Thursday, October 13, 2005

An Act of Devotion

She stood in the backyard, under the tree fort she and her husband had built for their son. She'd dug a hole, very deep, according to the guidelines the state had sent around. Just as the hospitals had quickly filled, so too had the cemeteries. She'd been told that unless she wanted her loved ones disposed of in a mass grave at the edge of town, she'd be better off burying them herself.

Just like she'd been better off caring for them herself. Though, in that case, she felt it was her responsibility anyway. She'd been the first to get sick, then her little boy and finally her husband. She and her husband cared for each other and their son as well they could, and when she began to recover, she cared for her family to the exclusion of all else. At one point, when they were in the worst throes of the virus, she'd called 911, but a recorded message told her there were no operators to take her call and to contact her local hospital directly. She'd done that, and the weary voice on the other end told her there were no beds. She was advised to try one of the wards.

The wards. Once they had been school auditoriums, office buildings or shopping plazas. Now, most of the largest public buildings had become wards for the sick. Row upon row of beds stretched from wall to wall, with a dwindling number of trained professionals to care for those that lay in them, and a growing number of well-meaning but untrained volunteers taking their place. The wards were not places to get well. They were places to go if you didn't want to die alone. She made the decision to keep her family home. If they were to die, it would be in their own beds.

She bowed her head, looking down at the hole she'd dug, and the body of her husband lying there. He'd died in their bed; the bed they'd conceived their son in, the bed where they'd spent many a lazy Sunday morning, the bed their son shared with them when nightmares drove him from his own. That was where her husband had died, drowning and burning and lost in delirium. And she sat by his side, helpless. Powerless. Useless. Reduced to a spectator in the hour of his greatest need.

She tore her gaze from the grave she'd dug to the still form she held in her arms. He was so small, yet so much bigger than the baby she'd held five years ago. She knew she had to give him over to his father. She knew it was time to let him go. But she couldn't. He looked like he was sleeping, though she could feel that he wasn't. When the end had come that morning for her little boy, she'd been no more use to him than she'd been to her husband. Tears streamed down her face as she held her son close for one final hug, then laid him to rest in his father's cold arms.

She turned her face toward the sky and screamed. A long mournful howl filled with pain and rage. She had failed them. "You care for your family, no matter what." That's what her mother had always told her. But she hadn't been able to care for hers. She had failed at the most important job she'd ever had to do.

Just like the system she and her husband had worked their whole adult lives to support had failed them all, right when they needed it most. When disaster struck, those in power had nothing to give those in need, for power does not give. It can only take. And now, the folly of the powerful had taken the two things dearest to her in the world, and left her with nothing. Nothing but a house full of worthless THINGS, a world filled with death and a heart filled with misery.

But not for long.

She felt the heat from the house as it burned, and she emptied the can into the hole and over herself. Then, with a final anguished scream at the heavens, she touched the match to her fuel-soaked clothing and leaped into the grave. As she burned with the bodies of her family, she smiled, knowing their ashes would mingle as they floated free of this earth toward the sky.

Her last thought before the flames took her was a prayer; she prayed that when their souls met, her family would forgive her.


purplesimon said...

Blown away. Totally. Blown. Away.

purplesimon out...

Kat said...

So sad. Good, but sad.

Lisa said...

Oh, that...was too sad, too deep-cutting...

which, of course, only means it was well-written. :)

madman said...

First time here---I will be back. You do have talent.

Rae Ann said...

Heartbreaking. I've had to stop watching the news because of all the bird flu talk. It makes you wonder. Have you read The Stand?