roar, the cherry bomb smell of burnt cordite. And, finally, the tumbling body of Phillip Jurnigan, followed by that of Horace Addison, parting the screaming crowd like startled pigeons, coming to rest in a heap on the hot macadam street. Mostly I recall the thick, white, lion mane of Horace Addison, matted a cruel red, and his parted mouth, pearl-white teeth streaked crimson, silently opening and closing until it finally stopped moving at all. And, though I was just a little skipper at the time, barely big enough to pull the slack out of my drawers, my mind was fully formed on the subject from that point on.
That’s how it was in my eighth year, after my mother had disappeared but before the tuberculosis took my father, before the state took me and running away became more than just a metaphor. All I ever wanted to do was be a lawyer, the hero of the day, a daily hero, and save the innocents. It was my sole grounding dream. It was a good dream. And, even when later that same year fate’s indifferent razor gutted my life and ripped everything else away, it was my dream still.
To this day, in my mind’s eye, that trial performance by Horace Addison remains the finest demonstration of a criminal defense attorney’s skill and dedication that I have ever witnessed, and given another time or place it would have been the stuff of legend, grist for the Hollywood mill. But, it was a backward, hardscrabble, pine tree county, unafraid of death, populated by alligators and armadillos, and its import has long since faded away, leaving only the faintest tracings in the minds of those who toiled in life’s margins. Many years later, not long out of law school and not fully trusting my memory, I had the trial transcripts transcribed, poring over them to reassure myself that my inspiration was grounded in fact. My searching fingers traced across the flimsy onionskin as the scenes once again played themselves out. It was all there, just as I had recalled, even better, now that I was able to better appreciate the subtle legal nuances.
As it was, Jurnigan had lived and Addison died. Calvin’s father ended up at the state penitentiary in Raiford, chipping away at a forty-year sentence. The next year they caught the man who had sodomized and murdered Calvin, after he killed two other boys in a more or less identical fashion. Following his confession he was tried, convicted and sent up to Raiford where, in due time, he was executed. Some years later, so I heard, Calvin’s father braided a rope from his blue denim work pants, slung it over a beam in the prison chapel, and hung himself. But, that’s another story.
* * *
You’ve folded back your memory like a soft, familiar blanket and it lies at your feet, a faithful, curly-tailed, dusty yellow dog, ignorant of the sins of its master. You lean into the long wind, searching, your eyes scanning with a fierce vigilance that energizes the spirit. Where you once dared to believe that life was good, you now search intently, far beyond the temporal sky where Orion commands the southern firmament, forever locked in battle with his eternal enemy, Taurus. You listen intently for the terrible song, even as your soul recoils at the prospect of a life’s balance spent accommodating an impulsive moment in time, of a Mephistophelian bargain you never knew you struck.
There it is, a corrupt blight on the cerulean horizon. Your spirit contracts as it approaches, this inky cloud, swinging, turning, flying toward you like some youthful fantasy, sweeping and rolling across the swaying expanse of emerald saw grass, toward you, raining down the detritus of a life shattered on the rocks of unrealized potential. The voracious dystopian shadow passes through its valley, howling its dreadful song, searching relentlessly, for you, approaching inexorably, suffocating in its awful certitude, and you turn your face against it. Your search for life’s unrehearsed moments has ended and you reflect in the final moments on what you might have done differently, for grace always seemed to be just one revelation away. You struggle, resist, but your feet appear locked in destiny’s embrace, and now the shadow has your scent, that of total despair, so you just lean into the long wind, feeling for the comfort of the blanket at your feet, until you realize it is no longer there. The shadow embraces you, silencing all light, and you finally accept the way it is.
* * *
She lived on a mountain-framed plateau, close enough to the Pacific to feel the kiss of its breezes, yet far enough removed to partake of the unique temperate microclimate. The capacious adobe house was typically Mexican with its high, wooden-beamed ceilings and cool tile floors. A high, white wall surrounded the house like a modest skirt, punctuated by cactus, banana trees and splashes of colorful bougainvillea. In the center of the interior courtyard a cool, blue-tiled fountain gurgled amid the scent of lemon trees hugging the air. Outside the walls, jasmine, sandalwood and blooming jacarandas vied with frangipani trees and orange hibiscus for the attention of fat black and yellow bumblebees. The house stood as though posed by an artist, the distant sparkling ocean waves glittering like a million shards of glass, set on a timeless, mysterious landscape teetering between arid and tropical. A sprawling house, a little old, a little tired, but as it should be. At least that is how I remember it.
Some twenty miles to the east, across a wide, spectacular valley inhabited by chattering monkeys and gangs of colorful parrots, loomed the cloud-shrouded hulk of Kukulcan, a not-so-dormant volcano both feared and worshiped by local Indians. Or so I had heard.
I remained hidden in the jungle at the clearing’s edge until day turned to night and the cool mountain air drifted down to chill my sweat-stained shirt. Then, I crossed the back field, scaled the outer wall, slipped through a colonnaded archway and noiselessly entered the darkened courtyard. I carried no weapon.
Directly ahead was a set of large French doors framed in dark wood, open to the gentle breeze rustling the palm fronds. Through the doors I saw a motionless figure on a couch facing me, wearing dark wraparound sunglasses. Straining with concentration I took in every feature offered through the shadows. The neatly coiffed hair was even blonder than I remembered it, not a strand out of place. My breath caught and my heart began pounding. Pushing myself deeper into the vegetation, I struggled to regain my composure and steel myself for my purpose. The begging question again raised its head: What in the hell am I doing here? Self-analysis was my foe, though exactly why, I could not say. So I leaned on the question with both hands, as a man leans on a chest during CPR, pushing it back into its box before it could fully form. And when, in turn, I questioned that response, I leaned on that, and so on, like a never-ending hall of mirrors, until what remained was pure instinct. Just as rapid word association strips away the facade of pretense and convention, leaving the true essence of personality to reveal itself, so my actions were the distilled essence of who I was. This is who I am. This is what I am. I yam what I yam!
The tired looking woman on the couch stared ahead, a sphinx in Ray-Bans. I clenched my teeth, reminding myself why I was there, then stepped through the open doorway into a large room, facing her squarely. She made no movement, neither surprise nor recognition, and for a fleeting moment I feared that I was too late, that she was already dead. The shiny glasses made me think of a mounted insect, and then I recalled that she suffered from macular degeneration. Perhaps she was blind by now.
“Shostakovich,” she finally said, as if resuming a conversation only briefly interrupted. The voice I remembered as smooth, like polished gemstones, was now unnaturally husky. My heart began racing again and I considered whether she was speaking one of the countless foreign languages she had mastered. My attention was drawn to several large, colorful abstract paintings mounted over the long couch. I recognized her distinctive painting style.
“Dmitri Shostakovich,” she continued, waving her hand towards the sound system from which the strains of a string quartet wafted. “The composer. He was a true prodigy. So gifted. If you listen closely you will hear how he makes use of the musical equivalent of a monogram — D, E-flat, C, B. It is so beautiful.” She spoke without moving her head and it was impossible to see her eyes. “But, he was shattered by Stalin’s secret police. Silly politics.”
Even in my anger some part of me admired her coolness. Coming from someone else her comments might have sounded pretentious, but the fact is, she was the most cultured and knowledgeable person I have ever known. She spoke with authority on any subject, from science, mathematics, geometry or history, to literature, art and music. Color, music, numbers and geometry, she often lectured me, were the fundamental language of the cosmos, transcending our three-dimensional plane. As a younger man I was often forced to consult a dictionary or encyclopedia following a conversation. But, she never spoke in a showy, didactic manner; rather, she simply expected others to be on a par with her. In truth, she was caught between the depth and complexity of her own thinking and the intellectual inadequacy of her audience.
“Nine years,” I finally croaked. Despite the countless rehearsals of this very scene, that was all I could come up with. I felt vaguely foolish. She had a way of doing that to everyone. It was her art.
“So, did you come to kill me, darling?” Her voice sounded like dry cellophane.
‘That’s all you can say after nine years?” I struggled to regain my lost script.
“Is that all you can say?”
“You destroyed me. You stole my dream, ruined my life, everything I worked for….”
“Everything we worked for.”
“You betrayed me.” I willed the rage to come forward, to well up and overcome reason. It was always so easy when I practiced, and I wondered why it was now so hard to hate.
“Yes, I did.”
There it was. The admission momentarily stymied me. I expected excuses, evasions, justifications, cajoling, even begging. An oppressive silence filled the room. A macaw’s distant screech gnawed at my consciousness, followed quickly by the unmistakable guttural roar of a hunting jaguar.
“I tried to help. I left you a quarter of a million in cash, darling. Remember? You turned it over to the police. How foolish.”
“It was stolen money! If I had used that money it would have been a tacit admission of complicity.”
“So, then, you did consider keeping it?”
“No.” I protested, wondering why I was on the defensive, “I am not a thief. I did not invest all those years at law school just to throw it all away over stolen money. It’s a matter of principle.” I heard my voice trailing away.
“Always thinking like a lawyer, darling.” Despite the dark glasses I imagined I could see those piercing green eyes, the ones she used to probe my soul like a surgeon’s lance.
“And, after they forfeited your house, your cars, your boat and your bank account, I hired the finest criminal defense team in the nation. I paid them anonymously, in advance, cash. And you refused to accept them. You ended up with a federal public defender. A martyr complex did not become you.”
“You just don’t get it, do you? I am not a thief. Your stolen money did not interest me. You think that if you steal millions of dollars, it makes it special? Like it isn’t theft? You bankrupted companies in six states. You left hundreds of people penniless, robbed of their life savings, their dreams, their—”
“How melodramatic. You sound like that prosecutor in his closing argument at your trial. The sermonizing does not become you, either.”
In the sudden silence I heard her labored, wheezing breath. The faint, mellifluous ballet of the string quartet made me feel as though I were playing a part in a movie, with Shostakovich trying to reveal God through the notes of a violin.
“I’m not here to reason with you,” I said, drawing myself up and locking eyes.
“So, why are you here? To kill me, or for the money? Or both?” The cellophane voice crackled and she cocked her head in that wav she had of drawing you in.
“The hell with that money.” I spat the words out like red-hot rivets. “Do you have any idea what nine years in prison is like? Nine years! Can you even fathom a life totally reduced to the mere hope of survival? Do you know what happens to lawyers in prison? Nine years for something I did not do? Nine long years of scornful laughter at my claims of innocence? Betrayed by someone I loved and trusted with my life? Can you even conceive of it?”
My rage left me breathless. I was once very good at thinking and speaking on my feet. I earned my living doing it. But now I fumbled for the right words, the ones that would reveal the scars on my soul. I felt out of place, as if in a dream.
”Have you considered that I found you, picked you up out of a Key West gutter, a lost, frightened, little runaway boy? I took you in, molded and shaped you. You owe me everything that you are and all that you will become. Have you considered that?” She spoke dispassionately, belying the emotions of her words, as if once again instructing me. Then she stood up, visibly trembling, the hem of her gown shaking.
To my left I saw a blur of movement. A short, thick-limbed Indian had quietly entered the room. I recognized Squanto, her ageless, faithful Mayan servant of many years, first in Guatemala, later in the Caribbean and now apparently here. He silently accepted his inapposite nickname, loyal to a fault. His face was impassive but his liquid obsidian eyes were questioning. She turned to address him and I saw the deep, wrinkled wattles garnishing her neck like folded parchment. When had she gotten so old? She instructed Squanto to return to his room and remain there. Having finally learned Spanish in prison, I understood most of what she said.
“I was an attorney,” I said vehemently when we were again alone. “An officer of the court. I took my responsibilities seriously. It meant something to me.”
“How noblesse oblige.”
“I was committed to working within the system,” I continued, wondering why my words suddenly sounded foolish to me, “and stolen money, or the fruits thereof, is not part of the system. It isn’t just all about money. It can’t be.”
“No? Why do you think it is called a system?”
“I thought you knew me better than that.”
“So did I.”
“I had dreams,” I countered. “Goals. A vision for my life. You took it all away. In one moment my entire future disappeared.” My voice cracked as my emotions escaped my grasp. “I signed all of those papers trusting you. I never knew. I never knew! I trusted you, dammit, and you betrayed me.”
“True betrayal can only occur in the presence of true love.”
“Love?” I sputtered. “It was you, not love, that betrayed me.”
“Your principles betrayed you,” she shrugged.
I stared at her, the hatred coming easily now, pushing away the mountain of exquisite shared memories, those beautiful times of achingly special magic. The poet claims there exists a thin line between love and hate. Mine was flint hard. A sudden, uncontrollable surge of pure, raging hatred rose up like bile until a crimson mist curtained my tunnel vision. A thick, numbing detachment overcame me as I felt myself moving towards her, aware but powerless to stop, tightly gripped in the emotion of Cain. In my dreams, my fantasies, I invariably used by hands.
“I always believed your spirit would overcome even your deepest sorrows,” she said with infinite sadness, her warm breath caressing my face.
Those were her last words, though I did not recall them until later. She stood stoically, seemingly resigned, even as my hands wrapped around her neck, as if offering herself up in a sacrament of penance. With power that startled even me, I throttled her violently, squeezing ever tighter until her glasses flew off as an involuntary gurgle escaped in protest. She never resisted, yet still I squeezed, transmitting my fury like an electrical current, watching her bulging green eyes search for absolution. Finally, her body went slack while her eyes glazed over and rolled back, until they looked like small, white boiled potatoes. Even then my fingers tightened their grip, digging ever deeper into the flesh, until my burning forearms rebelled and her limp body fell to the sofa.
I stood mute, willing my heart to stop pounding, fighting to catch my breath. It was done. Now I had to think clearly. With extreme deliberateness I took long, deep breaths, forcing down the panic. Slowly, methodically, I inventoried my options. It was strange how, in my fantasies, I”d never thought past this moment.Now I had no real plan.
I picked up the sunglasses and placed them back on her face. Pinching her jaw until her mouth opened, I stuffed her tongue back inside, wiping the saliva off on her gown. I arranged her body on the couch, laying her out and folding her hands neatly across her belly. For the first time I noticed that she wore a wig. Pulling it back I saw that she was bald. Staring down at the woman I had once loved beyond reason, I strove to decipher my feelings. I was a killer now and there was no turning back. There was also a witness. I knew what I had to do.
A distant troop of howler monkeys exploded in a riot of cacophonous alarm calls — something was hunting in the jungle.
Moving quietly through the darkened house I found the kitchen, then rummaged through the drawers until I found a large, cruel-bladed boning knife which I slid behind my belt, feeling the cold steel against the small of my back. For good measure, a six-inch steak knife went down my sock. I’d learned a lot about knives in prison, more than a man should have to know.
Passing back through the big room I carefully edged down a hallway, listening at each door. “Squanto,” I whispered hoarsely. “Squanto!”
The house appeared even larger inside than out, and I was soon lost in the labyrinth of rooms, stairs, alcoves and hallways. Suddenly Squanto materialized before me like a silent wraith, his dark, shiny eyes boring into mine. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as my gut tightened. Squanto remained motionless, enigmatic, and I suddenly remembered that it was I who had been calling him.
“She’s dead,” I offered suddenly, without thinking. Then I unnecessarily repeated myself in Spanish.
There was no discernible reaction, only his black eyes glittering with question. Finally, he nodded deliberately. “Yes,” he responded, as if assuring himself of something he already knew. “She knew it would happen soon. She was expecting you. We hoped you would arrive sooner.”
I stood rooted in bafflement, as unsure of his meaning as of my next move. Cold, greasy sweat slid down my back along the knife’s edge. Turning slightly, I began easing my hand towards the knife handle.
“She wanted to speak with you before she died. That is all she spoke of —” I tried to ignore his words, concentrating on his shirt button where I would thrust the blade. My fingers touched the wooden handle.
” — but the cancer was bad. Muy malo.”
Cancer? Frozen with indecision, my body swayed, suddenly lightheaded from a rushing kaleidoscope of thoughts and emotions. “Cancer?” My voice stuttered, cracked.
“The many trips to the towns and villages weakened her greatly. But she loved the children, and seeing their faces kept her alive.” Squanto made the sign of the cross against his chest.
“How long? How long did she have cancer?” My mouth felt numb, my voice sounded strangely distant.
“Two years now,” he replied sadly. “The doctors did all they could, but there was no hope.” Squanto paused, hesitated. “We will call for the doctor in the morning.”
The doctor. My mind raced with the implications. I had to stall.
“What did you mean…going to the towns and villages?” My empty hand dropped to my side.
“Come.” Squanto beckoned, then slipped past me. I followed silently as he led me up a wide stone staircase into a high-ceilinged library with walls of built-in bookcases, where he pointed to a massive, ornately carved desk crafted of dark Honduran mahogany. Neat stacks of books were arranged on the top. “It is all in the green book.”
I slowly sank into an old leather chair, feeling the knife dig into my back. Eyeing the books, I noted some titles, recognizing Pater, Keats, Shelley, Byron, Wordsworth, Swinburne and other Romantic poets. A large, well worn Bible lay to my right. Next to it lay The Phenomenon of Man, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosacrucian Symbolical Philosophy by Manly P. Hall. Alone in the center of the desk was a large, green leather-bound ledger. When I opened it, the faintest essence of her perfume floated up like a faded promise.
Squanto was right, it was all in the book. Dating back over two years, page after page, column after column of figures and explanatory notes in her beautiful, florid script, showing how she had given away money. The amounts were staggering. To hospitals, schools, orphanages, every type of charity and philanthropic organization imaginable. The Red Cross, Salvation Army, St. Jude Children’s Hospital, American Cancer Society, on and on, millions and millions of dollars. Suddenly I felt very small.
“Every morning she picked a new village. Then, I would drive her there and watch her pass out American dollars to the poor. They loved her, especially the children. But it was very hard on her, very hard.”
“But, surely, with this kind of money….” I shook my head in disbelief. “With modern technology, medicine….” My voice trailed off. “I just cannot believe that this cancer could not be treated.”
“At first she tried. The doctors were hopeful. But —” Squanto looked away. “After that, she saw doctors only for the pain. She was ready to die.” He hesitated, then added softly, “I think she was punishing herself. This was her way of—” He did not finish.
Squanto pointed, indicating a metal strongbox. I pulled it to me, noting its heft. Inside were a dozen thick bundles of American hundred dollar bills secured with rubber bands. Turning to face Squanto, I caught myself in mid-sentence. Over his shoulder I saw a large oil painting. It took me a long moment to recognize myself against a sparkling tropical sea, the sun high in an impossibly blue sky, smiling back from the canvas. My arm was around her waist. A floppy straw hat perched playfully on her head, failing to hide those green, green eyes. With vivid clarity I recalled the scene, at her languid, low-slung island home on Long Boat Cay, Bahamas, where we often retreated for fishing trips. The date on the painting was this year and the oils seemed barely dry.
“She loved you very much,” he said quietly, following my gaze. “She spoke every day of the time when you would return.”
Not for the first time, I wondered just how much Squanto really knew.
“Her fear was that she might die before she could give it all away. The fear, I think, kept her alive. She said if she died you would know what to do.”
Turning back to the ledger book I calculated that she had eight different bank accounts, six mutual funds and three stock brokerage accounts in five countries under nine names. She had already given away over a hundred million dollars, as best as I could determine, and with almost two hundred million dollars left it was clear that she had invested well. Apparently she conducted all transactions by mail.
I don’t know how long I sat there, lost in thought, until the plan formed in my mind. It seemed fitting, on balance. Having already been charged, convicted and punished for stealing this money, it seemed only right that I could now dispose of it. At her insistence I once took calligraphy classes, part of her notion of what constituted a cultured individual. I became quite skillful with the pens. Picking up her silver Mont Blanc I began practicing, and within twenty minutes I’d mastered the different signatures.
Straightening up, I took a deep breath. “Squanto,” I said, pulling the knife from behind my back and laying it on the desk, “I have a plan.” He eyed the knife warily, grunting noncommittally. “We have a lot of work to do,” I continued, pulling the steak knife out of my sock and laying it down. “We are going to give it all away.”
For the first time the old Indian smiled, and I began writing the checks, backdating each one by several days, consulting with him occasionally. By the time I was done the sun was rising above the eastern mountains and dust motes danced in the golden beams of light. I was very tired.
“Where will you go now, Squanto?” I asked, closing the green book.
“Home to my village.”
“Guatamala?” I recalled that Squanto came from an ancient Mayan village deep in the interior, a mysterious region called el despoblado, “the uninhabited land.”
“Yes. My village is called San Miguel. The true name, though, is Ixtamacojo. I have nobody else and no place else. I have served the senora many years. Now I am old and I will go home.”
“You should go now. There may be trouble later. I will take care of things here.”
“She must be buried.”
“I will do it. But you must leave now.” I handed the strong box to Squanto. “There is enough money in there to buy everyone in San Miguel a new house.”
“We are very poor. We need a hospital. Roads. Good water. And a school for the children.”
“Yes,” I agreed, handing him the largest check I ever wrote. “This is for you. From now on they can call you the mayor of San Miguel.” I smiled faintly.
“Yes,” he said as I stood up. “Yes, I would like that.” He returned my smile.
“We have done the right thing,” I said finally, searching his face.
“There is nothing else we could have done.”
“That is true,” he replied, not unreasonably. Then, taking my hand, he shook it firmly, said something in a language I did not know, and turned, leaving the room. Ten minutes later I heard the Jeep grinding its way down the rutted road.
Picking up the boning knife, I made my way downstairs until I stood before her lifeless body. In law school they teach you that even if the reasoning behind a judge’s decision is erroneous, the ruling can nevertheless be upheld on appeal if the ultimate outcome is correct. In the end, it is the result that counts.
I brought the knife blade up against my neck, feeling the sharp, cold steel caress that spot where my carotid artery pulsed. I reflected on the body lying before me, soon to be interred in the black volcanic soil outside, as dead as my childhood dreams of being the hero of the day. Had I ever truly known this woman at all? In the end she was an enigma, as perhaps was I. Perhaps in the end we all become what we resist. With that thought, and befriended by that peculiar euphoria which accompanies a supremely decisive act, I stretched out beside my mother in the dawn’s early light.
* * *
You choose to lie down, your heart burdened from the gravity of a lifetime weighed in the balance and found wanting, a life lived in places where others cannot go, less than the sum of its parts. You cast your eyes upon a landscape littered with the soft fruit of the mistakes you have earned. You reach back, far back, to a time when your life was stitched to the rising and falling fabric of a small boy’s world, of golden grasshoppers and dusty yellow dogs, of desperately wanting to be the daily hero, but try as you might, your reach exceeds your grasp. You wonder how and why it all went so wrong, and whether you at least get points for effort.
It occurs to you to pray, but the fear that you might receive justice rather than mercy stops your throat. So, weary from your struggle against a tide of regrets, knowing not what else to do, you lean into the long wind, searching, listening for its mocking song, until you finally sense the approach of that familiar dark shadow, its thundering hooves in tune with the beating of your own heart, its melancholy song echoing back to a time long ago. Squinting your eyes shut, you hunker down, struggling, resisting, according to your nature, until, finally, with a wretched gasp you hold up your frail human fallibility like Orion’s shield and choke out a prayer. And, in that singular moment out of time you again feel your father’s hand tightly gripping yours, and finally, in that moment, the shadow ceases to sing.