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       Miles to Go, p.2

           Richard Paul Evans
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  She was with me when the doctor told me that I would need several weeks of convalescence at home.

  “I’m homeless,” I said.

  There was an awkward silence. Then Angel said, “He can come home with me.”

  Since then she had come every day to see me, staying for about an hour each night, our conversation as stilted as two teenagers on a blind date. I wasn’t bothered that she came—I was lonely and appreciated the company—I just didn’t know why she came.

  Tonight’s visit (angelic visitations, she called them) was later than usual. When I woke, she was looking down, reading a paperback Amish love story. As I looked at her, a song started playing in my head.

  I’m on top of the world looking down on creation…

  The tune, ironically cheerful, kept on playing, as annoyingly insistent as a scratched vinyl record. The melody was from a seventies song—something from my childhood. The Carpenters. My mother loved the Carpenters. She’d talk about Richard and Karen Carpenter like they were relatives.

  Even as she was dying of cancer, she’d play their records. Especially when she was dying. She said their music kept her spirits up. As a kid, I knew the words to all their songs by heart. I still did. “Close to You,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “Hurting Each Other”; I remember tracing the Carpenters’ signature logo on typing paper, then trying to improve it, which was probably my first commercial graphic attempt.

  My mother would play their albums on our walnutveneered, Zenith console stereo (a Plymouth-sized appliance which nearly took up the entire east wall of our living room), and their music would fill our home, which always made me feel peaceful because I knew it made my mother happy.

  Angel was still engrossed in her book when I realized why the tune had come to mind. She looked like Karen Carpenter. Not exactly. She was blond and probably a little prettier, but close enough to warrant a second glance. I wondered if she could sing. As I was musing over the similarities, Angel suddenly looked up. She smiled when she saw me looking at her. “Hi.”

  My mouth was parched and I ran my tongue over my lips before speaking. “Hi.”

  “How are you feeling?”

  “A little better than yesterday. How long have you been here?”

  “About an hour.” Silence. Then she said, “You were talking in your sleep.”

  “Did I say anything profound?”

  “I think you were calling for someone … McKay or McKale?”

  I winced but offered no explanation.

  “I talked to your nurse. She said that if your scan turns out well, you could leave in a few days. Maybe even Monday.” Her mouth twisted a little. “Halloween. Scary.”

  “That would be nice,” I said.

  After a moment she said, “My offer’s still open. You’re welcome to stay with me. I’ve already moved some things around in my apartment …” then she added cautiously, “just in case.”

  “That’s kind of you,” I said without commitment.

  She looked at me apprehensively. Nearly a minute had passed when she asked, “What do you think?”

  What did I think? I had spent the last few days considering the few options I had. After the destruction of my life, the only friend I had left was Falene, my former assistant, back in Seattle. In spite of our friendship, I couldn’t go back there.

  My only other option was my father in Los Angeles. If I went to California, I knew I’d never come back. And I needed to come back. I needed to finish my walk.

  For the first time since I’d left my home, I realized that my trek was more than just a physical commitment; it was a spiritual one—like the walkabouts of the Australian aborigines or the spirit walk of the Native Americans. Something I didn’t completely understand compelled me onward.

  And, for whatever reason, this woman was part of my journey. There was some reason she was in my path and sitting by my bed. I just had no idea what that reason might be.

  After a moment I said, “If it’s not too much trouble.”

  Her lips rose in a slight smile and she nodded. “No trouble at all.”



  Sometimes Mother Nature has PMS.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  I suddenly realized the date—October 28—McKale’s and my wedding anniversary.

  Our wedding day wasn’t the kind of day anyone dreams of, unless you include nightmares. Just about everything went wrong, which, I guess, is what happens when mothers aren’t involved—or Mother Nature is.

  We had planned a small ceremony at the Arcadia Arboretum and Botanical Gardens just a few miles from our home near the racetrack at Santa Anita Park. On the east side of the arboretum was a beautiful rose garden with a vine-covered gazebo, the back of the structure overhanging a pond filled with koi and lily pads. The setting was perfect. The weather, not so much. It started raining around 8 P.M. the evening before our wedding and didn’t let up until about two hours before our ceremony. Everything was soggy. The lawn was as saturated as a deep-sea sponge and water ran out along its borders in rivulets and streams.

  We should have rented a large tent in case of inclement weather, but our wedding planner, Diane—McKale’s cousin—was so certain of her luck (it never rains on my parties, she boasted) that she had only reserved a small, 20-by-20-foot canopy as a backup.

  After the rain stopped, Diane and her helpers scurried about the yard, setting up chairs, tossing rose petals, tying ribbons, stringing up lights and setting up an array of wide, fabric umbrellas, just in case the rain started again.

  As an ornamental backdrop for the gazebo, Diane hung strings of twinkling white lights and brought in two meter-high white column-style pedestals topped with large ceramic vases.

  As everything took shape, the members of the string quartet assumed their places next to the gazebo and began playing Pachelbel’s Canon in D.

  It would seem that Mother Nature had been waiting for the optimal moment to strike, for just as the finishing touches were being made—and Diane was looking rather pleased with herself—a microburst hit. In one great sneeze, the umbrellas were turned inside out or took flight (I watched one guest chase one through the parking lot), the vases fell and shattered, and the rose petals so delicately thrown about were brusquely blown away.

  The scene would have been amusing if it weren’t so tragic. Our unfortunate guests ran around the garden in a state of panic, clinging to their hats, garments, or spouses. All was chaos.

  As soon as the ceremony’s accoutrements were sufficiently destroyed, the wind stopped, as if Mother Nature was taking a moment to survey her handiwork. Then the rain started back in earnest.

  The preacher, Reverend Handy, a friend of McKale’s father, had come from another wedding and gotten caught in the weather-delayed traffic, arriving on the scene just fifteen minutes before the appointed hour. I noticed his stunned expression as he surveyed the ruins of our day. The setting looked like a news clip from one of those interviews you see broadcast from a trailer park after a tornado’s blown through—complete and utter devastation.

  At noon I took my place under the dripping gazebo and waited for my bride, standing before a small gathering of survivors congregated beneath a bobbing sea of umbrellas.

  And then she appeared, her father on one side, the distraught Diane on the other, wet and carrying an umbrella. McKale was my sun, radiant in a strapless ivory dress. As she neared, we looked into each other’s eyes and the chaos melted away. I slid the ring on her finger, hoping that she hadn’t seen the carnage as an omen for our marriage.

  After we were pronounced man and wife, most of our guests fled while those remaining crowded under a dripping canopy to await the cutting of the cake.

  McKale was quiet as we drove off on our honeymoon, the rhythm of the windshield wipers filling the gap of our silence. When we were alone in our hotel room, I said, “I’m sorry about how things turned out.” I expected her to burst into tears, but she didn’t. Instead she looked down at
her diamond ring, then took my hand. “I would have married you with a plastic ring, standing in a landfill in the middle of a hurricane. The show was for them. All I wanted was you. It’s the best day of my life.”

  That’s when I was sure we’d last forever.

  Angel was by my side when I realized that McKale’s wedding ring was missing. I started frantically patting around my chest and neck. I must have looked like I was having a heart attack or stroke because Angel looked alarmed. “What is it?” she asked. “Should I call a nurse?”

  “They took it,” I said.

  “Took what?”

  “My wife’s wedding ring. It was on a chain around my neck.”

  She looked almost as distraught as I felt. “I’ll see if the nurses know anything about it.” She pressed the call button, and within a few moments a nurse I’d never seen before appeared in the doorway.

  “Do you need something?”

  Angel said, “Alan’s missing some jewelry.”

  “Well, we usually remove jewelry in the ER.” She turned to me. “What are you missing?”

  “It’s a woman’s diamond ring on a gold chain,” I said.

  “It’s probably in your locker. I can check on it for you.”

  I lay my head back into the pillow. “What’s your name?” I asked.


  “Alice,” I said, “do you know where the rest of my things are? I was carrying a backpack when I was attacked.”

  “No. But I can ask the police. They’re just down the hall.”

  “Why are they down the hall?”

  “They’re standing guard over one of the men who attacked you.”

  I had forgotten. My doctor had told me earlier that one of the young men who had assaulted me was also in the hospital—not that I was planning to send a get-well card—but it was good information to have.

  Alice said, “The police have asked to speak with you when you’re feeling up to it.”

  “I’m up to it,” I said quickly. I wanted to talk to the police for my own reasons—I had questions about the night.

  It was less than five minutes after her departure when two police officers in uniform entered my room, stopping a few feet inside my door. The officer closest to me, a short, slim man, spoke. “Mr. Christoffersen, I’m Officer Eskelson. This is my partner, Lieutenant Foulger. May we come in?”

  I looked at the other officer who was standing behind him. “Yes.”

  Eskelson turned to Angel. “Is this your wife?”

  “No,” she said. “I’m just a friend.”

  “Do you mind if she’s here for our interview?”

  “I can leave,” Angel said.

  “She’s fine,” I said.

  Angel remained seated. Officer Eskelson walked to the side of my bed. “How are you feeling?”

  “Other than the concussion and three knife wounds?” I asked.

  “I’m sorry, I’ll keep this short.” He lifted a pad and pen. “I’d like you to describe, in your own words, the night of your assault.”

  I’ve never understood why people said “in your own words.” Who else’s words would I use?

  “It was around midnight when I stopped at the Hilton in Airway Heights for a room, but they didn’t have any vacancies, so I had to go on to Spokane. I had walked about a mile when I heard some rap music and a car pulled up alongside me, a yellow Impala with a black stripe.

  “There were some rough-looking kids in the car. I assumed they were gang members. They started yelling things at me. I just ignored them, but they pulled off the side of the road and got out of their car.”

  “Would you recognize these youths?”

  “You mean like in a police lineup?”

  He nodded.

  “I don’t know. Some of them. I thought you had them in custody.”

  “We do,” Foulger said.

  Eskelson said, “So after they pulled over, what happened?”

  “They told me to give them my pack. I tried to talk them out of it. That’s when the guy who stabbed me said they were going to take it after they beat me up.”

  “Is that what he said, ‘beat you up’?”

  “I think his actual words were, ‘mess you up.’ He said they were out looking for a ‘bum to roll.’”

  He scribbled on his pad. “Then what happened?”

  “He came at me.”

  “The kid who stabbed you?”

  I nodded. “I hit him and he fell over. Then one of the other guys hit me over the head with something. It felt like a pipe or a club.”

  “It was a baseball bat,” Lieutenant Foulger said, clearing his throat. “Louisville Slugger.”

  “He just about knocked me out. I saw stars, but somehow I kept on my feet. Then everything got crazy. They all came at me at once. Someone knocked me to the ground and everyone was kicking me. The big guy kept stomping on my head. Then everything stopped. I looked up and the little guy took out a knife and asked me if I wanted to die.”

  Eskelson took his phone and showed me a picture of a young man. The picture had been taken in the hospital. “This guy?

  I had to examine the image closely. The young man in the picture looked much different than the cocky, knife-wielding thug I’d encountered. Half of his face was eclipsed by gauze bandages and an oxygen tube ran down from his nose. He looked small and frail.

  “That looks like him.”

  He scribbled on his pad. “Were those his exact words? ‘Do you want to die?’”

  “I’m pretty sure of it.”

  He wrote on his pad. “Then what?”

  “I don’t remember being stabbed. Someone kicked me in the face. The next thing I remember was the paramedics loading me onto a stretcher.” I combed my hair back with my hand. “So tell me, why am I still alive?”

  “Luck,” Eskelson said, dropping his pad to his side. “Or God didn’t want you dead. While you were being assaulted, a truck passing westbound saw what was happening. Fortunately for you, the truck’s occupants had both the inclination and the courage to get involved.”

  “And shotguns,” Foulger added.

  “The men had been out duck hunting,” Eskelson said. “They laid on their horn, then drove across the median right up to the crime scene.”

  Foulger jumped in. “As they got out of their truck, Marcus Franck, the kid with the knife, went at one of the men, so he shot him.”

  “How is he?” I asked. “The kid.”

  “Not good,” Officer Foulger said, his lips tightening. “Twenty-gauge shotgun blast from eight, nine yards, he’s a mess. He probably won’t make it.”

  “The nurse said you’re guarding him.”

  “He’s not going anywhere,” Foulger said. “We’re more concerned about who might come to visit.”

  Officer Eskelson continued, “The hunters ordered the rest of the gang to the ground and called 911. You were bleeding pretty badly. One of the hunters administered first aid until the paramedics arrived. They saved your life.”

  “What are their names?” I asked.

  “Since there’s a potential fatality, their names are confidential. But I can tell them that you’d like to talk to them. I’ve been keeping them apprised of both yours and the boy’s condition.”

  “I understand.”

  “The doctor told us you’ll be here for at least a few more days. After that, where can we get ahold of you?” Eskelson asked.

  “My place,” Angel said. “He’s going to be staying with me until he’s recovered.” She gave them her phone number.

  Eskelson said to Angel, “You look familiar.”

  “I’m a dispatcher for the Spokane Police Department.” “I thought I knew you,” Foulger said.

  “The nurse said you might know where my backpack is,” I said.

  “It’s at the station. We can bring it by later tonight.”

  “Thank you. Will you let me know how the boy does?”

  “No problem. At least one of us will be here for the next day
or two. If you need something or remember anything else relevant to the assault, just call.”

  “Get well,” Foulger said.

  “Thank you.”

  After they left, Angel walked up to the side of the bed, placing her hands on the railing. “You okay?”

  “Yes. So you’re with the police?”

  “Not really. I’m a dispatcher.”

  “Were you on call when I was attacked?”

  “No. That was someone from the night shift.” She patted my arm. “I better go. It’s late. But tomorrow’s Saturday, so I’ll be back in the morning.” She started to walk away, then stopped and turned back. “I didn’t know the whole story. You know, it’s a miracle you’re still alive.”

  I carefully rubbed my hand over my abdomen. “I suppose so.”

  “Makes you think,” she said thoughtfully. “Good night.” She walked out of the room.



  I tried to walk today. I felt as awkward as a baby taking his first steps and I probably looked about the same.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  Sometime in the night the police returned my backpack. I woke to see it propped up in the corner of the room. I had the nurse on call look through it and retrieve my diary and a pen.

  Angel arrived a few hours later. She was dressed in an exercise outfit. Her hair was pulled back and, in the morning light, I noticed for the first time the deep, ragged scars that ran across her hairline and down the right side of her face to her jaw. I wondered how I’d never noticed them before.

  “Good morning,” she said. “How are you feeling?”

  “A little better. They might get me up to walk today.”

  “Big day.” She looked curiously at the leather book lying by my side. “What’s that?”

  “My journal. I’ve decided to chronicle my journey.”

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