It’s about the edge of things, all this is.
“Hey, listen to this,” Max whispered, trying not break the dark beautiful silence of the moonless, starry night.
Emma rolled to her side and propped her head upon an elbowed fist. She liked it when Max read to her things he had found; it was his way of telling her who he was, layer by layer.
“It’s from an old hymnal I found in the grocery cellar. It’s from 1886. It’s like the dedication. It’s signed by, I think, the ink was washed out, Edgar, maybe Edward, Merrill, Deacon Something Merrill. Never heard of him. Goes like this: ‘It’s about the edge of things, all this is. The place where roads end and the silence of all that begins. The place we stand stripped of our civilization with only our souls as companions, only our hearts as guides. Come, stand. Breathe. See and be.’”
Max took a breath. “Beautiful, huh?” Then another breath. “What do you think it means?”
Emma touched his face.
“Wow, don’t know. If he was at the end of his life he might have been describing death and his presumed ascension into heaven or whatever.”
She rolled onto her back to started into the sky, her eyes following the arc of a jet plane miles overhead. “Maybe it’s a dedication to the church, as a parting gift. A deacon might do that and write a little life lesson in the front.”
“I don’t know,” Max said. “This seems more personal.”
She smiled in the dark. “It’s about being in love,” she said lightly. “In the mountain towns where we lived for a while, men would give hymnals to their intended bride on their engagement as a sign of their commitment. Hard to cheat when you signed your name in the church hymnal.”
“Maybe. But if this was a declaration of love and commitment within the church wouldn’t he have said something about God and faith?”
“Oooh, maybe,” she chuckled. “Maybe the deacon was sending a love note to his women friend disguised as a solemn statement of faith. What’s he say? …. ‘stripped of civilization with only our souls as companions..?’ What if that was not metaphoric, but code. Meet me at the end of the road in the woods. Bring a blanket. Oh, Maxie.”
He sat up facing her and crossed his legs.
“Why are you so cynical?”
She, too, sat up and faced him. “I’m not cynical. I just want to believe. I think the good deacon was writing about a moment of truth, spiritual truth, romantic truth, whatever. Maybe he looked out over this lake, or into the night sky and was overcome with the smallness of his life, or felt his soul open to a new truth and gave himself to a thing that was greater he was. Maybe right here in Mount Jensen he faced that dark night of the soul and that dedication was his declaration of freedom what from ever haunted him.”
For a moment neither spoke. The raft swayed gently as water lapped against the drums that were the raft’s floatation system; a pair of loons chilled the darkness with their trilling cries.
She reached over and pushed him back. He unfolded his legs and laid down and turned as Emma put the back of her head on his flat belly. He stroked her hair.
Max focused on the single, swift light of a satellite crossing the endless, inky sky, sliding between the stars and over the blinking lights of a jet, maybe military patrolling the Eastern Seaboard, or a commercial jetliner following the ancient mariners route across the North Atlantic, past the tip of Newfoundland, over the icy reaches of the North Atlantic, the Lindbergh path, where the echoes of Viking songs spill across the waves, and the skeleton of the Titanic rests, a rusting grave; then along the coast of Ireland, the icy gray sea giving way to green lands, and maybe to Paris and light. Places he had never been, might never see but filled his imagination and dreams.
“Ever been?” His voice slipped into the stillness and opened a sliver in the darkness.
“No.” She didn’t need to ask where. “I used to sit on a hillside pasture an old hay wagon and just watch the lights pass over head. I got good at timing them. Ninety minutes or so. Some crossed east to west. Some north to south. I could spot the space station and wondered if I waved they’d see me.” She laughed. “Silly, huh?”
“Not where the jets go, but where the rockets go. To the moon, Mars, Jupiter, Pluto, Andromeda. To start something new.” She reached for his hand and placed it under her shirt on her belly. “Wanna come?”
He laughed. “Why not?”
They settled into a silence and watched the sky as the raft rocked gently and the loons went crazy in the dark.
“Why 1886?” Max asked.
“I wonder what happen in Mount Jensen or to Deacon Merrill in 1886 that was so terrible or momentous that he felt compelled to write that dedication. ‘It’s the edge of things, all this is.’ Sounds like conflict or disaster. A big fire. Maybe an outbreak of disease.”
She reached up and touched his face. “Now that you mention it, it does sound like a warning. What’d he say, ‘the silence of all that begins?’ What silence?”