Night Road

Page 63

Stalling. Finally, at just after one o'clock, she drew in a deep breath and stopped moving. It's time, Jude. Now.
Slinging a purse over her shoulder, she went to her car and drove away. As she came to the corner, sunlight skittered along the blue water below and winked from windows along either shore. Such a beautiful, beautiful day.
At Night Road, she slowed down. It had been years since she'd dared to turn onto this stretch of asphalt where her life had changed. It was time to face it at last.
She turned and kept driving. Then, after about a half a mile or so, she pulled off to the side of the road and parked. Slowly, she got out of the car and crossed the street.
The remnants of the memorial were barely visible.
She stood at the hairpin turn.
The forest was dark here, even in midday. Ancient, towering evergreens grew in dense thickets on either side, their mossy, spearlike trunks rising high enough into the summer sky to block out the sun. Shadows were knee-deep along this worn ribbon of asphalt; the air was still and quiet, like an indrawn breath. Expectant.
She shouldn't stay here long. If someone saw her on this lonely roadside, the talk would start up, people would worry about her. Still, she closed her eyes for just a moment, remembering that night, so long ago, when the rain had turned to ash …
Letting it go.
At last, she returned to her car and drove off the island.
It took her less than thirty minutes to reach her destination. That surprised her. Somehow, she thought it should have been farther away. It had taken her years to get here, after all.
The cemetery was a rolling landscape of manicured lawn studded with the decorations of death: headstones, monuments, stone benches.
She took a deep breath. "Come on, Judith. You can do this." She reached into the backseat for the three pink balloons she'd bought at the florist's shop yesterday. Clutching the strings, she herded them up and left her car. In her mind, she clicked through the directions she'd gotten yesterday, but it didn't really matter. She could have found her child blindfolded …
And there was the marker. A smooth granite headstone with an etching of Mia's face in its center.
There was a small gift-of-life symbol there, too, memorializing the lives she'd saved.
Jude held her ridiculous balloons, staring at the image of her daughter's face. Even in granite, Mia's smile shone brightly.
"I'm sorry it took me so long to get here. I got … lost," she finally said, and once she started talking, she couldn't stop. She sat down on a granite bench and told Mia everything.
For years, Jude had worried that she would forget her daughter, that time would somehow sand away her memories until nothing solid was left, but now, sitting here in the sunshine, holding her balloons, she remembered everything-how Mia used to suck her thumb and stroke her stuffed puppy's satin paws, how she used to break into a run just before she saw Jude in the carpool lane, how she ate her oranges in sections, tearing away every tiny speck of white, how in a hurry she was to grow up.
"I bought you this ring … a long time ago," Jude said, feeling the tug of both sadness and joy. It was strange how those emotions could coexist at a moment like this. "I bought it for an eighteen-year-old girl who I thought was my future." She stared down at the pink diamond. It sparkled in the sunlight, danced.
Every time she looked at this ring, she would remember something about her daughter. Sometimes she would cry, but that was okay, because someday, maybe she would smile. Or even laugh.
That was something she had learned the past few weeks. In the sea of grief, there were islands of grace, moments in time when one could remember what was left rather than all that had been lost.
She stood and released the balloons into the sky. The pink dots swirled and bounced on an invisible current of air, as if an impatient girl had grabbed at them and missed. A sound like laughter came through the trees, and Jude experienced a profound sense of peace. She'd been wrong before; her daughter was here, with her, inside of her. She'd always been here, even when Jude was too broken to look for her. But it was time now to say, "Good-bye, baby … I love you."
For the first time in years, she believed that her daughter could hear her.

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