|ONE DEADLY SIN
She came at night, creeping into town like a shade. Darkness suited her. It evoked the past, that black hole of fury and mystery. Recapturing it required dark arts.
There was irony, arriving at midnight. Pulling into the cemetery at the traditional witching hour, leaving the street lights behind. She inched forward, navigating through stars, those pinpricks of light. And memory.
The stars were out that night, too, long ago when the doorbell clanged and shattered the silence into before and after. She’d heard it through her bedroom door when she should have been asleep. But who could sleep with her father accused and missing, her mother an inconsolable machine of tears?
She remembered the darkness through her window, the moon a sly smile in the sky, the black a background against which the grown-up voices rumbled below.
And then her mother’s scream.
Unhuman, animal, a throat ripped out, a universe hacked and splattered into pieces. A sound so feral the memory of it still gave her shivers.
No one screamed now. Nothing broke the silence but the hum of her wheels rolling down the winding cemetery road, a path between graves.
At last she slowed. Stopped. Turned off the engine.
And picked her way over the dead to her destination. The last thing she’d seen in this town. The last image of home. Now, it was the first thing she’d see on her return.
The black angel.
She swept a penlight over the sculpture. Remembered the gargoyle face seen with ten-year-old eyes. Twenty years later she saw the face was meant to be kind. But it was overshadowed by massive wings that spanned up and out, looming over the headstone like a vampire bat.
There had been hot arguments over that angel. Even banished to her room, she could hear her mother and her aunt fighting.
“It’s frightening. Unholy,” her aunt had said. “A mark against his name.”
“They put the mark there, not me.”
“I don’t know!”
“You can’t do this, Evelyn.”
“It’s done.” Her mother’s voice was harsh and strained. “It stays until the stain is gone. Until I can prove it.”
Until I can prove it.
There had been no proving. It was all too hard, too heavy. Like life itself.
She bent down, ran her fingers over the headstone. Mud had dried and caked over the words cut into the marble. She found her penknife and scraped it away, blowing to clear the residue.
She traced the rest of the inscription, not needing to see it because it was incised in her memory. Beloved husband and father. And the quote: They make haste to shed innocent blood.
Innocent blood. She rose to face the angel. They needed a black angel, her father and mother. They were weak. Unprepared for the pressure life steamrolled over them. People who retreated and hid. Ran away. Died.
But they had her now. She snapped off the light, leaving the darkness to coil around her like a shroud. Edie was back. And she’d make everything right.