To say it was all grief, all along, was stretching it maybe, but not by much, Richard Christie thought. Evil, mistakes of the heart, cold-bloodedness were only the disguises, the inky shapes and cloaks. Sketching itself at the back of his mind, when the case drew to a close, were snatches of "Nowhere Man," the sweet young voices of the Beatles conjuring his own boyhood. The song would have been playing on the radio as he raced into the house and out, hopped into his mother's car and dashed out moments later, eager for the next game or distraction. He tried to remember who he was then, what he felt, what sadnesses tugged at him. He supposed, in retrospect, he was lucky to be so ordinary.
Inside the house on Beechwood Boulevard, Elizabeth is waiting for the detective. Eight times, eight visits, one week. She watches and waits. He's told her he won't be bothering her so regularly any more.
The person who killed her husband has not been found, that's the bare-rock truth.
Seven days, eight meetings ago, Commander Christie said the usual tough things about finding the killerhis sentences might have been spoken by any detective in any filmbut his eyes were soft, full of feeling, and she never doubted his sincerity. He knew her husband a little, that was part of it, and anybody who knew Daniel loved him.
And here she is, a week later, the funeral over by several days, the children back at collegea difficult decision but if her work has taught her anything it's that people need to take up their lives againhere she is, alone. Yesterday brought a glimpse of what real desolation is and today she got the whole blank canvas as she wandered through the house, almost dizzy with the space and silence. People called, of course, but less frequently now that the funeral was over. They'd expended their store of philosophy in those first three days of mourning. There was nothing left to say but "Anything new? Have they found anything?" She turned the machine off because it was hard to keep saying, "No, no, nothing."
The house is empty, the larder bare. The funeral meats are gone, un-thriftily given to anyone who would accept cold cuts, pastries, roasts, hams, salads. Even the children took some of the surfeit. Elizabeth wanted the food and flowers out of the house. She wanted to throw awaysame as when she was spring cleaning or tackling the basementanything, everything.
Now there is nothing. She wonders, should she fill a pitcher of water, put out two glasses? The detective never takes anything. She walks back and forth inside her own house as if it belongs to a stranger.
Outside the house and across the street, at the entrance to Frick Park, a man in navy jogging clothes stretches and appears to look nowhere in particular except possibly at his well-clad ankles; yet, between this reach and thatdone awkwardly, he is not an athletehe manages to watch Elizabeth's house. He wonders if she is alone in there. Runners run by. Children chase each other with shrill ecstatic threats while their mothers attempt to herd them to the playground section, yelling, "Don't run, watch where you're going." The man is only a shadow in their peripheral vision, not noticeable or memorable.
There's a reason for everything; something good will come of it, a composite invisible someone murmurs to Elizabeth. She identifies the composite: minister and neighbor and wife of colleague.
Reason? she answers. What about just desserts? Dan didn't deserve to be cut off so young.
His short good life was better than many long lives, the little chorus offers, trying to help.
Elizabeth opens the refrigerator. A quart of milk, a chunk of cheese.
At least the detective doesn't sermonize. In his silences are simple meanings: this is tragic, this is sad.
There is a tap at the door. Elizabeth hurries to it and lets in her guest, her almost-friend, the homicide commander with the sympathetic eyes.
He asks, "How are you holding up?"
"People have been very good to me."
The detective, Commander Christie, nods seriously. "I would hope so."
She leans forward to close the door.
Outside, the man in the park stretches, trying to imagine the conversation in the house. What do they say? He tells himself, I should go, but he doesn't. How strange that life has handed him circumstances that put him here, now.
© Kathleen George
For further commentary on FALLEN, see "A study in grief" by Regis Behe, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Sunday, July 11, 2004, and "Crime fiction holds a mirror up to society" by Regis Behe, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Sunday, March 13, 2005