by Noah Matthews
She sat in the car looking straight ahead, listening to the rain pounding with angry watery fists on the hood and above her. A flash of lightning outlined the black barren trees in searing white light once, twice, and then a third time in successive and rapid bursts. The twisted limbs reached for her, closer with each burst of light. A fourth burst would have found them wrapped around her neck, her torso, her legs.... smothering her. She pulled the bottle from a wispy white plastic bag and worked awkwardly with the cap until it was opened. She held the silver cap in front of her as if it were a treasured family jewel, studying the tiny silver nubs that had held it securely to the bottle. She pressed the sharp points into her thumb, feeling nothing at first, pressing harder and harder still, until small points of blood rose in angry retaliation. It was then that she wondered how long she had been sitting there, the car idling, the dash lights glowing softly, the railroad crossing before her, on this lonely stretch of road. She lifted the bottle to her mouth and felt the burning clear liquid pass over her lips and descend her throat until it lay as molten transgression in her stomach. She coughed then wiped at her mouth with the back of her hand, tasting the earth. She turned her hand over to examine the dirt under her spilt nails as the horror of what she had just done fell upon her and she screamed to no one. Lightning flashed again and she saw herself hunched over a mound of earth clawing at the ground. It flashed a second time and she felt anew the cold rain pelting her body as she dug furiously to free her husband from his grave. To break the visage she gulped more of the liquid, gasping as it settled into her gut, and grasped the steering wheel firmly with both hands. There was only one option.
What had life done to her? It wasn't supposed to be like this. They met in college, married after they graduated, saving themselves for their honeymoon. Attended church, tithed and even sponsored not one but two children in central America who had lost their parents and lived in poverty. Choir, fundraisers, and homegroup. Shoe boxes filled with Christmas gifts and nursing home visits. Surely God was keeping score. What had they done wrong? How could this have happened? She gulped at the vodka, no longer caring that it stung. Where was that train? Tonight she would end it!
The rain died to a few sputtering fits of delinquent drops. She powered down the windows, turned the key to kill the motor, and waited in the absolute dark. Nothing. She now heard nothing and she felt nothing. What had stopped her digging at the cemetery? She couldn't remember now. Had she reached his casket? No. Or... She pressed her head back into the headrest feeling the ache of the muscle in her neck and struggled to remember. What was happening to her? She couldn't think anymore. Of course she hadn't. They put the caskets in...what do they call them...vaults. Cement vaults. That was it. She had stopped because she had dug down to the vault. She remembered clawing at the cement, the teeth jarring feel of her nails tearing on the vault, then the pain. She hit the dome light and examined her hands more closely. Some of her nails were missing, her fingers coated in a mixture of blood and earth. Her eyes widened in horror just as she heard the roar.
There it was. What she was waiting for. In the distance, the roar of the train. It was too far away to see but she could feel it resonating in her, firing every nerve in her body. This was her destiny. She slapped at the dome light to extinguish it and clutched the steering wheel again with both hands, here arms extended, her muscles knotted. Waiting. Waiting. No lights. They must not see her. This crossing had no automatic crossing guards. She would be on the tracks and in front of the train before they could react and then she would be....would be with him. No, she didn't believe that. She didn't think suicide would reunite them. Suicide isn't in God's plan.
"Seven months!" she screamed into the air. "Seven months you let him suffer. You said you would show up but you didn't. You didn't! We waited for you!" Her hair, heavy with sweat, stuck to her face. She released on hand from the steering wheel to swat at it angrily and then reaffirmed her purchase.
The rumble was no longer distant and grew in strength. She saw the first of the light in the distance, growing closer and more intense as the sound increased. Jerking, she started the car, the lights off, even the console lights, and sat waiting.
Louder. Closer. With the roar came a wind. It grew stronger and stronger, urgent. She could hear it racing through the trees, bending limbs and branches to its will until it too was a deafening roar. She stared down the track, wide-eyed, the wind now lifting her hair from her sweaty face and increasing in strength until it rocked the car. The light was brighter and brighter, now painful to look directly at it. Louder and louder. The floorboard beneath her feet began to vibrate and then her car seat. It was almost time. She placed her hands in front of her face to shield her eyes and squinted through her fingers. The wind picked up debris from the track or the road and it pelted her palms. Now she thought. Now! She threw the car into drive and gunned the engine, hurling car and passenger directly into the path of the light. Suddenly afraid of death she screamed and cupped both hands over her ears, her elbows meeting in front of her face to shield her. The bones in her chest vibrated and her heart pounded until surely it would explode and she thought it ironic that she might die of a heart attack while trying to be killed by a train. Awash in the roar and the light that surrounded and now filled her, she somehow heard a small, soft voice.
"And it shall come to pass, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by."
And then, in an instant it was gone. A crescendo of silence. The voice, the roar, the light. Gone. The engine had died. Absolute nothingness. Not even the sound of her breathing, until she gasped for air like a person rescued from drowning. She sat there gulping in the night air, the pounding of her heart slowing as an inexplicable peace wriggled at the edges of her consciousness, slipped past the bastions of doubt, and then slowly settled into her soul. She knew the message the voice had spoken from somewhere. Exodus. Moses asked to see God but God warned that if Moses saw Him face to face he would be consumed. And so God hid Moses safely in a large crack in the rock on the mountainside and shielded Moses with His own hand, and then passed by.
What did any of this mean? She swatted at the dome light and squinted to see herself in the fogged mirror. She rubbed at the glass with the heel of her hand and then recoiled at the image that stared back at her - sweaty tendrils of hair framing hollow eyes in a face smeared with mud; cheeks sunken from days without food. She heard a faint echo of the voice, not the voice itself, play over in her mind, soul. Starting the car, she drove off into the night, knowing she had been hidden in the cleft of the rock.