Just before bed, he had spoken to his friend about the absurdity of the army forbidding chaplains from entering any area or situation which exposed him to enemy violence. He had said, “How can a shepherd stay in safety while sending out his brothers into danger? Some of his brothers are lambs. It is not that he can pick up a gun and defend them, it is that he can and must participate in the danger—and in the violence—and in the death—with them. He must do this because he is human. He must do this because they are human.”
He floated there, but only for a moment. He was not merely observing, but participating.
She was dressed and made-up like the Queen of Hearts. It made no sense. Her knees on the floor, and her hips resting on her ankles, the large room with slate floors was dimly lit. Parallel red band in her cowl and over-robe glowed fluorescently and matched the lip-stick which she wore. To her left, another woman, a sister perhaps, superior and in charge. There was some familial aspect to the relationship. To that woman-in-power’s left were others. The man did not bother with them. He had already begun to merge with the Queen of Hearts, and even as the slightest overlap of his unseen existence, just at the shins and ankles, already he knew that the woman seated above her and to her left had killed the pretty queen.
Merging from between the two, he none-the-less glanced at the dieing woman’s face from the other side. It was a very pretty face, delicate in features which the bold red lipstick did not alter. She was gentle, she was humble. Her eyes downcast, she was seemingly unaware of his presence. He ached to caress that face, and had it not been for the crisis, he would have.
As he slid sideways and his whole being was enveloped in her form, he knew what she knew. She had been poisoned, death was assumed to be imminent. The woman was rather calmly wondering if she would experience pain. Before so many others (all the others were remote and nameless-- essentially faceless because she did not care enough to bother to look at any of them) it flashed through her mind that she hoped she would not vomit as a result of any pain, and hoped she would not cry out in agony. Not knowing how the poison would effect her, she wanted to lie down and be still. Instead, she placed her hand which had been folded with the other in her lap, onto the cool slate to her right and slightly forward.
As soon as she allowed her weight to lean onto her arm, she seemed to be unable to endure it. She was weakening. She wondered, if the weakness was the poison or the despair. Her head lowered a bit and she noted her own regalia—the darkness punctuated by the brilliant red lines.
The woman to her left spoke. It was calming, intended to be matter-of-fact and somehow related to the purposefulness and inevitability that her younger sibling (if that is what the Queen was to the woman) would submit to the power of the poison. There was a sense that the words were directed at the dieing Queen, but intended for the ears of everyone else. The man did not take note of the actual words, just the sense of them.
He slid slightly right through her form and partially exposed where his head and eyes would be, glanced again at her lovely face. Her eyes were nearly closed now, and she appeared to be fading. He slipped back fully into her shape and again participated in her experience. She was unusually free of fear, and her thoughts mostly focused on the moment. Her arm seemed insufficient to keep her partially upright and began lowering herself to lie on the floor. He lay with her, saw what she saw through her eyes: The floor coming nearer, the coolness of the slate against her cheek; the relaxation of her muscles, voluntary and involuntary now that she now longer exerted any effort. She could sleep, if there was time.
There was not time. She wondered again if she was merely giving up or if it was the poison causing her to lie so still. The woman to the left was speaking again, and again the man sensed through the Queen a vague understanding but without knowing the exact words which were said.
The queen’s eyes closed, leaving the only physical sense-- the sense of the slate against the queen’s cheek, drawing her warmth. Her thoughts were now on her breathing. She felt no pain, and assumed she would not need worry about that, now. Had she become paralyzed? She did not think she could move anymore, but she did not try. The woman to her left had said something (he did not know what it was), which made the queen fear that she might be mistaken for already being dead and whatever would follow might be terrible—whatever they were going to do with her.
Briefly he sensed thoughts of being dismembered, or burned alive, but then the growing confidence that her death really was near, that she would die before any terrible acts took place—that she would die in peace. Her murder was a gentle one, the queen and the man felt a sense of thankfulness for that. She was certain, for a moment with her eyes closed, that she had stopped breathing. The man participating in this with her as he knew what it was to be suffocated, and marveled that she faced that sense so very much as he had—with acceptance, with calm, and without struggle. He had survived it and he was thinking—hoping—that maybe the pretty queen may survive as he once had.
Then, the Queen knew only her breathing. She was still breathing. Slowly, almost without motion of her diaphragm, she sensed the slight flow of air in and out again. About the third slow, calm, and shallow breath, someone approached and noticed just what she somehow knew—that the warm moisture of her breath fogged the surface of the slate before her with each exhalation. She was aware, without seeing, of the presence of a hand near her nose and mouth, searching for her breath, and finding it.
She was aware without hearing, that the male person whose hand was there before her, was telling the woman to her left that he detected her breath. The man floating within her found his own thoughts separating from hers. His were worried thoughts. He worried that the breath was too shallow—too little air to sustain the queen.
The man woke. There was a matter-of-fact sense that his waking was inevitable. Before his closed eyes, he saw a smooth solitary slate oblique, as if floating in blackness. It was thin, resembling a table-top… almost appearing metallic, like a examination table at a morgue. The sense of death was clear enough in it. He thought of the queen and simply resolved the matter that he could not return to her, but he dared not wonder if she could now find him. Not thinking of that, he opened his eyes. Green numbers glowed before his eyes, telling him the time, and potentially telling him that he was in his own bed, in his own room. The presence of the clock radio beside his bed seemed almost obscene.
He closed his eyes, and remembered the beautiful woman, hoping she remained at peace as the moment he was forced, by whatever metaphysics drive such things, to leave her. The slab floated in his memory, but still somehow physically near. He began to drift toward sleep, the weight of his body somehow pleasing even though it was binding compared to the experience of the last few minutes. He was smiling, but did not know it, thinking of the love he felt for the queen, her gentleness, and his privilege of sharing those intimate moments with her. It did not bother him at all that she seemed to have no awareness that he had shared those moments with her.
A crash, outside. Perhaps it was the sound of a thin sheet of slate falling, finally, to the street. The room in which his bed existed, seemed to shift slightly as if to make a minor adjustment in orientation so as to fit where it belonged inside the house. He fell asleep rather certain that when he had found himself in his bed, his bed had not yet found itself back in his room, and that now, and only now, the journey—or the mission—was over.
He dreamed of examination tables floating in the darkness; and even sleeping, noted his own breathing, steady, as deep or as shallow as he chose.