Doll – Part X
Margie drove the car as Chalmers sat quiet and uneasy in the passenger seat. The doll sat on his lap staring straight ahead as he did. They followed Officer Granger through town and to the northern end of the Cardington cemetery. It was the southern end of the cemetery that suffered the most damage. While it was the most picturesque part, with dense trees lining the banks of the Marklin River, the hill on which the tombstones sat proved no match for the heavy waters which ravaged the town and the surrounding counties.
Chalmers never made this trip before. He stared out the front windshield as if staring into his own end. He struggled to calm his heart which itself was being ravaged by sorrow, apprehension, guilt and a reborn sense of loss. It was only Margie’s gentle hand and soft silent urging which got him this far.
The cars pulled up to a large tent and stopped. There was a flurry of activity as workers and volunteers focused on the task of bringing resolution to this most unfortunate disaster. One portion of the tent was set up for viewing and identification. As Margie stopped the car, Chalmers saw an older woman being helped into another vehicle nearby. He guessed her sobs were the result of her own reopened wound of loss.
Granger walked back to where they were parked. He opened Margie’s door and offered a hand. He followed behind her respectively as she walked to Chalmers’s door. He continued to sit with the doll both staring forward as she swung the door open. He only moved after she placed her hand on his shoulder. As if she activated some sort of on-off switch, the power of her strength and support carried him out of the car.
The tent sat about twelve paces from where they stood, but for Chalmers the space expanded to appear like miles. Margie looped her arm inside his and when he was ready, they took their first steps. Each footfall sounded in Chalmers’s head like a steady heavy drum. Any sounds from the area, birds or the wind in the trees, were effectively blocked by the sound of his own heartbeat.
Granger opened the panel to the tent. Inside sat a line of folding chairs and a long table draped with a sterile white sheet. Underneath…
Chalmers stopped at the tent opening. His eyes fixed on the table and tiny mound that sat hidden by the sheet.
Margie waited. She felt the heat of anxiety and panic coming from Chalmers. She waited. With an attempted deep, but shaky breath, Chalmers took a slow, tentative step inside.
Once they made it to the chairs, the officer and an assistant pulled the sheet back for viewing. Chalmers stared at the ground and the trampled grass beneath his feet.
“Oh,” Margie said, beginning to cry. There was little that lay before her that could remind her of the beauty and grace that was her daughter, but having selected the dress for her, while time had stolen it vibrancy, the memory was clear. “Oh … my Paisley.”
Chalmers continued to sit stoically with his eyes glued to the ground. Margie’s soft sobs filled the hollow space. His breath was fast and heavy. A bead of sweat dripped from his forehead and down the side of his face. While he knew he was in a chair firmly attached to the ground, he felt as if he were standing on a tiny ledge outside a high-rise office building window. Half of him was urging him to jump. Half of him was urging him to run, to wake up from the nightmare and just run.
Suddenly, Chalmers stood bolt upright with a speed that made him slightly dizzy. Margie reached for him then stopped. Her hand hung in the air reaching out for him, but she held it there as he staggered forward one step and then another. As if some force where trying to pull him back, Chalmers fought his way to the edge of the table.
Officer Granger, who had been standing near the back started to approach, ready to act or react as needed, but Margie waved him back.
Chalmers had his eyes closed tight. As one hand he clenched the doll, the other gripped the edge of the metal table as if it were the only thing that prevented him from falling into a pit of his own demise. Heavy, panting breaths escaped him. Tears, squeezed from his eyes and his nose began to drip.
Slowly he raised the doll, and brought it down to the fragile array of remains that sat before him. Gently, he placed the doll on the table. Slowly he dared to open his eyes.
Before, on the table, was not a small pile of bones expected, but the smiling face of his beautiful Paisley, smiling at him. He sobbed a great sense of relief, as he tried to smile back and show strength for her. A small laugh escaped him. He looked down at the who in the moment he set her down, had transformed into the beautiful toy, her daughter loved so much. Two clear blue eyes stared back at him and the clean eternal smile greeted him even as his sight grew bleary with even more tears.
“Thank you, Daddy.”
The words reached as clear as if they were spoken and not imagined, but maybe they were. He smiled again, the best he could. “You’re welcome Pumpkin,” he whispered.
“Daddy, I love you.”
Chalmer’s whispered back, “I love you too. I’m so … sorry.”
Then, as if tucking her in for the night, like he had done so long ago he raised sheet to her chin and stared her one last time.
“Goodbye,” he said. “Goodbye my sweet love.”
He turned away from the table then and completely drained of whatever strength he could ever muster. He dropped to his knees.
Margie, who had stood to move behind him, caught and much as she could and helped to guide him gently down to the ground.
Again, they sobbed together, and they held each other, with only the future before them.