She'd made enough missteps in the past to devastate thirteen dozen lives. And she'd long ago learned that an action taken was the same as a pebble dropped into still water: The concentric rings that the pebble effects may lessen in substance, but they do exist.
When no prayer came to her, Eugenie rose from her knees. She sat with her feet flat on the floor and studied the face of the statue. You didn't make the choice to lose Him, did you? she asked the Virgin silently. So how can I ask you to understand? And even if you did understand, what intercession can I ask you to give me? You can't turn back time. You can't unhappen what happened, can you? You can't bring back to life what's dead and gone, because if you could, you would have done it to save yourself the torture of His murder.
Except they never say it was murder, do they? Instead, it's a sacrifice for a greater cause. It's a giving of life for something far more important than life. As if anything really is...
Eugenie put her elbows on her thighs and rested her forehead in the palms of her hands. If she was to believe what her erstwhile religion taught her to believe, then the Virgin Mary had known from the start exactly what would be required of her. She'd understood clearly that the Child she nurtured would be ripped from her life in the flowering of His manhood. Reviled, beaten, abused, and sacrificed, He would die ingloriously and she would be there to watch it all. And the only assurance she would ever have that His death had a greater meaning than what was implied by being spat upon and nailed up between two common criminals was simple faith. Because although religious tradition had it that an angel had appeared to put her in the picture of future events, who could really stretch their brains to fit around that?
So she'd gone on blind faith that a greater good existed somewhere. Not in her lifetime and not in the lifetime of the grandchildren she would never have. But there. Somewhere. Quite real. There.
Of course, it hadn't happened yet. Fast-forward two thousand brutal years and mankind was still waiting for the good to come. And what did she think, the Virgin Mother, watching and waiting from her throne in the clouds? How did she begin to assess the benefit against the cost?
For years newspapers had served to tell Eugenie that the benefits -- the good -- tipped the scales against the price she herself had paid. But now she was no longer sure. The Greater Good she'd thought she was serving threatened to disintegrate before her, like a woven rug whose persistent unraveling makes a mockery of the labour that went into its creation. And only she could stop that unraveling, if she made the choice to do so.
The problem was Ted. She hadn't intended to draw close to him. For so very long she hadn't allowed herself near enough to anyone to encourage confidence of any kind. And to feel herself even capable now -- not to mention deserving -- of establishing a connection to another human being seemed like a form of hubris that was certain to destroy her. Yet she wanted to draw close to him anyway, as if he were the anodyne for a sickness that she lacked the courage to name.
So she sat in the church. In part because she did not want to face Ted Wiley just yet, before the way was paved. In part because she did not yet possess the words to do the paving.
Tell me what to do, God, she prayed. Tell me what to say.
But God was as silent as He'd been for ages. Eugenie dropped an offering in the collection box and left the church.
Outside, it was still raining relentlessly. She raised her umbrella and headed towards the river. The wind was rising as she reached the corner, and she paused for a moment to wrestle against it as it struck her umbrella with more force than she expected and turned it inside out.
Excerpted from A Traitor to Memory by Elizabeth George Copyright 2001 by Elizabeth George. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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