Grief in the Mirror

Grief in the Mirror

Chapter 16

Herbert’s legs fell from underneath him. His lips failed to form words for his wrestling thoughts. He stared at the concrete floor under his father’s sedan. A hand touched his shoulder and he knew it was Esther’s. Then his mother’s arms wrapped around his chest. The others were talking, but he couldn’t hear them. Marian was probably looking for a way out. Esther was probably deducing how to make it make sense. And Aaron was probably waiting for someone to tell him he could punch something. But Herbert didn’t care anymore. 

“Herbert?” Mrs. Dolor’s soft voice hit his ear. “Herbert, look at me.” 

Herbert’s stare broke, and he looked up at his mother. 

“You loved her, didn’t you?” She gently smiled.

Herbert’s chest convulsed under the pressure of guilt and grief. He closed his eyes, and a tear slipped over his cheek. 

“Herbert, I need to teach you something, darling,” Mrs. Dolor was on her knees next to Herbert’s collapsed body. “I know you feel terrible. But you need to know what your friend did for you. There are those who die. And those who die for you. There is no greater love one can give than to die for those they care about. Starlight loved you. And she gave her life to protect you. Don’t ever forget that, or doubt it, or be ashamed of it. 

“It’s not fair!” Herbert bawled. “It’s bull crap! And it’s your fault! It’s all of your faults.” Herbert pointed his finger around like a maniac at the others. “I wanted to save Dad. And you chose to come this way!”

“I know, Herbert.” Mrs. Dolor closed her eyes and shook her head at a loss. 

Herbert had a thought in his misery. “So if dying for someone is how we love them—let’s go save Dad. Now. All of us. And die trying.”

Mrs. Dolor shook her head. “Herbert, you don’t get to make that decision.”

“Why?” Herbert bit his bottom lip. “Why can’t I?” 

The other children didn’t know what to do. They looked at the concrete slab for answers. 

Mrs. Dolor took Herbert’s hand. “Herbert, listen to me.” She gazed into his eyes. 

“No!” He screamed. “I don’t want to listen!” 

Mrs. Dolor grabbed her son’s shoulders and pulled him close to her chest. She shushed through her clenched teeth as he resorted to sobbing and blubbering. Her arms clasped tight around him while his body flailed at unseen demons. He punched at the air and shook his head until he had no energy left in him.

Time passed, and he calmed down in her arms enough to hear her whisper, “Grief is holy, Herbert. It has to happen in our lives. It will happen. Death is one of the only promises we have in this life.” She felt his body go limp in her arms and released her grip from him. Her arms pulled back, and she looked him in his red, watery eyes. “But, thankfully, it’s only temporary. The grief will fade. Death isn’t forever.”

“I want to save Dad,” he whimpered. 

“I know, Herbert.” She kissed his forehead. “But it’s not the right time, yet. I need to get you all out of here.” She surveyed the room and the other children before bringing her eyes back to Herbert. “Do you understand all that matters is I keep you safe now?” 

He nodded his head and bowed it into her bosom again. 

“C’mon, big boy,” she encouraged. “We can do this.” 

He stood to his shaky feet under her support, and Aaron was at his side with his arm around himself. Marian and Esther waited with bated breath for him to stand on his own. They inched toward him. Esther held his hand and Marian hugged him from behind. 

“We love you, Herbert.” 

“I’m sorry about Starlight.” 

“It’s going to be okay.” 

Herbert took a deep breath and nodded his head. He wiped his face with his shirt and prepared to toughen. He put his head back, took a breath, and listened to what the others were discussing, gathering what he missed while grieving. Apparently, someone had broken the garage door earlier in the night and barred it shut.

“With nuts and bolts,” Aaron said. 

“Who did this?” Mrs. Dolor asked. She stared at the stripped head of a bolt driven through the door into the cinderblock. On the far side of the wall, a similar bolt secured the door shut.

“We saw that goblin early in the night,” Esther offered. “He must have just finished when we saw him—”

“So there’s no way out of this concrete cell,” Aaron said flatly.

“There has to be,” Marian offered. 

Aaron leaned against the Dolor sedan and looked up through the hole the raven had flown up. A rope dangled down from the black vent. He pulled on it and shrugged in confusion. “I wonder if we could fit up there,” he mused, quietly to himself.

Esther stood still in the middle of the room and held her arm out. Her eyes peeled and her finger rose while she scanned every inch of the room from her spot, looking for ideas and tools to help. 

Marian’s cheek puffed out while she wandered the room back and forth, waiting for inspiration to hit her. But the problem perplexed her. 

Mrs. Dolor hurried around the edges of the room, looking for another way out of the garage. “Maybe we can get through that window,” she said to herself. Above her, on the exterior wall, was a small window vent on a latch, hidden behind a piece of plywood. “I just need to climb on this workbench…” The latch was rusted shut, but maybe she could pry it with that screwdriver.  

“I won’t leave Dad,” Herbert grumbled.

“Herbert,” Marian said, “we gotta go.”

“C’mon, Herb,” Esther touched his shoulder. He looked at her. Her face was sweet and gentle as always, but he felt cold inside. 

Mrs. Dolor pried at the window latch. She contorted her body and braced against the table under her for leverage. The latch snapped to the side. The screwdriver clanged on the ground. Mrs. Dolor swung the window open toward her, and the sound of rain rushed inside like humming bees and static. 

“Okay, guys,” Mrs. Dolor sighed. She turned around, ready to help the children up and out. The Dolor children and Aaron stared at the ominous rain outside. The storm thundered and crashed, shook and bellowed like a monster. 

“Mom, I’m scared,” Esther whimpered. “What if they are out there, too?” 

Mrs. Dolor looked through the small opening. The black rain blew in, and a shivering bush reached up to the window. “Okay, here’s what we’ll do—” (She bent down to Esther.) “—I’ll go through first, and get the stepladder on the other side—your father left it out there when he was working on the lattice. Then all you have to do is take my hand. Okay?” 

“Okay,” Esther nodded, attempting bravery. 

“Okay,” Mrs. Dolor said. 

Mrs. Dolor stood on the workbench and reached up for the bottom of the window. The rusty edge cut her palms as her weight came under her and she lifted her head through the opening. Her body squeezed and caught the edges of her chest and waist. She paused in the opening, rain drenching her hair and face, took a breath, and jerked her waist through. The opening scratched her thigh, and she fell forward into the bush on the other side. She rolled like a tumbleweed through the shrub and slapped onto the wet grass. 

She wanted to yelp in pain but composed herself for her listening frightened children. Pushing herself to her feet, she examined her hands and thigh in the darkness. Her soaked pajamas stuck to her while she wiped her palms on them. 

The darkness was heavy, and the rain thick. She gasped for air and searched in the yard. The ladder lay propped up against the lattice on the far side of the back porch. She stumbled through the mud and grass, careful not to slip. As miserable as she felt, she was happy to be out of the house. But the horrible feeling of leaving her children behind kept screaming between her ears. Every step away from them felt like a mile and a half. 

“God, protect my babies,” she whispered. 

Her hands grabbed the wet aluminum and jerked the ladder over her shoulder. She hurried back through the mud, far less careful of slipping, and eager to get back to Marian, Esther, Herbert and Aaron. 

She rounded the corner of the porch and stuck the ladder in the mud against the bush. She scurried up the steps and pushed the window vent open. Her face stuck through and she saw the children staring up at her and holding hands. She smiled and relaxed. 

“Okay, Esther,” she said, sweetly. “You first.” 

Esther stepped up to the window and Aaron helped lift her up to her mother’s hands. The mother and daughter grabbed hold of one another and pulled with all their might. Esther slipped through the opening, and after a moment of hearing rain and murmuring, Mrs. Dolor’s face came through again. 

Marian raced to the window. Aaron lifted her up. Marian’s hands reached up. She felt her mother’s wet hands clasp hold of hers. They pulled, but Marian weighed more than Esther. She slipped through the grip and crashed down onto Aaron.

“I’m so sorry, sweetie!” Mrs. Dolor hollered. 

Herbert helped Marian off of Aaron and they tried again. Aaron lifted, Marian reached, Mrs. Dolor grabbed. This time, she jerked Marian as hard as she could and lifted her into the window. Marian floundered on the top, like Mrs. Dolor had, but her mother helped her the rest of the way. Marian climbed down the other side of the ladder and met Esther in the rain. 

Mrs. Dolor collected herself and climbed to the top again. She wiggled her head through the opening and saw Herbert waiting. 

He was frowning and miserable. All he could think about was his father trapped in the house. As he watched his mother first disappear through the window, and waited an eternity for her return, he imagined how they would ever get back into the house again. As each of his sisters squeezed through the opening, he feared the front door—or any door—wouldn’t be able to get them back to his father. What if this was the last chance he had to see his dad? And what if the last time he ever saw him was watching him under the spell of the Professor and Mr. Dauer?

Aaron put his hands down for Herbert to step up into them. Herbert stepped onto his friend’s support. Aaron heaved him up to the window, wincing from the pain in his bruised ribs, and trying with all his might to keep his resolve and help his friends. Mrs. Dolor reached for him. 

On the other side of the window, Esther slipped in the mud, cried out, and grabbed Marian. The girls fell down and Mrs. Dolor removed her head and arms from the window to make sure they were alright. 

The girls laughed and giggled. It was the first time that evening they laughed and the noise shocked them. Tears of joy raced down their cheeks in the rain when they heard it. Mrs. Dolor smiled at the girls and turned back to Herbert. 

While Mrs. Dolor looked away, Herbert waited, standing on Aaron’s hands. He hung in the wobbly air, with his hands against the cinderblock wall. A terrible noise roared down from above. Aaron and Herbert turned to hear the screaming pain echo through the vent above Mr. Dolor’s automobile. Herbert knew the voice was his father’s. It sounded like he was in agony and being tortured.

He turned back to his mother at the window as she looked at him. They locked eyes and Mrs. Dolor’s smile faded when she saw Herbert’s face. His hand slapped the window shut and slid the latch into place, locking his mother and sisters out. 

When the window shut, Herbert saw a young man staring back at him. But he didn’t look as familiar as he thought he should. He looked older, more troubled, and angrier than the last time he saw him in the mirror. His face was covered in soot and dirt, and had the look of a man of war.

Herbert looked past the other boy’s face and saw his mother crying in the rain. “I love you, Momma,” he said. “But I gotta save Dad.” 

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