D Is For Damien: Chapter 26
"PENNY FOR YOUR thoughts."
Damien looked up. He smiled briefly at his uncle and then continued gazing down into the green waters of the Cheboygan River. He leaned on the bar lining the side of the M-33 bridge and stared at the blackened monolith before him, its own bars connecting to form triangles and other geometric shapes against the blue sky.
"You've never offered me that much before," he murmured.
Father Damien smiled this time. "Don't be smart with me. What are you thinking about, out here on the highway by yourself? These people going by are going to think you're nuts."
"Maybe I am," Damien half joked, then fell serious and thoughtful. "Maybe I am," he said again. He was silent for a moment, then he tried to speak above the roar of a passing car.
"What?" his uncle asked.
"I said, why is it that things can last for so long, and people for so short a time? I mean, take a look at that bridge. That thing's been lyin' there, unused for years, and it still hasn't fallen down or something. But people are so fragile. That bridge could probably be there for several lifetimes and outlive anybody. Doubtless it will if they don't tear it down first."
"Well, it's sort of a landmark," Father Damien said reflectively, putting his hands on the sidebar as well. "Did you know that?"
Damien smiled crookedly. "I wouldn't know. I got a 'D' in Michigan History."
Father Damien ignored this lame attempt at a joke. "I guess," he continued, half to himself, "though people think it's kind of an eyesore, somewhere deep down they need it to be there. To maybe remind us of things past." He gestured at Damien. "Like you. When you look at that, you get memories, don't you?"
"Yeah," Damien sighed, resting his chin on his arms. "Not very pleasant ones."
"I know," said his uncle, "but memories nonetheless. What can something be without memories? Nothing. Once something ceases to exist the only things that keep it going are memories. Of course what you remember of the railroad bridge isn't very pleasant, but at least you remember something. Think of it as being a way of keeping Lilu alive--only inside yourself."
"She would be alive outside myself if it weren't for me," Damien said in a low voice.
"Listen, Damien," Father Damien said, taking him by the shoulders and forcing him to turn around, "what happened to Lilu was not your fault, and there's no way you could have prevented it. If you'd stayed you'd doubtless have been killed also."
"He admitted it," Damien said, still staring at the bridge, as if a stare could make it stand on indefinitely. "He admitted to killing her. He said that he'd killed her, and he'd do the same thing to me. And he nearly did."
"But he didn't," Father Damien replied. "That's what makes the difference. And just remember this, Damien--Luther's still out there, but so are you. So are you." He patted his nephew's shoulder and walked away, back toward his car, parked away from the bridge. "If there's anyone in this world who can defeat him, it's you. And you're still here to think about it. Just remember that." So saying, he got back in his car, started it up, and drove away.
Damien was left alone on the bridge again, staring down the highway after the disappearing station wagon, puddling mirages forming in the road. When it was out of sight he turned back to the water. He looked at the railroad bridge thoughtfully; then, removing the cross from around his neck, looked at it a moment, studying the different patterns the sunlight made on it; looked at the bridge, and how for some reason it seemed the sun would never touch its dark metal; and then he let the cross drop.
It spiraled and turned all the way down, as if in slow motion; he remembered himself falling, once in the rain, once in the air, and how slowly things had gone by then. If only some other things went by as slowly, like time; he would have given anything to have had more time with his sister, more time before it was only him at the bridge.
Eventually the small silver cross hit the water and disappeared beneath the surface, leaving behind a small ripple which gradually disappeared itself, being replaced by a new wavelet. Damien watched until the last ripple had faded into oblivion, and then turned from the railing and slowly walked away.