Chapter Twenty-nine: Compelling Memories
Gerry cackled. "You say that now, but you wouldn't have said that when you were alive. You never had to wear hand-me-downs, did you? No, I thought not. I never had a pair of shoes that were new until we moved here from Portugal. People around my village just traded shoes off from child to child as they could, and in the warm weather, we didn't have shoes at all. None of us had a problem with our weight -- we were all about two days from starving most of the time. Pai had a couple goats, so we had milk and some cheese, and some kids in the fall for harvest festival, but that was it. We relied on God to get us through."
"But you make it sound like a wonderful place to live, in spite of not having a lot."
"To be honest, I remember it better than I liked it. You know how when you remember things now that you're dead, you can see so clearly things you didn't notice when you were alive? I didn't miss our village when we came to California to my uncle's dairy, and I was suddenly able to have knit gloves and white socks and hear a radio right in our own house, not have to go to the cafe to hear music and news ... but now, I can see how sweet our life was, in spite of the hungry days, the cold days. The sweetness, of course, came from living so close to God, to Mary and the saints, to the angels."
"Saints! I completely forgot about saints! Where are they, anyway? For that matter, where are all the other dead people? You're the only ghost I've met this whole time. And Desai is the only angel I've seen."
Gerry frowned a little. "I've only met two other ghosts, myself. One of them was Joao Souza, a man who went to our parish. He couldn't leave, just kept crying because his wife didn't hear him when he tried to talk to her. He's gone now, though -- I guess I helped him enough. He was so sorry for himself that he couldn't think of anyone else. We spent a couple weeks just watching the people come to church, listening to what they talked about among themselves, learning how their lives had troubles, and praying for them together." Gerry's spectral face gasped. "Now that's odd ... I'm looking back at that time and ... I'll be back, there's something I have to look at again." With that, she left Roj standing alone.
"Well, I'm not just going to stand here and count mice in the gutters," Roj grumped, leaping into the air and sailing to the top of the high-rise hotel near the theaters. From there she could see Highway 99, with its unending flow of north-south traffic, a veritable vein and artery of life, with cars and trucks and motorcycles the blood cells of California.
"I've been thinking about my death, and I realize now that they weren't coming for Matt," she said aloud. "Matt's desk was downstairs. They were coming for me -- maybe because they couldn't find him at his desk, but then, they wouldn't have shot him at his desk in the middle of a bunch of police officers. So they were, after all, up there on the second floor because that's where I worked. Shit, if I'd just gone over to the Gallo Center and called Matt and told him to meet me there, maybe I'd still be alive."
"Right, Desai, that's immaterial, because what was -- is. I'm just doing what humans do, okay? Think about what happened, so we can learn from it, kind of like how a kid uses a pencil to figure out a maze, and backtracks until he gets it right. So I'm wondering, if I had known they were actually coming for me, would I have been so angry at these perps ... and if I wasn't so mad about them trying to kill Matt, would I have bothered to try to do something about it?"
Desai folded his arms and shimmered.
"So my pointless rampages ended up touching a lot of people's lives -- granted, sometimes not in a good way. I don't think anyone I've encountered since my death has been interested in gentle hints about how to lead a wholesome life. But now Canada Girl is in the slammer, where she can't contribute to Max's evil schemes, Max himself is pushing his luck with his cronies, Costaine left the scene of the crimes, and I'm guessing that Garrison and Hennessey are going to jump ship, too -- Hennessey because he knows he didn't put that wallet there, but forensics is going to find only Garrison's and Hennessey's fingerprints on it, and Garrison is probably getting pretty nervous about his printless mystery guest who keeps wrecking his office and who befouled his lovely Berber carpet. Does that help any of them? I don't know, and you've taught me not to worry about that. They will do what they will do."
"Don't forget the positive things you have done, Roj. The alley addict you terrified has since entered a rehabilitation program, and attracts much attention by telling them her story about seeing a horrific vision that she believes was sent by God to scare her straight."
Roj laughed. "Cool!"
"You called attention to Danny Chuster's body, and so it was not desecrated by insects or rats. That was also a good thing to do. And what of Laurella Haines? What would have happened to her and her children had you not intervened?"
"That's one I'm not even going to speculate about. That was sick." They watched the highway for a while. "All those people in all those cars, so many of them -- and each has the holy breath of God in them ... I'm guessing that most of them don't even know that, just like I didn't."
She turned to Desai. "Was there ever any time in the world when people -- most people -- knew about God's life being within them?"
"No, not most, not even in the very beginning. It is the nature of humanity to feel a sense of other-ness, of individuality. To feel a one-ness with the Other -- any Other -- is nearly always a surprise. Like you and Matt, for example. Both of you were quite astounded by the depths of your love and how it brought you into togetherness, as I recall. In fact, the creation of human sexuality is one of the ways the Most High shows a path that can lead people to awareness of Union; first the union of human love, then the gentle unfolding of what greater union is possible with the Creator."
"Hmm. I hope I'm not horrible because I still don't understand God very well. I mean, I've seen posters and billboards and heard TV preachers that say 'God loves you' but I can't say that those words had the same effect on my heart as hearing Matt say, 'I love you, Roj.'" She held her hands open to feel the light drizzle in the air, which was not wet, but was more of a pleasant tingle.
"When Matt showed you his high school yearbook, and you saw him on his football team, your reaction was--"
"To laugh out loud!" Roj said in merriment. "He was the shortest player on the team, skinny and goofy-looking. Good point, if I had known him then, I wouldn't have had the same reaction at all. If I had met him back then, and he said, 'I love you,' I probably would have stuffed him into a bleacher trash can." She paused. "And yet he was the same Matt I'd come to love with all my heart."
"Hold that thought, Roj, it is a good insight. But there is another love in your life that may provide some other direction. Your mother, who drew you back to North Dakota with her song."
Roj remembered her mother's face in the light from the window; along with the sorrow and longing, there had been an effulgence of love that shone from her, a love that didn't rely on a living daughter, just the one that was. Her arms longed to encircle her girl-child, and Roj was drawn back to memories of being held: before she left for California, when her mother hugged her hard, and now Roj could see how much her mother wanted her to stay, how afraid she was for the daughter who was going halfway across the country to a strange and potentially dangerous place, how difficult it was to be cheerful and enthusiastic for her child's success. That was the last time she saw me alive. Ah, Mom. There was the hug at her graduation ceremony, and how her mother glowed with pride at Roj's completion of so many years of study, and imagined with elation all the grand adventures ahead of her. Long before that, the consoling hug when Sammy Whitmore dumped her for the cheerleader, with crackling of anger at the boy's insensitivity, and cringing knowledge that Roj's first heartbreak wouldn't be her last. Sitting on her mother's lap at nine, while her mother's comforting arms around her supported her, weeping, as her brush-burned knees were cleaned after a gravelly bike wreck, radiating a desire to protect her offspring's skin from pain or future damage, a kind of wall against the world, however temporary that might be.
Her mother's arms. Roj, amazed at the movement in her mother's belly bulging like a pumpkin with Sheldon before he was born, putting her hand on the pregnant abdomen above her mother's forearms which cradled the lively brother-to-be. She loved him before he was born. She's like a furnace, shining with love, warming his world. She'd have been like that for me, too. She told me that I was good company for her while Dad was at work, that she'd tickle my feet through the wall of her belly just to feel me kick in response.
"Mom loved me so much, and that's just one more thing I didn't take in while I was alive. Not really. I mean, I knew that she loved me, but I didn't -- I couldn't -- comprehend just how much."
Desai nodded, and they sat companionably, pointing out traffic violations to each other. "I have a question for you, Roj. If you do not wish to answer, you do not have to, but I am curious. Why have you not gone to check on Matt?"
"Not yet. I have to ... I don't know what, but there's some key I need, to know how to help him, and I don't have it ... I felt like I was getting close while Gerry was talking to me ..."
"Matt is all right, this I may tell you. He is eating all his food, although he refuses to talk to his doctors and nurses. His right hand is in a cast because he broke multiple bones in it while punching Boonie Jones' face."
"Boonie Jones -- the Third Turd?"
"In the trio who shot me: Duchamps, the guy who slipped in pigeon poop, and the one who came to shoot Matt in the hospital. I think of that guy as the Third Turd."
Desai seemed to shake his head in perplexity. "There may come a time -- I do not know if it will or not -- when I would like to converse with you about the human trait of Naming. But now is no longer the time for a leisurely chat between us. You and Gerry must continue to help one another. I will show you where she is, and you may go to her if you wish."
"I do wish. Lead on, and thanks for the update on Matt. I appreciate that greatly."