a cruel oblivion
~ a tess alexander mystery ~
The heart dies a slow death, shedding each hope like leaves until one day there are none.
No hopes. Nothing remains.
~ Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
about the book...
Staring down into the yawning grave, investigative journalist Tess Alexander inhaled the dirty gray fog, then gave a long sigh that briefly briefly parted the mist in front of her before closing in again. It made no sense: Rennie Matlock was finally getting her life together, finally shaking off the horrors of her earlier years and moving into a hopeful future where the past no longer chained and haunted her. The young woman’s sudden and violent suicide gnawed at a corner of Tess’s mind like a vile worm, leaving an inky trail of doubt behind.
A decade before, media pundits and mental health experts alike had somberly, head-shakingly declared that Rennie’s act of plunging a letter-opener into her mother’s neck was unfathomable and without motive. Here was a lovely, seemingly well-adjusted teenage girl from a prominent and wealthy San Francisco family, suddenly gone completely mad.
But Tess knew the dark truth that helped explain the inexplicable, and understood the roots of terror and hopelessness that had driven Rennie's fury. She knew too that the long and spinning years between then and now had brought the young woman a small measure of redemption, and that she was opening the door to a new life that perhaps even included extending herself a fragment of mercy, if not forgiveness.
Baffled by the abruptness of Rennie's anguished descent into an inescapable abyss of despair, Tess vowed to uncover the impetus behind her suicidal act.
She had no idea how potentially lethal that effort would be.
Standing at the grave, she stared down at the exquisite brushed stainless-steel casket, its lid and rolled handles rimmed with a delicate lacing of burnished gold.
Nothing but the best for the daughter of Simon Matlock.
A thin veil of moisture from the morning fog gave the coffin a faint otherworldly luminosity; here and there, tiny droplets formed, some sitting patiently atop the cold metal, others inching gently down its steel sides like the tears of angels.
The elegant green velvet drape that once enfolded the coffin and obscured the open grave from the refined funeral guests had been removed, while off to one side lay a roll of impossibly green artificial grass used to cover the mounds of dirt that would soon be shoveled into the chasm, burying Rennie and her secrets forever.
A dark shadow of fog crept up the hill toward the gravesite, clawing its way across the meticulously manicured grounds and shrouding the marble headstones and elegantly engraved memorial plaques in a sheet of dirty gray.
She stood, alone and motionless except for the wisps of auburn hair swirling softly across her face. A cadre of cemetery workers stood several yards away, restlessly waiting for the woman to leave, or at least signal that they could go ahead and lower the casket.
In a moment or two she looked up and gave the men a tiny nod, then stepped back from the edge of the grave. A few clods of dirt rolled down the sides of the hole into the burial vault.
Dust to dust.
One man engaged a discreet lever, and the casket began its slow, silent descent into the earth. The speed self-adjusted once it neared the bottom, until the silver box finally settled with a nearly inaudible thump into the concrete sarcophagus.
Nothing but the best.
She stepped forward once again and the men backed away.
“I’m so sorry, Rennie.” She tossed a silver-white rose into the void, where it settled atop the gleaming casket.
As the fog became drizzle, Tess shivered and turned, making her way across the sweeping, greening lawn, past the gravestones of the famous and ordinary, past the barren wisteria and the ghostlike Deodar cedar with its drooping branches weeping with the rain, and finally out of sight.