Chapter Twenty-Four: Absence

Editor’s Note: The years after the outbreak were difficult years in Vine. The residents couldn’t know it, but the Great Depression affected them, too. Being cut off from the rest of the world does not mean you don’t exist in the world. Like the Israelities held captive in Babylon, the people of Vine were adrift, scared and confused. They cried out to their God. My mom told me this story, saying: “this is what your grandmother told me when I asked her what her childhood was like.”

Portrait of Loss

In nature there was an undisturbed quiet: the stillness of the fields. Windless valley. Cradlelike lapping of the lake against dirt borders of the shore. Quiet stillness in farmland. Quiet stillness spread to the homes. Quiet stillness spread to the streets of Vine. Absence of people as abundance untamed. Absence of people as opportunities for honest work lost. In the aimless shuffling from mourning home to empty-shelved general store. In the oxen-carts dust. Half-eaten corpses of barn mice. How far does the smoke of burning clothes dissipate? Enough to cover a Sunday school shoe rack? It is the interruptions of daily norms where mass loss is most acutely felt. 

The People’s Prayer

“Have mercy on us O Lord for we have sinned. We have taken this holy place you have made for us and squandered it. We have relied on the creature comforts of outsiders while the poorest among us suffer. We have been vain; we have been prideful. We in our hubris have eschewed your wisdom even in a time of disease. Have mercy on us O Lord for we have sinned! Have mercy on us O Lord! Have mercy on us! Have mercy!”

The Lord Answers

A heron made a ripple in the lake. Clouds swelled to the indigo bloat of a rainstorm. Fence-rot collapsed in the shepherd’s easternmost pasture. The mountains: sentry and silent. 

It was the first heron seen in Vine since the Revelation. 

Its wings made a scrape on the clouds. A scrape on the clouds. A scrape on the clouds. A scrape on the clouds. A scrape on the clouds. A scrape on the clouds. A scrape on the clouds.

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