New York in Winter

New York in Winter

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The March

THE MARCH
by Terence Hughes
December 27, 2016 - 31

Monica Huebner-Schlagel was a passionate liberal. Not that she used the word “liberal.” It was a weak word, she thought, like the typical liberal who mouthed a lot of pieties but, beyond buying UNICEF greeting cards, didn’t do anything to raise awareness of the conditions in refugee prisons in Greece and Darfur. Never mind the local victimizations: people evicted from their pathetic little homes, LGBTQ youths living on the streets because their families had kicked them out, and the working poor who worked two jobs and still couldn’t afford healthy food for their kids or adequate heat in the grim Ohio winter. Liberals were worthless.
She had developed the personal habits and diet consonant with her elevated awareness of the world’s miseries: she wore severe, plain clothing made by women in Zimbabwe and ate a vegan diet that featured great amounts of kale. Her lank hair never looked quite clean.
Monica called herself a freewoman. She was free, autonomous, and had no children to sway her from her mission thanks to her husband’s position as the CEO of a small firm. She didn’t have to work; she dedicated herself to helping the less fortunate. That was her calling.
She was a freewoman, too, because she had thrown off the shackles of her childhood, where her downcast parents had raised their daughter with all hopes deferred to a glorious future with the Savior in Heaven; their life on earth was hard and thankless except for Monica, and they worried that she was too intelligent and spirited not to be seduced by the world. When she was little she fell asleep imagining golden Jesus. He bled through his wound. He took her by the hand and led her upstairs on a puffy cloud. He was handsome and said, I love you with all my power. -- Oh Lord Jesus, I love you so much! Make me happy! Give me a new life!
In a way, Jesus had done just that. Through prayer and hard work, guided by an ideal of the perfect existence through Jesus, Monica won a scholarship to a good college. There she met a boy with a good heart. He was generous and good-humored, and he helped free her from her parents’ mental rule. She married him at graduation and helped support them as he earned a doctorate. They now were married twenty years.
            Her husband, Chuck Schlagel, told her she was a nun for the downtrodden and belonged in a convent for atheist activists. She didn’t think this was funny, and in a way it wasn’t meant to be. It was good for both their sanity that Chuck was an easy-going man who made his own steak and drank decent wine. He cleaned up after himself too.
Sometimes Chuck remembered the earnest young girl in college, the Monica who was breaking out of the fundamentalist cage in which she had been raised. He remembered her joyous discovery that belief in God wasn’t necessary for salvation, but that loving the world was. She was smiling, bubbly girl then, quietly pretty with dark hair to her waist.
            Now she was in danger of becoming more than earnest -- tedious – a crank. Pete, Chuck’s kid brother, needled her do-goodism without mercy. When Monica declared that she was changing her legal name to Huebner-Schlagel (“Huebner was my maternal grandmother’s maiden name, and I feel it is important to honor the women of my lineage”), Pete imitated a German pronunciation, “Huuueeebner-Schlaaaahgal. With that name you sound like a subcontractor at Dachau.” The quip wounded her in part because the Schlagels were Jews, though secular. Pete was too cynical.
            Monica would say to Chuck after Pete went home, “He doesn’t take anything seriously. Do you think Pete may be a self-hating gay man?” She hadn‘t been convinced by any of the vacuous blondes Pete dragged along to dinner. Chuck laughed and said he doubted it.
            Regardless of Pete’s snark and Chuck’s not entirely resigned acceptance, Monica maintained a torrid pace of petition-writing, as well as demonstrations at city hall and the state capital, and so on, for a multitude of even more causes: employment protection for transgendered people, sanctuary for the refugees of Central American violence, living wages (no compromise on $15/hour), improved services for the mentally ill, gun control, and many more. Any situation where people were exploited or to whom violence was done drew her and spurred her to impassioned committee work. Despite what her brother-in-law said about her actions, her motivations were just. Monica was convinced of that, and so was her husband, mostly.
            Chuck admired her engagement but believed she needed to focus on fewer issues to increase her effectiveness. She was depleting herself, and he blamed more than her dreadful diet and its lack of protein. At times he thought she might implode, crash, have a breakdown. “Mon, why don’t you back off some of these causes, give yourself a break. One woman can’t do everything. There are other people who – “
            “No! I can’t do that. I’m committed to tikkun. It means repairing the world.”
Chuck sighed. “Yes, honey, I know what it means. But do you have to be the world’s only mechanic?”
“Chuck, it’s my duty,” she said fervently. Then she smiled. “Oh, I didn’t mean to be condescending. I was, wasn’t I?” She reached across the dinner table and squeezed his hand. It was the most affection she’d shown in months.
“It’s okay.” Chuck picked up her hand and kissed it. “Eat your kale.”

Monica continued to throw herself into too many committees, rented-bus trips to Columbus, and hands-on labor at soup kitchens. She was home so seldom, and so exhausted when she was home, that Chuck engaged the cleaning lady to come five days a week and act as a housekeeper: she was to do everything but sleep with the boss. After a month Monica noticed Irene’s presence more than once a week and exclaimed, “What are you doing here on a Wednesday?”
“I work here, Miz Monica. Mr. Schlagel, he hired me. I do your shopping now, too.” Irene was not supportive.
Monica was taken aback and felt briefly diminished. Well, she thought, I am so busy. In moments of reflection, rather few, she saw herself as she imagined Chuck saw her, in fact more severely. I’m turning into someone strange. Then: I’m lonely. But this revelation struck her as childish.
Winter turned to spring and spring to summer. The pace was grueling. Pale, drawn and far too thin, she worried Chuck enough that he considered holding an intervention with a few of her more moderately engaged friends. These were using themselves more judiciously and maintaining a decent balance in their lives. Even Monica was wondering how she could keep it up.
Chuck had the intervention set up when a horrific event occurred in a migrant laborers’ settlement in the Central Valley of California. A militia of neo-Nazis invaded the El Fresnito camp and slaughtered 133 people and wounded over 200, many disabled for life. Women and children were not spared. There was ample video of the attack, taken by the militia’s historians. Graphic scenes of killing were played over and over on cable news. One especially gruesome sequence showed the militiamen grab a four or five-year-old Guatemalan boy, tie him to a small ash tree, and decapitate him by AK-47 fire. The Nazis were heard laughing and cheering.
Public opinion was bitter in its division between those who were sickened and outraged, and the hysterical minority who thought it was a left-wing hoax. “It’s just another Sandy Hook,” sneered a commentator on one of the cable networks. “Those illegals are stealing Americans’ jobs!” Twitter broke under the load, down for a good five minutes. Congress offered its thoughts and prayers.
“Chuck, this is big,” she whispered one night in late June. They were lying in bed with the lights out. She shivered. “I don’t know what to do – I’m more afraid than I’ve ever been.” She had the horrible sensation that all her work was for naught. “The country’s subsiding into a pit of violence. I don’t think we can repair this.” She scrunched down the bed and rested her head on his comfortable paunch. He stroked her hair. He was going to buy her a good shampoo-conditioner.
“Mon, why don’t you drop all your other concerns and work on this exclusively for a while? The focus would be good. Maybe you could pace yourself. You should learn to care for yourself. You’re thoroughly exhausted and it concerns me.”
She sat up and kissed him on the cheek. “Maybe that’s a good idea. Maybe my duty is taking me in a new direction.” She kissed him again and turned over, snoring within a minute. Chuck got up and crept out of the room. He poured a glass of wine from the evening’s bottle and sat on the deck, seeing nothing but darkness in the oaks.

A few days later Chuck was at the best market in town having a Porterhouse cut to his specifications. Being the president of a polymer research firm gave him the wherewithal to purchase the best cuts of grass-fed, organically raised beef. The irony was hardly lost on him. The butcher was wrapping his steak when a voice said, “Chuck, I haven’t seen you in a long time.” He turned and saw Sue Goldberg, a small neat widow of seventy who was friends with his parents. There were pleasantries – “I hear George and Elise love living in Florida. Do you get there often?” “How’s Bradford? I hear he’s rising fast in that tire company.” “Isn’t this glorious weather?” “After the cold rainy spring – “And so on.
Sue paused and looked Chuck in the eye. “I saw Monica the other day. She doesn’t look too good. Don’t you feed her?” She glanced at the package in his hand.
“She’s gone vegan.”
“Oh God, how terrible,” she laughed. Sue paused again. “I hear she’s very involved.”
“Very.”
“Do you think she would like to work with me to organize a march for the El Fresnito victims?”
“On the condition that she drops everything else.”
She nodded, serious. “I’ll do my best.”
“Mon has a lot of respect for you, Sue. I bet she’ll agree to it.”
“I’ll call her tomorrow.” Sue ordered six ounces of ground sirloin and told Chuck as he was leaving, “I’m very scared. Things are going wrong in this country.”

Monica jumped at the chance, and, to Chuck’s happy surprise, she did drop everything else she was involved with. When Chuck joked about what the orphans of Syria would do without her, Monica was shocked and didn’t answer him. The Victorian word duty popped into his head. He felt like a rat and went to make his pork chops.
Monica and Sue worked together in harmony. Monica would look at Sue and go, “Tikkun!” Sue patted her on the back and said, “We can only try, sweetie.” Sue had a talent for organization. Their work progressed rapidly. “It must be all the Hadassah sales over the years,” Sue joked.
By the middle of July they had organized a mobilization meeting at the Unitarian church a few blocks from the Schlagel house. The turnout was huge -- the large, spare sanctuary was jammed with twice as many people as the fire code allowed. Chuck squeezed Monica’s hand and wished her luck. The minister spoke with passion about the tide of hatred that was engulfing the country – “a tide we have felt rising and rising for years” – and he turned over the meeting to Monica who stammered and declared, “I’m not the one to speak now. There’s only one person I know who is. Sue Goldberg!”
Sue stepped to the lectern. She thanked the minister and Monica. She cleared her throat and spoke strongly into the microphone. She spoke of her parents, who had escaped Germany after Kristallnacht. “My mom and dad always told me they were blind to the rising tide. They didn’t want to believe things would get so bad. When they did realize, it was almost too late. They got across the border to France, and then they came to the United States of America with the help of an uncle. I was born here in this city, in a free and glorious country, where we were embraced and protected by the laws and morals of America. But now the skies are darkening again – too much like in Germany in the Thirties. We must learn from their tragedy. We must say ‘never again’!”
There was resounding applause. Monica rushed over and hugged her. As the applause died down, a well-built young man with tattoos covering both arms stood up and raised his hand. “Can I speak?” He turned to the crowd and said in a strong baritone, “I was in Afghanistan for four years. Four years in hell.” Pause. “I didn’t go halfway around the world and lose half my friends for these kind of scum to steal my country away from me.” He looked down at the well-polished floor. “Mrs. Goldberg is right. We must learn from tragedy. We have a beautiful idea that’s getting f – “ he stopped because he didn’t want to swear in a church.
There was ragged applause. Monica heard a man in the front row ask, “Think Mr. Smith will get to Washington?” Somebody snickered. She got angry and was about to lash out, but Sue called to the young man. “Come up here, sir. We need to know who you are.”
The young man lumbered up to the microphone. His name was Mike Brezik. He lived in the poorest white suburb in the area. He had been in the Army. A grunt. He barely got through high school but he began to read and think on the battlefields of Afghanistan. “I missed America in the worst way over there. I idealized it. What’s happening now – that ain’t the America I saw in my head. This is more like Afghanistan. It’s pathetic.” Heartier applause this time. Monica applauded a long time and was moved to tears.
Chuck saw something new in her. Being infatuated with ideals was one thing, but with their embodiment was another.

The march committee was formed immediately after the church meeting. Interest was high, so preparation had to be done for a much more complex undertaking than anyone had foreseen. Four people were charged with devising and producing the placards alone. Other subcommittees were formed for obtaining city permits, dealing with the media, political outreach, and the procurement of free water and snacks from sponsors. Sue took on as much as she could from Monica, who was swamped within days.
Monica would drag herself home, utterly worn out, at ten or eleven. She skipped dinner. She washed her face, got into bed, said goodnight, and slept like the dead until seven or eight. This extreme level of involvement wasn’t what Chuck had had in mind, and he called Sue to complain.
“I thought you were going to help rein her in. She’s more frazzled than she’s ever been.”
Sue was quiet. Then she said, “Chuck, this is going to be the biggest event in this town in years. It’s attracting national attention. It’s already being hyped as the key response to El Fresnito. We’re all driving ourselves to exhaustion.”
“Still, please watch out for her, Sue. Monica’s in a dangerous place.”
Sue was quiet again. Slowly she said, “You better look in on her, too.” There was an insinuation in her voice that kept him awake that night. So it’s come to that, hasn’t it?  
Chuck didn’t take Sue’s advice right away. All weekend he moped around the house watching TV coverage of the upcoming march. Mike Brezik was all over the local channels. He spoke well on television -- spoke concisely and didn’t use a lot of abstract nouns. He was handsome on camera, better than in real life, maybe because his chaos of tattoos wasn’t visible. The reporters seemed to hang on his every word. When Mike was interviewed in a public setting, cheers went up: high-pitched female voices predominated.
Chuck imagined he got Facebook requests from girls of all ages.

It was an open secret among the volunteers that Monica was having an affair with Mike, her diamond in the rough. “Maybe that’ll calm her down a bit,” they told each other. “This always happens,” said one old protest hand. “Always.”
Monica had made Mike the head of security for the event. Security was the top priority – rumors were flying around that hordes of neo-Nazis were converging on the city. Mike worked well with the local police departments. He was working to enlist veterans as marshals. SWAT teams would be tucked here and there, watching for any sign of commotion. He had been in contact with the governor’s office: the National Guard would be present, ready to step in if the police became overwhelmed.
“Mike, that is awesome!” Monica glowed with admiration. “I feel very safe with you in charge.”
Every time Monica saw him on TV she cried, “Good job, good job, Mike!”
Reporters interviewed her one in a while. She wasn’t an engaging screen presence, coming across as shrill and self-righteous. “We’re working very very hard to make this a statement of freedom and respect. A definitive one against the climate of intolerance and hate that led to El Fresnito. We can’t let the fascists get away with any more!” Channel 22 edited out the last sentence.

Pete wasn’t helpful.
Over the last of the wine one evening, Chuck told him about his conviction –well founded he said – that Monica was involved with Brezik. Pete, far from being sympathetic, laughed and told his brother, “Maybe Mikey will fatten her up with his fat Polack dick. With a fat little Polack baby.”
Chuck flinched at the dig. He scowled. “He’s Czech.”
Pete got pensive, as much as he could. He took a different tone. “Look, your relationship’s been dying on the vine for five years. At least. Variety is the spice – “
“Shut the fuck up. This is hurting more than I can tell you.”
             “Then quit moping around like a high school nerd and get down there. Get involved. And let her know you’re keeping an eye on her.”
Chuck put his hands over his eyes. “And let her know that I care.”
“Suuuuure,” Pete laughed. “They like empty gestures.”
Chuck rubbed his eyes. He looked at his smirking brother and wondered if Monica was right about him. It made him grin and Pete thought he was forgiven.

The march was set for Sunday, July 30 at 1 pm. Churches along the way announced family picnics to take place immediately after services. The staging area was to be at the Methodist church parking lot a quarter-mile before the official start of the processional route. The marchers would start at Highland Square and file two miles eastward on Market until they got to City Hall Plaza. The mayor was slated to speak, as were representatives of several religions and ethnic groups.
Within the march itself a variety of organizations would be holding their banners aloft, members marching and singing behind them. Monica felt like she was bathed in a golden light as she imagined the glorious sunny afternoon, the vast crowds in harmony reaching their common goal together – solidarity and peace and love in place of anger, prejudice, and fear. She would be sure to march near Mike just in front of the banners of the major sponsors, which would include the First National Bank, Bobo’s Pizza & Calzone, a national chain of drugstores, La Casita Cantina & Bar, an addiction recovery corporation, and the Second Agricultural Bank & Trust.
Mike was less rosy in his vision, and he told her so. “Hey, babe, you gotta remember there’s gonna be people gunning for us. I mean, like, literally. We have to be super careful.” He gave her his look of earnest concern. Monica rejoiced at the look. He opened his palms. “Hey, that’s why the National Guard.” He hesitated. “Me and the parade marshals – we’re gonna be armed. Not open carry-like or anything. But in case…”
A little shaken, Monica smiled and told him everything would be fine. Her smile faded when she saw Chuck poke his head in the door, dressed in jeans and T-shirt.
“Hi.” He ignored Mike. “Thought I’d come down and help out a bit. I’ll do anything.”
Monica got up hastily and escorted him out of the room into the hustle bustle of the main work area. “What a surprise! What motivated you to do this?” She was deeply embarrassed. “Here,” she said, “you can follow up on some of the press release contacts, find out if they plan to show up, that sort of thing. It’s only three days away.” She sat him down at a card table covered with releases and a greasy-looking telephone. She gave him a peck on the cheek and went off to confer with a volunteer who was surprised to find Monica at her elbow.
Chuck watched the charade with amusement and a wounded heart. He kept his wounded heart out of the calls he made.
Monica decided she better not spend the night with Mike. She didn’t want to risk a confrontation with Chuck now. Anyway, it wasn’t as if Mike was someone she wanted to run away with. If she did, she would have to work at an unimportant job and support both of them. He was on disability with PTSD, although, to be honest, she didn’t see any evidence of it.
She somewhat guiltily enjoyed a high material standard of living – Chuck was a very good provider. She liked living high on a hill on two well-wooded acres in a sprawling Philip Johnson-style house.
Monica had been at Mike’s apartment several times, of course. It depressed her, the deprivation, much worse than anything she had known as a child. The two rooms were tiny and what little furniture there was wouldn’t have come from the Salvation Army store; it wasn’t good enough. Mike had hung sheets on the windows, and his mattress lay on the floor. There was mold in the bathroom so thick that her eyes watered and she coughed repeatedly. He told her there was a leak in the upstairs apartment. The landlord ignored appeals for repair. It was impossible to keep the place mold-free. Mike kept trying because the smell of bleach was heavy in the air.
For reasons she couldn’t explain to herself, all of this made Monica cling to the notion of Mike as the love of her life. He was her wounded hero. He had made sacrifices for his country, rescuing his comrades somehow in some battle she didn’t understand. She was hardly on the side of the military-industrial complex, but she admired him – him – for his courage.
She believed it would go on for a while, then Mike would want a young woman, and it would end all bittersweet. She would cherish the memories of true love to her dying day. Chuck with his middle-age belly and capitalist tendencies simply couldn’t compete with the beautiful vision.
Monica’s mind was preoccupied with these thoughts as she drove home. It was a sort of delicious dilemma: stay or leave, love or duty, rich or poor. She saw herself as a grand heroine – like Eustacia Vye standing at the edge of the heath, wild and full of a passion that overwhelmed mere Nature. Of course, though, it wouldn’t end tragically. It would be more like an Irene Dunne movie.
She parked her new Audi in the driveway and went up the long flight of stone steps into a house that was dark inside except for lights down the long hallway. Chuck was asleep when she crept into the bedroom. Thank God, she thought. She lay down and allowed herself the luxury of a few tears. Chuck woke up and heard her. Good, he thought.
* * * * *
The morning of the march was fresh and cloudless. People kept exclaiming, “What a gorgeous day for the march!” “Couldn’t be better!” “Have fun!”
Monica parked at the West Side Methodist Church and saw them setting up the picnic area on the broad lawn in front. She heard the choir of voices inside at the service. It felt like a sort of rebirth.
Things were coming together at the staging area. Sue and Mike were admirable in their ability to keep their head while others were losing theirs. Order prevailed. As one o’clock drew near, a large crowd of almost all white marchers had collected behind the bannered ranks, many of them carrying homemade signs that indicated grassroots support. “Remember El Fresnito” “Thou Shalt Not Kill” “No to Nazis! “God’s Love Is All”. Monica and Sue exchanged happy looks at the sight. “Some turnout!” “It’s beyond all expectations!”
The march began at one sharp. At the very front teenage boys held aloft a banner declaring PEACE & LOVE WILL TRIUMPH. Sue and Mike were right behind the banner. Mike constantly looked this way and that on the lookout for threats to safety. Monica felt secure in his war experience. Some of the banner carriers looked uncomfortable; it was getting hotter and more humid by the minute.
Monica was positioned a few rows behind them. She waved at Chuck, who was back at the Bobo’s banner. He blew her a kiss and gave her a thumbs up. She gave him her biggest smile.
As the marchers processed through Highland Square, the resident radicals, artists, and drug addicts hung out of windows cheering and waving. A good number of them joined in, messing up the rows in a happy, jostling mix. People started to sing “We Shall Overcome” and then “Give Peace a Chance,” interspersed with much laughing and chatting, taking selfies, and waving to friends and relatives lining the street. Pete emerged from a dive bar and waved a beer bottle at them: “Fuck the Nazis!” The bar’s patrons took up the cry: “Fuck them Nazi cocksuckers!”
Chuck frowned. “Come on, Pete! There’s young children here!” Pete laughed and gave him the finger.  
Monica was pleased that the crowd was in high spirits. She was less pleased that they appeared not to remember the reason for the march: the slaughter of the innocents by a criminal militia of Nazi sadists. She shouted, “El Fresnito! El Fresnito!” A few of those near her took up the chant.
Chuck watched her, intuited what she was thinking. He looked ahead. Just past the unemployment office the crowds lining the street thinned to a line of men dressed in black and red, evenly spaced as chessmen in a new game. The formation, on both sides of Market, stretched to City Hall. He saw a cluster of dark forms at the plaza. Mike had taken notice, too, and he was directing his marshals to their positions.
There was one cop for ten of the men in red and black shirts. The National Guardsmen weren’t in evidence.
The marchers at the fore grew silent as they approached the unemployment. The young men wore black Ts with a black swastika in a field of red. Each one held a knife. Monica caught her breath. They held all kinds of knives – butcher knives, prison shivs, machetes, switchblades, and one hefted a gleaming samurai sword.
A wave of silence flowed back through the throng. Those toward the front began to leave and tried to walk up to Highland Square. They had to push against the merrymakers at the back, some of who were still unaware of the threat. Murmurs of panic were amplified by the rising wind as the sky darkened.
At the front of the procession Monica wasn’t aware of the change behind her. She kept checking Sue and Mike. She linked arms with the people on either side and tried singing “We Shall Overcome” but nobody took it up. They were marching past the first of the Nazis. The crowd’s fear was a living creature and the men on the curb grinned as they prepared to carve it up.
The boys carrying the PEACE & LOVE banner dropped it and ran back into the crowd. Women began screaming and men cursed at them. The creature shook itself  awake and stampeded back up the incline toward Highland Square. Chuck resisted the backward surge and struggled to keep Monica in sight. He heard sirens approaching. A second later a dozen flashing lights came into view.
Two cranked-up skinheads ran into the street and slashed at the few who remained in the front. A girl in a ponytail went down crying in pain, bleeding from the arm. The Nazi with a tattooed skull loomed over Sue Goldberg, who stood her ground and told him to go home. He knocked her to the pavement and kicked her before settling a knee on her groin and slitting her throat. “Jew cunt!”
Monica saw Sue drop and ran forward shouting, “No! No, you filthy pig!”
The man laughed at her and missed the opportunity to strike at Mike, who shot him in the face. The other skinhead came from the side yelling, “You fucker!” and stabbed Mike in the neck. A geyser of blood wet the pavement and Mike went down. The Nazi slipped in the blood of his comrade, losing grip on his knife.
Monica was bent over Sue’s body and straightened up. “Mike! Mike!” She swooped in and picked up the dropped knife, heaving for breath, and plunged it into the Nazi’s groin, then his gut. Another geyser of blood. He slipped to the broken asphalt, landing on his back. The smell of shit came out of him. The boy screamed as blood dribbled from his mouth and nose. “Don’t kill me, please don’t fuckin’ – “ He smiled to win her mercy. His teeth were rotted stumps.
Monica looked at Mike. His eyes were open, his mouth an O in shock. The blood was draining out with his life. She dropped the knife.
Monica picked up Mike’s gun. She was afraid to shoot it. She held it by the barrel with both hands and bashed the kid’s head again and again. He jerked a few times and went limp. She smashed his face until it was pulp.
The Nazis were in retreat as the police came in numbers. There were gunshots. A helicopter flew around and around. The National Guard poured in from side streets. More shooting. Chuck was tending to an elderly man who had been trampled in the stampede. He got up and ran to Monica just as a policeman sprinted up the hill. The cop was panting. “I seen it all, lady. You’re gonna be okay now. It’ll be okay.” He put his arm around her to keep her from keeling over. She was shivering violently.
Monica stared at Mike, then knelt to close his eyes. She bowed, knees in blood, and kissed his cooling eyelids.
Chuck went to her. She gazed up at him and tried to speak.
Chuck said, “Don’t say it.”
“I killed the boy. I killed the boy.”
He stepped forward carefully to help her up. She threw off his hands as war raged between the forces of law and the Nazis ahead of them, and the marchers at the rear crushed one another to save their skin.

Monica saw everything with absolute clarity. It was a miracle. She had ceased to believe in miracles, yet here one was. Mike sat up and opened his eyes. He was bathed in radiant light. Just like when she was a little girl, here was a golden man, wounded and beautiful, rising and rising. He held out a hand to her. It had a knife in it. “Come with me to Paradise. For I am the light and the life.”
“Who am I?” she asked.
“You are the bride. Your people are waiting for you. You must do but one thing.” He gestured with the knife.
It was easy. There was no pain. She rose and rose. She looked down on the man who had been nice to her. He was crying and bent over something she didn’t understand.
She looked up but couldn’t see Mike.