Sunday, September 02, 2007

Chapter Two ~ The Bargain

Joseph lifted his tired head to gaze at the stained glass window above the altar at which he prayed. Jessica lay, clinging to life, in a bed two floors up from where he now knelt. He still couldn't believe she was alive, though that joy was fading fast in the light of her critical condition. The boys, miraculously, had come through the accident unscathed. His mother had them at home now, trying to shower them with normalcy so they wouldn't catch on to the tragedy that now enfolded their family.

Joseph's head throbbed. The paramedics had worked him over good, stitching up the deeper cuts and putting those tiny butterfly bandaids on a dozen others. But it was the accident that caused his pounding headache but the tears that had obliterated his thinking and consumed him for the past two hours since the doctor had sent him running from Jessica's room with the news of her condition.

She was alive, yes, but she would not remain. She would die, it was only a matter of time. Why he ran, he didn't know. He should have stayed with her, he should be with her now. Only his grief was too great to be contained in that small, cramped room, with it's humming machines and beeping monitors. He had run down the flights of stairs until the map beside the door had informed him there was a chapel housed there. He dashed for it, wrenching open the door and flinging himself at the base of the altar where he had remained these past two hours. For all he knew, Jessica was leaving him, right now. She may be looking for him, reaching out to him at this very moment, and yet, here he remained.

“Oh God. Oh God, I don't know if you're here, but I need you. I need you God. Please.”

Joseph looked up at the glass. There was no depiction of Christ on the cross, no saint, no angels. This chapel was non-denominational, and so no connection to any religion was allowed. Yet, it was peaceful here, the colors and quiet soothing. Joseph didn't need a picture of Christ anyway, to know to Whom he prayed. He rested his elbows on the altar and looked at his hands, interlaced together. His tears dripped onto his knuckles, and ran down the back of his hands. He bent his head, resting his forehead on his knuckles and gave every ounce of his being, all of his passion to this one prayer, this moment, when he would ask for a miracle.

“Dear God. Jessica is dying. Oh God, Father. Please don't let her die. Our little boys, they ... they need her father. Please don't take her from them. Take me instead. Take me, Father, and let her live.”

For a long while, silence reigned in the small room. Joseph strained every ounce of his being toward hearing an answer to his prayer. He longed to feel something, anything, to let him know his prayer had been heard, perhaps even answered. Yet only his own sniffles and occasional cough interrupted the utter stillness of the room. Joseph bowed his head in resignation. He was alone. And Jessica was alone.

He pressed his hands to the altar to help him gain his feet. He was achy and stiff after kneeling there for so long. He swayed a little once he had found his feet. A moment longer he stood and gazed at the nondescript stained glass, when a quiet voice jolted him from his reverie.

“I hear you Joseph.” So mild, so sweet, the voice was an answer from God. But when Joseph turned, only a man stood there.

Dressed in a simple black suit, the man smiled mildly at Joseph.

“Your wish, if you still desire it Joseph, will be granted. Jessica will live. Is that what you want?”

“Wh-who are you?” The hair on the back of Joseph's neck stood up and chills ran up his arms. He was certain this was no angel.

“You offered to give up your life, that Jessica may live. Do you stand by your offer? Do you want to save your wife?” An almost imperceptible edge had crept into the mans voice. Joseph took a step backward, banging the backs of his knees painfully against the edge of the altar.

“Can you save my wife?” He asked suspiciously. He would do anything for her.

“Yes, Joseph. It is within my power to bring her back to this life, that she may live and enjoy a full life with your boys. Is that what you want? Or have you changed your mind?”

Joseph raked his fingers through his hair and blinked his burning eyes at the carpet at his feet.

Oh God, what is happening? Is this what You want me to do? What is it, I'm being asked to do? Joseph's mind was already made up though. He would do anything for Jessica.

“I will do anything for her,” he said.

And the man in the black suit laughed, quietly.

“I thought it might be so,” he said, inclining his head slightly in Joseph's direction. “In a moment a nurse will come to tell you that Jessica has made remarkable improvement and the doctor has upgraded her condition to stable.”

The man walked down the aisle until he stood not two feet from Joseph.

His eyes twinkled when he said, “Jessica will live, Joseph. And you ... well, you will die.”