Shadowbox: Bolt from the Blue


A foil lightning bolt tears a heart-shaped candy box in two. One side is bright yellow. A baby doll pillow is surrounded by Hershey kisses. The other side is black. It is littered with a pile of crumpled candy wrappers.


Some late October days have that good-to-be-alive feeling. The air is crisp but not cold, the colors are vibrant and the slightest breeze sends the burnished leaves tumbling to the ground. Indian summer, nature’s cruel trick, makes the biting winter wind off the Charles River seem   impossible. The golden sun low in the sky was the last reminder that gray, endless winter was close at hand. But Lisa could not have cared less. Today was perfect.

She loved her walk home from work, from Kenmore Square to Brookline which took her past the Charles River University campus, then across the bridge to Babcock Street to Coolidge Corners. Crunchy brown leaves and showy reds and oranges reminded her of home. The big oaks and maples lining the street, as well as the two-family houses with big open porches, were just like the street she grew up on. Her walk took her to Harvard Street in Brookline. The fish market, deli, bagel place, and temple gave the area character. There was a movie theatre, bookstore and a Pewter Pot Muffin House. Over gallons of coffee, Lisa and her friends voiced their hopes for the future.

Lisa was bursting to tell Mac that two of her shadowboxes had been accepted by the Boston Arts Co-op. He’d been right to encourage her to submit her work. But he had appointments out in the country so her good news would have to wait. Mac had driven to Concord hot on the trail of a Fitzgerald first edition for his collection. Later in the day, he was meeting an antiquarian bookseller somewhere near Northampton.

As she trudged through thick piles of leaves on this warm October afternoon, she thought about the past summer. Everything seemed more vivid; the grass seemed greener, the flowers more fragrant. Had she seen this as her future on days she felt listless or despondent, perhaps she would have had a happier childhood.

The life she lived with Mac was beyond the expectations she’d had for herself. Charismatic, smart, dreamy Mac, who loved her completely, supported all her cockeyed ideas, her social issue of the week, her shadowboxes and her work. Their life together as partners, lovers, best friends, and soul mates was perfect. Together they formed the nucleus in an orbit of moving and shifting light.

As she strolled home, snippets of memory passed randomly through her mind. She thought about the first time she woke up next to him—the pleasure of their lazy lovemaking in the early morning, their sleep, how they read newspapers to one another over coffee with croissants in bed. The first morning he said, “You complete me.” She smiled thinking of Mac’s arms around her waist, his kisses on the back of her neck while she’d washed the dishes just last night.

Days seemed particularly bright after nights spent wrapped in each other’s arms, safe and warm. Happiness puts luminous color into your life. Losing her grandmother last year was hard but being with Mac was beyond anything she’d ever hoped for. As Grandma said, there’s always bad with the good.

When she rounded the corner and saw two policemen standing in front of their apartment, she didn’t think anything of it, even when they asked her if this was the residence of MacKenzie Taylor. “He should be back in a couple of hours,” she said. “Do you want to come in and wait for him? Can he call you when he gets here?”

“Yes, Miss. We’ll come in. What’s your relationship to him?”

“Relationship?” she repeated. One of the officers took her arm, while the other held her trembling hand.

They sat down in the living room. Lisa stared at the painting over the sofa. They’d bought it from an artist their friend Phil had dated. It was abstract and they were in deep disagreement about its subject. Mac, I see it your way now. Wait until I tell you.

The two policemen were trying their best to soften what they came to tell her. She was afraid of what they might say. She had to keep them from saying it. Once they did, they wouldn’t be able take it back.

“Would you like some coffee or soda or something?”

“No, thank you. What’s your name?”

“Lisa,” she whispered.

“Lisa, who can we call for you?’

Her legs buckled. She couldn’t catch her breath. She felt like she’d swallowed broken glass. Her heart lay so heavy in her chest she thought it would crush her diaphragm.

The other policeman repeated, “Lisa, who can we call for you?”

They called Phil and he called her old roommate, Amy. They came within minutes of one another. The detectives explained to them what had happened. Lisa couldn’t think about the facts. They didn’t make sense. How could Mac be taken without any warning, so quickly and alone? Bleeding out in a crash of steel and glass? Wrapped around a tree while she was enjoying the afternoon? What was their last conversation about? A movie he wanted to see? Getting dinner with Phil and his latest girlfriend? Reminding him to take out the garbage? She didn’t know.

The police speculated he might have swerved to miss a deer. They found one dead up the road. Treacherous, those narrow country roads.

In the days that followed, Lisa was in shock. The only thing she was aware of was that she called the police station every morning, her heart beating, praying for a different answer. That maybe they made a mistake. That Mac would come home.

She was put through to a man with a patient, composed voice. “I’m sorry, Miss Stern. We’ll never know exactly how it happened. There is nothing to investigate. There were skid marks on the road. The car smashed into a tree. No one else was involved. We’re sorry, miss. It was an accident, an unfortunate accident.” Sorry, sorry, sorry.

The funeral was a blur. His mother wouldn’t let her see him. She said it was better that way. No one would see him, not even her. They had to remember him as he was.

He grew up in Reading, a picturesque New England town outside of Boston. His town reminded her of a Currier and Ives image of a town square with a white church and slender steeple around which there was a cemetery with the grave markers of the early settlers. A minister, who might have known Mrs. Taylor but certainly not Mac, spoke in generalities; he could have been eulogizing anyone.

Everyone who knew him knew Mac scorned religion. He would have wanted Phil to tell some of his best stories, to have him go out as he truly was. But he wasn’t there to plan it as he would have been in life, meticulously attending to every detail.

She sat propped up by Phil, stiff with grief. She didn’t want to look at the coffin, yet she couldn’t take her eyes off it. She whispered to Phil, “No cemetery.” He nodded and squeezed her hand.

She didn’t know how she would get over this. The only thing clear to her was that the course of her life was forever changed. There would never be another Mac.

4 thoughts on “Prologue

  1. This was heartwrenching to read, yet compelling. The intricate weaving of imagery and emotion was breathtaking. I can’t wait to find out their past, her present and all their futures.

    What a read!!


  2. Just finished last night! I sent the kids elsewhere so I could get through the last 20 pages. What a beautifully descriptive novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it. You should be very proud of your accomplishment, Jan. Your poetry background shined through. I loved the historical aspects of it, learning about Albany’s history that took place before I was born but in my parents’ lifetime, and the significance of women and their path to becoming leaders in modern society. A great read!!


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