Copyright © 1993 by David Reitzes
Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave,
and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
Everett's spade met earth, the crunch of ice and frozen leaves trapped bell-like beneath the porcelain firmament. He brought up the capsule which he had first placed there fifty years before. The dirt rubbed off easily, coaxing the luster back to the bronze finish. He paused just a moment, then opened it up.
The photograph was as he remembered it, just as it had been when it escaped from the darkroom a half century before. Rachel's eyes still shone with the gleam of fifty autumns never negotiated, fifty winters never conceded, fifty springs never welcomed, and fifty summer never sailed.
Fifty years - longer than the human lifespan in darker ages, unless one believed the Bible, which Everett didn't. Except maybe the book of Job, for which he harbored a deep, obsidian-black respect, the kind one discovers has been nurtured towards a life-long enemy. It is an admiration not for paths taken, but for the determination engaged and the ingenuity evinced in the following, even the path occasionally, maddeningly disappears from view.
Everett liked to think that had he and Job's author been acquainted, the might have been like professors of rival philosophies, polar opposites in their teachings, who could nonetheless cross paths with a nod of mutual respect and civility, if not understanding.
No matter how greatly Everett disagreed with the views expressed in Job, its author had the courage to broach the single most important question a true believer in one God could demand of his faith, and reached the only answer a true believer in one God could ever accept: Why do bad things happen to good people? Only God knows.
Everett brought the photograph inside where it was warm - as if that would help. As if it would go the shortest distance in repaying cherished kindnesses. Above the fireplace on the mantelpiece stood, in a simple frame, the same photograph he held in his hand now, but showing the teethmarks where time had picked at it all these years. As he reached for it, the fire below turned to stone, a stone that rolled away to reveal a deep opening within. From this cave's mouth emerged three men, two sustaining the other, a cross following them. The heads of the two reached to heaven, but the head of him who they carried surpassed even the heavens.
Through Everett a voice not his own asked, "Have you preached to those who dwell in the desert?"
It was the cross which answered, "Yes."
"Have you preached to those who sleep?"
Again the cross answered, "Yes."
And in his own voice Everett insisted upon asking, "Do you remember me?"
The cross answered in Rachel's voice, which even now could cleave rose from briar. The sound drove him to his knees, though the voice was lost to him when the cross splintered into a hundred million tiny crosses, unto themselves like snowflakes, that scattered from Galilee to Jerusalem to Rome to Constantinople to London to the whole world over, even to the mantelpiece where Everett stood holding a frame with a photograph of a woman wearing a cross around her neck.
The illness had broken her back, torn the breath from her lungs, fired irons inside her. The darkness had reached to take her, as it had taken her father and mother, as it had taken her home. The illness and the darkness had conspired to kill her many times before the final hour came. Through it all, she had never failed to believe.
Everett held the photograph from the capsule next to the one from the mantelpiece. They were the same, of course, except for the passing time smeared on the one. Satisfied, Everett replaced the curled and dimmed one in the frame with the new and perfect one. He gingerly rolled up the deathless one, careful not to destroy it in its brittleness, and placed it inside the bronze capsule, which he returned to the earth whence it came.
Then he crept back upstairs where his wife, whose name was not Rachel, was still dreaming, and, undressing quietly, rejoined her in sleep.
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