And so I sat back down at the table. It was my turn to talk, to ask questions and to figure these people out. Why was a big part of the equation. Why were two strangers so in-tune to my nature. Why was I so easy to predict? And why did they care? Care about a man they had never met, never known, through family or by word of mouth. Not from the same place nor with the same background and yet…Why?
So I sat down, tears rolled down her cheeks, silent but present. She swallowed her sorrow. Why? To comfort me? I had to stop it with the self-pity and get this story straight for my sake and for hers to comfort us both…to think of us both. We were two now entwined forever if only by accident. We had a place in each others mind, psyches and life’s stories. How the stories would play out, what part we would play…fate can’t do everything it was time for me to act. I remembered I had a hanky in my trouser pocket. It was old-clean mind-tattered but useful in this kind of situation. I can’t remember it ever being used for tears…I’ve had it since I was six, a rag that I had been supposed to clean with but since the gentlemen who gave it to the greasy, sweaty little boy, had been so polished so clean and tall I wanted to use it like he did, not for cleaning the grease, or as he had intended for turning the screw I had cut myself raw trying to turn with my little hand. He had given me charity, a kind smile the hanky and a piece of gum. I always remembered that. I sought to pass it on when I was the tall well dressed man to another unfortunate, to inspire like he did me to set my sights higher. Maybe he had used it for tears. I used it as comfort, inspiration, on cold nights a blanky. It was a keep sake, maybe childish, but a reminder. I tossed it gently across the table trying hard not to be crass. “Here…sorry about the holes.”
She took it with a smile, “Sorry about the tears.” She said softly.
“Don’t be, I’ve cried plenty myself over this.”
“You were a good friend to him.”
“No…he was a god friend to me.”
She patted her cheeks the red hue from the sun now settled down in them. I noticed slight freckles. Then she looked down at the hanky.
“It’s been mended before?”
She noticed the stitches.
“You got a lady?”
“No.” I said slightly embarrassed. “Those stitches are mine.”
“Oh…” she looked at them surprised. “They’re just so…delicate.”
“Yeah, I learned from a finishing school.”
“For girls?” “I cleaned and did the odd jobs around…it’s how I learned a lot of my schooling.”She held the hanky in her lap turning it over in her hands, petting it between long fingers. “Well it beats the fish hooking a lot of the girls around here now.” She smiled, I laughed.
“I’m sorry about John, but…if I may be crass…why…why don’t you…”
“what? Hate you? Perhaps you think I’m just keeping you around because the cops are on their way…I’m not.”
“John was doing his duty as a soldier and as a friend. We knew the risk.”
“I guess I have a hard time seeing that point of view, because…John knew what I was.”
“And what are you?”
She just looked at me with a puzzled glance.
“In the world , I mean. I have no wife, no mother, father, family to go home to. He did, and…I feel wrong that he should have given that all up for someone like me.”
Deb sat up, brow furrowed, mouth twitching in the left corner. “Now it’s my turn to be crass,” she said. “I mean…that’s just sad.”
I was a little taken aback but I knew she was right. I still game faced her. “It’s just the facts.”
“Do you really feel it was a choice?” She asked. “What would you have done had the positions been reversed?”
“No, no doll that’s apples and oranges.” I solemnly shook the question away.
“Are you not both human?” She countered.
“Being alive is one thing, living is another.”
“So I’m talking to a pod? A vacant room? Issac…if you go by a name that is…”
“You can call me Issac, it’s the only name I have.”
“Let me tell you a story Issac. I was eleven-years-old my father was a police man. You never are prepared for that call at four in the morning saying that he has been killed on duty. They had the man in custody. I felt I hated him, I did; I hated him. I knew who he was, this is a small town and everyone knows everyone else. He was always trouble, had been in jail by my father’s hand many times. Always got off, always got a second chance. My father didn’t. This man, he had a family, a mother at least. Yet he threw it all away. He knew my father had a family a wife and kids and he made the choice for him. He shot him in the head and through the heart. In a way he put a hole through all of my families heart. He didn’t care, he was thinking of him. Revenge for my fathers actions against him. I really don’t know. I was filled with so much anger, so much hate. How could this man be alive? How could this man have been brought up, raised. I hated everything to do with him his family included…that is until the day his mother rang the doorbell. I was furious, she had no right! My mother let her in and I was mad at her for it. I sulked upstairs well my mother served her tea. I practiced my speech. I would go down there and scream it in her face! Report it to the newspaper! Everyone would know! But, just as I was parading down the stairs, about to turn the corner the woman burst out into tears. Tears…who was she crying for? Who had she lost? I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! she cried. She sorry for what?…for what…it clicked. What did she have to be sorry for? Her sons actions were not hers. She was blameless yet she would feel the guilt, carry it with her throughout the rest of her life. Not only had that man mad the choice for my family but also for his.”
I must have had tears in my eyes for Deb handed me the hanky back. “The reason I’m telling you this is because I understand that choice and the difference between the choice that he made and the choice my father made. My father was aware of this risk being in the force, my mother was aware of it when she married him, but he had to do it because he believed in it. John’s choice was my father’s before him. He did it because he had to, not because you pulled the trigger but because it was in John’s blood. Because he believed in what it was he was doing and who it was he was saving. I can’t blame you…you didn’t have the choice…but you will have to live with it for the rest of your life.”
Deb stood up kneeling before my knees. She took my hands looking up at me with sparkling brown eyes, like stars and yet…she smiled.
“We both have to live with it…but we both also have to make the choice of how.”
How. Not why. Not regret or what if. How. I suppose it clicked for me. I had never really asked myself that. How. How meant future. How meant success and possibility. I couldn’t find words, couldn’t meet her in the eyes so I looked to my lap, our hands embraced and I noticed we were both holding the hanky now. I smiled. I looked at her…and I found the courage of how.