The End Came With a Kiss(5)

By: John Michael Hileman


There’s no sign of danger, so I get out and take my place on the lawn. Harold, my neighbor across the street, is clipping his shrubs—again. He gives me a friendly wave, but I don't bother to wave back. If I wave, it will trigger another automated series of movements that will bring him down to the edge of the driveway to talk with me. I used to look forward to those conversations. He would always tell me some new gardening secret he had discovered, and I would tell him what product my company was working on that would change the future. I liked him. Who he used to be. The thing he is now grieves me to look at, and I have enough grief to last a lifetime.

A movement pulls my attention back. It is my wife. She’s running toward me around the bushes on the side of our house. There is anguish in her countenance, an anguish that still makes my gut tighten. She comes to a full stop in front of me, chest heaving to take in a breath. Her lips move, but only a husky noise comes out. My mind inserts the words. "She's gone, Ben. She's gone." My heart hurts as though the wound upon it is fresh. She falls to the ground with outstretched arms and groans another sentence. Against my will, my brain translates. "It pushed her and she fell."

I reach out to hold her, but she pushes my arms away as she has done some forty times before. But it doesn't matter. I do now what I did on that horrible day. I don't care if she's sick. I don't care if the poison inside her tears leaks into my skin. I can't let her suffer the loss of our daughter alone.

I fall to my knees and clutch her squirming body. She could easily resist me with the strength she now has, but she doesn't. Her movements are a pantomime of submission. She collapses within my arms, sobbing deeply.

And for the first time—I cry too.





3

There was never any time to grieve over the death of my daughter. The day Katherine came running up the lawn, so much had happened. I was in shock. It was like a roller coaster back then. One thing after another. People I'd known my whole life—people I loved—were dropping dead in the streets, or right in front of me. It was too much. I was on nonstop adrenal overload.

Since that day, all of my energy has been spent on Kate, learning her loop and keeping her safe. My daughter’s death was just another detail I had to remember. But today, it feels different. I have played this scene out so many times, I do it now without thinking, so my mind has time to wander to memories I have not allowed myself to visit. Memories of my precious little girl.

They flood forth without concern for what harm they will do, and I allow them. Each flash is like a dagger in my gut, but I want to remember now. I need to remember, no matter how much it hurts. I can't live in this dead skin any longer. If I do, I will be no better than them. As I kneel, pressing my wife's wavy blonde head to my chest, soaking her cold forehead with my tears, I feel almost alive.

But it doesn't last long. She pushes me onto my heels and crawls backward. Her finger points at my shirt, and her jaw moves to perfectly form words that don't come out. I don’t know why they do this. She obviously remembers the words that were spoken, but her brain can't make her vocal cords produce the sound. All that comes out is a slight hiss.

I don't remember what she said that day, but I know what she wants me to do. Her tears were on my shirt, and she was afraid for me. I'm safe now, though. The only tears on my shirt are my own. The dead don't cry.

She points again and a guttural growl begins to hum in her throat, but I don't bother to take it off; I know what happens next. She throws herself to the ground in reaction to an explosion, but there is none. What remains of the car that exploded lays across the street in Harold's yard, charred and shredded. She scrambles to her feet and bolts for the front door. I follow. There are a few things left for me to do. She pushes through and falls into a quick crawl toward the living room. I bolt the door, get down, and crawl with her. It agitates her if I don't.

We sit with our backs to the couch for a long time, until it seems like her body shuts down. She is probably waiting for me to do something, but I haven't figured out what it is. I've found that doing nothing isn't as bad as doing the wrong thing—well, not so much the wrong thing as simply impeding whatever automated process is going on. The greater the importance of the process, the greater the anger. Like Ashlyn and the man who owned the motorcycle. He probably used that motorcycle to get from one section of his loop to the next. By taking the motorcycle, she kept him from completing his loop from home, to the store, to work. It was like she took a piece of his life away.