There is a man. He is standing outside of a bar. His back is up against the wall and he rubs his hands down her arms as she shivers. She is already jaded and bent from each time he’s exposed her. Her scars illuminate in the lights of the streets. She’s a battered woman, though his fist has never hit her, his morning casualty and tip-toed exits strike her every time. Fully clothed and in eight-inch heels, she stands before him naked. Bruises make her cheeks swell. Lacerations on her heart reveal a sad song she knows the ending to. His breath smells like vodka and lies, but she tastes it anyway.
“Let’s get you out of the cold,” he says, leaning forward and kissing her ear. Her heart is hopeful. He has said all the right things and kept his attention solely on her as if she were the most beautiful girl in the room. They’ve been through this before but this time will be different. This time he will fall in love with her, she can feel it. Somehow he convinces her that it will be warmer with their clothes off.
“You know I love you,” he says, brushing a strand of her hair behind her ear. She hopes he means it this time. But he doesn’t. She swigs her whiskey and pouts her lips. She thinks she looks strong but he watches how her fingers tremble. Each time he kisses her it hurts. She dreamed for months that he’d remember her and tonight when the phone rang, it didn’t make a sound. The room stood still, the world stopped spinning and she clutched her broken heart. She answered and gave him a time and a place and then ran around the room collecting the pieces of her dignity and trying to press them into form. She bats the lashes of her eyes and imagines him being entranced by their rhythm. He’s not, but he pretends.
As he lays her down, he glances out the window to make sure his truck’s engine is running. He won’t be staying long.
There’s a woman. Her phone finally rang with the name she had been praying would call. Her fingers stiffened as she fumbled to press the correct button that would close the gap on their distance. His voice would sound like music and she couldn’t wait for her favorite song.
“Are you okay?” she asked, while biting her lip. She squeezed her eyes tight and held her breath.
“I’m still okay,” he whispered. His voice cracked.
They talked about all he had seen. The death he had met. He told her that the ground reeked of sweat and blood and how he hated that he was growing used to the smell. His lips were dry and he licked them again. He told her about the children screaming. They had told him there would be shrieks but no one told him about the children. He swallowed back tears and his eyes ached from suppressing them for nine months. She told her soldier how she wasn’t sleeping well and that felt familiar because neither had he. Every time he closed his eyes he saw himself placing a black cloth bag over the head of a man he didn’t know. He had never had so many dreams about one stranger. He felt connected to him now, more than all the other men he’d known.
“I miss you,” she whispered.
He was afraid to open up those closet doors. There was no one physically around who could help him close it. “I’m sorry,” he answered her. “I won’t be staying long.”
There is a little boy. He creeps up the stairs to his mother’s room. The door has just slammed and the yelling has stopped so he hopes his father has left for the night. He hears her stifled tears the closer he gets to the edge of her bed. It’s the sound of pain and sadness strangled by a pillow’s case. He couldn’t miss that sound anywhere. It’s the sound of his childhood. He pushes the door open and she lifts her eyes to meet his. They are swollen and one is bruised. Purple finger prints are left around the most beautiful angelic neck he has ever seen. Her feathers are lying all over the bedroom floor. He wants to gather them and squeeze them in his palms. The glow of her figure is growing dimmer by the second.
“You need to leave him,” he says, hoisting his body up next to hers and throwing his arms around her waist. She squeezes him tightly and sniffs his hair. It smells like innocence. She inhales deeper.
“It’s not that simple,” she begins again her sordid lines of excuses. They’d have no money, she lists, no resources, no home, where would they go?
“Anywhere,” he whispers, and tears start to run. She inhales again but something’s different. His hair smells less innocent. Her throat closes.
“I couldn’t live if he killed you,” says the nine-year-old boy whose eyes look ninety. Suddenly he sees it, a resolve in her eyes he hasn’t seen before. Something has struck her, something is changed. Seizing the moment he continues on. He pats her hair with one hand and with the other he collects her feathers. She will need them if she is going to fly.
“I promise you,” she says, “We won’t be staying long.”
Next there is a school. There are hallways filled with teenagers and classrooms run by teachers. There are cool kids and not so cool ones sitting in a cafeteria that is as segregated as 1967. He went to the principal’s office once. He tried to tell him that the teasing was going to make him snap and that the spit balls were driving him crazy. The abuse at school was slightly less toxic than the abuse at home but either way the poison was making him grow sicker.
“Tough it out,” he was told. He saw on his video games that tough men strapped guns to their sides and if they didn’t like people, they killed them. He’d become a man himself. Life was a script and he’d re-write how his ended. They’ll all see how tough he is. Instead of cologne he’ll smell of gunpowder.
There is a beautiful girl with long brown hair and blood seeping out from her abdomen. A fifteen-year-old kid with a vendetta and a gun is hell bent on making them all pay. She laughed when he asked her to prom. How dare she? It was a question, not a joke, and now she’d know the difference.
“Isn’t funny now is it?” He asks standing over her body. He turns and his face is twisted. The cops yell, “freeze!” and the 15-year-old boy, with his hand on the trigger, presses (the gun) to his skull.
“No need,” he says calmly. “I won’t be staying long.”
There is a cemetery. I run my fingers along the head stones and brush dirt from off the names. Thousands upon thousands of dreams rest here and the thought of it suffocates me. I see the beds of lovers sleeping side by side, and babies swallowed by dirt graves.
A man shoots over 20 people at a church in Texas. Even churches now look like cemeteries.
But soon the heavens will part and a trumpet will blare. A brilliant light will crash through a darkened sky and the chorus of angels will sing.
“ARISE!” the Lord’s voice trumpets like thunder rolling down a barren hill. The darkness won’t stay dark for long. The tears won’t fall forever. The graves we’ve laid will open.
Even the shadows covering cemeteries, won’t be staying long.
Heather Thompson Day is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Andrews University. She is the author of five Christian books, including Life After Eden, and writer for The Spilled Milk Club. Facebook her, or check her out on Instagram.
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