They were all stunned, she was really gone.
Mike sat slumped and glassy eyed. He was bleeding from a gash on his arm. The blood bubbled up from the wound and dribbled down his body in spurts. He did not bother to try to staunch the flow.
Charlie raged and screamed and frothed. He paced over the cracked pavement. Those who had rushed over to help the bloodied men stood back. They refused to meet his gaze.
Chesterfield just stood there. He was numb. Charlie shoved him and got no response. He shoved him again.
Charlie screamed, “You bastard! You god damned coward!”
Chesterfield swallowed and opened his mouth to speak. He found that he couldn’t. Charlie punched him in the mouth.
He stood over the older man and said in a slow shaking voice, “You just couldn’t let her go. You just couldn’t pull the trigger. You should have given me the gun. You let them take her.”
Chesterfield tasted blood but did not raise his hand to feel the split in his lip. Charlie walked away and collapsed at his brother’s feet and began to cry. He clawed at the pavement and wept.
There was no pain for Chesterfield. It would come, but only later. It was the thunderclap to the lightning. It would come.
It would come.
The four of them had sat around a fire. They were laughing. Someone had found a bag of marshmallows and they were roasting them on sticks. A sweet smell of summer flowers, warm molasses, and cedar was in the thin wisps of smoke rising from the hearth.
Charlie frowned at the blackened lump of his first marshmallow. His brother sat closer to the light with a canvas bag in his lap. Danni lay on the ground with her eyes closed but not asleep. Chesterfield watched the sun as it slid behind the control tower.
The fire crackled as someone threw on more wood.
Chesterfield watched Mike as he shuffled through a thick stack of wrinkled envelopes, “Why the hell do you do it?”
Mike didn’t look up, “Do what?”
“Read other people’s mail.”
Mike glanced up from the mail sack, “They don’t mind. I asked.”
“Don’t you feel like some kind of grave robber?”
Charlie chuckled, ripped a handful of weeds from the blacktop and threw it into the fire. It dimmed as a plume of smoke rose up and flew away to the east.
Mike picked an envelope at random and ripped it open, “No, not at all. I like the mail, always have. I don’t know, somehow it makes me feel…”
“Normal,” Charlie finished.
“Yeah, even the bills.”
Danni rolled over and muttered, “You’re crazy, Mike. I hate bills. Always will. Don’t matter if there’s no one left to collect.”
The brothers fell asleep under the stars. The fire died down to coals. Chesterfield couldn’t sleep.
He looked to the other side of the fire and whispered, “Meehan, you still awake?”
“Yeah, I’m always awake.”
Chesterfield nudged an ember back into the fire with his boot.
“Eyes open,” Danni whispered back again.
Chesterfield closed his eyes, “What happened to you?”
“Same as everybody else.”
He shook his head, “Between you, me, and the fire, what happened to you?”
Danni sat up and looked at him across the fire, “I watched my husband die, and I didn’t do a thing to stop it.”
She got to her feet, “I could have. I could have done something. They took him, Frank. I let them.”
“You were scared. Everyone was scared.”
Danni stared at him, “Could you have stood there and done nothing if it was your wife, Frank?”
Chesterfield stared into the fire for a long time, “No.”
When he looked up Danni was sleeping, her back was turned from him and she was facing the night.
It would come, Chesterfield told himself. He was alone. He didn’t know where anyone else was. His jaw ached. He looked down and found resting at his feet a mud encrusted canvas mail sack. Chesterfield pulled out a crumpled lavender envelope and cracked the seal.