PROLOGUE

 

    I fell. It was a long fall, although it started at ground level. I had meant to soar for a time, but that was vanity. More or less, I simply plummeted. Not at all the graceful flight of a spiraling bird. And, were anyone to have borne witness, rather undignified, I imagine, was my descent from way up there at the canyon's South Rim, to here. For my part, a trapdoor-terror blocked any concern I might have had about the aesthetics. I remember only a short-lived rush of air before impact. Then a shock of exquisite finality. Now this... consciousness? Or its reverberation. How an afterthought could survive such a nose dive is perhaps the first clue that my pre-launch assumptions were a tad faulty. I should be dead. In fact, all indications are that I am, indeed, dead—which contradicts my evident ability to render this account. Certainly few of my bones remain unbroken. My toes point in opposite directions, my knees are spread, my legs are limply bent in a collapsed pliť. One arm dangles from the hang glider's harness at an unnatural angle, dislocated at the elbow. The other arm mingles with prickly pear spines. Looks grotesque. Looks excruciating, but isnít—thereby confirming my pronouncement of termination... unless the accordion configuration of my backbone signifies paralysis, and this total lack of sensation is only death's counterfeit. Iím sure, though, Iíve stopped breathing. Blood has coagulated. Heartbeats are silent—as are my immediate surroundings. No sounds, no smells, no tastes, no textures. Nothing except sight; I do see myself. The question is: from what vantage point? My vision seems disembodied, somehow. I can eye my own glazed eyeballs; there's a first. But the detachment is incomplete, some tether still existing between corpse and... soul? Ordinarily, I would dismiss such a notion. Brains store electrochemical energy; maybe mine is in the final throes of expending its charge. On the other hand, Iíve been lying here inert for quite some time. By now, a spasm of posthumous mental activity should have shorted out. Whereas mine is gaining oomph, the proof being a much sharper focus. That wing strut, for example, with its crippled aluminum and lacerated nylon skin, arches into view like an epitaph: HERE LIES A FOOL, reads its twisted hieroglyphic. Amen. I was in reasonably good shape—for a seventy-year-old—prior to my impersonation of a tail-spun kite. I committed suicide because I said I would, not because of infirmity, depression, or feeblemindedness. Mine was an act of cantankerous self-determination, scripted years earlier in a short story I composed entitled ďĒ. Inviolate therefore; IT WAS WRITTEN—alas the principle reason it came to pass. As if my conceit as an author superseded Nature taking its course. I might have hung on an additional ten, fifteen years. Chipped in another two-cents' worth. Honored my vows to Yayuk. Ooo, Yayuk! My lawfully wedded wife will not approve. For her sake, I should have waited until some old-age-exploiting disease polished me off. Yayuk, who would have mopped my fevered brow, wiped my incontinent ass, will have to cope as best she can with my having abandoned her. If regret is an emotion native to these post-mortal parts, Iíll meet it on her account. Along with my comeuppance, I suppose, should I encounter likewise some fire and brimstone Deity. Not a one in sight, however... not yet, that is. Though it's early. Especially if this monologue amounts to more than the last-gasp cluck of a butchered chicken.
    That's odd. The nail on my left ring finger is black. Purple actually. Must have gotten pinched in the crumpled frame. Ouch; I can almost feel it throbbing. As if the epinephrine rush from dying were wearing off. Or is retrospective guilt inspiring the pang? Maybe conscience outlives its corporeal host; now there's a chilling thought. Do you, Sebastian Lazarus, take this woman to be your ever-loving wife? "I do if she does." Do you, Yayuk Widyani Kertanegara, take this man to be your ever-loving husband? "Who knows future?" That was about as committal as either of us was... back at the beginning... in Harmony, California... a minuscule town off Highway One near Big Sur where an empty, nondenominational chapel at the back of an artisan's complex provided us the opportunity to rehearse a hallowed walk down matrimony's aisle. A pair of children, we were, at play. Neither of us confident enough in the other's sincerity to trust that our Ďtacití promises would ever become binding. The beginning, but not really. I met Yayuk almost two years earlier on the isle of Java, her homeland—a story I shamelessly fictionalized, then passed off as gospel, in a previous novel. That book's sequel, which mostly took place on the continent of Africa, is what has come to mind presently... at the hour of my death. Why, I wonder? Is my ring finger's discoloration emblematic, the rottenness at its end signifying my return to an irrepressible egotism? Me, myself, and I, like lifelong sentries, have kept Sebastian Arnold Lazarus faithful to his solitude—hence faith-less to the one and only woman who slipped past our guard. How Ms. Yayuk Widyani Kertanegara-Lazarus managed to do that shall be the theme of this... obituary, I guess best describes it. Except mine is already longer than most. And, given the circumstances, longer than I probably deserve. Guilt again. You'd think a confirmed atheist could kick the bucket without his corpus delicti hanging around to reproach him. I should be dead, I repeat, i.e. permanently incommunicado... not reflecting upon some Ďpossibleí miscalculation.

 

CHAPTER ONE

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