"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." - John 14:27
It's the day of Pippa's funeral and everything moves as if the day itself were wrapped in an impenetrable bubble of molasses, murky, sticky and slow.
Eventually, Jack gets up. The day is hot and Jack is cold and he only knows to get up because North picks him up and gently taps him forward.
Jack blinks and he is at the podium, staring over approximately ten or eleven people wearing black and sitting in cheap fold out chairs.
He doesn't know how he got there.
He coughs and looks down at his hands. To his surprise, there is a piece of paper in there. Oh. It says something Jack remembers from long ago. It says this:
"It's in the summer, on a hill on a windy day, when the grass turns brittle and dry and swept away, that you can hear the ocean waves in the crinkling wind." Jack reads, voice hollow and deep and wrecked.
"You can hear the surf pounding into the sand and the tumulus, swirling waves arguing their way back out as the wind rushes over the yellowed grass stems, dried from the summer heat stroke and flattens them into the ground. The wind is a falcon, is the dove who brought Noah his olive branch after thirty days of flooding; you can hear everything of the sea in the dying grass, if you're against the wind and high enough.
"It's chilling and fierce and over the ocean you see the storm, the storm that isn't really there but that screams from its confines inside the grass waiting to escape.
"And it stops and twists a bit and breaks and it's only then that you can hear voices of the hiker's on the hill, the children playing in the sand.
"If you've got a hot summer day, with the right kind of grass, and the right kind of wind, you can hear the ocean."
Jack puts the paper down. Oh, he thinks again. And then, without a script, when he opens his mouth, words come pouring out, slowly at first but then get faster until they stop.
"I've been there. With Pippa." Jack's voice cracks on the last word. That's why he was here, he thinks (the words come slowly at first) "It was a long time ago. It was the day I started writing. Pippa was full for the first time and there were pieces of trash everywhere and it was beautiful. That was the first thing I wrote."
Jack clears his throat (but then get faster). "I used to tell Pippa stories, all the time, if she started seeing things that weren't there, if the number were mean, if she was sad, but most often when we didn't have any food that night, when she was crying with hunger. She used to laugh at everything. I loved writing, because it was amazing how her entire mind would transform, transfixed by just a few words. I always, whenever I wrote – whenever I write – I speak to her, I tell Pippa stories and I try to make her laugh."
"She's gone now. Who am I going to make laugh now?"
There isn't dead silence because they have only rented half the park for the funeral, but there is a quiet so loud that you can almost hear and it blocks out the noise so completely that it's hard to remember that there is supposed to be something in this world beyond the silence.
"Pippa was always hopeful. She always wanted to have fun, to laugh. God, she was beautiful and hurting and broken and innocent and utterly perfect." Jack gives a laugh, remembering. "She'd have these terrible nightmares and she'd laugh. She taught me to laugh, because all Pippa wanted out of life was food and laughter."
"Pippa was the most important thing to me, and everything was about giving her exactly that. I get now that that isn't healthy behavior. I accept that I was out of control, that I was never really in control and that my reasons stopped being good a long time ago. I need to apologize, Pippa, for making you my excuse."
Jack looked up at the sky (until they stopped). "Because you don't deserve that, and I going to stop now. I'm going to stop making you my excuse. I'm not better than you, and I'm so, so, sorry."
And then, Jack laughs.
Shaking fiercely, like rice in a maraca, wind in a hummingbird's wings, a leaf in a tornado, Jack falls to his knees consumed by soundless laughter.
The laughter is painful and when it finally stops, it's been hours and Jack still hasn't stopped shaking yet, but he's finally crying and his friends fold around him like a shell (how long have they been like that?), hugging and rocking his frail, battered body as he sucks in deep, wet, shuddering breaths around the hole, ripped raw in his throat, as Jack finally collapses in on himself, finally breaks and snaps in half.
The tears, even after he's stopped shuddering and trembling and gasping and hurting, don't stop. They trickle down his cheeks, squeeze out of his swollen eyes and it's painful, poison forced out but still lingering and sinking back into his skin, ceaselessly.
His friends don't leave him, and Jack spends the nine and a half hours after the eleven-thirty reception sitting in the dirt in front of Pippa's grave.
Jack starts to get better – really better – after that.
"I like that ending better," Dr. Bennett tells Jack, lightly nudging his shoulder with the flat of her palm.
"It's true, right?" Jack asks, and his voice is cracks on the last word, like he tried for careless and gave up half way through.
Dr. Bennett smiles at him and doesn't lie. "I don't know. You tell me."
For a second, there is fear and there is desperation and there is hunger and there is self-loathing attacking each other behind the walls of Jack's eyes, but it's only a second and then they are gone.
His chin sets determinedly and his eyes clear. "I will be, Dr. Bennett," he tells her. "Yes."