And also they make forever seem like an okay thing.
Moses Todd stumbles out the front door just in time to see the girl’s kneeling body fall gently to the ground—like a house of cards that crumples beautifully, soundlessly, with the complicity of the breeze.
His girl. His little girl.
No, he says beneath his breath.
Then he sees the mutant girl, standing there with the gun still held in an awkward underhand.
No, goddamn you! he bellows and moves toward the mutant girl with long strides and tears the gun from her hand and presses the barrel against her bony ribs and fires twice into her chest.
She stumbles back, looking surprised, then falls forward to the ground, the blood already beginning to make red flowers on her checkerboard dress.
Goddamn you to hell! Moses Todd cries, gazing down at the girl and firing three more shots into her torso where she is lumped motionless on the ground.
It was just us, he says, not sure exactly what he means. It was her and me.
He fires once more, carelessly, into the back of the mutant girl’s head. He wishes he could kill her again, kill her over and over until the terrible surge in him subsides. Until all the fury and fear and love and loss in his chest gets scrubbed away with the cleansing grit of violence.
He walks back to where his girl lies on her side in the grass. He crouches over her and puts his fingers to her delicate white throat to check for a pulse, but there is none, as he knew there would not be. He brushes the hair out of her face and tucks it behind her ear.
She knew about the forces of things, and she understood about America the Beautiful, and she was unafraid, except of herself.
The calamity over and done with, Point Comfort, Texas, has receded back into its abiding silence. The moist, buffered quality of the air after days of wet torrent, the absence of voice or birdsong, the collected rainwater still dripping from the eaves and gutters of the houses all up and down the street.
At the end of the block something moves, and he sees a pair of ragged coyotes frozen in midstride, gazing at him. Drawn by the gunshots, maybe—the promise of activity in these suburban deadlands. Their eyes are locked with his for a few moments, then the two bony creatures wander off to scavenge elsewhere.
He remembers places like this, what they were like before the slugs came along. The truth is they were about the same. The rows of houses like headstones in a cemetery. Defended, even then, against the onslaught of the real.
He looks again at the face of the little girl. He wonders where she went, that little firecracker life, that smoldering, spitting, whizgig of a girl. He wonders if he can tell from the expression on her face where she’s gone to.
And he smiles because he can.
The angels would want her sure.
HE TAKES care of her so she won’t come back—a single shot in the head, where it won’t muck up that face of hers.
Then he drops the pistol to the ground and stands and stretches himself and breathes in the steamy air as the morning sun breaks through the clouds and the moisture everywhere around begins to evaporate.
He walks back into the house and through the door that leads to the garage. He finds a shovel and brings it out to the overgrown front yard and digs a grave deep enough that the coyotes won’t dig it up. It takes him the better part of an hour.
When he’s done, he lifts the girl down into the grave and marvels at how light she is. He wonders if she was heavier when she was alive—if there was some quality of life that gave her weight enough not to go sailing off into the air every time the breezes blew.
He lays her gently down and arranges her hands over her chest and adjusts her clothes so they sit right and aren’t bunched up around her shoulders and thighs.
Standing over the grave, he tries to think of some words to say—but none of the prayers he knows seem to apply to this situation, so he just says:
Little girl. Little girl.
And then he says it a third time, because three times seems right:
He fills in the grave and lays the grass pieces back over it, and she is so wee that the earth is barely higher where she lies.
In what used to be a flower garden around the back of the house, he finds a red brick and sits on the front step and uses his pocketknife to carve her name into it:
SARAH MARY WILLIAMS
And then he digs a little hole at the head of the grave and embeds it halfway into the earth so that the angels will be able to find her when they come looking.
Something else occurs to him, and as a last thing he takes the gun he set aside before and lays it on top of her grave because, after all, she was a warrior too.
HE GOES back into the house and climbs the steps and walks down the hall to the bedroom of Jeb and Jeanie Duchamp, where he puts the room back in order, replacing the chairs where they sat before, using the indentations in the carpet as a guide.
Then he gets down on his hands and knees and lifts the bed skirt and reaches his arm under the bed and feels around until he finds what he’s looking for. He pulls it out and turns the thing over in his hands.
The gurkha knife. The blade is still bright, in places, and reflects back to him his own aged and doleful eye.
He glances around the room once more and goes back downstairs, where he’s almost out the front door before he hears a sound coming from the dining room.
The big thick-limbed man sits on the floor in the corner holding something in his hands and staring blankly at Moses Todd with those flat ceramic plates where his eyes should be.
So that’s where you been hidin, Moses Todd says. I was wonderin where you got to.
He takes one of the chairs from the dining table and turns it around so he can sit facing Maury. Moses Todd is a big man, and his weight stresses the old wood of the chair, which has not felt the burden of a person in twenty-five years.
For a while the two men just look at each other, the one in the chair leaning forward on his knees and turning the gurkha knife around and around so that its glint from the sunlight creeping through the windows travels in a wide orbit around their constellated bodies.
This weren’t how it was supposed to be, he says eventually.
He wants to explain it to someone, explain how things got off the track.
She didn’t deserve to die so light, he says. Dying oughta have a design the same as living.
He looks for something in Maury’s face and nods, satisfied with what he’s found there. Then he gestures with his chin to the thing Maury is holding.
What you got there?
Moses holds out his hand and Maury gives him a glass orb with something in it that looks like a flower but isn’t.
Moses Todd rolls the thing around in his palm, liking the absolute weight and shape of it. There aren’t many things in the world so clear and distinct as this.