Chapter 9

It is not known precisely where angels dwell - whether in the air, the void, or the planets. It has not been God's pleasure that we should be informed of their abode.

- Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary

Wednesday morning was bitterly cold but the rain had stopped, at least for moment. Dan and Bill shared a pot of coffee, beginning the slow process of waking up. "Damn, man." Bill observed. "You are really pale this morning, like you saw a ... let me rephrase that. Like you had a rough one last night."

"Well, we did have quite a few Yuenglings last night. And that Old Horizontal barelywine from Victory Brewing." Dan offered.

"Yeah, that was really good, too." Bill said. "It seems like this trip is taking its toll on you."

Dan took his face out of his hands and without moving his head, shot Bill a look by rolling his eyes in his direction, giving his best death stare.

"Okay, okay." Bill conceded.

Dan's head returned to its perch in his hands. "My head is killing me. You haven't seen any sunglasses lying around have you?"

"I think I saw some in a drawer in the living room, on that cabinet on the left as you walk in."

Dan looked skeptical; and confused.

"I don't really need much sleep. And I get bored when you're asleep. So I started snooping around to keep myself occupied." Bill sounded defensive.

"Hey, don't worry about it. Snoop all you want. I was just surprised you had such a quick answer." Dan said, getting up slowly.

He found an old pair that probably used to belong to an uncle, maybe his dad's. They weren't too embarrassing looking, not that he cared that much right now how he looked. He put them on to keep things less bright. He noticed a few pictures among the dozens on the cabinet of a young girl he didn't know and wondered who she was. She looked a little familiar but he was sure he'd never seen her before. There were maybe three pictures at various ages; a toddler, a young girl in an Easter dress, and one that looked like maybe confirmation, junior high age. Maybe it was the Hemigs daughter he'd never met. But this girl had a family resemblance. A loud rap on the door sounded like a hammer to Dan's brain and he and Bill froze, staring at the front door.

"Well, it's not somebody who knows the family." Dan reasoned. "Or they would have used the back door." Dan crossed the room and opened the front door. An older woman, perhaps in her later sixties with big, very curly hair stood in front of him. Her locks almost looked like dreadlocks. "Rasta Granny," He thought, and laughed to himself. But she didn't look like she'd had a good laugh since the Eisenhower administration. Her lips pursed and she stared menacingly at Dan.

"Yes." He said, trying to sound casual and not hung over.

"Who are you?" Rasta Granny demanded. "What are you doing in the Schaffer house?"

"It's my house." Dan responded, a little indignantly. "Or rather it was my grandmother's house. I'm Victoria's grandson. She just passed away on Sunday. Who are you?"

"I live next door." Rasta said, not giving her name. "I've never seen you before. How do I know you really belong here? Maybe I should call the police."

"Look, I don't know you either. What are you, the neighborhood watch? I practically grew up in the house but I haven't been home in a long time. You must have moved in after that. If you want to call the police, go ahead. I went to high school with Officer Trexler. Junior, that is."

"Don't think I won't." She continued combatively. "Where you live now?"

"I live in California. San Francisco." Dan replied.

"Oh." She gasped, like he'd sworn at her. "That's where all those gays were getting married. Thank god President Bush put an end to all that nonsense."

Dan started to remove his glasses and start something with this narrow-minded, ignorant, small town busy body. Bill yelled from beside him. "No, don't do it. She's Medusa. You'll turn to stone." And he started howling with laughter. Dan kept his sunglasses on and tried not to look over at Bill.

Taking a different approach, Dan began again, trying to sound more sincere. "Yes, that's right. I'm sorry, but I have a lot to do. Was there anything else I can help you with?"

"I'll be keeping an eye on you." She continued, wagging a finger.

"Well thanks for stopping by." Dan concluded, shutting the door. She stood there for a couple of minutes then finally left.

Dan joined Bill, rolling on the floor laughing. "What a bitch." Bill said.

"I think you might have been right. She was Medusa. Did you see that hair? Dreadlocks, for chrissakes. Watch out, it's Rasta Granny." Dan cackled and they both laughed again.

Feeling a little better, Dan stood. "You've just witnessed the downside of small town life. When everybody knows everybody then your business becomes everybody's business. At least that's how some people look at it. Medusa, for example. Removing the sunglasses, Dan heard thunder in the distance. "I guess it's safe to take these off now. Sounds like the storm is coming back soon. I'm going to take a quick shower. I want to visit mom's grave before it hits."

He showered and dressed quickly, and they were on the way out when the front doorbell rang. "Not again." Dan muttered and headed back through the living room to see who it was. He could see a police uniform through the curtains. "I guess she really called the cops." Dan thought, opening the door to see it was Mike Trexler.

"Dan!" He shouted, extending his hand. "I thought it had to be you when we got the call from the widow Trulla. I figured, who else could it be. How long has it been?"

Dan shook his hand warmly. "Since graduation, I guess. I knew you were on the force, but I don't think I've seen you since you started."

"Over twenty years now, I can hardly believe it myself." Mike began. "Did you hear about dad?"

"Your dad? No, is he okay?" Dan asked.

"Nah, he passed away a couple of years ago. I really miss him. He really liked you, though. Always spoke highly of you."

"Really?" Dan sounded surprised. "He was always all business with me. Well, most of the time, anyway. I never could tell what he was thinking about anything. But I always just put it down to the job."

"Well, he was tough to please, I can tell you." Mike offered.

"I'll bet." Dan said somberly. "I don't know if you've heard but my grandmother died Sunday. That's why I'm here. Though I guess Rasta Granny didn't believe me."

"Who?" Mike sounded confused.

"The neighbor. What did you call her? The widow Trulla? She's got dreadlocks."

"Yeah. Trulla. We get a call from her at least once a week. I don't think she has anything else to do. You know the type." Mike offered. "But we have to check them out."

"Well, it's good to see you, Mike. Sorry to hear about your dad. He was definitely one of the good guys. If it's okay with you, I need to run. I want to visit my mom at the cemetery before the storm hits again."

"Sure." Mike said. "I understand. How long are you in town for?"

"Probably just until Sunday. We're going to have a wake here at the house Saturday night. You should come, assuming you're not on duty. Dan suggested.

"I get off at eleven, would it be too late to stop by after that?" Mike asked.

"No. I'm sure we'll still be up. Last night in town and all. I'm hoping to go out with a bang." Dan laughed and they shook hands.

They left Mike Trexler to deal with Medusa and headed down Broad Street to Fairview Cemetery, which was only a few blocks away on the road to Cedar Top. It was a risk to walk since the rain could hit at anytime but it was just too close to drive. It might have been even faster to go the back way through the woods behind Chulkie's but the days of rain had made it too muddy to consider. Cedar Top Road was really made for walking but it wasn't used by many cars, either. This made it a favorite for casual hikers and they passed several out for their morning constitutionals on the way. A stone fence led most of the way from town to the cemetery. This was the parade route every Memorial Day, which began downtown and ended with a ceremony in the cemetery honoring the local men and women who'd given their lives over the years in the service of their country. They passed the spot where Polly and Dan had parked years before and he pointed it out to Bill. The cemetery was spartan and very few elaborate headstones. Shillington was just not that kind of town. You could find plenty of ostentatious displays in Wyomissing and Reading.

The Pilger family plot was in the northwest corner of the original part of the cemetery, near the road. Most of the stones were showing their age and his mother's stood out as the newest. Engraved in the stone was:

MaryJo Pilger Bachman
Dec. 16, 1938 - Feb. 26, 1981

Dan had hated putting his stepfather's name on the tombstone but that's what his mother had wanted, It was part of her identity, she had said, whether he liked it or not. He had not been here since the day of the funeral. It was warmer that day, but just as windy.

It was a very surreal experience. His other grandmother, Becky, his mom's mom, had tried to climb in the coffin at the viewing. Then the coffin got stuck and wouldn't lower into the grave. They had to hand crank it and when they did it actually squeaked the song Taps. Everybody Dan knew was there except, of course, his stepfather.

And then, toward the end of the service, he noticed a shadowy figure just far enough away to not be noticed. It was Dan's step-grandfather, Wilbur. He was his grandmother Rebecca's second husband. But they'd been divorced since before Dan was born. Wilbur was a drunk. Dan's mom had taken him in a couple of times when he was trying to dry out. He slept on a cot in their basement. He tried very hard to be a good person. And Dan really thought he was, at least as far as he was concerned. He took the time to help him build model airplanes; and played catch with him. And most importantly, he really loved MaryJo. He hung on her every word. Dan thought she was one of the few people who still believed in him. And she was probably the only one willing to help him out. It was the only time he cried during the whole ordeal with his mother's death. Seeing the silhouette of Wilbur at the fringe, afraid of being where he wasn't welcome but unable to stay away, to pay his respects to Dan's mother, who was one of the only people who loved him unconditionally. It was such a bittersweet moment and Dan choked up as he felt the emotion of its memory well up inside him.

Bill just stared at the headstone, shaking his head. "That is so weird, man. That is just so weird." He began jumping around the grave erratically.

"What's the matter with you? Dan asked.

"Well first of all, I had the same birthday as your mom." Bill began. "That's weird enough. But wait, there's more. We died on the same day. The very same day. How fucking weird is that? I mean, the years are different but to have both the same."

"Dude, you're already dead. What are you worried about?"

Bill stopped and thought about that. Then laughed. "Yeah, I guess that's true. But it's still weird, man."

"One 366th of every single one of the estimated 6.4 billion has the same birthday. Of those, another 1/366th will die on the same day. You do the math. Of all the people on the Earth today, a little under 50,000 of them were born and will die on the same day." Bill expounded.

"But of those how many will die and haunt the son of one of them? Answer me that, math geek?" Bill chortled.

"Fair enough." Dan admitted.

"It's getting pretty windy." Bill observed. "Shouldn't we be getting back?

"Yeah. Give me a minute." Dan asked. He paused to say goodbye to his mother for probably the last time. The thunder grew closer and lightning flashed across the gray sky as they started for the exit. When they reached the gate, lightning flashed again and for an instant Dan thought he saw the shadow of a figure standing under a tree by her grave, watching. Smiling. Dan waved goodbye to the old alcoholic. The first drops splattered to the ground as Dan closed the gate to the cemetery behind them, turned right and began down the road into town.


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