This is an original short story by Martin Detwiler, an ItB Contributor. We’d appreciate your comments/thoughts as we experiment with new and different types of postings here at ItB. Thanks for reading!
“He named them all.” She points up at the stars, her head on my shoulder.
I shift my elbow on the window sill, the rough grain digging into my skin. They are the dust of His fingers. My other arm holds her close to me, warm and soft.
“I think He’s smiling at us now,” she whispers.
Does God have a face, that He can smile? I pull her closer to me. God may not smile, but He loves to see His children happy, looking up through open windows to find His smile in the stars.
She looks up at me for a kiss. I close my eyes and lean down towards her lips.
A gunshot and a slapping crack next to my head.
Her body jerks away from me, dead weight. I spin and lay her on the ground. Please God! You can’t let this…
One side of her face is gone.
My mouth opens, I fall to my knees. An ocean roars, wave crushing wave. For a moment I cannot feel, then my hands cup the smooth tightness of her stomach. The baby flails at my touch.
I pull my hands away.
A wracking sob forces my head down onto her chest, my forehead resting in the hollow of her bosom. Not my baby. Not my Anna. Don’t do this, God. Wake me up.
Tears soak into her blouse. We were just looking out the window.
The baby kicks again, feeble. I huddle over it, to be near, to give it warmth. I stroke the undamaged side of Anna’s face, and it’s the same as always. She could be sleeping.
In a pool of blood.
My knees are stained, my fingers wet. O God! Why?
Her face grows cold under my lips. Her stomach falls still. I turn her head so I can only see the sleeping side, but my eyes are full of tears. Why? Just looking out a window. I stumble away from her and lean onto the window sill, looking up.
At the dust of His fingers and His still-smiling face.
My lip quivers as the minister speaks, and my eyes wander to the stained-glass windows. Why is there no drunken gunman outside this window? I know… I know God is not bound to our schemes of justice, but what reason could He have? What good will come of it? Is my faith so small that he has punished me?
My mind drifts to the words being spoken.
“She will be remembered by all who knew her with sorrow and love as a dear sister in Christ. But our sorrow must be tempered by the knowledge that she is in a better place. That, dear people, is where we can find beauty even in this tragedy. Christ by His redemption has taken the sting from death. When one of His dearly beloved children dies, no matter how terrible their earthly journey, or how gruesome their death, it is all a passing shadow, and they go to be with their Redeemer and their King. Do not weep for our sister Anna. Weep rather for yourselves, that you are not where she is now. It is a far better thing for her to be with Him than any longer in this world of woe.”
Is that the good He had in mind? That she would sit with the God who smiles at the horror. Naming stars. He sits in the heavens and laughs.
And I sit in a pool of my wife’s blood, the warmth seeping out of my unborn child.
“As we go to lay this tabernacle of clay in the ground, remember that her story is not over. When we speak of God and His blood-bought children, the story is never over. When Christ comes in glory, with his voice like a trumpet calling all the dead in Christ to rise up, this body will be restored in full – restored to perfection, and Anna will be once for all enabled to worship God body and soul, forever. This occasion of grief for us, is merely a joyful step forward in Anna’s story. We will mourn, but let it be more for ourselves than for her. She is truly, truly, gone to a better, brighter abode. Let us pray.”
My head falls into my hands. I cannot shut out the words, the swirling accusations that they hammer down on me. I cannot feel joy in her death. Only emptiness, and the coals of sorrow burning in my heart. And anger. Every word is a dart, telling me I’m wrong. But I cannot feel what I do not.
Growing silence in the chapel rouses me. I look up at the minister of my laughing God and smile sadly. He nods and looks away. Is the accusation so clear in my eyes? But he is not the guilty one. That honor falls to me… or God.
I rise, to follow her coffin out of the chapel, my hand resting on its smooth veneer.
They put a shining finish even on this box of death. Like a smile on the painted lips of a corpse.
Like the God who smiles down on gore.
I can hear Flo standing at the door, breathing softly, unsure how to help me. I don’t move from my place at the window, my fingers searching the windowsill for the spot where my elbow was.
“What do you think she wants, Doug?” Flo says. Her voice is just like my wife’s. They were twins – genetically identical – but I could always tell the difference.
Anna wants me to look out this window and find a smiling God. And I do.
I spread my hand flat on the sill to stop clenching my fist.
But that’s exactly what I hate.
Flo’s skirt rustles like a memory, like Anna’s whispers when we made love, hovering on the edge between sound and emotion. Then a hand settles on my shoulder, trying to turn me away from the window.
I spin, knocking her hand away.
It’s Flo. Relax. Flo.
She stifles a scream, her fear bringing tears to my eyes. She’s not Anna. Get a hold of yourself.
I bend my head over her hand, letting tears come. Anna wants me to keep looking up, even if she’s not there beside me, wants me to keep my smile, my faith.
But I already lost it.
I let go of Flo’s hand and look up at her. She is crying as well.
I nod. Thank you.
She hesitates, then steps forward to give me a hug. I hold her for a few seconds, knowing that she’s torn just like I am. And she’s just like Anna always was – she needs to help someone else just to get over her own pain. I’m willing to give her proof that she’s doing something, even though she just reminds me of Anna and makes the pain more distinct.
She steps away and slips out of the room, looking back just before she closes the door. The click of the latch seems to add another level of finality. All the memories Flo stirs up in me are on the other side. I stand there, looking at the door. This is my life now. An empty room, the door closed forever, and an open window. With a God on the other side that I cannot love.
Flo tried. And I made her think she did something. But if anything she made it worse. I look back at the floor under the window. There are not even traces of her blood anymore.
That door is closed, and the key thrown away.
She is gone forever.
I cannot sleep. Every night it is the same. A silent bedroom.
An empty bed.
And I lay empty and silent under the quilt she made when we were waiting for our child.
We only slept beneath it once together. I remember the warmth of her hand in mine as I stayed awake and listened to her gentle breathing.
Now I stay awake waiting for that sound to come again. Even in a dream.
But that door is closed.
So I lay awake, waiting; and even when I sleep I am waiting. But it never comes
I sit up. I have to do something.
I cannot pray. Not to a God who smiles down on the horror of this life. Once I could. Once I could ignore the pain and believe that He was good despite the heartache and disappointment that life is. Now I cannot let that God help me, not the same God who smiled at the drunken demon as he shot my wife in my arms. Even if He is good. And I know He is.
I stand up and pull some clothes on. They sat in a pile by the side of the bed, thrown down when I tried to convince myself that I would sleep tonight. I still don’t know what to do. But it has to be something more than waiting for a sound I know will never come.
So I walk through our house, leaving the lights off. My feet are silent on the carpets. She chose them. Tan, with a hint of muddy brown swirled in like stucco.
Why does everything come back to her?
I keep wandering, looking in rooms, not knowing why. Always remembering.
She wanted the clock there, not on the mantelpiece. She always left this light on, no matter how many times I reminded her to turn it off. She rested on the little couch rather than the big one when she was pregnant. She always drew hearts and little notes on the chalkboard for me to come home to. She…
Everything comes back to her. My life is an empty room full of memories.
And then I stop outside a closed door. I know exactly which one it is. I turn the handle and push, staring at the emptiness inside. This was going to be my baby’s room. We were getting it all ready for you, darling. We had the paint chosen, the carpet picked out. The old leaky window was getting replaced with a strong new one.
And then it all disappeared. And I’m left behind trying to piece the shards together.
I walk inside and close the door behind me. This room is my life. Full of memories.
I’ll stay here for a while. I belong. This is where I was going. But I still don’t know what I’m going to do, because this life isn’t worth living anymore.
And there it is. The answer. A black hole opening up in front of me. That’s where I was really going. What I must do. I can’t escape this room… The door is shut forever… The window leads to a God I cannot love…
But there at my feet is another way – the same road that my beloved walked on her final journey away from me. I always carry a knife in the pocket of my jeans.
I almost never use it.
I must stand at the window, so He can see what He’s done to me. The night sky opens above me. It’s the same clear night, no clouds, stars everywhere. The dust of His fingers.
Her blood is on those hands. Her soul is in those arms. And He smiles at me.
I lift the knife and let it gleam in the moonlight. I’m not going to cut my wrist – the heart of my problem lies elsewhere. I change my grip, trying to ignore the sweat that breaks out in the palm of my hand. Just one movement, as fast as a reflex, will open the only door left to me.
Her body is pressed against me, warm in my arms. She whispers, leaning up for a kiss.
And then she jolts. Shudders. Goes limp.
The blade of my knife trembles. I try to still my arm, to channel everything in me to that single movement I must make. I lay my other hand flat on the windowsill to steady myself.
I close my eyes. Her face, half of it sleeping, half of it gore –
My tears trickle down, gathering speed on the sweat beaded on my cheeks. My hand grips tighter. Then I cannot hold it back.
The knife flashes down.
I open my eyes slowly, the agony not yet overwhelming. My vision swims, but I am still conscious.
I look down at the knife stuck through my hand into the windowsill. The blade missed the bones in my hand – slipping sideways between them.
Not one of my bones was broken.
I look up at the stars, a sorrow hammering in my chest. They move around slowly, almost like they’re dancing. The night seems darker.
Not one of His bones…not one of His bones…
I reach for the knife, my hand trembling. A scream bursts out of me as I rip the blade out and hurl it across the room. Flashing behind my eyelids as I squeeze them shut in agony is the burning afterimage of a cross. I wrap my hand in my shirt to stem the bleeding.
That is the reason why He smiles…
Because not one of His bones was broken, but His soul was crushed for me.
All this pain is a part of His picture. The pain has a purpose. He smiles because He sees the greater tapestry I cannot see.
Pain is the dark curtain over a golden sunset. I must lose everything He lost before I can gain what He gained.
Darkness is the backdrop of glory. And so He smiles down on me.
I look up, out the window, cradling my hand and wondering how much blood I’ll lose. And there, just the same, are the stars – the dust of His fingers, every one of them a testimony to His smiling face.
The children love him. They call for him to come and play with them. And he does, though he has no children of his own.
In the summer they watch the sun go down together, and sometimes when it’s dark they go inside his house, to a certain empty room, and lay back on the thick carpet.
Above them there is a massive skylight, and on the wall there is a message:
When you are hurting, and your life feels like an empty room with no way out,
Look out the window, up at the dust of His fingers,
And remember that the God who named all the stars sacrificed His own Son to secure your eternal joy
…and that is why He smiles down on you.
He points out different constellations and shows them their names in the books from the closet. They laugh at the hard names, and sometimes he helps them make up their own shapes among the stars.
But sometimes the children forget to look at the stars that he points to, and look instead at the scars on his hand.
They call him the Jesus Man.
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Published on 30 March, 2016. Last updated on