She dreamed often of a lion, tawny gold and glorious, with light that scattered from his mane as if it were born inside of him. In her dreams, she stood beside him, staring east across a vibrant sea, and when she woke, it was always with the refrain, He has nine names.
She hated to wake. The sea in her sleep was alive but behaved, and in the days since the accident, her days were a horror. She was in a stupor, flummoxed with loss. How can I be the only one left? The mornings were darker than her dreams.
Her aunt and uncle had planned the funeral, which, she realized, was perhaps not the best choice, but she herself was of no use to anyone. Then again, no one expected much of her at a time like this. And when that dreaded service came, with the nine closed coffins at the front of the sanctuary, she could not greet the guests or be consoled but instead fled to the solace of the church nursery, where she sat in a chair meant for a small child, her arms wrapped tight about her body, rocking back and forth as if the motion itself would somehow comfort her. There is no one left.
On the wall was a mural of Noah’s Ark—painted in the friendly, child-safe version that curtailed the dreadful details. Instead, there was a large boat with a smiling man on board, surrounded by animals, and above them stretched a rainbow in the primary colors of youth. Two giraffes poked their heads from the roof of the ark; a dove carried an olive branch back to the man; pairs of smiling anthropomorphic animals stood together on the deck. Two elephants, two horses, two monkeys, two zebras. One lion.
The lion. He has nine names.
She grimaced as she brushed away thoughts of her dream.
“Susan?” Aunt Alberta said, leaning her head inside the nursery door. “Oh, there you are. The service—it’s about to start.”
She nodded. “I’ll be there in a moment.”
No tears had come yet, although she was certain that they would—and when those floodgates opened, she wondered if they would ever close again. Her mother and father, her brothers, her sister, her cousin, and three friends—all gone, leaving her life as shredded as the railway tracks that day. She had seen the bodies before they’d closed the coffins. Nine plastic faces smiling serenely, as if they were all in on a secret she did not know.
Her throat caught as she stood to her feet for the service. She wanted to blame someone, but whom would she blame? She glanced again at the mural on the wall, all those happy animals looking as if they were talking beasts. She frowned; it was as if—as if—it was like a moment of déjà vu. Stop it, she told herself. Just get through the service, through the burial. Just hold together for a few more hours.
And yet, as she walked back toward the sanctuary, now full of mourning guests, it happened again. This time an image burned in her mind as if it were a memory from another life: a stone table, cracked in two, empty of life or death, but full of meaning and magic. And when she opened the door to the sanctuary, she uttered a loud gasp when she saw the crucifix at the front of the room. The guests turned to look.
He has nine names. And now she knew two.