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For Morgan and Joe
The porcelain tub groaned in opposition beneath Joe as he rolled over in his slumber, and a sigh slipped from his plump lips. I wondered what kept his mind at ease in that moment, after all that had crumbled, literally and figuratively, before our eyes.
A light draft intruded through the walls now scarred like Swiss cheese and dropped small gifts of debris like snow. Scraggly men consumed by unkempt beards strolled lazily down the soggy street, baskets in hand, collecting potential valuables from the rubble along the way. A splinter of wood glided softly onto my locks from above me. I picked it out carefully so as not to catch one of the razor-ed edges on my swollen fingers.
I studied the slight artifact intently and noticed its dull finish. It's natural red hues peeked timidly from fresh cracks, but its surface shown white-washed like driftwood. My gut contracted at the sight of the familiar finish beneath my digits. One turn of the cherry wood revealed remnants of a painted periwinkle daisy, worse for wear than its age should have allowed.
"Don't you worry, hun. This box will last eternities longer than even your fondest wedding memories," Ashley had assured me of our handmade wedding keepsake box just weeks before. In a way, she had been right.
My jaw stiffened and my pursed lips began to burn with the same intensity as my tear-soaked cheeks. Oh, yes, she had been right.
I closed my eyes and my mind from the horror story around me and traded it for a more commonplace reverie extracted from the depths of my imagination...
It would have been two miles up the main road in the church where Mom and Dad exchanged vows. Upon seeing their princess in her white gown sewn with angels' hair, their eyes would have sparkled with affectionate accounts of their own unifying moment.
The light of late morning would have struck the alter through the arched windows as I stepped foot onto the aisle. The silver-blue glow of the summer sun would have made my dress heavenly and my skin flawless while my eyes burned, blinded during my march amidst the rose pedals.
Joe would have been awestruck as he took my hand to meet the priest, his cobalt eyes pulsating with excitement and tender love. With his silky new tux, he would have worn his lucky tie; the same one he'd worn to prom, his first job interview, and our first date. And I would have been content with his decision, because, after all, this would have been his day, too.
My hands would have trembled worse than a seismograph during my vows, and Joe's would have been clammy during his. I would have hung on to his every promise, believing each pause and quick glance to be yet another wax seal on our eternal bond to each other.
I would have cried during our kiss, too overwhelmed with the ceremony's entailments to be calm and collected. And then, we would have run right out of that alter, and then the church, and then the parking lot right into Main Street. And we would have plunged ourselves right into the center of the Earth. We would have...
My trance was interrupted by a nudge of my shoulder. I looked up, dazed. Joe stood over me, a look of fatigue and slight distress across his visage.
"It's time to go," he whispered while extending his stout hand in invitation.
I helped myself up, losing my footing as I realized my legs had fallen numb in my still thought. He rushed over to support me, understanding the sensation after spending night after night in the menial bathtub, chasing sleep. His body was comfortably warm in the chill of the evening breeze and I snuggled closer as we made our way past the disheveled bookcases and charred kitchen cabinets, down to the Red Cross tent for the night's rations and new cotton blankets.
The burgundy splinter sat protruding from my shorts pocket as we trudged along. Nudging my thigh as we went, it reminded me that no matter where I took myself or how, by the end of the night, I'd be right back where i started: against the porcelain tub atop the mountain of memories that never truly were.