IRJ-Reflection #20

The idea for this comes from the story of God’s test of Abraham’s faith by asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac.

Things Never Happen the Same Way Twice

It was the fourth night now. The fourth night in a row. The fourth time she had started up, sweating, surprised by the darkness. The fourth time she had woken with that voice in her head. Always the same one. The same bright white light, the same voice… the same words.

Slowly and cautiously letting herself down onto her elbows, Laura glanced at the clock. 4:57 a.m. Too early to wake Claire, but too late to fall properly back to sleep. Reaching across the bed, she nearly knocked her grandmother’s cracking, old lamp off the table in the process of yanking the stiff cord which—nine times out of ten—would turn the light on. The sudden light emitted by the fading bulb was enough to blind her for a moment; a reminder of The Dream. Lights popping before her eyes, Laura felt around for the book on her bedside table. It was old and dog-eared, full of fading post-it notes, and hard to read for all the hand-written annotations covering the text in many places. There were entire sections that were highlighted in yellows or blues (and sometimes both) and in one or two places even newspaper clippings or what looked like internet articles were paperclipped in. The title was only just recognizable beneath the name “Laura Moran”. She traced it absentmindedly with a finger as she opened the book and a folded newspaper clipping from 1974 fell out onto the coverlet.

Above a fuzzy black-and-white photo of what looked like half a skeleton ran the headline: “The Newest Link in the Fossil Trail”. And beneath it: “How We Know What We Think We Know About Evolution”. Laura brushed the article aside and picking up a pen, began to read Genesis for perhaps the hundredth time.

At six o’clock the alarm blared and Laura reluctantly shut the Bible. Half an hour later she was in the kitchen, frying eggs, while trying to read the day’s schedule off of her Blackberry’s tiny, sticky, and blurry screen. She had just managed to decipher that she had to be at work half an hour earlier than usual that day in order to prepare for a lecture when a small, sleepy voice asked, “Mummy, is something burning?”

Laura whirled around to look at the toaster, which, indeed, was smoking. “Oh, bloody Hell!” she exclaimed exasperatedly as she hastily removed the frying pan from the burner and unplugged the toaster. She swiftly deposited the frying pan on the table and motioned for a small, angelically blond child, whose head rested tiredly against the doorframe to come sit down, before turning around to attempt to fish the charred bits of bread from the still smoking toaster.

“Mummy?”

“Yes, dear?”

“I thought you didn’t believe in Hell,” the child said, yawning and slowly trying to blink the sleep from her eyes.

“I don’t, Claire,” Laura said, a little distractedly as she desperately tried to salvage one of the pieces of toast by scraping the blackest bits off into the sink.

“But then why’d you say ‘Bloody Hell’ like that?” Claire asked, sticking her finger in the jam and then licking it meditatively.

“Sometimes people say things like that when they’re tired or frustrated. It’s just an exclamation, they don’t necessarily mean anything by it.”

“You’re one of those people, Mummy?”

“I guess I am. And Claire?” The little girl looked up from the jam jar. “You shouldn’t repeat that exclamation. It’s not very polite.” Claire nodded automatically and Laura smiled. “Eat your eggs, now.”

***

“What about heaven, Mummy? And angels? Do you believe in them? You know, I’ve seen an angel. He was really tall and white everywhere. His clothes were white—Mummy, he was wearing a dress!—his wings were white, and even his hair was white. And he had this circle thing above his head. It wasn’t pure white—more like white gold. I forget what Miss Parsons called it in class. A ha—a hi—”

“A halo?” Laura asked, flicking on the windshield wipers as what had been a steady drizzle steadily increased. They were in the car on the way to Claire’s primary school, and Laura was running late.

“That’s it! A halo! Father Pyle says that it’s a manifexation of your spirit outside your body—I think. What does that mean, Mummy?”

Laura sighed as she checked her watch. “I think you mean manifestation, honey. Do you know what a spirit or a soul is?” She watched Claire nod vigorously in the rearview mirror. “Well, the halo represents the person’s soul on the outside of their body. Really what I think Father Pyle was trying to say was that a halo represents the spirit going beyond the physical body, as it were. It’s a tangible reminder of the fact that angels are of two worlds. Or really, not of this world.” Laura glanced up into the rearview mirror. Claire’s eyes were wide with wonder. She quickly bit back a remark about how “it was all a story” and let her daughter enjoy it.

Twenty minutes later, Claire had been dropped at school and Laura was sprinting the six flights of stairs to her department as the elevator was out of service—again. She burst through the door of the office she shared with her partner and began to rattle off an apology before she noticed that he wasn’t there. Panting slightly, she set her bag down and sank into her chair, pressing the power button on her desktop computer as she did so. After a minute had gone by and the ancient device still hadn’t turned on, she pulled a stack of students’ papers towards her to begin grading. As she opened the first one, a note fluttered to the floor as it had been lying on top of them all. She picked it up.

Laura—

Gone to see Simmons, the lecture was canceled. I’ll be back in an hour or so and we can discuss your theory about Indonesia.

Peter

Well that was a relief, she hadn’t been ready for that lecture at all. Laura glanced at the title of the paper. It was lucky she wasn’t an English teacher, she thought, for she was quite sure there were a number of things wrong with that title, though she couldn’t have said what. She began to read the paper. Five minutes later she was still reading the same paragraph and still had no idea what the topic was. Well, that was what came of waking up at five in the morning after going to bed shortly before one. She sat back and rubbed her eyes. Moments later, she was asleep.

The white light. The voice. A rush of sound. Laura jerked awake, trembling, and not just because someone was shaking her.

“Laura. Laura. God, you must be tired! You haven’t fallen asleep at work since Thomas’ lecture on metaphysics last year!” Laura’s eyes slowly focused and she realized it was Peter who had woken her and was now gazing at her with some concern. She shook her head trying to remember what the voice had said. And suddenly she heard it again.

“Laura Moran. Take your daughter, your only daughter Claire, whom you love, and go to a secluded hill, and offer her there as a burnt offering in the place that I show you.”

Laura jumped up, staring at the man in the corner. It was obviously he who had spoken, but why hadn’t Peter turned at the sound?

“Laura?” Peter asked tentatively, looking at the crazed look in her eyes as she stared into the corner.

“Laura Moran. Take your daughter, your only—”

“Stop,” Laura said, still staring at the man. But he continued on resolutely, “. . .whom you love, and go—”

“Stop!” Laura said, quite loudly.

“Laura?” Peter’s hand was on the doorknob now.

“. . .and offer her there as—”

“Shut it!” Laura screamed. She whirled around. Peter was gone and the man in the corner seemed to be laughing as he continued to repeat the command.

“. . .that I show you.” He paused, laughter completely gone from his face as he studied the tear tracks etched on her face. “Laura Moran, I know you have read the Bible. I know you know what happens to the faithless and those who do not heed my command. So I say again, take your daughter—”

“When?” she interrupted. He smiled.

***

“But Mummy, why do I have to leave early? I haven’t even had lunch yet and—”

“Claire, don’t complain.”

“But Mummy—”

Sweetie, I said don’t complain.” Laura fumbled in her bag with one hand, while keeping the other firmly clenched on the steering wheel. Eventually she withdrew it, holding a little foil packet.

“What’s that, Mummy?” Claire asked, interestedly.

“Vitamins. Now where’s your water bottle?”

“I left it at school, but—”

“Damn!” Laura cut across her so loudly that Claire looked a little frightened by the sudden change in her mother. “I’m sorry sweetie,” Laura quickly amended, “I’m just under a lot of pressure right now, okay? Alright, I’ll just have to see if I have one. . .” With a screech of brakes, Laura pulled over to the grassy roadside, and jumped out into the pouring rain. As she went she was muttering, “Still raining hard. . . maybe that’s my chance. . . fire won’t start in this weather. . . . Even so. . . Isaac lived. . . it was only a test. . .” But just as she threw open the boot, the rain slowed, and came to a stop and a ray of clear sunlight beamed through a hole in the clouds. It was almost as if God had willed it so.

Laura pushed aside the hastily bought bundles of logs, kindling, and firestarters from the local supermarket, until she saw a half-empty plastic water bottle. She grabbed it and made her way back to the front seat of the car. There, she added the whitish powder from the foil packet to the water, shook it up and handed it to Claire. “Drink up,” she said as she started the car again.

“It tastes funny,” said Claire a moment later.

“Most vitamins do.”

“Why do I have to take vitamins now? I never did before,” Claire’s voice was beginning to sound whiny again, but it was also tinged with a definite sleepiness.

“No time like the present.” Five minutes later, when she pulled into a dirt parking lot, Laura opened the car door to see Claire’s head resting on her chest, her eyes closed in a deep, uninterrupted sleep. Gently she released the seatbelt and lifted the small body into her arms. It was a walk of a mere fifty yards down a small trail before Laura reached a grassy clearing where she placed Claire carefully down on the surprisingly dry ground.

Two trips from her car later, Laura had brought all the wood, kindling, and firestarters and even an old tank of gasoline up to the clearing as well. Slowly and carefully she arranged Claire’s clothes and hair as she laid her on a bed of small kindling and then began to pile wood over her body. The entire process didn’t take five minutes, even when she was glancing up at the heavens every two seconds.

Laura sat back on her heels, stalling as she examined her work. She could still see Claire’s face through the meshwork of branches and wood. It looked happy and peaceful, asleep in the middle of a dense thicket.

She stood and unscrewed the cap of the gasoline tank and doused her daughter’s clothing and the logs in the sickly smelling fluid. Laura carefully screwed the cap back on. She reached into her pocket for the fold of matches she had grabbed from beside Peter’s ashtray. With exaggerated movements, she opened it and tore one of. The first attempt at a strike tore it. The second match was blown out by the wind. The third lit as she haphazardly shielded it with a hand.

Slowly she moved towards the pyre, continually glancing up at the sky, waiting for the angel to announce she’d proven her faith. No angel came. She new that Abraham had been about to light the pyre when the angel had spoken, so she moved closer. And waited. Nothing happened. She bent down so that she was on a level with the top of the pyre. Nothing happened.

The wind had picked up again and the match went out. Hurriedly, Laura struck another one. It lit on the first strike and she held it steady, behind the windshield the pyre created. The flame straightened and held. Still nothing happened. The wind was blowing Laura’s hair around, dangerously near the flame, she grabbed it with one hand, while with the other she moved a little closer to the gas-soaked wood.

And suddenly, the match was no longer in her hand. The wind had blown from the complete opposite direction, knocking it out of her hand and onto the pyre. The sticks caught immediately, and, soon after, the logs. For a split second, Laura was stunned. And then she realized what had happened.

She jumped up, crying her daughter’s name. She began to pull the logs away, but they seemed heavier than they had before and her hands were burning. She could see her daughter’s face, staring blankly up behind a wall of fire. Her hair was on fire! Claire’s beautiful, white-gold hair was on fire! Her face was blackening! Her arms! Her dress was gone and Laura could not reach her fast enough—

Deceased

July 21, 2001

The recently apprehended murderer of her own daughter, professor of anthropology at Darwin College, University of Cambridge, Laura Hughes Moran, committed suicide last night in her cell by unknown means. The 39 year-old was still awaiting sentence, though the trial had already taken place. However, no one was uncertain as to what that sentence was to be—life, in prison or an asylum. Despite this, experts do not attribute her suicide to the overwhelming odds. Instead, it is said that it was grief and guilt that killed her. There are many unhappy to hear this, for they do not believe that a ‘monster’ such as this woman should be allowed such human feelings. Indeed, this is the first case in many years in which it has actually been suggested that the death penalty, abolished in 1964, should be reinstated. At her trial, the appointed attorney pled insanity, for all the authorities could get out of her since the moment of her arrest were disjointed phrases such as: “All his fault” “Accident” or “Should have been different”. None of this makes sense, as there was no evidence of another human being’s presence within a mile of the spot where Moran burned her daughter alive for at least two weeks.

It is rumored that on the wall of her cell she had scratched “Things never happen the same way twice.” No one is sure what this could allude to.

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