“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal.
Love leaves a memory no one can steal." – Irish proverb
The radio on his alarm clock blared to life at its normal time. Dawn was barely breaking over the city that he’d called home since 92. Normally Mac would rise quickly, working his way through long-held morning routines to be the first to arrive at the lab, ready to tackle the day’s workload. Today though his fingers found the snooze button and used it to silence the classic rock music station that woke him each day. He rolled over and grabbed the other pillow, holding it as he laid there, his mind crowded but not thinking of anything specific. The very air around him felt different from the way it normally did.
As the city came to life below, a near eerie silence had descended around Mac as he moved through his routine. The only noises to be heard were the coffee machine, shower and slide of closet doors and drawers as he dressed. The deep red mug of coffee sat on the dresser near the butler’s tray that held the items he carried with him daily as he perused the closet full of professional and casual clothing. After some consideration, he pulled on a creased pair of black dress slacks and slid a crisp, white dress shirt on before picking up the cup and heading to the kitchen.
He never ate breakfast anymore. That meal and whatever enjoyment he’d gotten from it was locked away behind the door his mind had simply labeled ‘before’. He still made a token effort to swallow at least a bagel with his coffee before he left for the lab. Their work was demanding, both physically and mentally, and too often they found themselves skipping lunch. Over the years, various members of his team had made his eating habits into a far bigger issue than he thought it should be. The bagel was his way of acknowledging their care and concern.
This morning he took the time to eat the bagel out on his small patio. The sounds from the city below sounded normal as if this was just another morning. But everything from the lead story on the radio to the headline on his newspaper talked of the difference of the day. Going back inside, he brushed his teeth, then reached for the black suit jacket he’d taken out before grabbing his wallet and other small items from the dresser. Knowing that he’d put off leaving for as long as he could, Mac sighed before walking through the apartment and out the front door.
Knowing how congested the city would be, he deliberated turned away from where his car was parked and walked down the street. It wasn’t that far and he had the time. Plus the walk would be exercise and time to clear his head to prepare. He stopped a couple of blocks down at a local street vendor, picking out two red roses to buy before continuing on his way.
The area was more crowded than he had expected. Family, friends and tourists milled around, jockeying closer, to get a better view of the speakers who would soon arrive. NYPD was out in force since the list of those who would take the podium was a veritable who’s who in the local and state political scene. These kinds of events frustrated him since they always brought out those who did not have a memory or need to be there. Those who aspired to hold a political office and those who just wanted to claim their ten minutes of fame. Mac looked around at all of the uniformed officers also noticing a large contingent of plain clothes ones as well. He wondered briefly if Flack was nearby but didn’t dwell on the thought.
As the minutes ticked by, a hush slowly settled over the group. Mac looked around him, unable to not notice the many children in fireman and police hats as well as the framed photos clutched tightly. Not wanting to look too closely at expressions that were similar to his own, Mac kept an eye on his watch as he restlessly fingered the rose stems he still held.
8:45…it grew a little quieter
8:46…had someone spoken? Had a speaker asked for silence because no one was talking now? Mac wasn’t sure and before he could decide, the time was up and everyone around him was slowly moving forward. He followed, somewhat aimlessly, not sure where they were going. Suddenly he felt a hand clutch at his elbow. He tried to pull away but the grip became tighter.
“This way,” a voice murmured.
Stella? What was she doing here?
“Claire Taylor.” He heard her low voice and then they were moving again. Slow, careful steps down an incline. Down into the pit where the towers had once stood so majestically – Ground Zero it was called now and probably always would be. The crowd jostling each other forced him to pay more attention to his surroundings. Looking around, he noted the tear-streaked faces and American flags that hung from the cranes surrounding them. They walked to the center, most placing flowers to float in a small pool before gathering quietly around the circular shape or facing a podium.
9:03… The crowd was silent once again. Most remembering the horrid visual they had seen either in person or on television as the second airplane crashed into the other tower. Mac swayed a little before his arm was tightly gripped.
“Probably didn’t eat again – as usual.” He heard the grumble before his attention was grabbed by speakers. Names were read and his eyes welled up when he heard hers among them. He had to blink rapidly to avoid the tears falling.
Politically important people spoke and those that wanted to be. Most spoke of the permanent changes inflicted on so many on that day. But he couldn’t help but wonder how true the comment was. He still came here – more at various times throughout the year than just on this day. Tourists still sought out the sight, wanting to say that they had seen Ground Zero once they were home again. But time had passed and some were moving on with their lives as if the events of that day should no longer matter. They would always matter to Mac. His life and heart had been shattered that day. He still wondered if he lived or just functioned still. It grew quiet twice more.
9:59…the South Tower fell
10:29…the North Tower
Finally they were moving again up the ramp. The firm hand still holding his arm guided him. He didn’t try to fight or pull away this time and the two walked together, slipping through the dispersing crowds to a nearby side street. He knew he needed to say something, to thank her. But Mac didn’t know what to say and fortunately, with Stella, words were usually not necessary. He did raise his other hand to grip her fingers tightly though and left it there as they continued.
It was pressure from her hand that brought him to a stop in front of a non-descript sedan. The driver’s door opened and the younger man that stepped out was dressed more formally than he was used to seeing.
He wanted to say something. To acknowledge their presence and support. To admit how much having Stella and now Danny with him meant but he couldn’t. A lone tear made its way down his cheek.
Stella let go of his arm and walked towards the door. Danny reached out a hand and guided him to the other side, helping him get in the back seat as Stella slid next to him. Danny joined them in the vehicle and started the engine, looking back to quirk an eyebrow at the Greek woman.
“Food,” she mouthed silently and he nodded before turning around and pulling away from the curb.
Mac didn’t argue, this time. Claire’s memory and her love would always be with him but today, of all days, he’d let his team, his friends be there the way they wanted to, the way he didn’t let anyone seven years ago – September 11, 2001.