From “A Game Called Dead.” How Frank Nagler begins to heal:
“He put the phone away and smiled wearily. He thought of the night that Martha and he had ridden in the ambulance to Ironton General, that last night. His mind was racing, searching for words he could not find, tears flowing, hands sweating, angered and ashamed he could not find the words of comfort that should have been so easy to recite, something beyond “I’m sorry,” something deeper than even “I love you.”
And he had heard her voice, “I know, Frank. I know, sweet Frank.” She had touched his face, then smiled; drilled her love through him with a soft, insistent stare; said nothing and closed her eyes.
All that time, he suddenly laughed. I thought I had been the strong one, caring for you, protecting you, and it was you protecting me.
Something in his heart loosened and he felt lighter. This is how we love.
That’s what Harriet had meant: Let it go, Forgive yourself. You couldn’t protect Martha from the cancer; you could only love her and that was shield enough. It was the lesson she had learned, Nagler understood. Give it up, let go the pain and disappointments. She had realized, he knew, that she could never undo her rape, and in a way, learned she could not use it as a lesson. It was a thing, a terrible, dark thing. But she didn’t need to carry it with her anymore. She had given up ownership of it and made it the world’s.
What was Dawson’s phrase as he watched the rally earlier?
“Broken people in a broken town,” he had written. “Broken people, broken town dancing, broken no longer.”
His phone buzzed with a message. Lauren: “Saving u a dance. Hurry.”
Before he started his solo walk, and after Dawson left, she had come back to the bench at Leonard’s. She touched his weary face.
“I’m going to go the party at the community center and dance with Del and his hunky crew of helpers. I’m gonna drink some beer and eat some barbeque and dance and sing and shed all this terror, swap out the bad for good. And you are going to take one of your grumpy solo walks and with each step a piece of this will fall off and wash away. There’s nothing here to fix, Frank, no apologies to offer. There is just you and me. Just like there was you and Martha. She was your great love. I am your sweet girl. There is room for both of us. You are my sweet man, Frank Nagler.” Then she kissed him.
At the community center, the wild sounds grew denser and louder. The air sizzled and the ground rolled with rhythm. The drummers played before a chorus of wordless joy; sound as revelation, as revolution; air concussive and cleansing. And in the center, Lauren Fox, head back, eyes wide and mouth open in a scream as Del twirled her off his hip, let her go and caught her hand just as she tipped down.
And for a moment Frank Nagler’s vision was filled with the sight of an old school building standing dark against the night sky except for tunnels of light pouring like silver from the windows. Light like no one had ever seen; pure, bright, as if streaming from a powerful cell buried beneath the earth, not diffused, but a solid beam, like love. And around the old school a crowd of gaily dressed people swung from side to side and called out each other’s names or dipped their heads all in a beat that never matched but had the same source jazzing around as if from an altar; dancing as if nothing in the world mattered except that moment and that it would never end or change. And on the sidewalks couples swung in crazy high-handed dance, twirled around trees and jitterbugged on the hoods and seats of jalopies strung out along the street like chariots of the in-tune and with-it gathered for the last, best boogie.
And there we were, dear Martha, swept along with the wash of the world, so grand and large, we could not measure it; a place so immense dreams could not fill it. And yet we tried, stumbling, laughing, reaching, me, the clumsy kid, and you, the red-haired beauty.
Nagler felt the wetness soak his head and shirt and was glad for it. He was sweating like he recalled sweating that night in the gym. It was like being alive again.
Then for the first time in a long time, a time so long he had forgotten the last time; for the first time in a long time, Frank Nagler closed his eyes and peacefully smiled.
Rest, my sweet.”
The award-winning “A Game Called Dead” and the other Nagler Mysteries are available at Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com .