FALLING INTO GRACE
There are many things you think about when you are coming home after a war. You think in small amazed snatches, saying to yourself how in Gods name did they get all those ships on D Day? And did anybody survive Italy? I couldnt even imagine what home would be like because home was written on everyones face so lovingly, so hopefully; home must be at the end of the rainbow. For war, the hated and the perilous and mad had been home for a long time too. Everyone had learned how to live in it, everyone had something to do, and something that looked necessary. And now we were back in this beautifully safe place called home and what would become of us?
What indeed? Jordan Miller closed the book, her fingers tracing the faded leather cover. Her grandmothers words written so long ago danced and curved around the attic walls looking for attention. Why hadnt she known that her grandmother had been somehow involved in World War II? Buried in a non-descript chest, Jordan had discovered diaries and pictures of a long forgotten history. The echoes of a past that somehow reverberated through her today were hinted at in the few pages read. In grainy black and white pictures shoved between the yellowing pages she could imagine a different life. A story with a different ending. Would this ending be happy? Like a stranger living on the periphery, nosed pressed against the glass, she had been cheated of a family. Cheated not by death but by disinterest. Its not like she hadnt been wanted more like she had been an afterthought. Her presence a constant surprise. The hurt of being ignored, of being unimportant was buried under layers of protective coating made dull with time. Did she really want to chip at it? In this book held on her lap, in this dusty attic, the story of her family could be glimpsed. A story she still didnt know as she inched toward forty. Did she really want to find out the truth? They had all developed such talent when it came to avoidance. She was better at it than most. She stood up and stretched not fully to her five foot ten inch height as the sloping roof was too low but enough to feel the complaint of her lower back muscles. How long had she been sitting there? Her eyes scanned the gloom and with perfect timing she sneezed. She glanced at her watch and noted that she only had an hour to get ready for the funeral. Still holding the book, she hesitated. Put it back? Keep it? With an internal shrug she decided to keep it. Its not like anyone else would go looking for it. Maybe it was finally time to rub away at the layers of dust and spider web of lies that covered her life. It might be time to finally let go.
"Doesnt he look great?"
Jordan looked down at her grandfather and tried to feel anything but vague interest.
How was she supposed to answer that? The man was dead. She made a noncommittal sound.
"They did such a good job." Her aunt Lilly added.
They had removed all traces of the ravages of cancer that had struck him when she was a child. The slight caving in of his jaw line, so much a part of her memory was now gone. The body lying in that coffin looked nothing like the man she remembered. She nodded her agreement nevertheless.
"He loved you all so much." Her aunt choked back tears as she kept a vice like grip on her arm.
Did he? Again Jordan felt only mild curiosity. She had never known that. Had never been close enough to understand it. She gently extracted herself and moved away. Her eyes scanned the room, aware of the interested looks she was getting. She was a stranger after all. The eldest granddaughter, who had flown in from Boston for the funeral. The unmarried one. The one who never visited. Her eyes cast about for a familiar face.
There was drama being played out in the left corner. She read it from the body language and the wide gesture of hands. Why was it that the French could not make a point without swinging loudly? Her mouth twitched, amused, then she saw the tall lean form of her younger brother Cale, standing so stiff and composed in the doorway. She felt pity for him. He had been close to her grandfather that at least she knew. She couldnt tell how she knew, just that it was one memory parked in her subconscious. She wondered if he was grieving. His hazel colored eyes found hers for a moment and she could not read them. They were veiled to the outside world. She crossed to him.
He nodded half irritated at the question. Like her he had difficulty in letting himself feel anything that hinted of emotion. Instead he went about his days, stiff and formal unable to bend enough to be approachable. He called it being in control. He had seen what living with your feelings too close to the surface looked like. He never wanted to be like that. Like them.
"How long are you staying?"
She shrugged. "As long as it takes I guess."
They stood awkwardly lost for words. Related by blood and little else. They couldnt even make small talk. With relief she turned as his wife Beth joined them.
"Where are you staying tonight?" She asked Jordan.
"I think at the house."
Beth gave Jordan an amused look, then glanced at her husband. "I feel sorry for you. We are staying at my sisters house. You are welcome to stay there."
Jordan smiled. "Thats okay. Ill dont mind staying with her for one night."
The rest was left unsaid. The weight of it, settling between the lines. No one wanted to go there. But Jordans eyes found her mother standing in a corner, talking too loudly, eyes a bit too bright. She was high again. She felt despair mix with disgust, as she looked at the woman who had given birth to her and little else. Another stranger who looked like her.
Cliff Simpson turned his pickup into the gates of St Marys Cemetery. He had thrown his rake and bucket into the pickup bed and drove toward the new part of the cemetery. Funeral at two. He had a grave to dig and prepare before the funeral home people came out to set up their tents and row of chairs, which tended to sink into the soft earth under especially heavy mourners. He droved slowly along the grassy lanes, glancing here and there at the headstones. So many he remembered digging himself. Back in the days before he got the Bobcat. That saved his back. The grave preparation was quicker now. Rake, level, drive the backhoe to the site, make sure the dirt lands in a neat clump. He knew everything about his job after thirty years of doing it. Thats what he liked about the dead. You always knew what to expect. He got to the Miller family plot and got out. The old man Miller had finally kicked it. Heart attack wasnt it? Rumor has it, that he had died in the bed of his much younger lover. If that was true more power to him. That was the way to go, Cliff thought. He crossed over to the location. The earth gave way under his feet. The rain of two days ago would make it easy. As he got closer he glimpsed a pile of clay on the other side of the marbled angel. What on earth? There had been no burial in this area for ages. He squinted. Blue dress, black hair. "No," he whispered. A gash in the ground, stone smashed, bronze coffin turned upside down. Eleanor Miller. Preserved, darker, but preserved, lying on the side of her own grave. Exposed to the world on the day of her husbands burial. He stumbled back, felt the bile creep up his throat. He had to call somebody.
Sheriff Paul Flagg received Cliffs call and was seen running down the steps of his office, minutes later. Hed only been county sheriff for six months and he hadnt faced anything other than car wrecks and drunken fistfights. He drove out to St Marys and caught sight of Cliff in the new part, leaning against his truck. His normally ruddy face was white, his pale eyes a little wild. The Sheriff parked beside him and followed Cliff to the location. Everything was exactly how he had described it. They stood silently, staring. Pauls ears rang. He wiped his neck with his handkerchief. "Holy shit. Jesus H. Christ." He whispered. He faltered and felt the plain of the flat earth tilted upward then steadied. Cliff took a couple of steps back. The sheriff forced himself forward. He would have to handle this.
"Did you see anything Cliff-that is anything else...?" He gestured toward the body on the ground. "Any cars stopping, any people at all?" Any vampires, he wanted to say, but he couldnt bring himself to joke. Cliff shook his head no. "That dirt has been rained on," Paul continued, "and look here, the side of her dress is muddy. She must have been lying here at least since the rains two days ago."
"Well, I cant check every damn grave every day."
"The only motive I can think of is grave robbing. Do people get buried with their jewelry anymore?"
Cliff thought not. "Sheriff, what if this is
you know ghosts or something?" He looked around quickly. "What if whoever did this is not of this world?"
Sheriff Flagg wanted to dismiss it. Vampires...he thought again. What if its vampires? He frowned. "Dont be stupid." The words were directed as much at himself as they were at Cliff.
"What time was old man Miller getting buried today?"
"I think we are going to have to postpone it. Im going to call some of my deputies to guard this spot. Then we are going to have to start an investigation into it. Ill have to call Pitts from the funeral home too." Having turned his back on Eleanor he felt better. More himself. In charge. "We are going to have to check out the whole cemetery to see if there is any other...any other disturbances." Instinct told him there would be none. "And I suppose Im going to have to go tell the Miller family about this." A hell of a thing to have happened on the day you were trying to bury the patriarch of the family. "We will figure this out." He spoke with a conviction he didnt feel.
Jordan could only stare at the sheriff. Though she had heard the words, somehow what the words meant had not registered.
He tried again. "Someone...well I think it would take more than one...your grandmothers grave was vandalized and her body left out in the open." Jordan blinked once then her head turned toward the house. They were standing outside by the rose bushes where Paul had found Jordan moments before. He did not know her except to know that she was the granddaughter from out of town. But since she was the first he found, she was the one who got the story. Jordans attention returned to him.
"Was she damaged in any way?"
"No. She still looks the same. Untouched almost. Despite the years."
Twelve years to be exact. The last time Jordan had visited her family. She sighed. "I guess we are going to have to bury her again. Maybe make it a double burial." There was almost morbid humor here. He looked at her curiously. Her blue eyes remained veiled, her expression composed. "How long do you need for your investigation?"
"A couple of days at the cemetery."
"I guess you are asking us to postpone my grandfathers burial till then." He nodded.
"I will inform the rest of the family. Please keep me posted on any new development." She turned to leave.
She turned her head toward him.
"Im sorry about your granddaddy. He was a good man."
Was he? She had no idea. "Thank you."
She went up the porch stairs. She had gone outside to flee the oppressive tension of her presence. No one knew what to do with her. Everyone was so formal. Now the news that she would bring would only make the whole situation worst. Instead of escaping on the first flight tomorrow, she would need to stay here longer than what she had planned. With her family. She could only hope that she would survive with her sanity intact. She had her doubts. After all insanity ran in her family on her mothers side...
She sat on the top step and tried to figure out the words to use. None she found made any sense or were comforting in any way. For a brief selfish moment she wanted to pass the task to Cale. Let him deal with the hysterics. He knew them better than she did. She felt no guilt about being leery of dealing with the inevitable drama that would follow and of trying to avoid it. But the sheriff had told her. It was her responsibility. As always the responsibility fell heavily to her shoulders. She would gather them together and simply tell them of the visit from the sheriff. The rest would come. Her thoughts turned to the vandalism at St Marys. Who would do such a thing? And why? For a moment she toyed with the idea of calling Stacey, her old college friend, who had become a detective in Boston. Part of her knew that her wanting to call had less to do with this mystery then with the fact that she wanted to see her again. So I had a crush on her but that was ages ago. So what? Im still going to call her. These small time sheriffs have no experience when dealing with unusual crimes.
Feeling better now that she knew what she needed to do, she opened the door and fell into the noise of her family. Jordan squared her shoulders. She was going to call Stacey first, then she would deal with her family. She found her cell phone and stepped back outside. She dialed the number long ago stored into her phone.
Staceys voice had fascinated Jordan from the first time she had heard it. It always sounded as if it needed sleep cleared from it. As usual she felt stirring from it.
"Stacey? Its Jordan."
"Jordan? How are you? Its been ages." The pleasure in Staceys voice warmed Jordan. She smiled foolishly into the phone.
"Im good. Im calling to say hi but also for a selfish reason."
"Better and better." Stacey replied with a chuckle.
"Im in Bruce Mines for my grandfathers funeral and somethings come up here that might just require a detectives insight. Perhaps someone who might have a few days off and feels like seeing an old friend too?"
There was a pause. "Im sorry about your grandfather. Whats this about Jordan?"
Jordan told Stacey the whole story and the pause this time was longer. Jordan was starting to feel stupid for asking her friend for help when Stacey finally spoke into the quiet.
"I have the weekend off. I suppose I can fly down there for a couple of days. They do have an airport near by dont they?"
"Couple of hours away. But I will pick you up at the airport. I cant tell you how much your help means to me."
"Yeah...yeah. Im sure Ill think up a payment of some sort."
Yes please. Jordan thought with a grin.
"Ill make some arrangements and Ill call you back." Stacey said. "It will be good to see you again."
"Yeah. See you tomorrow."
Jordan hung up after saying goodbye, ignoring the surge of giddy she suddenly felt. She turned back to go inside and caught her mothers presence at the window. The happiness fled and was quickly replaced with dread. She would gather them all and tell them what had happened. Then she would deal with the aftermath. She was the only one not grieving. She couldnt grieve for people she didnt know. So she would let them grieve and she would sort it all out for them. She went back in. There was work to be done. She was the only one capable of dealing with it. And she would.