From a collection of Short Stories by the author of The Avatar Syndrome.
It was the most blinding explosion I'd ever seen. It happened more suddenly than the beat of my own heart. One minute I was standing at the counter, minding my own business, the next naked photons burned my irises through and through. The sound came much later. Like an echo, really.
The burning flash lasted only for an instant. Next I heard a prolonged "Whaaaaah..." and light reverted to normal. Only I didn't see much. Just a big oval face peering down at me as though I just arrived from another planet. Only I didn't recognize it as a face. It was large, pink, with two enormous liquid ovals drinking me in. Then a crack appeared in the lower part of the pink surface and two sets of white, corrugated surfaces proffered at me what I've later, much later, recognized as a smile. It was also much later that I've discerned that the pink surface was a face, the liquid pools – eyes, and the corrugated surface – my proud and happy mother's teeth. At the time, however, I was scared stiff.
Thankfully, not for long.
The next moment I was peering through a hole in the fence at two voluptuous orbs of quivering flesh, bobbing up and down as the girls buttock struggled into the bathing costume. She was older than I, a matter of some four or five years, and as unattainable as the moon on a cloudy night. Yet in that single instant I became aware of an insatiable hunger, sweating, trembling all over my whole body, and a peculiar feeling of guilt. That latter didn't make sense, but – well, at the time I had no idea that the whole in the fence introduced me to the mysteries of hormones and chromosomes and other peccadilloes I've soon enough learned to recognize as sex. Or sexual drive. Or just nature. Hell, it was powerful! I'm still sweating....
I couldn't believe my eyes. I was staring down as my own baby gazing at me with an innocence which preceded all I've ever experienced. It just looked, yet the sparkling in its, in her, eyes were brighter than the brightest stars in the universe. The eyes were smiling and trusting, and carefree and....
I've never seen such eyes….
The man was looking at me over his half-moons. His stare was cold, calculating, as though weighing my pro and cons, maybe my very right to live. He than put down the dossier, cleared his throat and got up.
"Welcome to the company, Mr. Gordon. George, if I may. We haven't met, officially, but I've been watching you for the last month or two. Would you accept the position of Vice-president responsible for R&D?"
The question was rhetorical. I had my suspicions over that same month or two the Chairman referred to. Only I couldn't be sure. Now, that I got the position, the education of Krista and Joe and Miriam would be assured. I've never felt such a load falling off my shoulders as in that very moment. The load of fatherhood. Of carrying responsibility for three lives completely dependent on me. And Babs, of course.
Her veil was as white as the snow on a Sunday morning. Only there was no snow then. June sun was sparkling over still fresh green leaves, the smell of lilacs lingered in the air, and the church bell was reminding us that soon we would be man and wife. Funny how time jumps forward and backwards. A wink ago I was being born, then...
Barbara became love of my life the moment I saw her. There was no question of falling in love. It was self evident that she and I belonged together. We were one. Not as with the children, later; they were entities in their own right. Babs and I, well, we were meant to be welded into a single entity. She knew my thoughts, I knew hers...
She cried hard and loud. She wept before, a few times, the beginnings weren't easy. What with two kids and another on the way and I, a struggling scientist, fresh out of college. We hitched up a month after we’d met. Being apart was just too painful. For both of us. Only when Krista and Joe appeared, my income was...
But this time she didn't weep. She cried. Loud and deep. Her breathing was halting, her chest heaving, her palms pressed into her eyes. It was the only time we had a serious row. We called each other names. A week later we both claimed we didn't remember what started the calamity. It had something to do with parental responsibilities, but we couldn't quite recall them exactly. Yet for some reason now, this instant, I could repeat our arguments word for word, with every nuance, every detail...
Nothing was worse than that very first explosion. The grenade tore the private, second class, virtually in half. He saved my life. Had he not fallen on the live missile, we would all be dead. All seven of us. Babs would be a widow. Krista and Joe would be fatherless, Miriam, sweet Miriam, would have never been born. Not to Babs and me. Perhaps to someone else. Who can tell?
Private Jones had no time to react to the grenade in any other way. I could have been dead, that very instant. Instead I would be decorating his mother with DSC. Distinguished Service Cross. Posthumously. What is the prize of saving seven lives? DSO or a Victoria Cross? Does it matter? We all die. Only question is when. When we die. Or, perhaps, it also matters how. How we die. Some of us carry a debt to other people we can never repay. We cant even say thanks. Thanks for saving my life. It was nice knowing you...
Dear Barbara. There is so much I still have to tell you. So many fragments of my life, our life, smoldering just under the surface of my awareness. Or at least just to hold you, just once more. In my arms.
Life is a stream of fragments strung together by an arbitrary matrix of time. All fragments happen but once. In this sense death is an integral part of life. It's just another fragment to be examined and learned from. It is neither less nor more important than a dozen other fragments. They are all equally unique and equally interconnected – mine, mostly with you and our children, but Private Jones' choice of death had as powerful impact on my life as anything I’d accomplished myself.
It is not true that life flashes before your eyes. Just fragments do. You pick them. You pick them at random because there is no time to arrange them in order. In a sequence that makes sense. Do they have to make sense? I suppose so. But they don't really have to be experienced chronologically. Just so that we can learn. There is so much to learn. Not just in my R&D but in life. In general.
There were a dozen fragments crowding to get into my awareness, but the light again burned my eyes.
I jumped in front of the woman holding the baby. Wouldn't have had to but the baby started wailing. I saw murder in the gunman's eyes. The man was scared. Desperate. Desperate people kill. Desperate or cowards. I couldn't take the risk. There was no time to do anything else. The masked youth was standing too far away. His hand was shaking. I saw the finger squeezing the trigger...
An enormous flash of light burnt my eyes again. In a pale green room, pale green men and women wearing pale green masks were bending over my naked chest. Why did I think my chest? It's not my chest. It belongs to the body lying on the table. There was blood all over. My indifference turned to a feeling of dread. Surely, I don't have to go back to that dirty, bloody, carcass. Not me, not now.
And then I thought of Barbara. Of her eyes filled with trust, over so many years.
"Switch that bloody light off!" I screamed. Only it came out as a whisper. As a breath gurgling around a tube in my throat.
No one heard me.
And then all was dark again. Dark – as in a body pumped full of anesthetic. It's all right, Barbara, I thought. Somehow I knew she was crying. Have I seen her on the other side of the OR glass? It's all right, Babs. Don't cry. Only the good die young.
Site: Stan I.S. Law, writer a.k.a. Stanislaw Kapuscinski