You can read the opening chapters of this novel here. Should you want to read the rest, you can (for not very much) buy your Kindle version of it from Amazonhere, or an ePUB, PDF, Kindle, or other version of it from Smashwordshere.

:: Prologue

Perhaps I saw him earlier, I probably did. I must have. I’m sure I must have. He must have crossed the west-bound lanes, must have. And that must have been noticeable. I must have seen that. But honestly, I don’t remember. I’ve tried to, believe me. I’ve tried to remember. But no matter how hard I try, I just can’t. Besides, there is a difference between seeing and noticing. Big difference. Maybe I saw but didn’t notice.

And then, out of absolutely nowhere, he’s right in front of me, right there in the fast lane. My fast lane, the one I’m in. Standing there. Still as rock and, yes, smiling. In his dark-blue suit and light-blue tie. Funny thing to notice, the color of the tie, though those details didn’t register right away, my brain took its sweet time to catch up with what my eyes took in.

Well, for one, this should not, could not, be happening. That’s what my brain said. And in no uncertain terms. Then immediately launched into an argument with my eyes, who insisted that it very much was, very happening. And by then it was too late.

There are reasons for this internal conflict, of course, and they have been explained to me, often—since I don’t seem to really get it—and for me not noticing, for me not registering right away him standing there.

For one, the pretty doctor with the tortoiseshell glasses says that by living and driving in Los Angeles I had, like everybody else who lives and drives here, she says, learned to live a full—even rewarding, she kept stressing, rewarding—life in my car, and too many thoughts and plans and worries and whatnots would have lingered between me and him (obscuring the view as it were) even after my eyes first took him in, and that’s why I didn’t even slow down at first. Well, that’s what she says, anyway. I don’t know what to think. All I know is that even after I saw him, it didn’t reach me, if you know what I mean. Just didn’t register. He was all too impossible.

My eyes saw, though. Yes, definitely, she says, taking their side in their argument with my brain. They saw, and absorbed and reported the fact back toward wherever I was at the time, dreaming, planning and whatnot. Saw and said:

“There’s someone climbing over the center divider and he is now stepping into the fast lane. Into my fast lane. Into precisely where my car is heading.

“In a light-blue tie.”

I’m not sure my eyes told me all this in time for me to not hit him, but even so, I didn’t hear, and that’s why he’s dead now.

When I finally got the message (my brain near enough overwhelmed by now with visual evidence) everything turned extremely real. And still. And slow.

Turned to ice all down my arms, standing all those little hairs erect, making my fingers tingle and suddenly I was aware of everything: of the little smudge on the dashboard (I had noticed it that very morning and was meaning to wash it off); of the Mayflower truck bearing down the eastbound portion of the freeway (it was very dirty), of the texture of the music that filled the car (rich and wonderful, it was Schumann’s Second, one of my favorites), and of the full and sickening impact of my car crushing this human being at what was precisely seventy-six miles per hour (I know, I looked and it reminded me of that gas station, with the big ball and the number seventy-six on it) at precisely 2:48 (the digital clock turned from 2:47 to 2:48 as I glanced), which I noticed along with the speed.

And this is the thing: I have yet to touch the brakes. It’s like I’ve lost the use of my legs.

I tell the pretty doctor with the tortoiseshell glasses that I am sure I have yet to brake, but she tells me I am not sure at all, how can I be sure of anything in the midst of a panic, she points out, and so I agree with her that I’m not so sure, and she smiles (and forgives); but really, I am sure, I’m very sure: I have yet to touch the brakes.

Another thing I’m sure of: that man is smiling. Which is another thing the pretty doctor with the tortoiseshell glasses says I have no business being sure of. But I am: just before I hit him I see him very clearly (in my now slow-motion vision) in his dark-blue suit and his light-blue tie and he is smiling, looking for all I could tell, well, happy. As if he’s been waiting for me for a long time, and now he’s glad that I’ve finally arrived.

“Of course not,” she says, and I repeat what she says, of course not, but I say that just to please her. For I know. He looked happy to see me. At peace. And he was smiling. When I close my eyes—and even when I don’t—I can see him clearly: young—well, from where I’m sitting—early thirties somewhere, trim and well-dressed in his dark-blue suit and light-blue tie. Five ten, I’d say. Shiny shoes. Very shiny shoes—how on earth I noticed that, I do not know, but they shone, perhaps the sun reflected, I don’t remember. And how did I notice that the suit was double breasted? And dark-blue, yes, I’ve said that.

Arms straight down his sides, relaxed.

And smiling. Looking at me (or at least at my car—I’m not sure he could see me through the windshield which would have reflected the sky for him) coming for him, and smiling as if finally: there you are, as if I am some sort of gift. Smiling, not at me, but to himself.

There’s another thing about his smile (which the pretty doctor says I must have imagined altogether, and which is probably one of the reasons they’re not thinking about releasing me anytime soon). The smile said: I’m going home, or somewhere like home. Some place he’s eager to get to. Some place with answers. I know this sounds crazy (and may very well be), but that’s the impression I got, and it was a strong impression at that. Probably kookoo, chances are, but I’m just being as honest as I can be.

No, she says, the pretty doc, he could not have said that. He could not have smiled. Opposing what I just told her. And she’s the boss, so I agree with her. That’s how I get these interminable interviews to end.

Sometimes, though, I realize, and with not a little relief, that he wasn’t smiling at all, that he was distraught and desperate and afraid and whatever else she told me he must have been to do a thing like that, and that he was in such a bad way that he simply had to kill himself, for of course, she has told me a thousand times, it was a suicide and no fault of mine, at all. And for a moment I see what she wants me to see, and that makes me feel a little better. But not for all that long—though I never tell her that. I know what I saw, and he was smiling. Happy to see me coming. Happy to be going somewhere nicer than here.

Then reason appears with its five cents worth: how could anybody smile like that when a car comes at you at seventy-six miles an hour—Union 76, that’s what that sign was, what the gas is called—and keep smiling.

It was a suicide, yes. I agree with her. It was. He wanted to die. Couldn’t wait to. She says he had his reasons for doing what he did, as if she knew precisely what they were but would not trust me with the details, not in the state I’m in.

But he didn’t look like a troubled man, not at all. And the smile, the smile I did not see according to authority, was not a smile of relief (if there even is such a thing). It was not an escape smile, he wasn’t escaping anything. No, not at all. He was anticipating—yes, that’s the word—not escaping.

To my thinking—reason tossing another nickel into the mix—and I can’t think my way around this: there should have been fear in his face. He should have been afraid of me, of my car coming at him. I would certainly have been. About to die.

And then I hit him and nothing happened as it does in the movies. He did not fly up in the air and he did not spin twice like a summersaulting rag doll clown to land fifty some feet away in a heap out in a field. I did not then skid to a halt in a cloud of squealing rubber while barely missing other braking cars. I did not then rush over to him in fruitless hope. None of this happened. The pictures I now look at, one slowly giving way to the next, tell this story instead:

He just stands there, still. Arms by his side. Dark-blue, double breasted suit and all. Smiling. Light-blue tie. Glad to make my car’s acquaintance.

My car would have struck him just below the knees, or right at the knees. Even now, I can actually feel his legs giving way, hear them give way as his torso jerks towards me in instant whiplash. The smile is suddenly gone, eradicated by surprise at the pain, I assume (didn’t he know it would hurt?). Then he folds backwards and strikes the concrete, his face still clearly visible to me as he falls away one inch at a time at not quite seventy-six miles an hour anymore. Even the surprise is now gone, and there it is, finally, there’s the fear I’ve been missing, in eyes facing the irrevocable: suicide no longer theory.

And everything in slow-slow-slow-motion.

Then his face is gone and my car is all on top of him. And for the next many seconds it was like driving a bumpy dirt road. One of those where the wheel ruts are so deep from carts and tractors or what-have-you farm machinery that the bottom of your car touches the ground at every turn and you pray that your exhaust system and drive train will still be with you when you arrive, if you arrive. And all hell to steer.

Then my feet (very slow on the uptake) finally get around to hitting the brakes.

I’m braking now—wheels coughing and stuttering, but not locking, not yet, then locking—and steering this country road (which by now felt more like tracks cross a wild field) and my car is swerving to the right, but slowing fast. Out of my lane, into the next, and the next, and the next. I can hear rubber burning, if that makes sense. There are other cars heading east, I am aware of them, but they are few, it was early afternoon. I remember thinking, though, that I’m lucky, I’m really lucky that I’m not running into any of them. And then slide over the rightmost lane onto the shoulder. And then I’m standing still.

There’s a breeze inside my head.

Ahead of me a car or two slow down and turn for the side, too. Others crawl by but don’t stop, just looking, a quick face, concerned, hungry for blood or disaster, then they speed away. I am sweating, I notice that. I look in a wonder at my hands, still on the wheel. Holding it. White knuckles. Frozen. I try to let go but my hands ignore my intentions. The wheel is real. Is what we hold on to. Is where we stay. I try again to pry them loose, my will a lever, reluctant fingers no cooperating.

When I finally succeed I notice that the wheel is damp—no, actually wet—where my hands have just grasped. My heart, oh, my heart, panicked, racing at two hundred or so ticks a minute, at least. Screaming like a drum roll, wanting to be let out, more beating to do than my ribs will stand for. And then the shaking. Either I had not noticed it before or it just started. My hands were shaking like two pale, scared animals in my lap and I really could keep neither of them still, not for anything. Now I’m fascinated by my hands, this has never happened to me before, and I stare at them, each burrowing into the other for comfort, while my heart, independent of all else, keeps racing.

A movement outside the car breaks this spell. I lift my eyes to locate this no longer visible movement, but what waits for me in the rear-view mirror arrives first. At first, I don’t understand what I see. It is beautiful and so out of place on the freeway. I see two long black streaks bordering a path of dark red, pursuing and then catching my car. You know, it really was beautiful. It was so symmetrical, so distinct, and so out of place. And then I remember the bumpy road, and God, I think, he’s still under the car. And then the first person to reach me taps on my window.

He said something I could not hear. Said that something again. Or something else. Still couldn’t hear him. Then he turned to others, people leaving other cars and running in my direction, gathering, and he said something to them, shouted something I still couldn’t make out. Have I, I remember wondering, have I gone deaf? It wasn’t really a question, it was just a stab you know, in the direction of one, just a second’s whisper: have I lost my hearing? Then this person (it’s a man) outside my car tries to open the door and this I can finally hear.

It’s locked. Of course it’s locked. This is Los Angeles. He talks to me again and although I can hear him now, his urgent words, I don’t understand them and my hands, curled up in my lap, keep shaking. People are pointing now to the path behind me, to the black and red of that bumpy road and they look back at me, and they all look at me.

And they all look at me.

And someone bends down to take a look under the car and then he stands up and then he runs down the embankment and is sick. And I notice all this, and they all look at me and then, for the first time, watching that guy over in the embankment heaving, I know that I have killed a human being and my hands can find no comfort anywhere.

That was three years ago now, today. It was the fifth of June, a Thursday, and that is what today is. The fifth of June (not a Thursday, though). Then again, it’s always the fifth of June.

And the one thing, after all these fifths of June, the one thing I can’t let go of, the one thing that stays with me, is his smile. Or, as she informs me, my mind won’t stop putting it there, into those images that won’t let me alone either. Yes, she’s told me that I’m wrong, that I didn’t see the smile, and then, for a while, I know—at last—that she’s right: I didn’t see it. And then I try to forget, and then I do forget, and then I watch TV or something and I’m going down the freeway at seventy-six miles an hour and he’s standing there in the middle of the road and I see the smile and everything starts all over. Fifth of June again.

I stop the movie. I won’t let me hit him. I won’t see the smile, I won’t paint the pavement with black and red. But he’s smiling at me and he beckons and begs me to keep driving, to hand him this present, to answer his question. To let him in.

So the movie starts up again and then there is no doubt. He does smile. And it is a pleased smile. And these days I see it as a forgiving smile—maybe that is me making things up, but it’s a nice thing, it gives me some measure of peace: it’s him, it says, that’s doing the killing, not me. And he thanks me and understands what he’s doing to me. But most of all he’s looking forward to what’s coming next, and then the pain arrives and washes all that out of his face.

But it couldn’t have happened. I couldn’t have seen all this. He couldn’t have talked to me that way. I don’t even think he could have seen me, what with the glare of the windshield and it all went so fast. But the movie insists. And here I see him again: there is the expectation again, the verge of discovery on his face, the anticipation. And then I have to stop the pictures from coming because he is no more and I’m still here remembering.

I didn’t unlock the door. No way. Not for anyone. Especially not after killing someone. For by then I knew: I had killed. It was a fresh knowledge, palpable as ice, and it was all mine.

At first, it was really weird, it was almost like a thrill. No, it was a thrill. Suddenly, I was different. Not many people have killed. Well, bugs and stuff, but not another person, not another human being. Then the knowledge came on stronger, more and more of it, filled me and continued the filling long after I was already full of this feeling, and it started to suffocate me for there was more of it and it needed to come in too and there was no more room, so it crowded and pushed and pressed itself harder and harder until all I knew, holding these hands up (for they wouldn’t lie still in my lap, these shaking hands), was that I had killed. I had killed and death was choking me. And it seized me as I looked out at the pointing and gesticulating little crowd, or not so little anymore, and it was terrible and the lights were flashing on the black and whites as they arrived and then there was a knock on the door that was not very tentative.

The officer knocked again.

“Are you all right, sir?”

I think he said. I say “think,” for the filling and rushing and pounding of blood in my ears from my heart still racing and the roar of the filling drowned most other sounds. Then he said something again. I’m sure he had said something, I saw his lips move, yes, I did: it was a question, and it was meant for me. I may even have seen his words leave his lips for my ear, but if I could no longer make out words was I really hearing? I looked at him very hard and it didn’t make any sense.

“Sir.” I think he was shouting now, he must have been, his eyes were bulging slightly, an anger coming on.

“Are you all right?” That I heard. He pauses and studies me, for a long time it seems. No, it was a long time. “Sir. Please open the door.”

And then I realize that he is a policeman and that to open the door would be safe. If only my hands would stop shaking.

He knocks again, harder yet this time. “Sir, please.” Muffled but clear.

And I find my hand and it in turn finds the lock release and pulls. The officer opens the door before my hand gets to do it. He squats down and looks at me closely. Not angry now.

“Sir, are you okay? Are you hurt?”

“No,” I say then, or choked rather, for it is true: I’m not hurt, not really although the filling feeling will not let got and I’m finding it hard to breathe, hard to gather enough air for speech. I have the words ready now, all lined up now in a nice row, but instead they come, one by one, with effort. “No, I, am, fine.”

“Would you step out of the car, please, sir.”

Now, for some reason that didn’t apply to me. These were just sounds, floated in my direction for some other purpose; one that I couldn’t, or didn’t have to, fathom. I remained in my seat, puzzled, fighting the ebbs and floods of death as it rushed and receded, as it seized and let up, only to seize again.

“Sir, please.” There was that anger again.

And this time it was meant for me, I could tell, and I looked back at him who had not moved an inch. He wanted me to leave my car.

“If you’re unhurt, please step out of the car.” He moved back in anticipation.

I obliged.

Then, from what I’m told, I fainted. What I know is that I swung one leg out, tried to still my hands, swung the other leg out and began to stand up on the tarmac when again I saw the black and red, the red darker now, almost puce between the black tire marks and the flooding returned to not cease. I fought for breath and then the concrete rose for my face.

I think I felt police arms catch me, softly into blackness.

It was dark, or nearly so, when I awoke. A lamp to my left cast a soft yellow light on the bed and on my wife. For three or four heartbeats, everything was normal (except I had no idea where I was). I had slept, I had woken, I was gathering my world to me in sleepy preparation for another day. Then the knowledge returned.

Puce would be black by now, between black pursuers, and he was dead, a human paintbrush mangled beneath my car. I found my hands and held them up close to my face. As if the motion brought them awake too the shaking started up again. I willed them to still, but they refused and with that they found each other and took refuge in their mutual affliction. I placed them on my chest and sank back into my knowledge.

Some time went by. I could breathe, I noticed that. And then I remembered my wife and turned my head in her direction. There she was, sitting upright in her chair now, eyes wide, wordless concern on her face. She drew breath as if to speak but said nothing. It must have been a sigh.

And nothing could ever be the same.

We had three children, have three children, I guess, I haven’t seen them for a while. Jude, or Jim, Bethe and Karen. I never was their hero exactly, but what I am to them now I cannot even guess.

She drew breath again, I heard the prelude clearly, and this time she spoke.

“How do you feel?”

I think I answered, at least I wanted to answer “Not good,” but I may not have spoken for she asked again.

The question was plain enough, but the answer was not. I decided to consult my hands and again brought them up for scrutiny. They were still shaking. And shaking still as I laid them on my face to cover my world and cover my deed and cover my colossal knowledge. And they answered for me. Thought I did not voice their reply.

She returned to her silence and I returned to his smile. I noticed her arm jerk a little as if her hand had decided to reach for mine, but then changed its mind.

I closed my eyes.

Then I slept a lot it seems and then she didn’t come very much. She brought Jim once but he looked so scared and it was painful to see. The girls are a little older than he is and they managed to smile when they came, but not real smiles, just fragile copies of smiles, which said that they, too, despite their brave, beautiful faces, were afraid of me. And then they didn’t come at all.

And here comes the nurse, so it must be time for my pills. Now I won’t be able to think so well for a while.

 

:: Jesus

Jesus of Nazareth, sitting cross-legged, reached for a small stick and scribbled something in the sand, something he damaged to nonsense with the same stick just moments later, before Judas had a chance to see what Jesus might have written or drawn.

Tossing the stick aside, Jesus looked up at him again.

They were alone, a little outside the immediate glow of fire, the other eleven sleeping soundly. “Can you keep a secret?” asked Jesus.

“You know I can,” replied Judas.

“You might be the only one not to doubt me,” said Jesus.

Judas regarded Jesus for some breaths but said nothing, then looked up at the stars. It was a clear night. A soft and cool wind swept across the lake and touched them gently. The wind sparkled the lake with starlight.

“I am not the son of God,” said Jesus.

Judas left the stars to their fate and turned to face Jesus again, “I know.”

“Nor am I of this world.”

“I know that too.”

“Yes, I guess you would.”

The two men could hear the soft crackle of the dying fire along with the brush of wind and the occasional snore from the sleeping men surrounding them.

“You are familiar with the Buddha,” said Jesus.

“Gotama.”

“Yes, Gotama.”

After a short silence Jesus drew breath to speak, but said nothing. He drew breath again: “We are one and the same.”

“I know,” said Judas who sometimes still thought of himself as Ananda, the Buddha’s once personal attendant.

“How long have you known?” Though Jesus did not seem surprised.

“Ever since you called on me.”

Jesus smiled. “And you said nothing.”

“It was not my place to speak of that.”

“Ever the perfect attendant,” said Jesus.

Judas nodded. “Perhaps, yes.”

“They will not believe me,” said Jesus, indicating the sleeping men.

“They might,” said Judas. “Peter and John might.”

“Their view of God my Father runs deep. They have embraced him, heart and mind. As they have embraced me as His son.”

“It’s not as if you haven’t stoked those embers,” observed Judas.

“It’s not as if I haven’t stoked those embers,” agreed Jesus. Then, “It is the right message for this time and place.”

“I know that,” said Judas.

“You know they’re going to crucify me for this.”

Judas studied Jesus for a handful of heartbeats, then return his gaze to the stars. Then said, eyes still skyward, “You are threatening the vested interests. You’ve stepped on many toes. What did you expect?”

“Not this, to be honest.”

Judas did not answer.

“I hear Pontus Pilate has called my trial.”

“I hear the same.”

“I hear Rome has given him his marching orders. I’m guilty even before the trial begins. Condemned to the cross.”

Again, Judas said nothing.

“What should I do, do you think?” said Jesus. “Make a run for it, return to Tusita Heaven and re-think things?”

“You have nowhere to run,” said Judas. “Even now, I am sure there are many pairs of eyes in Pilate’s employ, trained on you. You’ll be caught before you’re even on your way.”

Jesus sighed. “Yes, you’re right.”

“You have no choice,” said Judas. It will happen. The cross. And it will do wonders for your ministry. People love martyrs, and you’ll make a stellar one.”

It was Jesus’ turn not to answer.

“Whatever you do,” said Judas, “to keep this ship intact and on course you must say nothing about the Buddha. Nothing about rebirth. Not in these waters. And don’t mention Tusita Heaven.”

Jesus nodded slowly. He looked over to his right and out across the still rippled water, then at the fire—dying by its small, small degrees, then at the remaining eleven. Yes, he saw the wisdom of Judas’ advice. Best to play along and say nothing about those matters.

He was not looking forward to the next few days.

 

As a young child (he was five, almost six years old at the time), early one July morning, Sam remembered being shot.

The shooter was German and was bleeding from several wounds: chest, left arm, shoulder. But he was right-handed and still had the strength to fire his Luger. He wore no helmet and his hair was blond, though darkly caked in two places from head wounds. He could barely stand, but even in pain and now weakening, the soldier was a good shot, and his aim was true. Sam, who had run out of ammunition and could not defend himself from this distance could feel the bullet enter his chest and pierce his heart. He never heard it. It did not hurt.

The terrible vacuum that raced through his mind brought him back to the little alcove at his grandmother’s where he slept during his summer visits.

Sam, soon to be six, screamed and screamed.

Within not many seconds adults arrived. First his grandmother Clarice, then her sister Cora, then his own mother Janet. Then his two cousins, both older than Sam, but not by so much. Why is Sam screaming?

“What’s the matter, Sam. Tell me, tell me,” said Clarice.

“What’s the matter, Sam,” echoed Core.

Lisbeth said nothing but was clearly concerned.

“He shot me,” said Sam.

Clarice turned to Cora and Lisbeth. “A bad dream,” she said, loudly enough for Sam to hear.

“No,” he shrieked. “No, it was not a dream. It happened. I could see him. A soldier. I remember the man. He was a soldier.”

Lisbeth nodded to her mother. Yes, a bad dream.

How Sam understood what his mother’s nod conveyed no one could explain, but he shrieked again, “No. It was not a bad dream. I wasn’t even sleeping. I was looking out the window at the morning train pulling out of the station. At the two engines grunting and billowing their brown diesel smoke as they started up with all those freight cars. I heard them clank and creak as the engines pulled them going and then I remembered this other train. It made the same sounds as it started up but there was only the one engine and it was black and had a chimney and lots of white smoke. Not brown. I saw that train off to my right and I was bleeding. My left arm was hurting and bleeding and my shirt was almost black from all the blood. There was a soldier on the other side of the ditch and he was bleeding, too. My friend was dead. He was lying by the tree. He had been shot. I had no ammunition left. The soldier on the other side of the ditch took aim, and even though I could see his arm shake a little, he fired the bullet right at me and killed me. I didn’t hear the shot and I thought it was strange that I did not hear the shot, but only felt it. The bullet hit my chest and my heart and filled my head with a strong wind. I was as old as dad. Maybe not quite.”

“I have never heard such a thing,” said Cora, shaking her head. “Is the child ill?”

By now Clarice was shaking her head too, agreeing with her sister.

The cousins looked with saucer eyes at Sam, and then Lisa started to laugh, nervously but laughing nonetheless. Axel, on the other hand, didn’t laugh, clearly interested in the narrative. “What kind of gun did he have?” he asked.

Axel,” said Cora. Underscoring her almost-shout with a quick slap over the boy’s head.

“I wanted to know,” said Axel, indignant.

Lisbeth sat down on her haunches and turned to her son, “It was a dream,” she said. “Please don’t go thinking, or saying that it was anything else.” Then she stood up again, turned to her mother and Cora, “He has the wildest imagination.”

“Yes,” said Cora. “We know.”

“It was not a dream,” said Sam. “I remembered.”

“You did not, said Lisbeth.

“You remembered no such thing,” said Cora.

“I just wanted to know what kind of gun it was,” said Axel, still resentful.

“Okay,” said Lisbeth, mainly to Lisa and Axel. “The fun is over. Everybody out.” Then again, since no one made to move. Louder this time, “Everybody out.”

Reluctantly, Lisa turned toward the door, pushing Axel in front of her.

“Don’t,” said Axel.

 

For several weeks, no matter what anybody said—including Axel who soon enough had begun accusing Sam of making the whole thing up, especially since he would not say what kind of gun it was—Sam remained absolutely convinced that he had remembered, not dreamed, being shot. He tried to convince Clarice a couple of times, but she would have none of it. Neither would Lisbeth, who was used to, and virtually immune to, Sam’s very active imagination.

A year later he wasn’t so sure after all. Yes, it had been so very, very real, just like a memory, but then, some dreams are very, very real, aren’t they?

The German soldier (as memory) returned briefly in fifth grade, when he learned about Hindus and their belief in reincarnation. He asked his teacher about it. Could it be true, like the Hindus believe, that you’re born again after you die?

The Hindus, his teacher (an old, sternly religious woman, gray hair in a severe bun) had explained, are sadly misguided. All of them. They won’t even eat their cows, for heaven’s sake. If a cow lies in the middle of the street, they walk, bicycle, or drive around her rather than disturb her. How could these people know anything? They don’t even know about Jesus in India.

That was her answer. An answer, but not an answer. He thought about asking his mom the same question but decided against it. Busy cleaning, baking, cooking, mending, ironing, never a moment’s rest for the wicked she’d say, she never seemed in the mood to be asked any sort of question, much less one about Hindus and reincarnation. Besides, she would probably agree with Mrs. Levin anyway.

So, he put it to rest. Life was busy going on all around him and he was not about to let this question get in the way of joining the fun.

But the following summer, again spent at his grandma—the last summer he would do so—turning now to religious authority, he did ask Clarice about the Hindus and their strange belief, only to discover them all to be heathens and bound for Hell as surely as the sun rises.

But didn’t they believe that the soul is reborn after you die?

No, he never asked her that question. She was a weather system in which such questions could not even be raised. Heathens, destined for eternal damnation those Hindus. Any- and every-thing they did was evil. Best leave them alone, Sam. Best not even think in their direction. That country needs a lot of missionaries to save them. Maybe you could be one of them?

Sam thought not.

Occasionally during his teens, the strange dream would resurface, but by then he would, much like Cora had smacked Axel’s head to shut him up, smack the notion of being shot by a German soldier on its head to shut it up and move on.

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