A companion story to Ghosts
If Alenka's reaction to entering the church was one of coming home, Luka's was one of the enormity of loss. As they paused in the aisle each family member genuflected before sliding into the first empty pew, Alenka first, then Juraj, followed closely by Maja, and lastly Luka, who found himself on the aisle. The uniqueness of the Mass made it easy for the children to be drawn into it and with their attention taken Luka found his thoughts drifting to the past. The words were too familiar, too painful, and as the service progressed he felt the wounds he had thought long healed begin to reopen.
He had turned from the church after his family's deaths, he had felt betrayed, had felt his own repeated survival some kind of punishment enacted by a God he no longer wanted in his life. As the congregation knelt he rested his elbows on the back of the pew before him and dropped his head in his hands. To those around him he might be lost in prayer, but in truth his hold on where he was had begun to slip, the words of the Priest faded and without preamble he found himself back in the smoky remains of his past.
He had failed them, lost them. Luka cradled his daughter in his arms, tears falling as he felt the warmth of life leave her. "I'm sorry...I'm sorry..." He mumbled the words repeatedly to her as if she might somehow hear and lift some of the burden of grief that had wrapped itself around him.
Within the rubble of what had been their home time seemed to freeze, he no longer noticed the darkness or the dust, no longer felt the burn of the smoke from the small fires that still burned. Nothing existed for him in those minutes that became hours except the grief over the loss of his eldest child as he held her.
His eldest child...only then did it hit him, "Marko." Somewhere buried in all of the debris lay his son...the truth of what he had earlier broke to his wife returned, his son too was dead. He raised his head and looked to the ceiling. "How could you take them all!" The words ended in an anguished cry before he dropped his eyes back to Jasna...she seemed so small, so light." He brushed her hair off of her face, then leaned over her to kiss her. "I have to find Marko, Beba...Mama will watch you." He whispered the words as ifshe would somehow hear him before crawling over the debris to lay her alongside her mother. "I'll find him for you.." He touched his wife's face then leaned over her to kiss her as well before forcing himself to his feet.
Find him...the words were all he could allow himself to think of in those moments, a fuel that seemed to erase the exhaustion that was close to claiming him. He stumbled over the rubble in the darkness then dropped to his knees as he saw the shattered crib, ignoring the shards of glass and slivers of wood that pierced his skin. He had found him. Hesitantly he reached out to touch the icy fingers that reached out for someone to help him from between the rails. "Marko...Tata's here." His voice cracked under the strain before he could bring himself to release the tiny fingers.
If time had frozen as he had held Jasna, it ceased to exist as he unburied his son. He lifted each board, each piece of plaster as if it were beyond wealth, unwilling to cause the boy any more pain then he had already endured. By the time he raised the final layer his throat was raw from inhaling the stirred dust, his breathing ragged from the tears he had shed. "Marko." His cries of anguish echoed through the darkness when his son was fully revealed and as he lifted the small boy into his arms he could do little besides cradle him to his chest as he gave into the inconsolable feeling of loss that overtook him.
"Tata?" He heard the small voice from somewhere far away, and in that moment he felt the hold the memory held on him snap. Lifting his tear streaked face from his hands he searched the caller out, and for an instant it was another's face he saw in her. "Tata?" Had she not spoke again he was sure he would have given into the vision, but her words were enough and he sat back in the pew welcoming the small girl onto his lap as she sensed the importance of her comfort to him in that moment.
"Luka?" It was Alenka who spoke next, her voice deep with concern as she watched him.
After kissing his daughter's hair he lifted his eyes to his wife. "Old memories." He offered the explanation softly before resting his chin on Maja's shoulder as she wrapped her arms around him.
"If this is too much." Alenka made the offer gently.
"No." He shook his head. "I think they have to come to the surface...it's the only way to truly let them go." He tried to offer a smile of reassurance to both her and his watching son though he was sure it was nowhere near convincing.
Alenka watched him a moment longer before drawing Juraj closer to her, all too aware that her time was coming as well. They could do this...they would do this, together, as a family. She managed a smile herself as she watched her husband and daughter. Their children were their strength, she was sure of that, the thought caused her to hug her son tighter to her before she allowed her thoughts to return to the Mass.
"Don't cry, Tata." Maja wiped the wetness from her Father's cheek as he lifted his head at her words.
What could he say to her? Luka drew a calming breath in hopes of vanquishing the remaining hold the memories might hold on him before he spoke.
"Will all the places we go make you and Mama sad?" Maja asked the question cautiously as she fingered the silver crucifix.
"I don't know, Beba...I hope not, but I don't know." He brought one hand up to stroke her hair as he spoke. "I just know sometimes you have to be sad before you can say good-bye to something."
The words caused the small girl to remain silent for a moment as she took them in and when she spoke again her words were carefully chosen.."So, it's okay to be sad?" She asked for the clarification as her dark eyes settled on his.
"I think so, Beba...you can think about the good things, the happy things, but knowing someone is gone will always be sad, no matter how long it's been." He struggled for a way to explain what he was still struggling himself to understand.
"Mass isn't supposed to make you sad though...is it?" She continued to study him carefully as if seeing far deeper then what was visible to others.
"No, mass shouldn't make you sad, but I was remembering something else...something that the mass made me think of." He found himself skirting the full truth, unwilling to burden her with those parts of his life at such a young age,
"Can't God make it better for you, Tata? " Her question held the innocence of her youth and Luka found himself simply hugging her more tightly to him before kissing her. "I hope so, Beba...I hope so."
to be continued...