Chapter Twenty Nine
Matchstick in the Darkness
Cedar was virtually the last on the island to know. Marty was flying. She had gone into town to organize the rented garage she used for storage. It was a mess. She had started with fine intentions, until she came across the photo album. There were pictures of her wedding day, Justin’s first day of kindergarten standing proudly with the Superman backpack Wyatt had bought him, a ten-year-old Justin, grinning wide, with Jonathan latched nearly sideways in his hair. And always that special light in his eyes.
She had been blessed. She closed her own eyes in gratitude.
The abrupt voice tore the past from her cradling grasp.
“Got yourself a bonafide mess in here.”
Miss Patsy’s Stonehenge form leaned against the doorjamb, blocking most of the afternoon sunshine.
“Life’s clutter. Good afternoon to you, Miss Patsy.”
“It will improve somewhat when I can recoup my breath.” The great breasts heaved for a few moments. “Saw your truck. Got some news.” And then, almost as an afterthought, “What you doin’ in here?”
Packaging up my next cocaine shipment, Cedar wanted to say, but all the humor had already left her. Still the island’s reigning busy body, old age and some three hundred pounds of pudding flesh now kept Miss Patsy soundly anchored to her front stoop. Only the worst news would see her heft herself into the world.
Though she stood on a hard cement floor in a muggy garage, she felt the jellies clasping her own body like a clammy fog.
Her hands trembled.
Miss Patsy missed nothing.
“It’s right to be scared,” she declared. “People dyin’ and disappearin’, which is pretty much the same as dyin’. Able wanderin’ round like a little boy just flunked his first spellin’ test.” Miss Patsy freed herself from the door jamb with a grunt. “Strange thunderclouds rollin’ in off the horizon. Doubt they spell sunny days.”
That night Cedar dreamt; a dream of regret, remorse and apology. Even in her dream, she felt relief.
She woke to dawn’s cool ladling through the porthole.
When Marty rolled toward her, she smiled.
“Is that good?”
“I think so,” she said, but neither of them missed the hesitancy in her voice.
The dream was mostly sad but it was mildly fearful too.
Cedar felt her relief drain away, until it was no more.
It wasn’t just the brave nun. There is something about the encounter at the lake that nudges me, something important I am overlooking. The second piece of the puzzle.
When I return to Long Drop Off it is quiet. My fellows bemoan the absent chickens -- they have been made lazy and far too complacent -- but I am happy for the solitude. It helps me think, here in our final refuge.
It takes time, but I am patient. Finally, it comes.
You know how a salamander can regenerate its tail? There is a species of jellyfish, turritopsi nutricula, which regenerates its entire body, reverting back to its polyp stage. A nifty trick of resurrection. A real life Fountain of Youth.
I am not saying I can bring back the dead. It is too late for Sister Phyllis Newman. But I see clearly the inherent symbolism.
A terrible end, but perhaps a new beginning.
Maybe I can be better than you. Well, at least some of you. As Sister Phyllis Newman ably demonstrated, there are some among you who live to a set of ideals that are admirable indeed.
There is still hope.
I only hope there are enough of you, these people who might make the world right.
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!
Oh we were clever wordsmiths, Mr. Holmes and I. We saw the metaphors. We grasped the Big Picture.
A new, nobler temple. It is still possible.
There is the boy. And perhaps enough Sister Phyllis Newmans to make things right.
It was beauty who enlightened the beast.
Cedar wasn’t surprised by Able’s call. He did not bother explaining. He knew she was already familiar with every sordid fact and plenty of sordid falsehoods, too.
“This incident,” he said. “Is it is related to the others?”
“They were jellies.”
She tried to state this as if it were the indisputable clincher in a high school debate.
“They were,” said Able.
He really was a remarkable policeman.
Gautama Buddha. Jesus of Nazareth. Muhammad. Mother Teresa. They are the names you know, and certainly movers and shakers in their own right. But they are not the ones who truly turn the tide.
A cook perched on a toilet. Sister Phyllis Newman, with her Red Sox cap and her ceramic frog. A mother who captains a boat named after my favorite poet. They are the ones who see me pause, the ones who lead me to think you may be worth saving.
But with full disclosure in mind, there is something else I must confess, something a trifle unsettling. It is possible the jellyfish did not act on their own accord. Perhaps, being single-cell organisms, they are easily swayed. I am still very angry. I gave no direct order, but perhaps I underestimate my ability to influence. Perhaps I am no longer responsible for myself and my emotions.
But I still think I was not responsible.
I am absolving myself of blame. Isn’t that ironic?
Author / Speaker