Few in town had gathered. A fateful trip and possibly the last time I would see Henry. Only a handful of others stand with me, including Erina, Henry’s sister. She grips my hand so that it hurts.
A stake had been posted into the ground, and three others like it, the wood so fresh it might soon weep sap. Flags of old washerwomen’s cloth flap in the wind, patterns faded of purple posies, sunflowers, roses. Dawn has not yet broken.
Henry is in a strange machine, an atmospheric diving suit. Doctor Paollo, from the city, tugs at leather straps to fit it properly. He looks small next to the brass husk. Wind buffets us all, but not Henry.
Your husband will be breaking new ground.
The new ground is a patch of scrub growing near where the southern path bends away from the coast. Land adjacent to Peter’s barley farm, land he once sought to purchase. It had been left fallow all these seasons, only children daring to skirt nearby.
Peter, town mayor and a successful farmer, wrings a handkerchief. He offers it to me but it’s already damp.
He’ll do us proud, protect this town of ours.
Peter is invested in this venture in more ways than one.
The space marked by the four stakes is no larger than a room. Older, more superstitious types, make signs against evil when they pass it. To me it appears as any other field. Only there is that invisible void, in which much of my life will vanish.
Where is Lilly? Erina still clings painfully, skin taut.
I didn’t wake her. She has her classes today.
Quinn, the priory lad, stands on a small grassy rise with good book in hand, making no effort to shield it from the weather. Thick, cold droplets of rain burn all our cheeks now. My husband was doing the devil’s work, the priest had told me, yet here was Quinn sharing a few whispered prayers.
Henry shifts his whole body and the small porthole is directed toward us. He’s in darkness; I cannot see his face. A big, oafish glove waves. Then, with laborious steps, he walks to the scrub. Paollo monitors the cranked machinery.
My husband steps into the void. There is nothing to mark the change, except that he is no longer there in front of us. He is nowhere.
After some minutes, Paollo leads the way back to town looking pleased.
Whatever he finds, your husband is a brave crusader. An explorer and a hero.
We stalk through the rain, a loose collective. Paollo marches onward, Quinn lingering behind and allowing me to catch up. Peter is last, and keeps turning back as though some resolution might be made clear by looking backward.
Quinn is beside me.
All that is in heaven and earth is watched over. So is your husband, wherever he is.
I shrug away all these words from all these men. My thoughts are of a more earthly nature as I walk to the house where my daughter still sleeps and dawn has not yet broken.