A Keeper's Truth - Dee Willson

For my mother,

who taught me a great many things,

like dream big.

It is now a recognised principle of philosophy, that no religious belief however crude, nor any historical tradition, however absurd, can be held by the majority of a people for any considerable time as true, without having in the beginning some foundation in fact. . . . We may be sure that there never was a myth without a meaning; that mythology is not a bundle of ridiculous fancies invented for vulgar amusement; that there is not one of those stories, no matter how silly or absurd, which was not founded in fact, which did not once hold a significance.

—H. H. Bancroft

Late-Nineteenth-Century American Anthropologist

Time’s Up

It takes thirty seconds to die this way.

Two seconds to register the sound of exploding rubber. One second to grip the wheel with enough force to fracture bones. Skidding sideways across four lanes with nothing but the blur of passing cars and a transport truck consumes six seconds. The screech of metal on metal seems to go on forever but in reality lasts only five seconds. Five more for the metal to fold, glass to shatter, plastic to snap into bits.

Soaring through the air can be measured in six harrowing heartbeats. People don’t fly.

For three seconds the physical pain is numbing, surreal. It takes the brain two seconds to make out the thick iridescent line only an inch away. But 124,000 pounds crushing bone and vital organs into asphalt is instantaneous.

Time’s up.

Or is it?

Sure, everything that happens afterwards—the chaos, the heartbreak—is beyond the deceased. Only twelve know what really lies ahead, what happens to a soul, where it goes and why it returns. Twelve men know everything, have since the dawn of time, a place buried deep in our subconscious. Yet no one is listening.

As for the dead, they leave devastation in their wake: wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters—souls with a stake in this half-minute in time, scarred for eternity. What happens when loss attacks like beasts? How do you survive without the one you love?

You just do.

All things considered, there are worse ways to lose your life. You could be beaten, raped of your soul, left cold and alone to die. Slowly.

Old souls know this. Tess Morgan should know this.

Only she doesn’t.


Early September

My name is Tess. I’m the daughter of a liar. And unhinged.

Tess is the name on the sticker stuck to my shirt above my right boob. I wonder why it says that, no one uses my name anymore. It should read: Oh, I’m sorry. Or the extended version: Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I’m greeted with pouty lips and sad eyes. Instant reminders . . . as if I need to be reminded my husband is dead. Meyer has been gone five months, two days, sixteen hours, and twenty-two minutes. The last two minutes only slightly better than the first.

I’m standing in my daughter’s classroom, waiting for my turn to meet her kindergarten teacher, Ms. Bubbly. Actually, her name is Ms. Rainer, but since she wears no sticker herself, I’ve taken the liberty to provide her with an appropriate title, one with more verve. I hover in the back corner, pretending to be enthralled with drawings of horses stapled to the bulletin board. Well, I think they’re horses, or ponies, or some sort of animal with four legs; they really aren’t all that easy to decipher. I’m grateful for the distraction. I’m a shell, a remnant, a shadow of my former self.

I catch a glimpse of affection, a naturally intimate gesture between lovers. His hand on her waist, her leaning into his