THE SKY IS FALLING: Chapter Two
Saturday, March 21: 8:59 a.m.
Peaks Island, Maine
Nowhere was hell more clearly defined than by the dreams that plagued Sean Mitchell when he slept. As the first light of morning snuck between the cracks osf his window shade, he turned on his side, pulling the covers around his body in an effort to fight off the inevitable.
A new day or just another reminder of what life used to be. Today’s hangover was worse than yesterday’s, and Sean wondered why he should even bother getting out of bed. He considered it to be a foolish proposition. Surely, the Earth would not suddenly lose its axial rotation if he just stayed in bed. He groaned and rolled over, reminded of the extra weight he had recently put on.
He couldn’t remember much about last night; only that he had been unable to keep up with Jack’s drinking pace before catching the last ferry home. A bad idea.
It had been this way for a while now. Although he had expected it to get easier, there was no such reward. Each and every day, he had to force himself out of bed, resigning himself to the fact that he couldn’t quite face suicide. Not yet, anyway. Today was no exception. Sean wanted to believe that his depression had started six months ago, in October, when Julie first asked for the divorce. He wanted desperately to believe that, before then, his life had been just fine; somewhat normal. But deep down, he knew that was a lie. His bouts of depression seeped back into his earliest memories, and there appeared to be no relief in sight.
Lately, time seemed to blending together for Sean. Tiny fragments of his memories swirled about between the past and present. The thoughts of what life might have been like refused to go away. If only Julie could have hung in there just a bit longer.
The typical aphorism was especially accurate this morning: Sean’s head throbbed to the point where he was sure that his skull was going to split wide open. He closed his eyes to fight off the pain and, once again, he held back the tears but it was no use. Instead, the last six months played on an imaginary projector in his mind. All that he was — all that he had —wound around a slow, metal reel. The happier days flickered past a bulb that he knew would soon be extinguished. The good part of his life, what little there had been, was gone — vanished forever more in a violent whirlwind of self-destruction and helpless circumstance.
No matter how many cigarettes he smoked, or how much vodka he drank, things were never going to be the same. No more corner office. No more lovemaking during a thunderstorm.
The alarm clock pulled Sean back to his unwelcome reality. He had a 10:30 a.m. appointment with his probation officer. Miss that appointment, and I’m going back to jail. He hit the snooze bar, rolling over to begin his new day as best as he could. He took in a deep breath, trying to summon up some small measure of courage. It wasn’t an easy proposition.
He pulled back the window shade. Last night’s storm had finally blown out to sea, but the harbor still looked menacingly cold. There were no budding leaves or bright flowers unfolding outside his cottage. The sidewalk still had patches of ice, and clusters of dirty snow refused to melt in the yard. “Welcome, Spring,” he sighed, dropping the shade back in place.
The small, paneled room smelled of stale cigarettes, and he stumbled toward the bathroom, nearly knocking over the stack of unpaid bills on the coffee table. For the moment, the room had stopped spinning but every fiber of his body felt as if they would suddenly explode, leaving him crumpled on the floor like a bag of shattered glass. I wonder how Jack is feeling right about now.
He studied his face in the mirror, waiting for the water to heat up so that he could shave. At 29, Sean could have easily passed for 40. His sandy, brown hair was slowly receding and wrinkles had already started to form near the corners of his eyes. He patted his stomach, trying to force a smile at his reflection. The extra weight could come off, but it wasn’t too noticeable on his tall frame and loose pose.
As the steam began to rise from the sink, Sean bowed his head, wondering if he might vomit where he stood. He had been fooling himself, secretly hoping that, by the start of spring, his life would magically find itself back on course. Maybe Julie’s heart heart would be warmed by the rising temperatures and chirping birds. Maybe she would come back. Maybe she would admit that she had made a grievous error and throw herself at his feet, begging for forgiveness. Maybe. Maybe not.
Sean’s cottage was only a two-minute walk from the ferry landing, but he would have to hurry if he was going to catch the 9:45 a.m. ferry. His probation officer didn’t accept excuses. Sean picked up his razor and wiped the steam from the mirror. There was no way for him to know what was about to happen.
Saturday, March 21; 9:18 a.m.
Peaks Island, Maine
On the other side of the island, Keith Jacobs watched his children from the kitchen window. Kyle and Erica seemed unfazed by the cold. They scampered about in the yard, playing imaginary games. Keith dried his hands and moved to the staircase, hollering to his wife. “Let’s go, Joanna! If you don’t hurry, we’re going to miss the boat.”
“Relax,” she hollered back from the upstairs bedroom. “I’m almost ready.”
Keith shook his head in frustration, grabbing his jacket from the hallway closet. They had been living on the island for almost a year, and Joanna had still not gotten use to the idea of relying upon an unforgiving ferry schedule. Keith turned back toward the staircase, but before he could admonish his wife a second time, she began her graceful descent down the stairs, fumbling with one of her earrings. She still looked as beautiful as the day he had married her, and Keith smiled.
“Where are the kids?” she asked, brushing past him in the hallway.
“They’re outside, waiting for us,” he grinned.
Joanna headed for the coffee maker. “Did you make sure they have their mittens on?”
“I sure did,” he replied, grabbing his wife from behind and nuzzling her neck. “You know, now that I think of it, we could just wait for the next boat.”
“Cut it out,” she said, only half protesting and pushing him off. “You were the one who was in a big hurry a few minutes ago. Remember?”
Keith wrapped his arms around his wife’s torso. “Yeah, but when I saw how good you look, my priorities changed.”
“Easy big fella,” Joanna laughed. “I told my mother that we would be there by noon, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We have to make the 9:45 boat, so let’s get going.”
Keith laughed off her protests as he began kissing her ear. “So, we call her and say that we missed the boat.”
Joanna squirmed out of his arms and reached for the coffee pot. “No,” she giggled. “You’ll just have to wait until tonight. Besides, the kids are going to come through that door any minute.”
“The kids are all set,” he cajoled. “The sun has finally returned, and they have their hats and mittens on. They’re not even fighting. Now come on. Just a little kiss?”
Joanna couldn’t resist her husband’s puppy-dog eyes. “Okay,” she said sternly. “Just one kiss, and then we head down to the dock.”
Keith leaned over as Joanna closed her eyes, but a terrible, blood-curdling scream from their five-year-old daughter jolted them.
“Mommy! Daddy!,” Erica shrieked, running toward the house from the back yard.
Joanna’s coffee mug shattered on the floor as she turned for the door, running behind her husband. The door flung open, and Joanna kneeled down to scoop up her frantic daughter. “Honey, what’s wrong?” she asked, stroking Erica’s hair.
The little girl was sobbing uncontrollably, burrowing her head into her mother’s bosom as she pointed a finger in the direction of the yard where Kyle was still standing. Keith was out the door like a lightning bolt, finding his son at the edge of the yard, near their neighbor’s overgrown hedges. Kyle seemed frozen in place, transfixed on something under the brush.
Joanna ran from the house, still clutching Erica in her arms. The fear boiled up inside her as she approached her husband. “What is it, Keith?”
Something caught Joanna’s eyes, and she stopped short of her husband, instinctively covering Erica’s face.
Alberta Haskell’s body, twisted and mangled, was lying under the brush. The old women’s eyes were wide open and a trickle of blood had frozen on her chin. The body seemed disjointed and Alberta’s head rolled loosely when Keith leaned over to check for a pulse.
“Oh my God,” Joanna gasped. “Is she still alive?”
Keith remained kneeling on the frozen ground, holding Alberta’s cold wrist in his hands. “Take the kids inside and dial 9-1-1,” he ordered.
Joanna grabbed her son’s hand, prying Kyle from his father’s side and she hurried back to the house. The old lady had never been very pleasant, but still. . . .How will the kids deal with this? She closed the door behind her and grabbed the kitchen phone.