With the shimmer of a Christmas bauble caught in a crackling log fire's glow, the crisp winter sunlight glistened on the pooling blood.
On her back on the sidewalk, the concrete giants of Manhattan rearing over her, Mary gazed up at Old Glory rippling in the breeze against a peaceful blue sky. She shivered. In broken pants, her breathing shuddered like a beat-up Oldsmobile fighting to start on an icy morning. She tried to push up, to move muscles Pilates had sculpted taut and lean.
Oh, God help her, she couldn't move.
She cried out. But the only scream screamed in her head. She wasn't even sure she'd even moved her mouth.
No. No, this couldn't be happening. Not now. Not like this. Not after seeing all she'd seen. Not knowing all she knew. Not after they'd all sacrificed so much. Rashid. Ben. Even Vincent. Sacrificed everything. All for him. No!
Her lungs hack-hack-hacked at the air again.
If only he was here. Why wasn't he? He'd promised never to leave her. To always love her. To save her. So why had he abandoned her?
And all those people. So many people. Why was no one helping? The screams had died. The blur of panic calmed. The terror was over - everything was so still, so silent. Or was this how it ended? The world simply spun on as if nothing had changed, while you faded away like a misplaced pencil mark being erased. A lifetime vanished in a blink, with barely a word, a tear, a memory to show for it.
She strained to scramble up, to run to him, but she couldn't feel her arms, couldn't feel her legs. Couldn't feel anything.
Devoured by shadows,
the sky - the world - disappeared.
Oh, please, no. This was really happening. But even if she could, would she change one single moment of the life that had brought her here?
But where- where was he? He- he'd pro- promised.
Her breath hack-hack-ha-
Her mouth flickered the tiniest of smiles.
Unhappy the Land that has no Heroes
What felt like an age ago, even though it was only weeks
What if this
was as good as it was ever going to get?
"Jeez." Slumped against the doorjamb of O'Leary's Bar, Mary snorted. Her breath billowed into the falling snow. The giant shadows of Manhattan clawed it away into the night, as if it had never existed.
The wind cried,
biting through her leather jacket, coaxing a shiver. Time to go back in? She
flicked her chestnut hair out of her green eyes and, like a failed party crasher,
peered through the window. Faces glowed; arms hugged; laughter splashed. It
all looked so easy. She turned back, jamming her hands deep into her pockets.
The inner door behind her squealed open. The sounds of partying momentarily gushed out.
She cringed. He'd found her.
"You're missing everything," he said.
She shrugged. That was her - always the bridesmaid.
An arm snaked around her waist and eased her back. Larry hugged her. "Come on, babe, you didn't even miss me a little bit? I missed you."
Yeah, well, this 'babe' knew exactly what he'd missed and it wasn't Mary Shelley, journalist; lover of literature; documenter of life. Oh, no. The bulge pressing into the small of her back proved exactly what good old Larry had missed: Mary Shelley, arm candy; flatterer; sex toy. Boy, was she living the dream or what?
Larry nuzzled her ear. "So, another beer, or wanna steam up my car windows?"
If only his mind was as chiseled as his jaw. She squirmed free. "One for the road?" She smiled. "Just give me a minute, yeah?"
"Just one." He sidled back in.
She slumped again. Talk about making your bed and lying in it.
She toyed with the crucifix hanging at her throat. If she stepped off the curb and was splattered by a speeding bus, could she die happy with what she'd made of her life? Okay, not everyone could be a Fleming and discover penicillin, or walk on the moon like Armstrong. But shouldn't there be more than just struggling to keep your head above water? Or was it really all just about another Prada purse, the tears and joys of PTAs and Little League, or that endless cycle of résumés, brown-nosing, and corporate handshakes? If life was such a wondrous gift, why was doing something worthwhile, even something minuscule, such a damn trial? She hung her head. So many dreams. So few achievements.
A flickering of the shadows caught her eye.
A mangy mutt skulked through the darkness. Left foreleg held off the ground, it lurched through the sidewalk slush as if each step was its last. It saw her. Froze. Stared, shivering, as if judging her. Its fur was as matted as a carpet buried at the bottom of a dumpster, though even the extra layers of filth couldn't hide its ribs.
Mary tutted. "Ah." She rummaged in her pockets. A handful of breath mints wasn't exactly a juicy 10-ounce steak, but if you were starving, it might literally make the difference between seeing another day or not. "Where the " Finally finding her mints, she looked up.
But the dog had turned tail and was now lurching along the road, oblivious to the danger.
"Oh, no." And she'd thought her Christmas Eve couldn't get any worse. There was little traffic, but it only took one inattentive driver - she'd never relax now for worrying whether the dog was okay. She marched into the road, moving at an angle to force the dog back onto the sidewalk and not into greater danger. She shouted, "Hey!"
Frightened, it lurched more quickly along the road.
Hell. How could she drive it to safety?
A horn blared.
A taxi shot past,
so close it splattered slush up her legs.
She scurried back to the sidewalk. "And Merry Christmas to you, too!" Some people. Okay, the dog wouldn't let her get close enough to shoo it, so now what? An idea. Grabbing a handful of snow from the curb, she stepped back into the road. The snow was dirty, icy, grainy, as if it was past its sell-by and was decaying fast. She balled it. Hurled it. Missed. "Damn!"
As a kid in Philly she'd played baseball with her friends. They'd even let her pitch occasionally because she didn't throw like a girl. But that was over 20 years ago. She grabbed more snow. Packed it harder for greater accuracy. Hurled again.
Hit, the dog yelped.
Mary cringed. But at least she'd saved it - the mutt lumbered toward an alley.
She sighed. Yeah, right, like she had it so bad. Though an image of starvation, poverty, and abandonment was as representative as any, that was a Christmas scene Hallmark wasn't eager to depict. Season of goodwill, her ass. Peace, love, and charity? The only Christmas message these days was 'Spend, spend, spend!'. Or the one spread by weak-willed morons concerning the Word. The Word? Like unquestioningly believing some outlandish, out-dated fairy tale wasn't the root of all the world's ills. She was with James Madison, the fourth U.S. president, on this one: 'What are the fruits of Christianity? Bigotry, superstition and persecution.'. Enough said.
Her hands burning with cold, she blew on them, scurrying back to O'Leary's. She glanced in at the partying. Well, she had to face it sooner or later. And it was warm in there.
She yanked the door open. Slurred merriment burst forth, accompanying Bing's dream for a white Christmas.
"Oh, Jeez." Why was she putting herself through this?
"No!" The party nightmare over, Mary peered through the car passenger window at the pelting snow.
Larry knocked the wipers up a notch. "Babe!"
As he hung a
right, the bottles of Bud behind his seat clinked. "Come on, pass me
an asshole. You've had enough."
don't wanna celebrate Christmas, we won't celebrate Christmas."
"Fine No turkey no party hats no gifts." He shot her a smile, his gaze drifting to her cleavage.
She wouldn't mind, but she knew he was an asshole. Her best friend Greta knew
he was an asshole. Even her mom, who swore everyone had a little of the saints
in them, knew he was an asshole. So why date him? Because she was weak. If
you were thirty-two, childless, and single, Christmas was a mighty lonely
He still grinned
at her. She shoved him. "Watch the road!"
wanna live forever?"
wanna live forever." She pushed his face to make him look at the road.
wanna live forever. Me? I'm gonna change the world, die young, go out in a
blaze of glory."
a moron thinks he can change the world instead of just survive it."
died and made you Aristotle?" He grinned at her again.
shot to the road.
Mary glanced anxiously around. "What was that?"
his mirrors. "What was what?"
to look out of the rear windshield. There'd been a definite impact. She'd
felt it. Heard it. "We hit something."
his rearview mirror. "No, we didn't."
She unfastened her belt and knelt in her seat for a better view, but couldn't
see anything behind them for the darkness and driving snow. "You better
anything? No. 'Cause we didn't hit anything."
What was wrong
with him? Didn't he care if someone was face down on the asphalt, dying? She
cuffed the back of his head. "Just stop. Okay?"
"Hey." He didn't stop, but glued his gaze to his mirror again.
he stop? Oh, no. He'd been guzzling vodka shots again while chatting with
Mel and knew he was over the limit. Damn him! She smacked him again. "Stop
the damn car!"
He spun around
to her and shouted, "You crazy? Quit hitting!"
Apart from checking what they'd hit, she wanted a cab home and this loser out of her life. She glared at him.
"Okay." He turned back to the road. "Just quit the- Shit!"
From the corner
of her eye, Mary glimpsed a red stoplight. And a black Mazda - dead ahead.
into the windshield.