She says: “We aren’t the same anymore, none of us.”
I can’t say if I believe her or not. The images I retain as jumbled now as they were when I awoke---memories I see through a fog or cloud that has set up residence inside my mind. I can remember most things, but in regards to what Ginny is saying, I haven’t a clue. I still feel the same, perhaps a little colder, but nothing other than that.
Ginny---not Virginia---was the first person I met here. Aimless and alone, she found me by the docks. Until then I hadn’t realized I was aimless and alone---not until she appeared and took my hand. “More will be coming.” She says. Then, whispering: “Burnt offerings.” The breeze responds to this, lifting her hair back and behind us, motion in the wind.
I did not know what to make of her statement. Not then, and certainly not now. I am coming closer though; each day the fog a little less thick. She stays with me, Ginny, and we walk the circle, listening to mostly the same observations the others inquire about. Where is my mother, they say. Where is my father? My husband? My son? My wife?
They comment on their daughters too, but they, I must admit, are far from here as well.
We walk some more, upon long roads which always take us back to where we begin, but sometimes there is change and we gather inside arenas. Not modern day versions, but the structures they built in Roman times, when gladiators would fight and die with honour, their blood a treasured prize.
We fill the seats, three thousand of us, and they continue to ask their questions as I secretly ask my own. “When another comes, I’m going to volunteer,” she tells me. I nod my response to her, knowing she will not be deterred. Here, Ginny is strong and more direct than I remember her being, which causes me to wonder if there is a history we have shared. I never ask her if she knows me, and she never tells me either way. Instead we sit and we watch, listening as we do.
In the seats below us, a boy cries out in search of his mother. He is small, this boy, wearing jeans and a smile which no longer works. “What kind of father would do that?” Ginny asks. “How would one even come to think of that place for a child?” Then she turns away from me. For a long time we are silent, and only once do I really hear what she is trying to hide.
“Do you remember the last one?” I finally ask. She says that she does and that this is the reason she’s come to volunteer. Retribution, she says, and for the first time I witness the anger which is through her. It is rage, really, and it contorts her face into a mask I for a second cannot fully recognize. In response, one of her eyes falls loose. Dangling, it comes to rest low upon her cheek. Her anger is gone by the time this happens, replaced by the woman I have come to know. “I believe it is just,” she says. “Each of them deserving what they have coming in the bargain.” And then I move to help her with her eye. “Whoever is allowing this to take place,” she continues. “They understand the truth for what it means; that in the aftermath, closure must always become the price that equals.” I tell her okay, that I can see some of what she is saying, but that I am still having a hard time of it myself; that my head remains unclear and sometimes I feel as though my body is a piece of meat on fire. She says it will come to me in time and that I shouldn’t try to rush it; that perhaps I am just not ready. I agree with her, and as we get up from the stands we are in a train station, all of us, the ones who died that day.
“Have we been here before?” I ask. Ginny says she doesn’t know, not for sure, and so we begin to walk along the platform. The others follow, and the questions they continue to ask echo above us and around. Searching, the boy in jeans still cries, his shell in need of succour. Ginny can stand no more---when she breaks from me and goes. On one knee she holds the boy and strokes his melted head. “If you will have me,” she says. “I will be your mother.” The child agrees and they stand. Holding hands, they join me and we continue to walk our way.
The boy asks: “Do you think they will be caught?” Who, I respond, when I see that Ginny will not. He is referring to the people, he says, the ones who got away. What people, I think, but realize the answer to this question lay trapped in the fog of my mind. And do I want to know? That is perhaps the better question. Inwardly, I ask myself if it is possible for a ghost to be afraid. “They will catch them, dear.” Ginny declares. “And after they are caught they will be tried, convicted, and then jailed. Not that it will matter, not once they find their way here.” I attempt to ask her why, but Ginny only looks at me, her blue eyes shrunken and leaking but calm, always calm.
“When I get older I want to use the machine,” he tells us. I do not have to ask what the child is talking about; the machine being the very one Ginny has told me she will volunteer for. It is the Righteous Machine, so named and made of wood. Housed in each arena we come to, it sits in the middle, asleep but on demand. Five sides, it has been made to hold all four limbs and the head which sits atop. Slowly, we wind until it can no longer be wound. The sound that comes being justice made whole.
This is the way it is done here, for us and him and them.
I am wondering about my wife when I come to realize that Ginny is not her. Rebecca is my wife’s name, a woman of forty-two. I think of her without me, and then of me apart from her. I have a child as well, a boy, and Alexander then comes to mind. The fog is lifting, I say, and to no one but myself.
“Do you remember dying?” The boy asks as he slips his hand into mine. The question shocks me, rocking me to the centre of what I have become. Dying, I say, and the boy only nods, looking out and past the docks. I look up at Ginny, her eyes now proud and wet and new. She nods her own head and suddenly I am back in Tower One, trapped between the rubble and the fire, between the metal and the glass. There is screaming, a lot, and I am not the only one. I think this is what unites us, all of us who worked that day.
And then the Tower bends, groaning---but it is not bending, only collapsing under the stress of its own incredible weight. The noise it brings drawing noise from the ones unlucky enough to survive the impact of the plane. It will be ending soon, those screams say, that and nothing more. Hurriedly, I scribble a note to my wife and son and place my love inside a wallet I hope they someday see.
I do this all as I approach the ledge, telling myself I have been given no other choice. Up, I seem to realize what I am about to do, but deep down some part of me fights to carry on. Am I robbing Peter to pay Paul runs through my mind, and I start to laugh because of it, there amongst the wreckage and flame, a man run out of time. Torn, I teeter at the brink, but continue in my denial. Slowly, meaning locks into place and a dark compartment opens inside my mind, laying waste to all I would ever hold dear. My decision made, I weep, and then lift my head as across from me I hear the South Tower buckle and then buckle again. The sound that comes is monstrous, but is nothing compared to what I witness next. Stunned, I watch in horror as the building begins to bleed women and men alike. Like me, they are me, the ones who were barely hanging on. They look like me, I notice, as much as I resemble them. They are scared, frantic, and for the smallest of moments I see it from another’s perspective; I see the Towers as they stand, wounded and dark. The smoke is dense, like death made thick. I am lost within it, breathless, and then…my path…is clear.
“Oh my God,” I say and step in front of Ginny. “I jumped.”
“Brad,” she says and places her hand upon my face. She says that maybe I wasn’t ready to see, that’s all, and I wonder if this is true. “The means by which you arrived here…somewhat more traumatic than the rest.” I thank her for the gesture, and then take her hand in mine. I tell her that I love her, but not as I loved my wife. She pulled me from the darkness I say, from the day that I awoke. She is Ginny-not-Virginia from four floors above, where she sat behind a desk in an office like my own.
“You would volunteer then?” She asks, and I tell her that I will. But I also tell her this: that I wish to wait my turn. I do not know his name, I say; only that he would have been in charge. It is him I want, I say; that only he will do.
“Lovely.” She says. “Now we are the same; all of us alike.”
About: Beau Johnson lives in Canada with his wife. She is very understanding and allows him to write even though they have three small monsters who do their very best at keeping them on the go.