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Chapter 24: The Forum
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Sunday, January 5, 1:30 P.M.
At Karen's insistence the Marlows had planned to arrive in Harrisburg a full 90 minutes before the memorial service was scheduled to begin in the Forum. Dan had grumbled at the prospect of wasting over an hour sitting in an auditorium seat, waiting for the service to start. Now he was glad that Karen had prevailed.
Parking had been an unbelievable problem. With all the State workers off duty, Dan had assumed there would be plenty of space. As it turned out, all the government lots around the Capitol complex were filled and they had managed to find a roof-top space in the Chestnut Street parking garage next to the Education Building. With an hour till the service started, Dan and Karen were lucky to find a pair of empty seats on the main floor. The balcony was filling fast, too.
Under other circumstances, Karen would have ridden Dan a little in the face of her being right about how early they should be. But the mood of the crowd was far from jovial as people quietly took the remaining seats and either stared straight ahead or read the printed program.
After claiming their seats, the Marlows took turns going to the rest rooms and then sat quietly along with the rest of the crowd, waiting for the program to get under way.
During the wait, Dan's mind drifted back over the last few days and he had difficulty comprehending all that had taken place. Just Thursday morning, his biggest problem was an Amish sleigh and a bushel of road apples. But now, the whole world was turned upside down, for him and for a lot of other people, too.
Since Ronni's one o'clock news conference with congressional leaders at the White House yesterday, the nation's perception of what had happened Friday at noon was changed. Earlier, Dan had been worried that Ronni's posture would be derided by tough-minded news people with their probing questions. People on the White House beat knew how to go for the throat after long practice on the President. However, they were courteous, sympathetic, and even believing. It almost seemed that the nation was starved for an explanation, any explanation that make some kind of sense. Of course Ronni wasn't the only person in the United States who knew the true story behind the disappearances. But she was the first person to tell the story on national television.
The man on the street may have accepted Ronni's explanation at face value but the church community was outraged. The Vatican roared a strong denunciation and all major religious entities in the Judeo-Christian connection followed suit. The networks dutifully gave equal time to the church people but it seemed that the cynicism Dan feared would be directed toward Ronni fell instead on the church leaders who had been left behind.
As Dan looked over the program for the memorial service, he noted that several prominent clergymen from the Harrisburg area were listed as participants. WHP, however, was saying in local newscasts that all members of the clergy had withdrawn from all four memorial services and everything would be completely secular. Just as well, Dan thought. Anyone who didn't go in the rapture has no more to say to me about God than I have to say to myself.
The eerie stillness of the crowd did not change, even when the Forum became filled to capacity. Dan decided to take advantage of the quiet and slid down in his seat for a quick catnap.
Karen was aware that Dan was dozing and considered nudging him into a more respectful frame of mind and body. Instead, she got the pictures out of her purse and stared at them with moist eyes.
Kevin and Kellie. So young and sweet and naughty and bright. How much fun it had been to have twins in the home. How much brighter and richer the days had been since their arrival on the scene in consecutive sessions of painful ecstasy. How much promise their young lives had represented. And now they were gone. Not because of a comet blazing out of the sky. Not because of a nuclear accident or a plague or a tidal wave or an earthquake or a mudslide or a hurricane. Even the feared Y2K crisis had come and gone without so much as a blip on anyone's computer screen.
No. Her darlings were eternally gone because God had taken them from her in a direct act, rather than an indirect act. Even with Ronni's careful and repeated explanation, Karen still couldn't comprehend the logic of it all. If there was any logic.
Why didn't God and His Son, Jesus Christ, just allow them all to live their lives in peace. Why was Divine intervention even necessary? We were living a full life, Dan and Kevin and Kellie and I. We had enough money, enough food, decent shelter. We weren't especially God-conscious but then we weren't sinful or uncivilized, either. We were just normal citizens living normal lives. And then God had to break in and destroy our lives with His cruel rapture.
Cruel? No better word than cruel! What right did God have to take my Kevin and Kellie unless it was to prove that He is cruel? Karen cried silently for several minutes and was very angry with Dan for sleeping while she suffered.
At exactly 2:30 the organ burst into the "Star Spangled Banner" and everyone rose, Dan coming up about a beat behind the rest. The organist then slid into "America" and down the center aisle marched a squad of six State Police troopers in the scarlet tunic colonial guard uniforms they at one time wore in their famous horse-mounted Musical Ride. The troopers carried a flag-draped casket shoulder high and were followed by a short line of robed dignitaries. Karen thought they must be educators because most were wearing academic gowns. Some graduation, she thought sourly.
The casket was placed on a low catafalque in the center of the stage. Someone stepped to the microphone and asked the audience to join in the Pledge of Allegiance and then the Lord's Prayer.
The memorial service lasted about 45 minutes and consisted entirely of speeches by the dignitaries. Since the ministers had refused to participate, the printed programs were no longer accurate and Karen had no idea who was doing what.
And then it was time to take up the pictures and place them in the crimson-lined casket. Dan held Kevin's first grade school picture in the palm of his hand and Karen held Kellie's.
The long lines of grieving family members inched down the aisles to the front of the auditorium. At the steps leading up to the stage, a small parchment envelope was provided for each child being memorialized. Before placing the twins' pictures in the envelopes, Dan and Karen gazed lovingly at the colored images which were all they had left. Then they kissed the pictures with salty lips and each was put in a separate envelope.
When it was the Marlows' turn to mount the stage steps and walk across the polished wood floor to the mahogany casket, Karen held back.
"Come on, Honey, you're holding up the proceedings," Dan whispered gently.
"I'm sorry if this sounds silly, Dan, but we're making a mistake. Kevin and Kellie were always together in life and they should be together now." Carefully she opened her envelope containing Kellie's picture and then took Kevin's envelope from Dan. After opening it, she placed both pictures in the same envelope, face to face, and sealed the flap.
"I'm ready now," she whispered, taking Dan's hand. Together they moved on to the casket and placed the likenesses of their beloved twins with the hundreds of other white envelopes. The Marlows paused a moment over the open casket and their scalding tears dropped on Kevin and Kellie's envelope. And then it was time to move on as another family came up behind them.
The trip home to Liverpool was silent and sorrowful as each grieving parent nurtured private and precious memories of what had been and could never be again.
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