It’s Beautiful Out There
Ellie finished her story. I had never met a murderer before. The closest I had come was when my ex hooked me up with a paranoid schizophrenic on a day when he forgot to take his medications. Luckily, I was not the guy he nearly killed after I dropped him off. Ellie leaned closer across the couch and kissed me. Her casual mention of murder went the way of our outer garments. The only concern I had was whether our exertions would disturb grandmother. Ordinarly, I conduct this sort of thing away from home.
What I did not expect was a phone call. This was in the days before cells. I don’t think a cell phone would have made a difference, but you never know. As it was, I extracted myself gingerly from Ellie’s languid post-coital embrace and walked across the room to the antique table and picked up the receiver. Persephone, my chocolate lab, padded over and gave me a nuzzle.
It was Terwilliger, the recently-retired house detective at the Inn.
“Are you alone?” he asked.
“Is my niece there?”
Terwilliger said Ellie Todaro.
“I believe so,” I said.
“Do you know anything about her?”
Ellie was lying on the couch with her head propped up, looking straight at me. I told Terwilliger I would call him later or the next day.
“OK,” he said. “Don’t try anything heroic.”
Out the window, I saw Ellie’s car, moonlit, standing next to mine. When I looked back, Ellie was pulling on her sweater.
“I’ll just let Persephone out,” I said.
I opened the door and inhaled the cool evening air. Something snapped. I walked quickly to my old Mercedes 240-D. But then I realized that my keys were in my pants back on the couch.
“Lose something?” Ellie said, as I returned.
“Just my pants,” I said. “It’s lovely out there.”
“It was self-defense,” Ellie said. She held out what appeared to be a folded newspaper clipping. I opened it and noted the date. October 14, 1988.
INTERN KILLS BOSS
CLAIMS SELF DEFENSE
”Who was that?” Ellie said.
I had, in the space of a few seconds, come to my senses.
“Terwilliger. He says you are his niece.”
“Did he warn you.”
“I think so, but what’s done is done.” I handed back the clipping.
“You are a strange one,” she said.
“It occurred to me his call was a bit unusual,” I said
She heard it all, At 94, Mildred Panflick felt younger than springtime. She was able to tolerate wakefulness with consummate grace. There was no rise in her steady heartbeat when, from down the hall, came the pleasant sounds of love-making. The ringing phone surprised her. She could hear every word. Adam sounded cold, as if he was avoiding something. More words. Then the front door opened. Then Adam returned. There was a welcome change in tone. Then she fell softly to sleep.
Adam sat in the chair by the phone in his underwear. He did not exactly look at Ellie. She watched him.
Abba whose home in heaven is
Hallowed and holy is your name
Let your realm come your will be done
Till earth and heaven are the same
He sang to himself, knowing, enjoying an inner exaltation.
Give us this day our daily bread
Forgive the wrongs that we have done
As we forgive those who do wrong
Lead us not into temptation
There! He exhaled audibly, then smiled. He looked at Ellie. “Whew,” he said involuntarily.
When Ellie was fourteen, Terwilliger tried to rape her. He walked in the back door. She was taking a shower. He crossed the floor and stood there. The house was empty. It was spring. He had been following her forever. He had never seen anyone so beautiful. He had come close to trying before, but held back. He was scared. He was heavy-set, almost chubby. He had a wife and kids. He could not speak. At first she did not notice. Then she did. When they finally struggled, she instinctively reached for his finger, the one with the big gold ring, and yanked it back as hard as she could. She felt it break. He was still yelling at her as she ran into the kitchen and called the cops.
Terwilliger got off with a light reprimand from the chief. The incident served to turn what had been an obsession into a calculated rectitude which served him well as he rose to succeed the chief and retired with a measure of honor, recognized when the Inn hired him to supervise their security. He watched enough TV to hear about rapists and abusers of women and thanked the Lord he was not as they.
Ellie watched Adam and noted the change.
“What’s happening?” she said. “What were you doing?”
“Mm mm,” Adam chuckled. “Getting forgiven. Forgiving. It’s reciprocal.”
Ellie’s green eyes opened wider. “What?”
“Terwilliger spooked me. I forgot myself. I needed to sit.”
“Would you care to answer my question. What were you doing?”
Adam wanted nothing more than to answer but it was not something he could say in ten seconds or perhaps even an hour, and he was hardly settled on whether he wanted to carry this on.
“Can you just say one word to explain what you mean by reciprocal?” Ellie said. She stood up and walked toward Adam.
When Adam was 21 he knew he was a nomad of the universe. He knew that everything was connected and that love beyond what could easily be known was available to all who could perceive what he perceived. A unity beyond all words. A peace beyond all peace. A life beyond all life. He even knew that any science that violated mystery was whistling in the dark, tossing finite theories back and forth and deeming them eternal axioms. The universe, like his very body, was teeming with things that cannot be so thought down. Reductionism is a hobgoblin. Adam would later find words to express what he knew and give praise and thanks in profusion to the minds that resonated with what he had seen. Of such resonance are life’s great moments made.
“Walk out with me,” Ellie said.
Adam got up and walked over to the couch and retrieved his pants. “Let’s go to the truck stop,” he said.
“Just come on,” she said.
They walked, a few feet apart, down the road outside.
“I said you were strange. You are. Tell me what it is.”
Adam looked at her. She was a picture of moving beauty. He could see what had drawn Terwilliger. He could see whatever worked in her to kill her boss.
“I live now,” Adam said. “I always have. I do not judge. I am free. It has its points.”
“You are rich,” Ellie said. Matter of fact.
“No,” said Adam. “Thrifty. I live on what I have. My friend Denny said I was the youngest retired theologian in America.”
“What’s your thing?”
“I told you.”
I saw Ellie a month later on the Main Street. Mabel had died in the interim. I had spoken at the memorial. Her care givers all came. There were not as many as came for her husband.
Ellie and I walked to the Inn and sat on the porch. The couch was large. We sat apart.
Terwilliger walked onto the porch from inside, glanced our way and continued down the stairs to the street.
“I wrote a poem,” Ellie said.
“So did I,” I replied.
“What about?” Ellie looked straight ahead.
“Time and space,” I said. “Space, we control. Time, we don’t.”
“Is that it?” She turned to me with a half smile.
“No. I am more verbose than that, I’m afraid.”
“I wrote about you,” Ellie said, turning away. “You sitting there doing what you were doing.”
“Yes, well. I do that all the time.”
She reached out and took my hand. She let go. She stood up and walked toward the stairs. Beautiful as ever.