The woman stepped carefully from the Greyhound bus, her right hand holding firmly on to the bar as she eased herself down. A relieved sigh escaped from her lips once both feet were on level ground, the relief that she always felt when a simple task was negotiated without incident. She was not old—she was barely into her fifties—but she looked, and felt, much older. She had endured a great deal, and accumulated sorrows had intensified the predations of the years. Her hair was silver-gray, and she had long since ceased making the monthly trek to the salon to have its color altered. There were horizontal lines stretching from the corner of each eye, like healed wounds, paralleled by similar lines on her forehead. She knew how she had come by them, for occasionally she caught herself wincing as if in pain while she looked in the mirror or saw herself reflected in the window of a store, and the depth of those lines increased with the transformation in her expression. It was always the same thoughts, the same memories, that caused the change, and always the same faces that she recalled: the boy, now a man; her daughter, as she once was and as she now might be; and the one who had made her little girl upon her, his face sometimes contorted, as it was at the moment of her daughter’s conception, and at other times tattered and destroyed, as it was before they closed the coffin lid upon him, erasing at last his physical presence from the world.
Nothing, she had come to realize, will age a woman faster than a troubled child. In recent years, she had become prone to the kind of accidents that bedeviled the lives of women two or three decades older than she, and took longer to recover from them than once she had. It was the little things that she had to look out for: unanticipated curbs, neglected cracks in the sidewalk, the unexpected jolting of a bus as she rose from her seat, the forgotten water spilled upon the kitchen floor. She feared these things more than she feared the young men who congregated in the parking lot of the strip mall near her home, watching for the vulnerable, for those whom they considered easy prey. She knew that she would never be one of their victims, as they were more afraid of her than they were of the police, or of their more vicious peers, for they knew of the man who waited in the shadows of her life. A small part of her hated the fact that they feared her, even as she enjoyed the protection that it brought. Her protection was hard bought, purchased, she believed, with the loss of a soul.
She prayed for him, sometimes. While the others wailed “Hallelujah” to the preacher, beating their breasts and shaking their heads, she remained silent, her chin to her chest, and pleaded softly. In the past, a long time ago, she would ask the Lord that her nephew might turn again to His radiant light and embrace the salvation that lay only in relinquishing violent ways. Now she no longer wished for miracles. Instead, as she thought about him, she begged God that, when this lost sheep at last stood before Him for the final judgment, He would be merciful and forgive him his trespasses; that He would look closely at the life he had lived and find within it those little acts of decency that might enable Him to offer succor to this sinner.
But perhaps there were some lives that could never be redeemed, and some sins so terrible that they were beyond forgiveness. The preacher said that the Lord forgives all, but only if the sinner truly acknowledges his fault and seeks another path. If this was“Superb writing... Witty and imaginative journey into the darker natures of men and things that go bump in the night.”