Caterpillars

WHAM! The door to the living room slams open and the master of the house enters, a good deal more quickly than he’d intended. It couldn’t be helped, though. One glance at his heaving chest and shining eyes make it evident he is at the brink of losing his careful composure. For a moment a scene of the outdoor wedding reception is framed by the open doorway, the families and friends all waiting patiently in line to give congratulations to the bride, the groom, and their parents. Well, all of the parents, that is, but the now-absent bride’s father. As the door swings back closed and the concerned stares of his loved ones are blocked, the man lets loose his emotions in a great, rushing torrent. Hot, fresh tears streak down his cheek and his breath shudders between each sob. Suddenly he feels his balance sway uncertainly and he reaches a hand to the mantelpiece for support.

“What’s the matter with me?he asks the empty room, as a series of emotions and confusions tumble through his mind. How could he be so shaken at his own daughter’s wedding? It wasn’t as though he was against the marriage, quite the contrary! He was so very proud of her, so excited to see her blossom in her new adventure. And yet…

As if looking for answers he raised his eyes to the mantel he was leaning against. In honor of the occasion every square inch of it had been dedicated to pictures of the bride and groom, starting with them at their youngest at either end and then moving inwards on the wooden plank and forward in years until meeting together at the center with their engagement photo. As his eyes scanned along the pictures he found his attention arrested by one of his daughter as a very young girl. Under her dark curls of hair she was locking eyes with him and she was giving him a smile—he had forgotten what it was like to face that particular late-toddler, dimple-cheeked grin. This. This was what his sorrows were for, the loss of this beautiful little girl that would never be again. As his conscious sank more deeply into the picture he noticed the wall of vines that formed the backdrop of the image. Oh of course, this was that first spring with her at his parent’s orchard…

She had turned three the week before they came. He remembered how captivated with it all she had been, to her it truly had been like discovering a new world. Though most people might consider the orchard and attached homestead as quite docile and calm, compared to the city where she lived this was practically brimming with wild adventure and naked nature around every turn! He still remembered her dancing barefoot on the fields of grass with a flower-crown her mother had woven through her hair. And there had been that night they found her bed vacant, and in a panic they rushed outside only to find her sitting calmly just down the path, staring up ceaselessly at the magnitude of stars. And the animals, how she had loved them all from the largest of the horses to the tiniest of the… caterpillars…

One day when picking fresh berries off the vine together he had found a caterpillar on a leaf. Excited to share yet another miracle of nature with her he had cupped it in his hands and brought it home to place in a jar. She was already pleased with this novel arrangement, and then even more thrilled when he told her that she could keep it for her very own pet. That very first day she spent every spare moment entranced with her little friend, surveying every step of its circling journeys. The next day he had shown her how the leaves in the jar were dried up and crumpled and he explained they would need to regularly replace them. Well, every morning after that his daughter would greet him with her jar and an injunction that it was time to do their “caterpillar chores”. It got so she wouldn’t settle down to her own breakfast until the caterpillar’s had been served first.

Initially she was too nervous to let the caterpillar touch her. She loved to watch her parents handle the creature, but even then she would stand at a distance, trembling all over with excited uncertainty. As day after day passed, though, she worked up the nerve to stroke its back with a single finger, then to hold a leaf while the caterpillar sat on top, and finally she let it crawl against her bare hand. “Hand-walks” became another daily requirement after that.

She didn’t really grasp the meaning of giving a pet a name, so it simply remained “the caterpillar”, or rather whichever of the adorable mispronunciation of “caterpillar” she happened to use on a given day. One morning, though, she came to her father in grave concern, holding up the jar and pronouncing that her beloved caterpillar was gone. He peered inside and, as expected, saw a cocoon hanging from a stick. He soothed her and explained that the caterpillar was just hiding in that little, white thing, and soon would come out. And when it did, he promised with a smile, she would receive a wonderful surprise.

Well, he had been right about the “surprise” part at least. With perfect clarity he could still recall the day that she came to him, tears streaming down her face, accusing him of being mistaken in his promise. The cocoon had opened, but it was certainly not her caterpillar friend that had emerged. In vain he tried to explain to her that the fluttering bright-blue butterfly was, in fact, her same caterpillar. To her mind, how could it be? It was an entirely different creature, and one that she evidently had no compassion for. She begged him to bring her caterpillar back, and when he couldn’t she insisted on opening the jar and shooing the strange butterfly away.

He was helpless to comfort her little, broken heart, as he never found a way to explain things in a way she could understand. Naturally she moved on from her grief, and some time later so did he, and so the caterpillar remained unspoken of as the seasons faded one into another until it was Spring and they took a trip to the parents’ orchard again. There, while once more picking berries among the leaves, he turned to see his daughter pointing in utter bewilderment at a cluster of little caterpillars emerging from their eggs. He sighed, and paused, but then… somehow this time he knew how to explain the experiences she had been having with these strange creatures.

“I know it was so sad for you when your caterpillar left to go be something else. You loved it and you wanted it to stay. But the things about caterpillars is, they have to leave or else there never can be anymore of them. If yours didn’t leave you, then these little ones here could never have been.”

Somehow this made sense enough to the four-year-old mind, and at last she seemed to be at peace on the matter.

Back in the living room the present-day father was also at peace as his memories drew to a close. He caressed the picture of his young child with his fingers, then he turned and went back to the loved ones waiting outside.

The House’s Finest Hour

It’s not every day that a house sees a wedding, indeed many homes are built and unbuilt without ever seeing a single such occurrence in between. But to the home that does host such an event, what other festivity could possibly compare? Not only does the moment call up such lavish gaiety and decoration as to never be forgotten, but also there is no other event that could be a better consummation of all that the home represents. For what is a wedding but the embryo of family life? And what is a house, then, but the gestational womb of such embryo?

Indeed, man has long been in the practice of constructing stone and metal wombs around his varied facets of life, and invariably he communicates in the outward appearances that which is conducted within. Thus he builds a skyscraper for the conducting of sharp, calculated business, and he designs the building to be a sharp and calculated edifice, designed in ultimate efficiency with cold and compressed steel, lifting itself against its neighbors in competition for the skyline. The man seeks an structure to dedicate to all that is spiritual and shrouded, and so he builds a church, and he builds it after a mysterious and mystical pattern. Spires and domes everywhere, what functional purpose do those give to a worldly structure? Nothing, but so again prayer and fasting are not meant to give functional purpose to the worldly either. How can your temple know anything of the higher sphere if I can make perfect sense of it in my lower one? Man builds a University for learning, and he uses as his blueprint the structures of the ancient Grecian and Roman worlds. No other category of construction would be considered superior for being of a great age, but in the academic world every crack and fade is but the more revered. What care I for your degree in philosophy unless you obtained it in a structure that might have once housed Aristotle and Plato? I could continue, we have the unvarnished sterility of the hospital, the imposing invariableness of the courthouse, the sprawling reaching of the airport, the ugly isolation of the prison, the elaborate facade of the theater; but I have strayed too far from home already.

As I was beginning to say before, homes are made for the founding and developing of family, and as marriage is the core of the family, no home is more a home than when hosting a wedding. Nor was this singular significance lost in the minds that carried out the decorating and preparations of the home. Untold hours have been spent in such scrubbing and polishing that it is a wonder the walls themselves weren’t rubbed away. Not that you can hardly find an inch of naked wall anywhere beneath the strands of lightbulbs, the garlands, the laces, the banners, the paintings and photographs, all so tightly overlapping upon one another as to appear like a giant petticoat.

But come, let us take it room-by-room and give each form of adornment the examination it deserves. First we come in by the entryway, and here we are greeted by what can only be described as a shrine to flowers. It’s fortunate there is a receptionist to welcome us or we might have assumed we entered by the wrong door and stepped into the garden. Surely Dionysus never knew such a worthy offering: flowers here in metal vase and flowers there in a clay pot, flowers laying in glass case and flowers tucked in every spot. See how in this basket they have cleverly placed both rose-colored violets and violet-colored roses, and over in this vial we have a family reunion of the flora sisters: Daisy, Lily, and Petunia. I see they’ve been creating their own species as well, it would appear a marigold nestled like the pollen core into the center of crocus petals, and all perched on stalks of amaranth.

Yet for all the perfumes and fragrances produced by this floral bounty, the perceiving inhaler would not be able to ignore that there is a competitor to these flowers’ dominance of smell. Yes, there’s something else in the air, and it’s wafting from down this main hallway.

Ah, here we find the challenger’s corner in the kitchen. Whereas the entryway was buried in surfaces soft and thin, one can’t help but notice this room’s contrasting hard steel and granite slabs, all meticulously cleaned and sterilized. Wipe away every crumb if you can, it’s of no use, one snuff betrays all the dusty and spotted surfaces you must have held but an hour ago. On this counter I detect the scent of fresh bread, in this pot there remains a whiff of butter, in the oven I find the traces of both vanilla and chocolate, clearly someone spilled cinnamon on the floor here. And sugar? The aroma of that is to be found just everywhere. Stand back and take in all the pungence together and you might mistake the room as a factory for the manufacturing of girls, given the copious savor of sugar and spice and all that’s nice. But enough of the smelling, how about the tasting? Where could all these goodies have been ushered off to?… Let’s duck into the living room, that’s a likely candidate.

Yes, here they are. I don’t believe these tables were intended to support such a weight of food, they’re already starting to buckle at the center and by the end of the night may well be better shaped for use as chairs. Whichever source of sugar prefer most, I’m sure you’ll find it somewhere in this confectioner’s mountain. Have some strawberries dipped in chocolate, then chocolate éclairs topped with a vanilla sauce drizzle, and then vanilla pudding with strawberries stuck on top. One wonders that there isn’t a Neapolitan cake. Oh wait, there it is, I didn’t see it behind the pound cake and ice cream cake. After you have enough bites of cake be sure to get some cake bites, and so segue to the smaller offerings of tarts, cookies, taffies, and fruits and cheeses for fondue. If you favor a little savor and salt with your sweet we have caramelized bacon roses and sea-salted caramels and a bag of something called bacon-salt that I guess is meant to be applied judiciously to whatever you please. Come now, I believe I’ve already gained 10 pounds and I haven’t even had a bite.

Thus far we’ve dwelt on the preparations of the home, but what on the people housed within? As a general rule, weddings seem to be the events to which ill feelings and long faces are most forbidden. It truly speaks to the magnanimity of the occasion that an event which only truly benefits two individuals can still ripple goodwill and positive cheer to all attendees, though they number more than a hundred. And indeed, there is not a one of the guests to be found here today that is not succumbing to this epidemic of genuine mirth, you can see its symptoms in all the cheerful talk and warm laughter. Perhaps this phenomenon is explained in the fact that weddings afford us one of the rare opportunities to examine how the threads of our disparate lives all come together in unexpected ways, and each attendee is the embodiment of one of those individual threads that makes up the tapestry of the new couple. Thus they are permitted, nay, even expected, to show off that little bit of themselves that the whole of the honored duo might be understood:

“Yes, I knew him well, I was his football coach. There was this one time, we were down by 5 and I entrusted him with the last play of the game…”

“That’s right, she’s my sister… oh yes, of course I have all sorts of embarrassing stories to share…”

“I know he may seem so strong and solemn now, but when he was but a child in my class he betrayed a very tender heart. There was one time when the class pet was ill…”

“Ah, well, if you think she looks lovely now you should have seen how she radiated when our debate team won the nationals…”

“I should hope he’ll be able to provide, he’s got an excellent employer: me! I knew I wanted him on my team right away when in his interview he…”

“Yes, the family doctor. One time, as I was concluding a routine house call, she came to me with her decapitated doll…”

Can we express pride and admiration for the beauty of the weaving, without also admitting a pride in our own fibers that lay within it? The more the newlyweds glow brightly the more we all shine with them. And a truly radiant pairing it is this day. See the groom, tall and straight, broad shoulders that are prepared to bear much and undoubtedly soon will. His darling whispers something in his ear and his face becomes sharp and attentive, then, as he understands the joke it breaks into a handsome grin and deep, healthy laughter. He speaks back to her and it is a voice steady and purposeful, a voice that has confidence in that which it speaks. And as he speaks she pushes back a curl of her auburn hair to better lend her sympathetic ear. Her expression is one of cheerful anticipation. His comment to her does not elicit laughter, but tenderness, as evidenced by how she palms his chin and leans up to affectionately kiss his cheek. That done she bobs back down to her heels and ever so slightly leans backwards, a pose that communicates utmost comfort and calm, a stance that invites others to lean forward and bask in her smiling warmth.

Yes, this truly is the day that best epitomizes all the house represents. It is the day that it truly realizes its full purpose, the very apex of its existence. But there is a bitter-sweetness in finding a summit, for it means no following days will compare. In every symphony there is a solitary loudest note, and everything that follows seems but the duller reverberations of that one greatest moment. Then, even after all the instruments have sounded their last the air still seems to pulsate with the tone. So it was for the halls of this home, ever seeming to ring with the sounds of mirth and laughter of that one grandest day. As the place was eventually left desolate and dust collected thick on every surface it still at times seemed to be stirred by the echoes, now so low they are but the haunting of days beyond memory.

 

Scars and Soothing

“Okay, so who was that one?” she asked, half-laughing at how many times she had queried this of the well-wishers coming through their wedding reception line.

“Barry. He, uh–”

She recognized the name. “He was one of the ones there for the IED wasn’t he?”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “Knocked him out right away, though, he doesn’t remember anything.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen him at the Project?”

He shook his head.

“Why not?”

He smiled awkwardly, the smile of one unsure how to explain.

“I just mean, you asked him if he was working and he said he hasn’t been able to get anything…”

“It’s not as simple as that.”

“Oh, you mean pride?” she said with a simple bluntness that for some reason aggravated him. As he thought about it he realized it did so because she was right.

“Yes, I suppose” he conceded. Before he could continue, the next guest, one of her high school teachers approached to express congratulations. After the teacher had left he proceeded. “But, I suppose everyone needs some pride, don’t they?”

She thought this over for a moment. “Yes…I guess from what you’ve shared of your experience one might say it was your pride that kept you going until you could find healing?”

“I’d agree to that.”

“Still, I’m sure he could benefit from a friendly hand. Not a knock against his pride, you understand, it’s just we all would benefit from a kind lift.”

“Well I won’t argue with you there. And maybe one day he won’t, either.”

Obviously pleased with their understanding of one another she reached over and gripped his hand with her own. “I love you, you know.”

“I should certainly hope so!” He stroked his thumb along her hand. It was so smooth, so soft…such a complete contrast to the charred, marbled flesh of his own arm. He had been trying to cast around in his mind for a loving sentiment to offer in return, but he didn’t dare say anything now, the tears were too close to the surface. It didn’t matter, though, at this moment she happened to glance over and saw the water forming in his eyes.

“Hey…” she whispered tenderly, “talk to me.” It was a simple, kind invitation, one that let him open up at his own pace.

“Oh, I—uh–it’s hard to explain–” he paused, looking for the right words. How was he to express the notion of ugliness to one so beautiful? “I do think part of it is pride, but that’s not all there is to it,” he began slowly. “Sometimes it’s just hard for the guys to accept that they even deserve to be helped.”

One glance to her made it clear she was troubled and confused by the statement. She didn’t say anything, though, waiting for him to continue. “See, it doesn’t matter even if you were a complete saint, never did anything over there you felt guilty about. Just the fact that you saw some terrible things is enough to make you think like you don’t deserve to be with the innocent. Maybe that’s not a right way to feel, but that’s how it is. Just being a witness to that stuff makes me scarred…and it seems like scars shouldn’t touch beauty.” His eyes trailed down to their still-entwined hands, realizing the Freudian slip in his pronouns.

She followed his gaze, her own eyes moist now. When she spoke, though, it was with a voice calm and clear. “I’ve seen how there’s a tendency to push good things away, to isolate. That’s so no one becomes…hurt by the roughness?” she stroked her finger along the burn on the back of his hand.

He nodded, a lump in his throat.

“Hey look at me,” she said firmly. He obeyed, her eyes entirely unflinching as they stared into his. “Do I look like I have any regrets?”

“No, ma’am.”

“You are not damaging me. Now I won’t tell you to never have fears and self-doubts, I understand this is a process and that’s just how it’s going to be. But here’s what I will tell you, we’ll call it marriage rule number one: any time those fears show up you come and tell me so I have a chance to show you how undamaged and whole I feel being with you. You got that?”

He made a mental note to ask her later if she knew how attractive it was when she gave him orders. For the time being he simply whispered “Yes, ma’am,” and let his face break into a sincere smile.

It was only after a few moments of continued eye-gazing that they realized another well-wisher had arrived. It was Carlos, probably the member of his unit who had adjusted back to regular life the most easily. It had been his idea to start the Patterson Project, a local non-profit to help soldiers get integrated back into the real world and connected to their communities. The name came from another member of their unit, Blake Patterson, who had taken his life just five weeks after returning back home.

“Oh hey, don’t stop on my account,” Carlos smiled with raised eyebrows. “Only you’ll understand if I feel a little jealous. See that’s the way this guy always used to look at me.”

“With your ugly mug?” he laughed, reaching out to give a firm, back-slapping hug. When they pulled away Carlos had genuine tears in his eyes.

“Hey look, I know sentimental isn’t really my thing,” Carlos said. “But I really am proud of you, man.” He clapped the groom’s shoulder firmly, then turned to the bride. “And hey, y’know none of us could be happier to have you officially becoming a part of the family. It really means a lot that you wanted to come and help us out at the Project, even though we were all strangers to you. You’re the angel in our lives.”

“That day means a lot to me.” She laughed and glanced to her new husband. “I guess for some pretty obvious reasons.” Carlos concluded his congratulations and moved onwards, leaving the couple alone once more. “But not just because of today,” she continued, “also because I see it as the day I started to empathize.”

Now it was her husband’s turn to look confused. “‘Started to empathize?!’ You’ve always been perfectly understanding.”

She shook her head. “No, I’ve always tried to be nice. But like you were just expressing, there’s pains and pangs I simply didn’t understand, ones I still don’t fully. Something I’ve come to realize is niceness doesn’t go a very long way without being able to grieve together first.”

“Huh,” he mulled the sentiments over.

“You should take that as a compliment, because I’ve only been able to understand from how vulnerable you’ve allowed yourself to be. You’re the gatekeeper, not just to your heart but the hearts of all those with these experiences. It’s your ability to connect to the suffering deep at their cores that forms the conduit through which the rest of us bring our healing and hope.”

He blinked a few times as he processed this, a warm twinkle in his eyes. “Y’know something? I think it’s a good thing we’re getting married.”

“I should certainly hope so!”

And with that, they finally kissed.

 

Wedding Rice

The reception was drawing to its close, the tables had all been cleared, the music had ceased to play, and all of the guests had flocked to the front-lawn, waiting to cheer the new couple on their way to the honeymoon. Just through the front door and halfway down the connecting hallway, the groom, James, and his new father-in-law were waiting on the bride and her mother, who were in an adjoining room. James was grateful for the opportunity to be alone with the father, he had noted the elder having a somber moment earlier and wanted to ask him about it.

“How are you doing?” he approached gently. “I noticed you seemed a bit affected earlier.”

“You mean when I left all of a sudden?” Hector clarified. “Yes, I surprised even myself, getting so emotional like that. I suppose it was just the reality of it all setting in, the weight of the loss. Of course it is a happy day, but there’s still a loss to it as well.”

James nodded sympathetically. “I can imagine.”

“What is that loss, though, James? That I can’t answer. I don’t buy into the cliché ‘I’m losing my daughter’ nonsense. She’s still just as much my daughter as before, and yet–” he gesticulated with open palms his inability to finish the sentence.

“The loss of your relationship, perhaps?” James suggested. “She’ll still be your daughter, but not your little girl.”

Hector nodded solemnly. “That’s it. That’s it exactly. I couldn’t put the name to it before, but somehow my subconscious knew. All tonight it’s been bringing up to me happy, old memories of her as that ‘little girl’, I guess it was so I could say my good-byes.”

 

“I have so many memories of you as a little girl here, and now here I am saying my good-byes to her.”

Ada’s mother, Penny, had come to help with the last of the packing in the old, childhood room. In preparation for their evening flight Ada had changed into a simple skirt and jacket, both considerably more relaxed and subtle than her dress, though they were still white to keep with the wedding theme. Now she was rummaging through the old closet and shelves for any last childhood mementos she wanted to take with her. Everything else was destined for storage, at least until Penny would be able to stomach the idea of a yard sale.

“It’s only good-bye now?” Ada teased with a smile. “It’s not as though I’ve actually been living here for the last–what has it been?–five years.”

“Yes, but your things were still here. Now the room will be left barren.” It was an unfortunate choice of words, and Penny quickly looked downwards to try and hide the fresh emotion welling in her eyes. Ada had felt the same tremor, though, and paused her packing to look to her mother in kind pity. Penny wiped her eyes and, with decent composure, addressed the moment. “I always did feel guilty that you were alone in here. I know every girl longs for a room of her own, but I’m sure she longs for a sister more.”

“How could you feel guilty?” Ada asked with a sort of sympathetic-yet-disapproving tone. “Guilt isn’t for things you have no control over.”

“You don’t need to tell me its of no use, I know it. But believe me, it’s still there just the same. It was the same with your Father, too. I could tell he always felt so guilty that he wasn’t doing enough.” Her somber tone broke with a smile as a memory flitted across her mind. “I remember one evening how he wouldn’t stop doting on me in the hospital until I threatened him with my dinner knife!”

 

“Any last minute threats for me while you have the chance?” James asked with a cheeky grin.

Hector smiled too, but shook his head. “No threats. If I did, I would sound a hypocrite anyways, you’ve heard me talk about my ‘wild’ streak. From the moment Ada introduced us to you I was glad to see you’re a different sort of man.”

James wasn’t sure how to respond to this, would thanking him for the favorable comparison sound like condemnation? Thankfully, Hector didn’t seem to be expecting a reply as he continued reminiscing.

“In fact, the memory of Ada I’ve been thinking most of was with her as a little girl on my parents’ orchard, you know the one. Well they acquired that place specifically to help me with my struggles. To this day they still keep it on as a therapeutic retreat for other troubled kids. You go there and you’re responsible for a plot, it’ll thrive or die based off of the commitment you bring to it. It takes a lot of work, a lot of dedication, a lot of believing in something other than yourself. I swear, there were trees and bushes there that I loved and cared for as if they were people.”

This was a topic of Hector’s life that he had only ever brought up once before, and then only briefly, so James still maintained silence, not wanting to pry. Hector continued. “Of course when I learned I was going to be a father I was well past those years, but still I was so afraid of passing on all my bad parts to my child. It’s been no small comfort to watch her grow and see how good she’s always been, so complete and whole.”

 

“Mom, my whole life I’ve always felt our family was complete,” Ada assured. “In some ways it simplified things to know that the three of us was just what we were supposed to be.”

Penny smiled ruefully. “There were times while carrying you that I worried whether or not it would always be the ‘three of us’. Oh you needn’t look so alarmed, the doctors were very positive and reassuring, but you know how the mind always goes to the worst. I thought that at the very least if I could just deliver this child, well then there would be someone to fill my place if I was gone.”

“Well I’m glad I didn’t grow up with that burden!” Ada laughed.

“No, that wouldn’t be fair on anyone, would it!” Penny chuckled as well. “Of course as soon as I saw you I stopped all that mopey nonsense. I knew I had to stick around to see that this little bundle was well taken care of.”

 

“Well you took good care of her,” James said sincerely. “I mean Ada has a good heart all on her own, but don’t discount what you did to nurture and cultivate that. You let her develop healthy and secure, and did the hard work necessary to not pass on the same challenges you faced.”

Hector shrugged modestly. “That has, certainly, always been my hope.”

“And it’s been more than a few times she’s shared with me how positive your influence on her has been. So in her eyes, you’ve succeeded.”

Hector stared down at the carpet, apparently not comfortable with the idea of showing tears to his son-in-law just yet.

James did him the courtesy of looking away, instead turning his eyes to the back of his hand where shriveled flesh and burn marks traced up over his wrist and continued under the cuff of his shirtsleeve. It prompted him to speak further. “When Ada and I were starting to talk about a life together, I thought a lot about my scars, and it was a great comfort to me that none of them would be passed on to my children, that despite my being warped, I can still create something beautiful. I guess that’s the role of fathers, to bear their ugly burdens so their children don’t have to.”

 

“Of course, every mother carries the heaviest burdens for their children,” Ada said softly, resting her hand on her mother’s belly.

“It is hard,” Penny agreed, “but if you take anything from all this conversation, it should be that while this whole family thing may be difficult, it is so very worth it…. You, Ada…”

Ada smiled in understanding, her hand still over her mother’s core, her eyes on her mother’s heart. “I know you made a space for me to fill, and now it aches because I’m leaving a void there, but I promise mine won’t be the only child’s voice to ring between those walls.”

Penny nodded appreciatively. “There needs to be an emptiness first, so there is place to receive the new.”

They paused for a moment, then Ada shrugged back to reality and exclaimed “Well look at the two of us! They must be wondering what’s taking so long.” The suitcase snapped shut and the two made their way out to the hallway.

 

“Sorry we’ve kept you,” Penny said. “It’s all my fault, of course. What have you two been up to? Just talking about sports and hunting?”

“And you two about makeup and jewelry?” Hector teased back.

Penny smiled. “Well, I’m sure we’ve kept everyone waiting long enough. Hector and I will go outside and make sure they’re all prepared, you follow us in another twenty seconds.”

As the new couple was left alone they instinctively held hands, yet stood in silence, mulling over their individual thoughts. James noticed a bowl of rice perched on a nearby end table, an indicator of what was awaiting them outside. He remembered that the rice is the seed of the plant, and it struck him that ancestral generations spent each year parting with a portion of their life, all in the faith that it would bring them back more again. Even the broken and discolored ones could produce a new plant, whole and full.

Ada looked down the darkened hall at the open doorway to her childhood room, from which a soft, white sunlight spilled into the void. That light was fading as the sun outside was setting, though it would brighten again the next morning.  As she focused on the growing dimness and the resonating silence ringing throughout the home, she gradually became aware of the muffled voices of their loved ones on the other side of the door, all their words unintelligible, seeming like vague mutterings only half-received through a thick veil.

James looked to her. “Are you ready to go?” She met his gaze, nodded, and they, the last ones left in the home, left its hollow shadows to step out into the dusky light.