The priest was droning on inexorably toward "till death do us part," and Anna began to get nervous. At some point over the years, the well-worn phrase had come to feel more like a sinister threat than a romantic promise.
Death had parted Anna from her husband years before, sudden and pointless death delivered by a cab driver on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan. Judging from the internal damage to Zach's body, the NYPD accident investigator estimated the cab was traveling at fifty to sixty miles per hour on a city street. The impact had knocked Zach out of his shoes. They were found, still laced, sixty feet from his body, a detail Anna hadn't needed to know then and didn't like remembering now.
Nearly a hundred people had witnessed the accident; a baker's dozen stayed to tell their story to the police. No one had gotten the cab's license plate number. No one heard the squeal of brakes. There were no marks on the asphalt to indicate the cabbie had tried to stop or even swerve.
"Drunk or high," the accident investigator had offered. "Or maybe just didn't know where the brake pedal was. Some of these guys get their driver's licenses off Froot Loops boxes on the boat over from Iran."
Six hours after Zach died Anna identified his body at the morgue. Despite the violence of the collision, his body was almost completely unmarked. Still, he'd not looked as if he were sleeping. That was a story invented for comforting children. Without life inside, the human body looked like the awkward and asymmetrical compilation of parts it was. At the time she'd known seeing the face in death would eclipse a thousand memory pictures of him in life. And so it had.
Alarmed by the return of morbid visions she'd not suffered--or, as her sister Molly might have said, indulged in--for a long while, Anna shook herself, the tremor of an animal ridding its hide of biting flies.
A plump brown hand bearing a squirrel's weight in gold and semi-precious stones patted her knee reassuringly. The stately black matron beside her on the pew was a stranger, but this was Mississippi. In the South there were still people who believed "what you do to the least of these, you do also to me." Solace was not strictly reserved for friends and family.
Startled, Anna smiled at her benefactress and received a nod in return, a minute dipping of a fabulous crimson hat with a prow like a pirate ship, sequins glittering like plunder. On a white woman it would have looked absurd. Atop this substantial black woman it was grand and subtly defiant.
Made uncomfortable by random kindness, Anna looked away. Alarm at harboring funereal thoughts at a wedding crept up on her in the form of superstition, a race memory of evil fairies come to christenings with curses for the princeling child. She crossed herself, then felt guiltier still. She wasn't Catholic. She wasn't even Christian. It was merely a habit picked up from the nuns during her years at Mercy High.
Contemplating her megrims, Anna realized she'd not been in a church of any stripe in more years than she cared to remember. The Restin-Wells nuptials were oddly timed--a morning wedding with a brunch following. For the uninitiated, being at a holy edifice at 9 A.M. before one was properly fortified with sin and coffee was taxing.
St. James Episcopal Church in Port Gibson had been built in the 1800s. Dark wood and vaulted ceiling, glass stained with saints, most of whom died grisly deaths, invited belief, if not in the divine, then at least in a human history steeped in blood.
A laugh boiled hot in Anna's lungs. She only just caught it before it blew past her lips and she made a spectacle of herself. Who was she kidding? Gods, demons, death in its myriad forms, none of it scared her. Marriage was what gave her the willies. A marriage performed by Paul Davidson, the man it was possible she was vaguely, carefully falling in love with, was even creepier.
From Hunting Season by Nevada Barr, Copyright © February 2002, The Putnam Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
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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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