I was at the airport. Waiting, holding a sign with his name amongst several other women and men all waiting. All watching. Some small children crying out, not being able to wait a second more and yet…they have to. Waiting for the silver eagle of a plane to come gliding into the lanes and come home. It took a while for them to unload. For the men and women to come back to us, smelling of dust, of sand, of war. Tired, but happy they came. Children ran out grabbing their arms around people they barely knew. Hugging the necks and waist of people who had blood on their hands. Who helped fight a war that most don’t understand. I wish we could build peace. Fight the weather to build houses, the drought to grow crops, plagues to find health.
His twisted frown turned up. I dropped the sign, rushing forward, feeling the dress grab at my legs, feeling the rush of air on my cheeks. He dropped his bag and took me in his arms, twirling me in the air until finally we just embraced. His rough face against mine. We talked without words. Feeling each other’s energy come back in sync. It’s still been a while. The last break was six month ago. I felt a warm trickle down his face, and I couldn’t help but stifle a laugh. My brave soldier is crying. Drawing back I found his face in my hands.
“Home” his voice always reminded me of honey running over thorns. I told him once. He raised his eyebrows and asked how much I had to drink. Laughing I lent himself and fell asleep. Maybe I had more than I cared to admit.
Driving home, I could see the lights of the stars trying to break through the light pollution and cloud.
“They’re not as bright here” he had his elbow on the window sill and was touching the roof of the car. “Out there, they seem so bright, so strong…but unfamiliar” I nodded in agreement, though knowing I wouldn’t really understand. Not until I go beyond my borders. “I’ve missed all this. All the lights, all the…I’ve missed you”. I smiled. It was nice to hear those words.
Those were the last words. For that moment. I never saw it. On reflection it was a motorbike. He was speeding, went through the stop sign and through my door. I was the buffer between myself and my husband. The last true image was his face. Blood on his brow, and the feel of his hand around my own.
The darkness enclosed the ground I walked on. I yelled out, I cried, I screamed until my voice was horse. I walked through mist and fog until I saw others.
“Hey!” I ran over. An elderly lady and a group of teens were waiting by a dock. “Where are we?” the old lady raised her eyebrow.
“The underworld” a girl in black replied. Her black eye lids flickered in distaste of floral dress. I guessed as much…but it didn’t feel as real as I thought it would be.
A figure with eyes as red as fire, an unruly beard and dark skin of dirt appeared on a dark boat. His paddle gliding gently through the water.
“I don’t know. But we have coins now, so we can go” the girl frowned as she opened her mouth and removed a coin from under her tongue. Her friend removed a pair from his eyes. I put my hands over my eyes and felt nothing but myself. I opened my tongue. Nothing. The boat stopped and the group were admitted. I tried my luck, and as I did his hand went to my chest and stopped me. Shaking his head he pushed the boat and himself away. I looked out as the river and mist sucked them into nothingness. Remembering ninth grade history I knew I had to wait. I needed to be buried properly.
A week had passed. His name was Charon. I had picked stray flowers to please him. Told him stories as he waited for the next batch. I would sit cross legged as others went on board. I’m not sure if he listened but It beat sleeping. Others slept, waiting for coins to appear. Though I knew I wouldn’t be buried with a coin, the burial was enough. The acknowledgment of death was enough for the world to give you a gold coin. I was rehashing the Shrek storyline when I felt it under my tongue. My words jammed and the coin spat out. Charon looked impressed.
“Now?” he nodded gently, an uneasy smile on his face. I was alone. Which was unusual, but I didn’t mind. With Charon steering I could watch as rivers passed us by. Rivers of fire bleeding into our own. Meadows in the difference shone with life. The mist swayed my vision but it looked like heaven. People looking on, smiles, laughing. Oh, please let me be with them…We stopped. A path of gravel leading to a hill was before me. Charon impatiently tapped his paddle on the side.
“Sorry. Thank you” he nodded as I left. Hundreds seemed to be on and around the path. Some going into the building. People praying, people crying, people waiting for those they left behind. Vines creeping up young children standing, waiting…I presumed they were waiting for their parents. I wondered how they would feel knowing their child was waiting in limbo for them. A child, freshly born was being carried by a crone covered in black, yet her blonde hair flowed gently forward. At least they were being cared for.
As quickly as I entered, I exited. Three judges and Hades poured through my life as quickly as I could say my own name. I was insignificant. I was no hero. I wasn’t a warrior, a healer, a leader. I belonged in the Asphodel Meadows. It could be worse. The endless flowers…but I couldn’t. I waited on a stone in the middle of the river.
“Jenny” he pressed me tight…I was angry, I felt furious. I banged my hands on his chest, until I couldn’t. “Home”. I saw the red around his neck.