They lowered Bobby Bishop into St. Petersburg soil on a perfect December afternoon. For Jonathan Wilton, who’d flown from New York for the burial, this was Florida’s old winter miracle.
But no Florida sunshine cheered Bobby now: lost in Iraq (K.I.A.), aged twenty-eight. No longer in the breeze, steering a sailboat down Pass-a-Grille Channel, or skiing the Vermont hills. No more sunlight or moonlight for Bobby. Christmas would come again with snow-light bright on the hills at midnight but not for this slain soldier.
Evelyn Shepard, living in Oregon now, had come to say her Last Goodbye. Approaching Jonathan, she said, “Isn’t that Bobby, smiling by his grave? No, sorry: just my memory of Bobby.”
And their eyes locked, bringing back old pain. A few months ago, they and Bobby were inseparable. Two of them were about to get married. The only question was: which two?
Now Evelyn said, “I know his death’s killing you, Jonathan. In high school, you played football together. You climbed mountains together. You dove for treasure together.”
As she spoke, Jonathan noted again her rich copper hair and the bronze specks in her green eyes. She’d always dressed well—in a black dress now that looked wonderful in the right places. And there weren’t any wrong ones.
Now the mourners were gathering closer as a military chaplain proclaimed:
“In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men,
Fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones to shake.
Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up:
It stood still, but I could not discern the form thereof: an image was before mine eyes, there was silence, and I heard a voice, saying,
Shall a man be more pure than his Maker?
“Am I imagining,” the chaplain continued, “that I see the spirit of Bobby Bishop passing before my face—the spirit of that young war hero? And dare we ask why Eternal Justice let Bobby sacrifice his life for our country? Why did Bobby’s Maker take Bobby back in his twenties? But such questions are answered by the human heart: He that believeth, even though he be dead, yet shall he live.”
“Bobby Bishop lived on St. Pete Beach,” the chaplain whispered. “And Bobby reached for Heaven. So Heaven’s in reach on St. Pete Beach. And we console ourselves today knowing that Bobby, our warrior prince, lives on. He’s with us forever.”
When the ceremony ended and the mourners were dispersing, Evelyn wiped her eyes and said, “Are you flying back East now, Jonathan?”
“No. I’m staying over.”
“At the house?
“I’m staying in town too. There are friends I need to see. I’ve got to get a hotel room.”
Jonathan hadn’t expected this. But he said, “Skip the hotel. Stay at the house—as long as you want.”
“Thank you, Jonathan—so much.”
So they drove to St. Pete Beach from the mainland—from St. Petersburg itself. They took the Pinellas Bayway causeway across the Intracoastal Waterway, aiming straight at the huge and famous Don Cesar Hotel. Then, on the beach-front, they turned right to Gulf Boulevard, then right again at the first traffic light. Then the next right onto Bella Vista Drive, driving south in view of the Don Cesar again, that pink palace shining across the water. Here they parked at Jonathan’s place, a large Spanish-style home.
Leaving the car, they walked the old grounds, noticing the palms and flower gardens. The sprinkler system was working. On a telephone wire there were birds that looked South American. The tennis court and the two large docks looked fine.
They stood for a moment, staring down into the swimming pool, empty and dry now, but filling blue from memory. And in that memory, they were pulling themselves up onto this poolside, wet and together—back then when they were always together and always in love.
Hard to believe there could have been that other time—those other winters, those other afternoons. The house now was an empty tomb. Ghosts from the past drifted by smiling.
“Jonathan,” Evelyn asked, “Do you ever come back and stay here?”
“So why keep it? Why haven’t you sold it?”