“What the hell was that?” he said, his coworkers in the old courthouse basement with him equally wide-eyed after the concussive jolt.
Thing is, he also remembered not saying it. Getting out only “Wha…” after the concussive jolt before it was followed by the shockwave and the world around them exploded as shrapnel. He remembered both saying it and not saying it and he remembered all the details that followed both, seconds, minutes, days, weeks, years and years, as though the splitting atoms split his life into two versions that he led simultaneously.
He said, “What the hell was that?” and Molly across the basement suggesting a second later, “Earthquake,” and Ed, near him by the wall next to the file cabinets just shrugging. Ed was pissed. The judge had sent all three paralegals to the basement to excavate a century old brief that may or may not have been digitized and may or may not still exist and he wanted to see the original if it did. The three of them ran upstairs all the way to the third-floor law library where they could look out the big windows with the rest of the courthouse staff and see the smoke and a little bit of fire from just a block away. A seditionist whose ideological leader had been removed from office had loaded a small plane with explosive but was a crappy pilot and lost control and crashed into the street before he could do anything worse. “That was close,” Molly would say when the facts emerged, but at the moment they simply gawked at the scene for fifteen-twenty minutes and went back to their lives. He got married that fall, just like he’d planned, and in another year finished his juris doctorate and joined a small firm with offices just up the street. He opened his own practice a few years later and built a sterling reputation representing not-for-profits and citizen’s groups in civil proceedings, winning a few landmark cases. He was elected as a state representative a couple times, then as a circuit court judge which he liked a lot better. He and his wife had a daughter who played the piccolo and became a starting point guard in high school. They moved into a large house on a tree lined avenue and restored its historic character. They entertained friends often in their backyard garden with its fountain and fire pit and fragrant honeysuckle. His wife liked gardening and decorating, and their home was a constantly evolving kaleidoscope of color and pattern and imagination. He loved cooking, especially grilling on the patio, and perpetually treated his family and friends to succulent dishes that made their mouths water. They immersed themselves in love and affection, sharing everything and giving back as much as they could, and their lives were full and rich and purposeful. Years and years on he sat on a chair next to the bed on which his wife was soon to die peacefully, and as he held her hand she looked contentedly at him and said, “Thank you for my life.”
But he remembered saying only “Wha…” before the world exploded in shrapnel. When he regained consciousness after he’d no idea how long he found Ed crushed by the file cabinets he’d been next to and Molly shredded by the debris. He was seriously burned, had a perforated ear drum and a concussion, but was alive. He looked up and saw daylight; two floors into the basement of a five-story stone and brick building and he could look up and see the sky. The seditionist hadn’t just carried explosives in his small plane, he’d carried fissionable material in a crude bomb that he detonated one-thousand feet above and a little to the north of the courthouse. Total megatons were only about one-third Hiroshima, but it was intensely dirty. Everything in a quarter-mile radius was flattened, and everything a quarter mile beyond that was burning. He spent the rest of his life seeking, and getting, revenge. He finished his juris doctorate but couldn’t get married as planned because his intended wife had been among the thousands and thousands fried outright or incinerated by the blast. He became a prosecutor and went after everyone even remotely associated with the seditionists, their families, friends, the ideological leader himself and associates, and when he could, anyone who had ever voted for him. He went after them in criminal court. He went after them in civil court. He went after them economically by organizing boycotts, disputing permits and licenses. He was driven by hate. He could not bear the thought of sharing or giving back in anyway that might benefit anyone who had ever sympathized however briefly with the seditionists. He never married, never again formed an affectionate relationship. His hobby was compiling lists of people he could go after and crossing them off once he felt he’d sufficiently ‘got’ them. He cultivated his hate morning, noon, and night. When eventually he lay on his own death bed, succumbing at last to radiation poisoning, memories of BOTH lives swirled around his brain like an acid-fueled spiral. Which was real? Had his psyche imagined a life filled with love to compensate for the hate he felt, or had a hate-filled nightmare been his motivation for filling his world with love? He remembered both lives so vividly. It made no sense, not the least of which because he lovingly held his wife’s hand on her deathbed a decade-plus after bitterly lying on his own, as though time itself moved differently depending on which emotion it flowed through, gliding easily along through one and furtively slogging through the other. And he knew too that once his wife’s hand slipped from his, that life would go on, sadder but still propelled with love, whereas lying on his own death bed he knew he had been partially dead his entire life.
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BTW: The photo art and prose included in any given post are separate creations and rarely have anything to do with each other. Duality and such …
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.