Neon Blue (suspense) and This Shoal of Space (SF) by John Argo were the first two e-books ever published online for download, in the history of the world, 1996-7 in innovative weekly serial chapters. More info at the museum pages. If you enjoy this free read, which is offered in the spirit of the Golden Age of the World Wide Web, please consider buying a print or e-book edition as a way of thanking the author. A fine E-book is typically priced at the cost of a latte, yet offers many more hours of enjoyment than a cup of coffee. Thank you (John Argo).
Monday morning, Blue flew home for the funeral.
It was foggy in San Diego. Traffic crawled the two miles along Pacific Highway from her hotel to the airport. She left the car at its rental agency and took the little shuttle bus to the terminal.
At five p.m. she stepped off the plane in New York. Wind wailed on empty runways, and the cold bit fiercely, especially a stray gust right up her back. Passengers hurried out the terminal gates. This can't be real, Blue thought. Wind hurled sheets of powder through angry air. Outdoor lights had a bluish, arctic look. Airport workers moved about in heavy boots and heavy leather mittens with wool gloves on inside the mittens. It was a shock, after sunbathing on her balcony. Blue caught the six p.m. commuter plane to New Haven, a short, choppy ride.
Mom had dinner waiting. Blue hugged her parents. They were scared for her, and she reassured them as best she could. But they never understood half of what she said, so what was the use. Home was warm and dry, and she felt halfway comforted. They sat up until ten, and her parents asked about California. It was like Mars to them. Blue painting a pretty picture to give them joy: The sails on San Diego Harbor by day, the lights of boats passing at night, the sunshine, the gold-like silica in the sand, and the wonderful people she had met.
Her old room seemed like another person's, and she was vaguely grateful. Her mother now used it to iron, so there were stacks of laundry in the room and it smelled of spray starch. Blue made herself drink and fell asleep.
Tuesday morning: She borrowed Dad's car, a clean but unimaginative Dodge sedan ten years old, and drove along the seashore on I-95. Her own car was parked in Hamilton.
Hamilton's town green lay prettily frosted and illumined, a postcard. She drove to Sacred Heart Church.
There, only there, the full impact began to really hit her. Her knees shook slightly, not entirely because of the cold, as she drove up on the scene, and it was very real:
The nineteenth century church, its red bricks and white marble cornices darkened by generations, loomed with back slate roofs and pencil-point bell towers against the icy furnace sky. The small cobblestone square in front of the church was crowded with people, everything from police and fire officers from departments throughout the region, to politicians in black finery, to Catholic school children in uniform, and a lot of parishioners in their Sunday best, the women wearing hats or black lace veils. She bawled and bawled seeing the beautifully detailed black Cadillac hearse with its gray-frosted windows.
There was a row of black limousines. The hearse and the limousines had their lights on and engines running. Before the hearse were a glittering array of police motorcycles, at least forty of them. She lost count of the number of white helmets of the uniformed motorcycle officers. The line stretched out of sight for blocks.
Behind the limousines were the family cars, and behind those were police cars, fire department station wagons, and more official-looking cars.
She had to illegally double-park outside a bar. Then she hurried toward the church. Besides her business skirt suit, she wore a hat whose black lace veil kept fluttering before her eyes. The funeral mass was late getting started. People were still filing into the church as Blue emerged into the square. She spotted Innie and her children among a large family group. Innie looked devastated, and the children had haunted expressions, and Blue's heart went out to them. She saw Chief Murphy and other police officials and hurried that way. She half expected to see Eddie come sauntering up with a twinkle in his eyes and a cigarette hanging out of a crooked grin.
Instead, a hand grabbed her arm and she spun around. "Vito."
"Hi, Blue." He smelled of sour Camel cigarette tobacco. His mouth looked tiny and his nose very large. His dark eyes were sad. "Let's stay in the back of the church."
She held up her veil. "Is Tomasi here?"
He shook his head. "You and me, chum. Come on, it's probably warm inside." He took her hand and towed her along. There must have been two thousand people, too many for the church. Stores on the block had thrown their doors open early to let those who could not get into the church warm themselves.
Blue and Vito managed to squeeze in and stand near the holy water. The crowd surged around them, and Blue's side was pressed painfully against the shell-shaped font jutting out of the wall. Vito stood with his hands folded before him.
Blue bawled some more. Vito gave her a large handkerchief smelling of licorice. "Thanks." She kept blowing, and her nose kept running.
With a thunderous shock that nearly tossed her out of her shoes, the main organ pipes crushed out the opening chords of the Introit. From there it wentBlue could see nothing, save one momentary view of the coffin in the main aisle, draped in the American flag and surrounded by lit candles. Although she had grown up Catholic, she hadn't been to a Mass in ages. From memory, she loosely followed the service. The eulogy was broadcast over a p.a. system. After forty-five minutes it was over, and she was glad to get out.
As Blue and Vito walked to his Chrysler, they looked back and saw the coffin carried heavily down the stairs. Behind it, fatly sprawled, barely able to walk, supported by several relatives, came Innocenta. The children next, walking with confused solemnity. The town's fire horn boomed for miles. Then the sirens began to wail, signaling that the hearse was ready to move. Vito put the Chrysler in drive. They slowly followed a Connecticut State Police car with flashing red lights.
On a cold hillside, the coffin rested under an American flag. What the Vietnamese had once called the Thousand Flowers Flag because of its crisp white stars. Father Pollack read the burial ceremony. His vestments blew in a sharp cold wind. Innie collapsed and had to be carried to an ambulance.
On a promontory nearby, a National Guard Honor Guard loaded, presented, and fired one salute. A bugler blew taps as the flag was folded and the coffin lowered. The flag was given to Eddie's oldest son. "We can go now," Vito said. Blue sniffled, dabbing her eyes as Vito drove his boat onto I-95 and it was forever goodbye Eddie.
Copyright © 1996 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.