Susan Franklin rose early in anticipation of the day ahead. She didn’t dread the day - quite the opposite, she embraced it – but still the tears would come, early and often.
She poked her head into Billy’s room and smiled as she looked at his sleeping face. He was nine. She thought of how much he looked like his father and the tears began.
She quietly closed the bedroom door. She’d let him sleep a few more minutes while she made them both breakfast.
He was in a stairwell surrounded by darkness. He could hear the screams and cries of those above him. His flashlight was the only thing that provided any light. The way up so far had been slow. But he was determined to reach the sounds above.
The sound of bacon frying in the pan gave Susan a feeling of déjà vu, and she allowed her mind to go back to other mornings, other breakfasts.
She sighed. These were the days that she really missed him. Days that were harder than most: Birthday’s, anniversaries, holidays, and today.
Today was the hardest of all.
He ran into a barrier. He couldn’t tell what it was, debris of some sort, but it was directly in front of him, between him and the voices above. He turned off his flashlight and put it in his belt. He slowly began removing the debris, one piece at a time. He knew time was of the essence, for those he was trying desperately to save, for himself. As he continued his work, the cries above continued.
They were sitting at the small kitchen table. The days of eating in the dinning room at the family table had long passed.
Billy looked up from his plate. “Mom. Today’s the day I see the garden?”
“Yes, dear.” She smiled as she thought of the story she used to tell Billy. A simple story told to make a young child understand. “Today’s the day.”
With the last “chunk” behind him he began again on his journey. The debris he was able to move was only a small part of what stood in his way. The going would be painstakingly slow from here on out.
The cries above had by now turned into a single cry for help.
From anyone who would.
From anyone who could.
Breakfast was over and they were both getting ready. Susan was looking in the mirror when Billy walked in.
“You ready, Mom?”
She straightened her dress one last time. “Yes.” She said. She grabbed her purse off the dresser. “I’m ready.”
Billy stood straight as he asked his mom the next question. “Can I get it down?”
She paused for a short moment before answering. Then. “Yes. You can get it down.”
Billy walked over to his mom and hugged her. “Thanks, Mom.” He grabbed her hand. “C’mon. We’ll go together.”
Billy led his mother out of her bedroom and down the hall. Midway down the hall they both stopped. Billy let go of his mother’s hand and turned toward a picture hanging on the wall. He slowly reached up with both hands and took the picture down.
“Can you walk?”
“I… I think so.”
He looked around at all the destruction. The smoke. The flames. “There’s no one else?”
She shook her head. “They didn’t make it.” She burst into tears. “Some jumped. I’m… the last one.”
He placed his arms under her shoulders. “Well. I’m here now. You’re not alone anymore.”
He carried her back the way he had come.
They were in the car when Billy broke the heavy silence.
“One stop before the garden. Huh, Mom?”
“You think she’ll be ready?”
Susan nodded. “She’ll be ready.”
“I can’t go without you. I won’t.”
He handed her his flashlight. “There’s only enough room for one of us at a time.” He grabbed her hand. “As soon as you get through, I’ll come behind you.”
Together they looked at the debris in front of them, and the small passage of escape. The woman began to crawl through the small space he had cleared earlier. She turned back to him. He smiled.
“Hey,” he said. “I didn’t get your name.”
She looked back at him. “It’s Cheryl. Cheryl McDaniel.”
“Mike.” He said. “Mike Franklin.”
She smiled one last time. “Thank you, Mike. Thank you for saving me.”
And with that she was gone.
And four minutes later, Mike’s world went black.
Cheryl McDaniel walked out of her Manhattan apartment. She slowly walked down the sidewalk and stopped right before she got to the car. She took a deep breath and walked around to the passenger’s side. She opened the door and got in. She didn’t say a word to Susan or Billy, instead simply leaned over and gave Susan a hug. Then she reached over the back seat and patted Billy’s knee.
Billy smiled at Cheryl.
The car moved down the road.
Billy settled in for the ride. He leaned back and closed his eyes. The picture he had taken down was sitting next to him, leaning against the backseat of the car. It was the picture of a man, a man in a policeman’s uniform, and on his head was a hat, and on the hat were the letters…N.Y.P.D.
The car drove on in a reverent silence and headed toward the place that once had its own zip code – 10048 – the former site of the World Trade Center.
I didn’t realize when I got the idea to do a sequel to “Two Plants” that I would find it so emotionally draining. What finally did if for me as I researched this piece was a picture of a little girl at the memorial service at “Gound Zero” one year after the fact. She was holding a picture of her father in her hands. This is a piece of fiction, but as I typed these words my mind always held on to the image of that little girl.
So many images. So many stories.
One more quick note, I read somewhere that the USPS reported that six years after 9.11 the Twin Towers zip code still received 300 pieces of mail each day.
May we never forget those who gave all, for the garden …
This was very touching. I like to read stories of the twin towers. I'm not sure why...maybe it's because I knew exactly where I was at that moment in time. You did a great job placing an image in my mind of what these characters were going through. Good job!
Grammatically speaking...I think you meant Susan was feeling dejavu. Great piece!