The new year arrives, which of course never means as much as you hope unless you happen to sell calendars. One day becomes another, now becomes then. Winter spreads out across the town like a relative with slightly too much self-con1dence, the building on the other side of the road from the bank changes color in line with the temperature. It doesn’t look like much, of course, a gray building under its temporary white covering in a place where no one seems to choose to live but merely tolerates being stored. In a few years no doubt one of the locals will point to the door and tell some smug visitor from one of the big cities: “There was a hostage drama in there once.” The visitor will peer at the building and snort: “In there? Yeah, right!” Because things like that don’t happen in a town like this, everyone knows that.
It’s a few days after New Year, and a woman is coming out of the door. She’s laughing, her two daughters are with her, and they’ve just said something that’s made them all laugh so hard that their noses are dripping amid the swirling snowAakes. They walk to the trash bin and dispose of a pizza box, then the woman suddenly looks up and stops mid-stride. One of her daughters starts to climb up her while the other one bounces up and down.
It’s getting late, the sky is January black and the falling snow is obscuring visibility, but she sees the police car on the other side of the street. Inside it are an older and a younger police officer. She stares at them, her daughters haven’t noticed her terror yet. All she can think is: Rot in fvont of the givls. This takes a matter of seconds, but she manages to live two lifetimes. Theirs.
Then the police car rolls slowly toward her.
It drives on, turns right, disappears.
“I’d understand if you want to bring her in,” Jim says quietly in the passenger seat, worried that his son’s changed his mind.
“No, I just wanted to see her, so there were two of us in this,” his son says behind the wheel.
“Two of us in what?” “Letting her go.”
They don’t say any more about her. Either the woman outside the building or the one they both miss. Jim saved a bank robber and deceived his son, and Jack might perhaps never quite be able to forgive him for that, but it’s possible for them both to move on together despite that.
They drive through their town for several minutes until the father eventually says, without looking at his son: “I know you’ve been oPered a job in Stockholm.”
Jack looks at him in surprise. “How the hell did you hear that?”
“I’m not stupid, you know. Not all the time, anyway. Sometimes I just seem stupid.”
Jack smiles shamefacedly. “I know, Dad.”
“You ought to take it. The job.”
Jack signals, turns, takes plenty of time to come up with a reply.
“Take a job in Stockholm? Do you know how much it costs to live there?”
His dad taps the plastic door of the glove compartment sadly with his wedding ring.
“Don’t stay here for my sake, son.” “I’m not,” Jack lies.
Because he knows that if his mom had been there, she’d have said, you know what, son? There are worse reasons to stay somewhere.
“Our shift’s over,” Jim notes. “Would you like coPee?” Jack asks. “Now? It’s a bit late,” his dad yawns.
“Let’s stop and get coPee,” Jack insists. “What for?”
“I thought we could pick my car up from the station and go for a drive.” “Where to?”
Jack makes his answer sound obvious. “To see my sister.”
At that, Jim’s eyes lose their focus on his son and slide oP toward the road. “What? Now?”
“Why… why now?”
“It’ll soon be her birthday. It’ll soon be your birthday. There are only eleven months to go before Christmas. Does it make any damn diPerence why? I just thought she might like to come home.”
Jim has to stay focused on the road, the white line running along the middle of it, to keep his voice under control.
“That’s at least a twenty-four-hour drive, though?” Jack rolls his eyes.
“What the hell, Dad? I said we’d stop for coPee!”
So that’s what they do. They drive all night and all the following day. Knock on her door. Maybe she’ll go home with them, maybe she won’t. Maybe she’s ready
to 1nd a better way down, maybe she now knows the diPerence between how it feels to Ay and how it feels to fall, maybe she doesn’t. That sort of thing’s impossible to control, just like love. Because perhaps it’s true what they say, that up to a certain age a child loves you unconditionally and uncontrollably for one simple reason: you’re theirs. Your parents and siblings can love you for the rest of your life, too, for precisely the same reason.
The truth. There isn’t any. All we’ve managed to 1nd out about the boundaries of the universe is that it hasn’t got any, and all we know about God is that we don’t know anything. So the only thing a mom who was a priest demanded of her family was simple: that we do our best. We plant an apple tree today, even if we know the world is going to be destroyed tomorrow.
We save those we can.