In The Beginning, Nothing Lasts
by Mike Strahan
April 7, 1936
Beulah Irene wept as the workers pulled up shovels of rust red dirt from her son's
grave. She covered her dark face with her hands, not wanting the men to see her.
Thick bandages wrapped her arms from fingers to elbows, the skin underneath
burned and itched.
The four gravediggers gave her odd glances between pulls. They were all grim
men, with dirty faces and hands. Patches of sweat and red mud stained their
denim trousers and cotton shirts.
Irene removed her hands from her face and focused her eyes on the men, wanting
to watch until they finished. It was important to her, even though her son would
not die until yesterday.
His headstone was a pitiful thing, a small square of concrete embedded in the
grass and lined with dead leaves. A tall, worn, bent-back tree cast little shade.
Her husband's old grave was a few feet away, empty for decades.
She closed her eyes again, and remembered her son. He had always been a
pleasant child, and clever.
His first word had been coffee.
He took his first step when he was eleven months old.
His secret tickle spot was on the back of his thigh.
He was three years old when he died.
The memories had stuffed Irene's brain since her resurrection. On the surface,
they were pleasant thoughts, but time played funny tricks on her these days. Old
memories would crop up, pop in her head like long forgotten debts. They treated
her all the same, no matter where she was, what she was doing, she would often
turn to tears.
"We're done for the day, ma'am." One of the men interrupted her thoughts.
Despite the dust covering his face, his eyes and smile were bright. Behind him,
his friends were collecting their shovels and brooms, their jackets and lunch
"Thank you." Her mouth was dry. She turned around to look toward the eastern
horizon and was surprised to see the sun a hand or so from setting. The morning
was clear and hot, with a strong breeze tugging at the dry Oklahoma yellow grass.
Where has the time gone? She wondered.
"You okay, ma'am?" He asked.
Irene shook her head and shrugged, "Just nervous." Her bandages itched, they
were dirty again. Red dirt rimmed the frayed edges of the white gauze covering
her arms. It looked like dried blood.
"Reckon so. It's hard sometimes." The laborer turned and raised a hand in
goodbye to his departing friends. A spare denim coat and a dusty lunch pail
remained. "Don't know if you recall, but I was one of the fellas that worked on
your husband." His mouth creased, as though he wanted to say more.
Irene looked closely at him and shook her head, "I'm sorry, I don't remember
you." Irene had a hard time remembering. Like most people, the future was a
harsh muddle; she remembered senses better than events. Colors, smells, textures.
Sounds. It surprised her when someone remembered something so far ahead.
"No offense taken, ma'am." He held up his hands. "I was blessed with a good
memory, must've been forty years."
"It's been that long?" She asked.
"Sure has. Easier then. Job like this would've taken an hour, back when we had
machines." He scratched at his ear again and looked over Irene's shoulder to the
East. His eyes fell on her and for a moment, he held her gaze. "Should head
home, ma'am. I'll see you."
He stepped toward the edge of the open grave and crouched down to pick up his
jacket and pail. Without giving Irene another glance, he walked away with his
coat flung over his shoulder.
"Thank you! For today!" Irene remembered.
He turned, walked backwards, smiled. "It's never easy, ma'am."
Irene nodded and looked down at the open grave. She was alone with her son.
Sparing a shudder, she walked home. The road into town was straight, wide
enough for two autos to squeeze past each other. Most of the houses and farms
she passed were empty, the families having left for the West, to work healthier
land. There had been no rain in months.
The sun was almost beyond the horizon when she reached town. The buildings
lining the street sagged against each other, their wooden siding faded the color of
driftwood. The town's main street was a packed dirt road of choked, blood red
A group of children rushed by her on the sidewalk, chasing a mongrel with an
aluminum can tied to its neck. Irene gave them a sad smile as they passed.
The young were always so full of life, the first time because they thought they
were immortal, the second time because they knew exactly when their end would
come. Irene found it hard to watch children. They reminded her of her son.
There were other people on the street, walking dogs or riding horses, and a few
older automobiles. Most of the machines from the future were artifacts now, their
metal skeletons wired together in museums, the leather and rubber and plastic all
Others had tried to rebuild things, piece back together what little the future had
left them. The results were nothing but showpieces, sad monuments to a time they
would never see again.
Her house was two blocks off the center of town, on the wrong side of the railroad
tracks. It was a Sears' kit home, an ugly square of faded white stucco walls and
sticky brown shingles. It had three rooms: a den, a kitchen, a bedroom.
She pushed open their crooked screen door. Her husband was in the den, sitting in
an old easy chair, a hulk of a radio mirroring him across the room. He sighed
when she entered and set yesterday's paper across his lap.
Irene ignored him. She could sense her anger from earlier in the afternoon, but the
memory of their argument had faded.
He folded his arms hard across his chest and said nothing, but kept his eyes on her,
his mouth set in a scowl.
Irene stepped over to the sink, and unwound her dirty bandages. She bit her lip as
the heavy gauze separated from her arms and fingers, leaving behind ugly purple
flesh. The doctor had been surprised that she could do anything with her hands.
Her body was remembering the accident that had killed her son and scarred her for
The doctor had said that the resurrected body was like a book, whether you read it
backward or forward, the words were always the same. If you broke a bone, or
suffered a cut in your first life, your body would suffer the hurt again in the
Our son will suffer his hurts again, too, she reminded herself for the thousandth
Irene dipped her arms into a stainless steel bowl of water. The muscles in her back
relaxed as the cool water took some of the edge off her pain. She pulled her
bandages off the wood counter and ran them under. She had to grit her teeth as
she rubbed out the dirt between her thumb and forefinger. The pain was getting
Nothing lasts forever. Things will get better, easier. The thought was a salve,calming.
She tried to reapply the bandages herself, but only grew frustrated as the gauze
clung awkwardly to her tender flesh.
"Can you help me?" She finally asked, her back to her husband. Her voice was
Her husband pushed himself up from his chair. He was a big man; strong, with
wide set shoulders and large hands. He was getting younger, and had just gotten
his full head of black hair back. He had another twenty-five years until his
birthday, until he returned to his mother, giving himself up to her pregnant
embrace. Irene doubted that was what he wanted, but it would be his mother's
Resurrection always led back to the beginning, death, life, birth. She had already
decided that when her son's birth came, she would take him back into her, because
she couldn't bear the thought of burying him again.
She hissed as her husband took her right arm into his rough hands and coiled the
first bandage around her forearm and between her fingers. The cool, clean cloth
comforted her skin.
He dipped the second bandage into the metal basin. It was one of their few prized
possessions, an artifact from the future. Metal and stone and wood from older
trees were the only things that could survive their own creation, everything else
rotted away at the anniversary of its making.
Irene looked up at him, then away. "He's our son," she said, recalling their
argument. She closed her eyes, How could I forget?
"I know." His voice was quiet and firm.
"Our baby," she added.
"Then show it!" Irene turned her head up again, the muscles in her arms tensed.
She wanted to lash out. "Why don't you want this?"
"It's a hard world," he sighed. His eyes shifted right, then closed, "The pain isn't
worth it. Not for us to lose him again in three years."
"That's not an excuse! I've been waiting seventy years for this." Irene's words
choked in her throat, "I need him. I need to see him again, even if it's only three
Her husband shook his head and crossed his arms, "He never had a first chance at
life. With only three years, he won't have a second."
"No. No. No!" Irene wanted to hit something, to strike out at his indifference.
"You don't want him back because you resent me, you resent what God has given
us. You wish you had never been resurrected!"
"I do not . . ."
"You do," Irene continued, the heat building in her throat. "You've been
miserable ever since you came back. You've been mad at me ever since I let them
pull you from the ground!"
"No, I --"
"You --" Irene interrupted.
"Let me finish." Her husband jutted a finger in her face. He towered over her, his
cheeks flushed red. "I don't think any such thing. I love you. I love our son."
His breath was heavy, his words were even.
"Say his name," she ordered.
"Say his name. It's been forty years and you have called him your kid, your boy,
your son." Irene held up a fist and jutted out her fingers, counting the strikes.
"You have never called him by his name. His Christian name that we gave him
the day he was born. You have never said that name in this house. You've been
back for forty years and you have never said his name. Not once."
"Stop it," her husband turned away from her and clenched his fists. "I don't need
"What's his name?!" Irene cried.
"I don't need this." He stalked away. He grabbed his coat off a peg next to the
stove and slammed the screen behind him, rattling the door's wooden frame.
Run away! Irene thought, That's all you do is run!
Irene stumbled toward the table and pulled out a chair. She collapsed on it and
laid her head on their red and white checkered tablecloth. Great racking sobs
constricted her lungs as she wept. He resents me, she thought.
Do you blame him? She chided.
Her husband had suffered through black depression since he had returned to the
living. The doctor thought there was a problem when his body was regenerating,
as if the brain had not wired itself back together properly.
But that wasn't the answer. Her husband had not been happy before his death,
living a life of failure and depression until he passed away in 1978. When he was
reborn, it came as a shock, like a sick joke that he would have to relive his
miserable life again as punishment. If anyone had wanted to remain in the ground,
absent from the second chance God had given them, it was her husband, even if
that meant waking up from death buried, suffocating, and dying again.
It was a predicament Irene had no problem remembering. She bore witnessed to
his bitterness every day.
He thought it was a better alternative for him, thought it was best for their son. He
can say what he wants, about pain, about how hard the world is, but in the end,
he's afraid. He's afraid of being hurt again.
Aren't you afraid? She argued.
Irene didn't let her husband stay in the ground, when his time came she had the
diggers uncover his grave. She needed him, to share the burden she carried, to
help her life feel normal again.
And he has resented it ever since.
What her husband wanted for their son was horrible. She couldn't stand to
imagine it: her son, waking up from his resurrection in his coffin, buried alive. He
would survive for hours, in the dark, in the heat, alone, before he would succumb
to death again.
Irene wept at the thought, and imagined what it would be like to have six feet of
dirt separating her from her resurrected son, to hear his muffled cries, to claw at
the red ground until her fingers were nothing but wells of blood.
She had failed him once, and couldn't fail him again.
The kitchen was dark when her husband returned, scraping the metal screen
against the wood door. Outside, the crickets sang in the green of late morning.
Irene had fallen asleep at the table, her head cradled in her arms, her chin resting
on the tablecloth. She woke up when her husband entered.
"Back already?" She yawned, stretching her sore arms across the table, their fight
almost forgotten. She shook herself and grimaced. She hated that, when the
passage of time made her forget.
"Bar was closed. Dick had an accident or something." He hung his coat up on its
peg and tossed his billfold onto the counter.
"Is he alright?" Her husband had found a bottle somewhere. The stench of scotch
clung to him, and permeated the tight kitchen air.
"I don't know," he coughed, "they were closed." He crossed to the other side of
the table and collapsed into the chair opposite her. When he was sitting at their
table he always looked like a giant, with his shoulders towering above the surface
and his knees packed in tight underneath. He placed his head in his hands.
"I'm sorry," she said, without meaning it.
"He's been gone a long time," he said.
"I need this, Del, more than anything. I miss him."
Her husband rubbed at his eyes with the palms of his hands. "I'm sorry." He
They looked at each other, silent.
"Please?" Irene asked. "Please?"
The quiet stretched, and Irene knew not to interrupt again. She kept her eyes on
the tablecloth, focusing on a yellow stain near the table's edge. Her husband
couldn't stop her, but she wanted him there, needed him. Their son was coming
April 6, 1936
The wind was blowing again like the day before, pushing Irene's skirt hard against
her knees, shaking the tall tree that stood sentinel over her son's grave. The high
grass of the plain was flat from the wind. In the distance, a farmer trawled his
field for seeds to use the next fall, to resurrect the wheat.
The morning was hot for late spring. The cemetery wasn't far from town, but the
heat and the dirt road made the journey difficult. Thick beads of sweat coated
Irene's neck and daubed at the armpits of her dress. She waved her thin hands at
her face absently, using the motion to settle the nervousness boiling in her belly.
Her arms had been stiff and sore all afternoon, and the motion loosened them. The
burning sensation had worsened through the night, waking her up several times
from her shallow sleep.
Her husband was next to her, dressed for the occasion. He had slicked his hair
back with leftover cooking fat, and he was wearing his only suit, the one he wore
on their wedding day. The hem was ragged, and two of the buttons on his three-button coat bent at odd angles. He muttered and took a draw from his flask. They
had stopped at Dick's that afternoon to fill it up. She could smell the heavy scotch
on his breath. His walk was stuttering and uneven, so bad that Irene had to push
the buggy they had brought for their son half of the way.
They both stepped near the edge of the grave. Her son's coffin was at the bottom,
and while the laborers had cleaned and polished the surface of the lid, a light
dusting of red dirt had settled on it overnight. The casket itself was a plain wood,
stained a dark brown. To Irene, It looked too small.
"When are they coming?" Her husband asked, uncomfortable.
"Soon. Any minute," she replied, adjusting her hat. Her dress was a simple black.
She could not remember, but imagined she wore it during her son's funeral. The
thought lashed at Irene, but she pushed it down. It'll be over soon. My baby is
She kept her eyes on the casket, until the Reverend and the laborers arrived, and
relaxed a little. Patience, she reminded herself.
The Reverend was the youngest of them. He was a little boy, with rosy cheeks and
sandy hair, his priest's collar loose on his thin neck. Irene didn't know how much
longer he had, but guessed it was less than a decade. He was one of the few
children that had not retired, and Irene admired him for it.
"Irene, Delbert." The Reverend spoke with a child's falsetto and offered up a
hand to her husband. "We've been waiting for this one." Behind him, the workers
filed past. The men were familiar, and Irene imagined that they had been the ones
who helped uncover her son tomorrow.
Irene didn't answer the Reverend, but instead turned her attention back to the
coffin. Two of the workers jumped down into the hole. They worked a little space
for themselves, bent down and lifted the coffin up with ease.
The casket crested the grave's edge, where the remaining two laborers picked it up
and moved it to the side, setting it down next to the large pile of dirt they had dug.
Irene had tensed when they brought the coffin up, worrying that the men might
jostle her son. Most times, people left the casket in the ground to prevent such
problems, but her son's casket was so small that lifting it out would make his
"How much time do we have?" The Reverend asked.
"A few minutes." Irene replied.
"Best hurry, then." The Reverend smiled. Irene's stomach gurgled. A few more
minutes and her son's wait would be over. Her wait would be over. The pain in
her arms intensified. She could feel it in the tips of her fingers.
The Reverend opened his bible. Behind him, the laborers removed their denim
caps and stuffed them into empty pockets. Irene moved closer to her husband and
clutched his arm. Her knees felt weak and her nose was growing numb.
"You okay?" her husband asked. "You're breathing hard."
"I'm fine." She tightened her grip. The skin of her arms felt as though it were on
fire. Was this what my son felt? She hissed at the pain in her arms and closed her
eyes. She had forgotten how much it hurt. It would be worse for her son, she
realized. The scalding water had covered his entire body.
The Reverend began his prayer, and Irene could not focus on his words. Her
breath came in short, rapid spurts. She would catch snippets, "Blessed us with his
soul . . . new life . . . in resurrection . . . happy moments to cherish . . . serve out
your plan . . . repentance for sins . . ." The words held little meaning for her. She
tried focusing her mind, but her eyes kept wandering to the casket.
The Reverend clasped his bible shut when he finished. "The lord gives his
blessing," he smiled at Irene.
Irene nodded and turned her attention to the setting sun on the Eastern horizon.
Soon her son would be back. The workers moved to the large pile of dirt, and
began to shovel it back into the empty grave. The Reverend stepped up to the
coffin and flashed the sign of the cross in blessing, then moved away to make
room for Irene and her husband.
She blinked and her vision blurred with tears. Everything was quiet, save her
husband's steady breathing and the scrape of shovels against the ground. Her
husband placed an arm over her shoulder and gripped her tight.
The sound came from the coffin, shaking loose some of the dirt.
Irene shuttered each time, her heart skipping a beat.
"Momma!" A muffled voice coughed through the thick wood. It was hoarse,
edged with pain. "Momma! I hurt!"
Irene screamed and fell before her husband could catch her. Her knees sank into
the dry grass as she wailed, placing her head in both bandaged hands as fire
burned up her arms. She had forgotten how bad the pain was, the burning so hot
that it washed her vision white. She knew it would hurt, but thought her joy
would push it down, make it smaller.
But the pain cut both ways, she realized, as her son's scream echoed hers. What
kind of mother am I?
"MOMMA!" Her little boy wailed again.
"Irene." Her husband was crouched next to her, his voice was thick. He stuck an
arm underneath her to help her to her feet.
She looked at him, and saw the worry in the lines of his face. He remembers. Is
three years worth it?
Irene shook the thought from her head, she had made her decision. Her son
needed her now, more than ever. She let her husband guide her to the edge of his
coffin as she gasped between sobs. The casket rocked back and forth on the
ground, sending particles of red dirt shimmering through the air. The wind picked
them up and pushed them out of sight.
She fell to her knees again, this time at the center of the casket. Her husband knelt
beside her to work at the coffin's latch. With heavy, fumbling hands he sprung the
lock and lifted the lid.
Her son's face was still bright with the undertaker's makeup. He was in a simple
black suit, with bare feet. His hands were bright red. He writhed on the ivory
lining, his torso twisting back and forth like a rag wrung of all its water.
"MOMMA!" His voice hit her unblocked and she nearly fell on her hands.
"He will heal." The Reverend spoke up behind them, "The pain will go." His
voice was calm, soothing, confident.
Irene shut her eyes, wishing the pain would come to a quick end. She leaned into
the casket, moving her hands slowly. She reached for her son's hand and gripped
onto it. She gasped when she felt her son grip back, feeling the bones protruding
from his sharp knuckles and the tension wrought by his thin fingers. The skin of
his hands was raw and angry, and he gripped hers with a force that made her cry
out through the pain.
"Momma!" The boy cried again, weaker. His eyes were clenched shut. His head
and his feet were the only parts that the water had not touched.
"Shhh, baby. Momma's right here." His writhing slowed, his limbs slackened and
his breathing evened. Irene reached out and straightened his hair, pushing a few
stray hairs on his forehead up and over his ear with a bandaged finger.
"Your father's here too," her husband croaked, fumbling the words. He leaned
next to her, his knuckles bright white against the coffin's dark wood.
Her son's eyes flashed open, searching wild. His body writhed again, until his
eyes found his father.
"Why?" Her son screamed. His eyes were wide and accusing. His body lost its
tension as he passed out from the pain.
Irene dropped his hand.
Her husband fell away from the casket, knocking up a cloud of blood red dust.
"What does he mean?" Irene whispered. Her husband choked out a groan. She
stood up from the casket, raised her voice, "What does he mean?!"
Looming over her husband, her mind tugged at the memory, reliving it in
It had been just like every Monday: She filled the laundry tub, heated it to
scalding. It was early, the sun well above the horizon.
Her husband was in bed, out of work, sleeping off the Okie scotch Dick made in
his giant backyard kiln.
Her son had been in the other room, playing with a new wooden train that his
father had bought for him on a recent job scouting trip to Kingfisher. She could
still hear the sound, the CLICK-CLACK of wood striking wood.
CLICK-CLACK went the train. Irene could see him now, pushing it across the
worn linoleum of their kitchen floor.
He played there all the time.
He knew to stay away from that awful heat.
Irene closed her eyes, remembered the sounds. She had moved to the den, there
had been a knock at the door.
THUMP. THUMP. THUMP.
Then the hiss of water, like bacon thrown on a griddle, followed by her son's
scream. So close together that they played out simultaneously in her head.
She ran to the kitchen, her husband in the opposite doorway, three steps from their
bed. She dove after her son, burning her arms as she pulled him from the water.
Her husband was behind her, sober, frozen in indecision, fear. She did not
remember hearing him get up.
"Did you . . . do this?" She cried at the completion of the memory.
Her husband's eyes shut tight, he let loose a sob.
Irene screamed. "You whoreson!" She ran behind the casket and tore a shovel
from a laborer's hands, the pain in her arms forgotten.
She turned on her husband, the shovel held high. He had not moved. Tears ran
tracks through the dirt on his face. "I'm sorry," he said, "I didn't mean to."
Irene charged him. She swung for his head, but was stopped short as a pair of
hard arms wrapped round her waist. She was lifted in the air, carried off beyond
the grave, beyond the sight of her husband. She screamed and kicked, dropping
the shovel so she could press down on her captor's forearms.
"Stop." The man behind her gasped. She tossed her head to see him. It was one
of the diggers, caked in red dirt. He grimaced, flashing bright teeth. "Please.
". . . kill . . . him," Irene screamed through labored breath.
"No." The Reverend followed them, staying beyond Irene's kicking legs. His
black slacks were stained dirt red and a few wisps of hair were out of place. "No."
"I know," He held up a hand, and the laborer loosened his grip and set her feet on
the ground. His arms still locked around her waste. "What good will come of it?"
"He killed my son!" Irene drove against the worker's arms. He stumbled, but didnot break.
"Your son is alive," The Reverend pointed at the casket. "In time, he will forget.
You will forget."
"No! I will never forget." Irene scratched at the worker's arms. He released her
and Irene fell forward, to her knees. Pain shot through her arms as she landed on
her wounded hands.
The Reverend forced a smile and placed his hands on her shoulders. A dimple
formed against his young cheek. "That is the promise of resurrection. That is the
gift the Lord has given us, why he resurrected us, to wipe the slate clean. All of
our sins will be forgiven. Forgotten. As our lives roll back, all the things we have
done, will be undone. In a few hours, a day, you will forget. It will be as if it
Irene did not want to forget.
"I am sorry." The Reverend's high voice broke for a moment, and he wiped away
tears of his own. "In resurrection all things, all of life's mysteries, become clear. I
will speak to your husband. I think it is best for you to spend this first day away
from your son. By yesterday, he will be fine, and this horrible memory will be
Irene screamed and lunged to her feet, only to fall flat in the dust as the laborer
forced her back down by her shoulders. The remaining three diggers gathered
around the casket.
The Reverend took Irene by her tender hands, and guided her to her feet.
Standing, Irene was a head taller than he.
Her son was still in his casket, his eyes closed. He tossed his head and murmured
something against the soft lining of his coffin. Her husband was still on his knees,
his head held tight in his thick hands.
He looked up. "Please," he begged. "Please?"
Irene shook her head, bit her lip. The pain cut through her consciousness.
The Reverend broke the intervening silence. "In our lives we all do things that we
regret. Monstrous things. It pays nothing to dwell on them. I want you, Irene,
and you, Delbert, to spend the night here, contemplating this."
"What about my son?"
"I will take him. In a few hours, his wounds will heal. He will remember nothing
of this tragedy. Neither will you."
"I need him," Irene shook her head. "I don't want to forget!"
"Irene. Please." The Reverend spread his arms. "This is for the best."
The Reverend turned to the four laborers and pointed to Irene's husband. "Bind
his hands and feet. He will spend the night here, by his son's grave." He looked
sideways at Irene. "Lock her in the caretaker's home."
Irene watched as the men lifted her wounded son out of his coffin and into his
buggy. He did not stir. Moments later the Reverend pushed her son away, across
the uneven field, toward the setting sun.
"Will you come with me, ma'am?" The worker that held her back asked.
She nodded her head, and watched as her husband's feet and hands were bound
She closed her eyes and allowed herself to be led away by the digger's hard,
calloused hand. I will not forget, she swore to herself. I will not forget. She
repeated the mantra over and over. Your husband did this . . . he took your son
away from you.
Irene waited until dark before breaking out. The caretaker's house was little more
than a shanty, four walls cobbled together by spare pieces of wood, stone and
metal. The walls had many soft spots. Irene spent a few minutes working on one,
pushing on loose stones, pulling rotted wood, until she formed a space wide
enough to squeeze her thin body out of the house, dragging her torso and legs
against the ground. The laborers had left long before. The night was silent, dry,
Remember! Irene closed her eyes, and forced herself to recall the details of the
The moon cast long shadows against the graves of the cemetery. Irene used the
light of the moon and stars to guide her way to her son's gravesite. Her arms were
fully recovered, the skin soft, supple, new, flawless, perfect.
She felt out of breath, robbed of her joy. She should be celebrating the
resurrection of her son, at home, with her husband.
Today, everything was meant to be fixed. Instead, it was shattered.
Her son's grave was filled, with a small indentation and her son's headstone the
only proof it ever existed. Irene saw no sign of her husband.
Where did he go?
She began to panic. What if he escaped? What if he tries to hurt my son again?
He was bound, she reminded herself. Four strong men. You saw it yourself.
She crouched at the grave, and let her hands linger over the memory of her son
still etched in the stone. If she had a hammer, she would destroy it, break it down
to dust. She worked the stone with her hands, pressing it until it fell over in a
Irene stood and ran her eyes around the small graveyard, looking for her husband.
She did not know what she would do once she found him. Her mind refused to
answer any time she asked. What will you do? She chided herself. Scream at
him? Hit him? Kill him?
"Delbert!" She called into the darkness. "Where are you, you whoreson?!"
Above her, the old sentinel tree groaned in answer. Irene looked up.
Her husband's body swung from the tree, his legs twisting one way in the wind,
then another. He had fashioned a rude noose from the scraps of hemp the diggers
had used to bind him. His fingers were raw and bloody. The purple sheen of his
face was hard to pick out against the backdrop of the night sky.
Irene fell to her knees and broke her eyes away from her dead husband, letting her
vision fall to the tree's trunk. Her husband had cut into the wood, worked at the
dry, dead bark with his bare hands.
The words he left behind were simple, covered in blood:
LOOK AFTER HIM.
Her husband had not forgotten.
"I'm sorry," Irene whispered.
February 13, 1933
Irene had dreaded this day. Unlike the future, the past was inevitable.
She panted through exertion, her body covered in a clammy sheen of sweat. There
was little heat in the hospital, and she only had a thin cotton gown to separate her
skin from the cold. Goosebumps pebbled her exposed arms and thighs, and her
spread legs were high above her body, mounted in stirrups.
"We're almost there, Irene," the doctor smiled from between her legs. He was an
older man, with well-styled whiskers and a bald head.
"You're doing great," a nurse echoed, dressed in a white apron and cap. She was
standing next to her, holding her hand as she took in large gasps of air.
She gritted her teeth and balled her fists as the doctor pushed her son deeper. She
recalled the pain of childbirth, and knew that it was nothing compared to this. She
could feel her son struggling as he went higher into her uterus, with his sharp feet
and hard elbows.
Irene had dreaded this day, but not for the pain.
She cried out in grief. These three years had been wonderful, an era of brightness
where her life held few flaws.
Yet the anniversary of her son's birth always hung over Irene, like dark storm
clouds on the horizon, a constant reminder that his end was coming. Now her son
was on the final path of his life. He would live another nine months, until he
became a part of her.
Irene could feel him struggling, his limbs searching for room in her cramped
stomach. She cried out as her son flipped, planting a hard heal up against her
"And we're done. You did a great job kid," the doctor said. He turned and
scrubbed his hands in a metal basin, a wan smile on his lips.
Irene ran a hand across her bulging belly and rested her sweat soaked hair on the
over-starched hospital pillow. Her smile was sad. There was little joy in it.
Irene still remembered.
She would never forget.