This is a book about death, the unexpected cruel death of good people. A crash takes the lives of two elderly people, Joe and Martha Silver, and a mother, Beth McNair, and her 11 month old daughter Sabrina. Joe accidentally kills them when he has a heart attack while driving. The deaths cause upheavals in the lives of three people who loved them dearly: Ken, Beth's husband and Sabrina's father, Matt, Beth's brother, and Lilly, the Silvers' grand daughter. In searching to find meaning in their deaths and how to continue living despite suffering, they react differently. Ken is filled with rage and hatred, Matt is resilient and philosophical, and Lilly is overcome with depression. Eventually Ken, Lilly, and Matt find peace by dedicating their lives to honoring the memories of their loved ones. Matt and Lilly marry and have a child to affirm the continuation of life.
Although the torrential rain had stopped, visibility was still limited by the blowing diaphanous mist engulfing the bridge. Fog bleached everything, including flame red cars, fluorescent yellow cars, and even pearly white cars, turning them all shades of gray. The car lights cast an eerie glow, reminiscent of the days of Jack the Ripper in London in the 1800’s.
Joe hated driving over the rickety Cooper River Bridge that connected Mount Pleasant to Charleston. He wished there was an overland route he could take that wouldn’t add an hour to his travel time. His hands moistened on the steering wheel as he crept along in the lane farthest from the edge of the bridge. He wondered why there was so much traffic on the bridge on an early Sunday morning. It was probably due to the rainy, foggy weather that had plagued the area all weekend.
When Joe had no choice but to drive in the lane next to the edge, he feared that a mysterious force might sweep the car over the side rail into the Cooper River where he would be devoured by sharks, even though sharks had never been sighted in the river. When traffic tie-ups forced him to wait in this lane, he imagined a huge slimy octopus rising up over the bridge railing and wrapping its tentacles around cars and tossing them into the river. It was a sight straight out of a Japanese horror film even though Joe had never seen such a movie.
Oddly even after he was off the bridge, Joe still felt uncomfortable on his usual Sunday drive to services at Charleston Methodist Church. He hadn’t felt right since he got up that morning, but he hadn’t said anything to Martha because she would have fussed over him and insisted that he get checked by a doctor instead of going to church. They both loved going to church, rarely missing a Sunday. The comforting rituals and prayers, the shared companionship of good people of faith, and the history emanating from the walls of the 200 year old building infused them with strength and peace. When they were at services, they felt that they were actually in God’s presence. They especially liked Don Smith, the pastor, whose sermons filled them with spirituality. They made it a point to attend christenings even if they didn’t know the families because they liked the idea of starting babies out on a holy life. They felt that someday these babies would make the world a better place because of their faith.
Joe was having difficulty ignoring a feeling of queasiness and pain in his upper left arm and back which he attributed to playing 18 rounds of golf the previous day. He was certain that these symptoms would disappear once he entered the church. He never considered the possibility that he was having a heart attack, even though he had received some troubling results from recent medical tests.
When Joe exited the bridge, he saw the usual group of idle black men loitering in front of run-down buildings on garbage-strewn streets in this undesirable section of Charleston. Most were drinking booze concealed in paper bags. Joe wondered how anyone, even alcoholics, could drink alcohol so early in the morning. Maybe they were just continuing last night’s drinking. He also wondered where they got the money for booze. He was sure they weren’t working so they were either using illegal means or using government money, his tax money, to support their addiction.
He really felt that these people should be relocated so they weren’t the first thing people saw when they entered Charleston. These people didn’t represent the real Charleston, the Charleston Joe loved. He was leery that one of the men might attack his precious Mercedes. Although he knew this was unlikely, he kept his car doors locked just in case. He avoided eye contact with the men, keeping his eyes glued straight ahead, hoping that they would ignore him too. He hoped that by not looking at them, he could deny their existence.
He felt more comfortable as he drove into the historic district of Charleston. Now Joe’s eyes strayed from the road to embrace the clean streets, the grand houses, the lush vegetation, and the friendly people. He felt that this was the real Charleston, the true Charleston.
Although the streets in the city were almost empty, Joe drove carefully. With age, he’d become more cautious, ever vigilant for potential sources of accidents, especially because he didn’t want to mar his silver Mercedes-Benz sedan. He doted on his car as if it were his pampered child, always having it washed and serviced even when it wasn’t necessary. His granddaughter, Lilly, teased him that he loved his car as much as he loved his grandkids, maybe even more.