In a cold, dead universe, where the only light is given off by the hypocritical laws of physics as their fundamental flaws cause the very substance of existence to eat away at itself through the fiery hatred of the stars, the concept of "normal" is a laughable one. SO many every day things are extraordinary; every birth is a miracle, every death is a tragedy, every drop of rain caused by a series of events so complex it boggles the human mind. But despite this, humanity still revels in the concept of the routine, of boredom, and of a meaningless humdrum existence.
Ask an anthropologist about birth and death, and he'll endeavor to break everything down to mathematical mechanics, of "societal pressures" and "environmental factors." Ask a father that same question and his answer will be tales of lust and perseverance, of dramatic struggles, victories, and failures. When confronted with these inconsistencies, the anthropologist will make logically fraudulent appeals to authority every bit as spurious as the father's second hand anecdotes.
For instance, right now, there are two men, one a fat Italian looking like Pavarotti's stand-in, and a thin Arab with perfectly barbered goatee and Asian-style collared dress shirt sitting in a booth in a respectable mid-priced restaurant. To the eye of someone who already assumes they know a substantial amount about restaurants and their patrons, this is nothing out of the ordinary. However, to someone in tune with the miraculous nature of existence who bothers to pay attention, this is quite the opposite...
"Rodney's been really active lately," the fat one remarked, a worried expression crossing his face.
"Well, someone's got to take up my slack," the thin one said with an impish grin
"I'll be sure and tell Peter how amusing you find the situation," the fat one replied bitterly.
"Oh, lighten up brother." The Arab laughed with a dismissive wave of his hand, "Why can't you ever just lay back and watch the show? It's not like you don't have plenty of time."
"Damnit Nate, when are you going to come to terms with the fact that if Rodney and Peter showed up here right now everything you've ever built will come tumbling down around your ears?" despite his hard words, there was almost a whiny edged to the Italian's tone.
"The day when YOU admit that it's YOUR choice should that happen. But I know you wouldn't do that to me, brother," Nathan said as his eyes twinkled merrily.
"You're a bastard, Nate," the Italian spat sarcastically, finally cracking a smile.
"Now THAT'S the brother I know," he laughed to the Italian, "Besides, you know Pete's not going to get off his ass. Why would he? He could care less about Pedro, Caroline, and Marcia."
"You're right..." the fat one said, finally catching Nate's infectious grin, "I'm just still bitter Father always loved you more."
"Hah, Dom, if He liked me so much, why did He bother having you?"
The Angel of Death was speechless. Here was Nate, Lucifer, the Creator of the World, the being who he was created to be the ultimate antithesis of, the being that he was created to cancel out and undo all of creation, joking about Armageddon. How could he not love the guy?
Dominick Borden busted out in a big jiggly belly laugh. "You're priceless, brother."
Zag looked down at his vibrating phone, amazed at the name he saw there.
"Berry?" the beefy South American mumbled to himself, amazed the girl still had his number. Perhaps Thug had told her he was in town?
Zag snapped open his rugged but battered cell phone before her call had a chance to go to voicemail.
"Berry!" he answered warmly again, happy to hear from the girl he'd spent so many good times with. "It's been forever!"
"Yeah, I know." Berry said in her cutest club-girl voice. To a man, Zag was hard as nails, but he was butter in her hands, and she knew it, "I'd heard you were back in town. How ya been doin'?"
"Believe it or not, I've been getting some quality family time in. Cashmere messed me up pretty bad, but luckily my family's been really supportive. How's the whole thing with Raz going?"
If a stranger had been listening to Zag's voice they would have been amazed such metropolitan tones were coming from his scarred bald head.
"Blah, me and Raz broke up years ago. Ends up he was all about the cocks after all." Berry pointedly left out Raz's failed suicide attempt.
"See? I always KNEW you two wouldn't make it. No straight guy could get that vicious with a girl in a fight." Zag replied, quickly taking sides in the breakup.
"Haha, yeah... It's all good now, though. I've got this new rich boy named Mark. He's a little stale, but he treats me like a princess." Berry bragged.
Zag smirked to himself. He knew what THAT meant; she'd found herself a new sugar daddy.
"You never change, do you?" Zag laughed knowingly, "Me, I've been doing some side work with my uncle. He's got a little plot of land out in the boonies, and he's been letting me live there since I got back."
Berry smiled with a wicked little grin, like a kitten might grin at a friendly pet mouse that didn't know the natural order of the food chain. That was exactly what she was hoping to hear. Now to get the invitation....
"Sounds nice. What's it like out there?" Berry asked innocently.
"Oh, it's mainly just woods. Pedro's got a couple of acres, but he's also got a field with some horses. I mean, yeah, it's a trailer, but it's a double wide and the deck on that thing is amazing. You should come out sometime. I'm sure you and my cousin Angelia would get along like gang-busters."
"Sounds great." Berry quipped, "Can you pick me up Saturday?"
In a neighborhood on the edge of town, too close to the inner city to be a middle class suburb, but too far from downtown to be metropolitan, a grizzled old man limps down the sidewalk. His face is a weather-beaten roadmap to the paths of life, like old boot leather creased and cracked by years of use and exposure to the elements. Wrapped in the gnarled roots of his right hand is a battered wooden walking stick topped by a stout knob, a stick that would make a formidable weapon should a local hoodlum decide the wizened old man is an easy mark.
Why any naïve young gangster would want to rob the old man is a mystery, because his second hand clothes and worn shoes spoke volumes as to the contents of his pockets. Those of a prejudiced mind would assume this old man was the victim of alcoholism, although they couldn't possibly be more wrong. Regardless of polite society's judgments, the old man persevered, making his plodding way down the cracked sidewalks and well-built but weather-beaten neighborhoods towards his destination.
Starburst stood on Mama Agnes's porch, watching her hordes of grandchildren play basketball, jump rope, and leap in games of hopscotch under an overcast sky. He coolly sipped his iced tea, his watchful eye backed up by a barking voice in case fair play fell to foul among the heathens, doing his best to teach civility in an environment where personal virtue is a rare gem.
It was from the corner of his eye that Starburst spotted the old man trudging down the street. At first he didn't recognize the man's coal black face, but there was something about his stance that became more and more apparent as the grizzled wanderer drew closer. Star's eyes popped wide in recognition as his heart skipped a beat and jumped into his throat. It couldn't be! The old man had always just kind of... well... APPEARED before, and normally only after meticulous preparations on the part of Mama Agnes. Normally there would be time to send the children back to their parents...
Finally Starburst picked up his dropped jaw and ran inside to Mama Agnes, leaving his flip-flops behind him as he ran.
Thug grunted as he thrust, his legs straining with the effort as sweat dripped from his brow. Despite the effort, he thrust again and again, his load slowly building. Finally, the release came, and he dumped the wheel barrow full of compost back onto the heap.
"You're sick." Lucille commented dryly as she spooned rich dark honey from the hives outside into her fragrant herbal tea.
"Huh, what?" Caroline stuttered, snapping out of her daze as she stared at Thug's shirtless swelling shoulders from the window as he turned the compost heap.
"You know what I mean. You really shouldn't look at him like that. You may not be his biological grandmother, but you might as well be." Thug's sister and one-time heir apparent to the Black clan commented prudishly. She had no interest in being matriarch, however, and had passed her blood-right to Caroline during the birth of her fourth child, sacrificing her place in exchange for a normal home life.
"Oh! NO! I was thinking about something else!" Caroline exclaimed squeamishly.
"Sure you were... SURE..." Lucille intoned sarcastically. She didn't become a mother of four by being in denial about her carnal desires.
"No, seriously, I just got this kind of...memory. Did you ever meet Raz's ex-girlfriend Berry?" Caroline asked speculatively.
"No... I can't say I have."
"Oh... she's just been kind of on my mind lately. It's like whenever I space out, her name just pops into my head." Caroline elaborated.
"Haha, yeah, that used to happen to Mrs. Black. Not about the same person, of course. She called them 'premonitions.' She said they were annoying, because they were always important, but she could almost never figure out what they meant until it was too late." Lucille recollected.
"But do you remember what she used to do about them?" Caroline asked, her face anxious like a whiny child in a toy store.
"I'm afraid the only person who knows the answer to that question rests in All Saints Cogic Cemetery." Lucille answered somberly.
The immaculate black Cadillac cruised slowly through a forest of gray stones and statuary in the honor section of All Saints Cogic Cemetery as Caroline stared pensively out of the backseat window. She hadn't been back to the gravesite since a year after the funeral on the first anniversary of Mrs. Black's funeral to place her ashes in the ceremonial urn above the tombstone after the traditional year of grieving. According to the will, she'd had to do the melancholy duty herself, reverentially pouring the ashes from one container to the other before finally locking the lid in place. There was something strange about that. She'd assumed the lock was merely symbolic, but of what she had no idea. Then again, screwing a lid on the urn like a peanut butter jar didn't seem nearly as respectful as turning a brass key, a keepsake she still carried with her.
And her she was again, the light dimming behind the layers of clouds scudding through the once sunny sky in the last precious minutes of the afternoon, sitting in the backseat of the same car she'd left in over twelve months ago. She'd done her best to forget that day, but with the familiar graveyard smell of fresh dirt all the emotion came tumbling back.
"She hasn't said a word since we left." Lucille said worriedly to her brother, finally breaking the silence of their half-hour ride.
"Maybe she has nothing to say." Thug said softly. His eyes sparked with unshed tears for the most formative and supportive person of his life.
"Oh..." Lucille trailed off, realizing sometimes there's just no right thing to say, "Maybe we should just let her go by herself?"
Thug nodded. However strong his rippled arms may be, there were certain kinds of strength he didn't have.
Caroline Parker stepped out alone onto the graveyard road, her low buckled heels making two soft knocks on the asphalt. Ahead lay her savior, her destroyer, her mentor, a stranger who had saved her from herself in exchange for her taking the burden of Matriarchy off of Lucille. She felt like she'd been punched in the face as unabashed tears fell for the woman who's shoes she now filled, a woman who's magnitude she had only begun to understand in the past two years.
"How... how... how would you have done it?" she sobbed, her eyes nearly blinded by tears. She cried not for the dead, but for herself, crying because her fate rested in her own ragged hands, not the elegant porcelain fingers that had once belonged to her predecessor. Not even her own mother had cared for her as much as Mrs. Black. To her, she'd only been a tool of spite against her father, a pawn in a war between the sexes she'd walked away from when she'd started her new life as a florist, a life already dead and gone.
A white satin touch dried her tears as a strong arm caressed her shoulders. Caroline didn't bother to turn around, still more wrapped in helpless grief than the physical touch of her comforter. Two fatherly lips pressed to the top of her head as the arms held her for what felt like an eternity before a warm, golden baritone voice broke the silence.
"Not even she could have known, Caroline," the operatic voice whispered gently.
Caroline basked in the stranger's arms for a few more precious seconds, finally gathering the courage to turn and face him, her lips pouting to form the one name she thought she could never forgive, the name of the one who'd taken Mrs. Black from her, the one who'd hidden Todd's identity from her until after she'd killed him, the name of the one Mrs. Black had entrusted not only her life, but her death as well.
"Dom?" she whispered, unbelieving.
The fat Italian wiped away her tears with a satin handkerchief from his shirt pocket.
"Strange weather today, eh Caroline?" he said, loosening his grip in case Caroline didn't forgive him, in case she'd rather fight than let him touch her.
"Yeah.... I guess..." she said between sobs, struggling against her emotions, glad for his brief anchor of reality in the stormy sea of hopelessness that tossed within her.
"I mean, it was so sunny this morning, and now..." Dom held up a hand to demonstrate as a drop of rain splashed down form the clouds above.
Caroline sniffled. "We were lucky to get all the gardening done early..."
Thunder struck and the trickle of rain intensified to a torrent as Dom put his suit jacket over Caroline's head to shield her from the storm.
"Perhaps we should discuss this over a hot cup of tea at your place?" he suggested.
"Yeah... that sounds nice." Caroline answered sheepishly as Dom led her back to the black Cadillac.
Lucille and Thug didn't say a word as the man opened Caroline's door and sat next to her without invitation. Death never asks for an invitation, after all.