Gradually they came to the peak and only then did their journey begin. The nattering old man, in a tan robe that brushed the ground, stopped and turned to his flock as they cleared the last outcropping of rocks. From here the pilgrims looked down and saw nothing but clouds. The enormity of the task before them had consumed all trace of their journey. Nothing remained but the question. Nothing but what they set out to accomplish: confronting God. Demanding answers for the enormity of loss.
“Why. We must understand why.” Man, woman and child each had the same thought in the silence.
The skies were clear, yet the flattened peak was covered in snow. The elder smiled, forgetting her tangled mass of yarn for a moment to run her hand through the sleet. It was fine and cold, melting quickly in her hands. Olympus’s top was a smooth dome and reminded her of her balding husband, whose hair had melted white, and then away to nothing as the decades passed. Still he refused to embrace age, clinging to what frizz remained as he approached his eight decade. He died in the bathroom, applying balm to his scalp purported to encourage hair growth. She buried him in a full, brown wig. It was what he would have wanted.
Why? Why wasn’t I first? She closed her eyes, dropped her white knitting onto the white Earth, and awaited an answer.
To the others who walked with her, trudging up the slope as she had, seeking answers as she did, it appeared that she stepped forward, dropped her yarn, and disappeared into the open air. They did not gasp, numbed as they were by their own losses, but merely waited. Waited for her to resurface, or for their own audience to begin. For her part, the elder did not know she was transported. Only that the sun rose, that a beam shining bright obliterated the world around her.
If you were first. You would not be here. I require your strength, forged in grief. Step forward my daughter and be healed.
The Elder watched her hands, watched the decades and the wrinkles melt away. Then her skin itself grew translucent. She felt light, became light, opened her eyes and saw a legion of billions standing before her. She smiled. Home, she was home. There, at the end of the first row, smiled a familiar, balding face.
The Mother placed her silent babe on the snow. He protested this cool embrace no more than he did anything else, accepting the world with wise gray eyes. Instead he watched as she walked, palms up in supplication, towards Olympus’s center.
“You cursed me!” She said aloud, eyes brimming with tears, voice quavering with madness. “You took away my husband, he who loved me best. Birthed me this… creature! Strapped to my back like a lodestone. I suffer and I must know why! Why this unnatural birth? Why take from me my one true l-”
Midsentence, she too disappeared, and the others shifted uneasily from foot to foot, waiting for her to return.
He looks at me and knows my thoughts. I hear in my head a child's voice calling me the loving names of my husband, taken from me in the throes of pregnancy. Why?
The heady power of lost lovers, it builds between you even as you, unknowingly, cradle him in your arms. Look into your child’s eyes Mother, and tell me what you see.
From the obscuring mist, she turned and looked at him, serene even in frost.
No, it cannot be. He cannot be…
Chance thwarts even my intentions at times. Your love’s accident was not in my plans, yet there is always another path. You two were meant to be together. To be together and serve me. Pick him up. Pick up your child—and come hither.
The Mother bent from the mist towards the babe she once feared. He frowned up at her, as if to say “Now, do you know me?”
“Of course I do,” She whispered. “Husband… son. Partner in life and thereafter.”
To the others on the mount, it seemed as if her torso emerged briefly, reclaiming the life she once thought lost forever. There, in the fog, they took their place in the growing legion.
Father and Son grew uneasy. It was one thing to commit oneself to confronting God’s might; it was wholly another to witness it firsthand. There was a force here that consumed them one by one. Its eye focused on them next. They felt it sweep them into the past, back into the hospital room. Back to the day that sent them stumbling down this course, through the cold and into the light. They too disappeared. Brother, Sister and Guide stood on Olympus Peak alone, the siblings waiting their turn, the guide hidden behind a knowing smile.
Father and Son, in a white room beside her once more. The clean smell of death settled around them, an old friend they had forgotten but now faced again. Time passed, nurses and doctors filtering in and out, easing her pain, speaking words that passed around and through them. Words they heard and responded to, but at the same time did not fully comprehend. They crept closer and closer towards the inevitable. Knowing, yet not knowing, seeing, yet refusing to see. The days, they passed so slowly. The end, it came all at once.
She had not spoken all day. The night before, after crying for hours, a nurse administered morphine for her pain. Now she only breathed, short, racking breaths, forced from her in spurts. In each gasp there was a little less life. Father stood by the window, unable to look at the beating corpse that was once his beloved. Son sat by the bed, holding her hand, reading her favorite cheesy mystery. The seconds crept by, each an eternity, each the briefest instant they would never get back. They relived this scene, they endured, both within and without themselves, wondering what they might change. Cursing themselves for not appreciating each moment, committing it to memory.
These were the final minutes. Torture, paradise, all they had.
The passing itself was not dramatic thing. One minute she was there, the dying Mother, the decrepit wife. The next she sighed, a brief hiccup, and was gone. Two, three seconds passed in disbelief. Had she squeezed his hand before she went? Did her eyes flutter briefly and focus on her husband’s face? Had they imagined it? Son blinked, thinking he might find himself back at home, and discover that the last few months were nothing but a dream. But alas, he opened his eyes and there he was and there she was not. Only a cooling mass remained where once there was everything.
Grief rushed into the void, loud and violent and hungry grief. Father and Son held each other and wailed, but to no avail. No amount of performative mourning would replace what they had lost. A pit opened up in both of them. A pit they papered over with this quest. Here, bowed before God, the wound was exposed once more and bled afresh.
They sobbed, and the voice spoke. Three words were all it took.
She is waiting.
They saw her, hale and beaming. They nodded and were subsumed.
On the peak of Olympus, the mountain of God, Brother and Sister stood and waited. The wind cracked around their heads. Clouds gathered and in the wild air, it once again began to snow. A voice spoke from the gray.
Holding hands, glances resolute, they walked toward the mountaintop’s center. They saw a familiar smile, heard a laugh they thought lost forever. They too disappeared.
Now alone, after waiting a moment to see if any would reappear, the guide departed, hiking back down through the frigid drifts.