Fate had brought his daughter here. For the last month of her life shed run around this park, and there on the far side, beyond bushes and trees, he lost her to view. He believed he could hear her then, a sort of whispering pant, like a sound she made in her sleep, but she wasnt calling him to come drive away the spooks of her dreams. She was simply on the dark side of his moon.
He had no idea of the expression that had appeared on his face. But when Madeline Pratt said, "I cant let you do this," she was clearly more concerned for his well-being than her own, and he didnt want that.
"Take me there now," he said. "I want to stand on the spot."
The building occupied the entire side of the block, tan-colored stucco alternating with columns of brick; it was four stories high, its two visible corners dominated by guard towers. There was a guard booth at the driveway leading in. From the sidewalk where he stood he estimated the distance across the street to where two Civil Guards patrolled their stretch of sidewalk at sixty feet. The Civil Guards were dressed in a darker, denser green than army green and carried machine guns slung over their shoulders. Sixty feet was the distance separating a pitcher from a batter. As a teenager he had pitched. These two Civil Guards might have been teenagers themselves. They had fresh bony faces that looked struck from the same Spanish mold. They had vigorous eyebrows and hair along their upper lips. The predecessor of one of them had not survived. Ben asked Madeline Pratt where, and she moved them farther along the sidewalk, up from the headquarters entrance. When she stopped, he estimated the distance between them and those two patrolling boys now at ninety feet, or the distance between home plate and first base. As well as Madeline Pratt could remember, his daughter had died here. There was a tree just inside the park, one of those low gnarled trees with what looked like carob pods hanging from its limbs. He could see how the bark had been blown away. What remained of the tree looked indestructible. The car loaded with dynamite had been parked almost directly across from the entrance where the two Civil Guards patrolled. And the blast had caught her here.
"What kind of car?"
Madeline Pratt had newspaper clippings from that day. As documents pertaining to the center shed felt obligated to keep them. He could consult the clippings.
But she must have remembered the car.
She nodded. It was a Seat Ibiza. She looked up the street and raised her hand and pointed at an unexceptional white car wedged into a parking spot.
"Like that one," she said.
It was a hatchback model. It had no trunk. There would be a storage area for luggage, but anyone peering in . . .
"And other than my daughter and that Civil Guard . . . ?"
"Two more people were slightly injured, and there was a lot of shattered glass. But I hope youll believe me when I say it was truly miraculous that there were no other casualties. I know thats small consolation."
"Its been two years and eight months since it happened. Look around. If you didnt notice that tree, youd never know. That building looks like it never got touched."
"They had to rebuild some. They put up a plaque beside the door."
"I dont want to see it. What does it say? Does it even mention her?"
Madeline Pratt bowed her head. "No," she whispered, stage-whispered in the traffic noise, the noise of concentrated human habitation, "its what they always say when a Civil Guard is killed, that he died for the glory of his country."
From House of the Deaf by Lamar Herrin, the complete text of chapter 1, pages 1-15. Copyright 2005 Lamar Herrin. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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