IT WAS A GOOD DAY for a parade, sunny and unseasonably warm, the sky a Sunday school cartoon of heaven. Not too long ago, people would have felt the need to make a nervous crack about weather like thisHey, theyd say, maybe this global warming isnt such a bad thing after all!but these days no one bothered much about the hole in the ozone layer or the pathos of a world without polar bears. It seemed almost funny in retrospect, all that energy wasted fretting about something so remote and uncertain, an ecological disaster that might or might not come to pass somewhere way off in the distant future, long after you and your children and your childrens children had lived out your allotted time on earth and gone to wherever it was you went when it was all over.
Despite the anxiety that had dogged him all morning, Mayor Kevin Garvey found himself gripped by an unexpected mood of nostalgia as he walked down Washington Boulevard toward the high school parking lot, where the marchers had been told to assemble. It was half an hour before showtime, the floats lined up and ready to roll, the marching band girding itself for battle, peppering the air with a discordant overture of bleats and toots and halfhearted drumrolls. Kevin had been born and raised in Mapleton, and he couldnt help thinking about Fourth of July parades back when everything still made sense, half the town lined up along Main Street while the other halfLittle Leaguers, scouts of both genders, gimpy Veterans of Foreign Wars trailed by the Ladies Auxiliarystrode down the middle of the road, waving to the spectators as if surprised to see them there, as if this were some kind of kooky coincidence rather than a national holiday. In Kevins memory, at least, it all seemed impossibly loud and hectic and innocentfire trucks, tubas, Irish step dancers, baton twirlers in sequined costumes, one year even a squadron of fez-bedecked Shriners scooting around in those hilarious midget cars. Afterward there were softball games and cookouts, a sequence of comforting rituals culminating in the big fireworks display over Fielding Lake, hundreds of rapt faces turned skyward, oohing and wowing at the sizzling pinwheels and slow-blooming starbursts that lit up the darkness, reminding everyone of who they were and where they belonged and why it was all good.
Todays eventthe first annual Departed Heroes Day of Remembrance and Reflection, to be precisewasnt going to be anything like that. Kevin could sense the somber mood as soon as he arrived at the high school, the invisible haze of stale grief and chronic bewilderment thickening the air, causing people to talk more softly and move more tentatively than they normally would at a big outdoor gathering. On the other hand, he was both surprised and gratified by the turnout, given the cool reception the parade had received when it was first proposed. Some critics thought the timing was wrong (Too soon! theyd insisted), while others suggested that a secular commemoration of October 14th was wrongheaded and possibly blasphemous. These objections had faded over time, either because the organizers had done a good job winning over the skeptics, or because people just generally liked a parade, regardless of the occasion. In any case, so many Mapletonians had volunteered to march that Kevin wondered if thered be anyone left to cheer them on from the sidelines as they made their way down Main Street to Greenway Park.
He hesitated for a moment just inside the line of police barricades, marshaling his strength for what he knew would be a long and difficult day. Everywhere he looked he saw broken people and fresh reminders of suffering. He waved to Martha Reeder, the once-chatty lady who worked the stamp window at the Post Office; she smiled sadly, turning to give him a better look at the homemade sign she was holding. It featured a poster-sized photograph of her three-year-old granddaughter, a serious child with curly hair and slightly crooked eyeglasses. ASHLEY, it said, MY LITTLE ANGEL. Standing beside her was Stan Washburna retired cop and former Pop Warner coach of Kevinsa squat, no-neck guy whose T-shirt, stretched tight over an impressive beer gut, invited anyone who cared to ASK ME ABOUT MY BROTHER. Kevin felt a sudden powerful urge to flee, to run home and spend the afternoon lifting weights or raking leavesanything solitary and mindless would dobut it passed quickly, like a hiccup or a shameful sexual fantasy.
Excerpted from The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta. Copyright © 2011 by Tom Perrotta. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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