He stared at the ground long and hard enough until the color and shape of the pebbles melted into a slate of mud-puddle brown. This path had been good thing; his father’s company, laughter emerging strong as it skipped across the water, but for reasons too varied and complicated to fully comprehend, today he made the trip alone. Bobby Miller’s gait was noticeably impaired by burden; the weight of a stone, easily half his own, had quickly turned his arms into jelly. This would mark the third time he stopped to rest and while his heart returned to a normal rhythm he observed the trail much differently than ever before. It still dove sharply and disappeared beneath the surface, but today there was an air of finality to its course; a distinct line of separation between two mediums, a boundary not easily crossed. Thinking in philosophical terms made his head hurt. Bobby adjusted his grip, and with a lopsided heave launched the rock and chased it with angry words.
“Have you gone completely deaf? Did you hear that!?”
For two-thirds of his life Bobby had been coming to this pond and supposed by now the bottom of it looked like a rock quarry. Casting stones was a way to get God’s attention before praying for a specific need. “The larger the rock the more urgent the need”, his father said. Randy Miller’s belief in the unseen was unshakable, and how should a boy mistrust the instincts of a man who raises him? Even persuasive words loose their influence when stretched thin across the years. Bobby supposed a foundation built on the faith of on another was destined to crumble. The concept of stones and prayers seemed illogical now, yet a rare smile crept through his guard as his mind flashed to a more innocent time.
The mind of a five-year old grinds twenty-four hours a day, and more a matter of chance than logical deduction, he recalled with clarity the first question to boil to the surface and roll from his lips. ‘Why did God choose to live underwater, Dad?’ Randy Miller explained that God was the creator of all things, but that he took special care to pour his very essence into nature, and if Bobby looked hard enough he could see God in the weeping branches of the willow, in the stillness and churning of the water, and in every creature that roamed the meadows. For a moment in time Bobby was convinced he saw the wonders of which his father spoke, but the sightings were brief and without question the creator of all things had moved far from this place.
Presently, what stirred within was festering and ugly; it had been for some time, yet none of the fury was directed at his father, how could it be? That sunny, Sunday afternoon the two of them had cast more stones than on all other days combined. The blame lay squarely on an unresponsive and less than compassionate God. It was as if his father kneeling on the shoreline pleading for his wife’s life meant nothing. Her passing was like the sun had been ripped from the sky, and his father’s explanations sounded more like excuses. Bobby didn’t believe someone else had been waiting for answers longer, and there was no possibility that another’s hurt could be deeper than his own.
He traced the stainless barrel on the revolver with his index finger. The world has become harsh and cold and Bobby was no longer five. Never once did he feel the urge to pray as the rounds hit the bottom of the cylinder. This torment was too much; the hopelessness he wrestled with each day had finally gotten him in a stranglehold.
“One last chance, God. If you have even a remote plan for my future you better speak up load and clear!”
Bobby felt awkward in his demand, but after floating his last bit hope he waited for a sign. Like a rush of warm air tails a subway shooting through the tube, images past came in a barrage. The predictable din of thoughts colliding and careening created a buzz, but Bobby was certain he heard a faint giggle.
He quickly tossed the revolver in his backpack and turned to locate the source. He saw blonde curls bobbing just above the weeds and a bright red and white fishing bobber leading the way. As the young girl entered the clearing she stopped dead in her tracks and stared at him.
“Who are you?” she asked in a tiny voice.
“My name’s Bobby, what’s yours?”
“Do your parents know you’re down by the water alone?”
Her curly head tilted downward and she kicked at the dirt.
“I don’t have a Daddy—but I’m a very lucky girl to still have my Momma. She’s parking the car.”
Bobby recognized the discomfort in her reaction and changed the subject quickly.
“That’s a mighty pretty dress you’re wearing—just to go fishing.”
Her tiny hand stroked the red velvet cloth and then moved to twirl the ribbons holding her pigtails.
“It’s a very special day. The first time Momma could leave the hospital in a very long time. I wanted to show her the place me and Gramps came and prayed for her.”
Bobby fought to control his frustration. Tiny, young ears should not be subjected to the thoughts running through his mind.
“So you’ve been here before?”
“Lots and lots of times. Me and Gramps catch fish here. Sometimes he cusses when the hook gets caught, ‘Damned rocks!”
She took a deep breath before continuing and her blue eyes grew wide in anticipation of her words.
“While we prayed an angel touched my Momma.”
“An angel…really? I’m no expert, but it’s my understanding angels are quite rare.”
“Yeah—and they’re hard to find too.”
Miranda’s mother joined them along the shoreline. Instead of scolding her daughter for speaking to a stranger she extended her hand towards him and smiled warmly.
“Sorry if Miranda’s been talking you to death. She’s never met a stranger, and the excitement of being here today—well, has put her over the edge.”
Bobby barely heard any of the words she spoke and clung to her hand. She was younger than his mother, but reminded him so much of her; the bubbly reception and the quick unnecessary apology.
“Sorry about the handshake, it was very out of place. Well—I really should be going now.”
Bobby gathered his backpack and started up the path, but the pitter-pat of tiny steps caused him to pause. He turned and knelt in order to come to her level.
“It was very good to meet you Miranda and I hope you catch lots of fish.”
The curls above her forehead wagged as she nodded and spoke again.
“Mom says her angel had a name—Katherine Miller. Kinda of a funny name for an angel ain’t it? She couldn’t use her heart no more, but it still had beats left in it, so she gave it to my Mommy as a gift. If you ever see the angel, please thank her for saving my Mommy’s life.”