Watching Glass Shatter
Chapter 1 – Ben & Olivia
Present, Memorial Day Weekend
Sitting in the backseat of his steel-gray Mercedes-Benz sedan, Ben switched the mobile phone to his other ear and removed the seatbelt out of his way, loath to strap himself in for any length of time. When its band rested tightly across his chest, he struggled to breathe, preferring instead to trust in his long-time chauffeur's driving abilities more than a piece of nylon fabric hinged to a pulley. “I'm in the car heading toward you. I should arrive in twenty minutes.”
“Still happily married to the woman of your dreams?” Olivia's lyrical voice echoed on the phone.
“Ah, my beautiful Olivia. The last forty years have been amazing. There's so much ahead of us and still to come.”
“I love you more than yesterday.”
“But not as much as tomorrow.” He played along enjoying their frivolous banter.
“Please get to the party soon. It's not any fun when I'm dancing a rumba by myself. Remember when we crashed into the instructor while taking those silly dance lessons, and she yelled at us for being fools? Oh, I never laughed so hard.”
“Ha, yes! We are quite the pair. No wife of mine should ever dance alone. At least not while I can prevent it.” Ben glanced through the car window, surprised by the speed of the muddy water cascading down the mountains as his chauffeur took the exit to their country club in Brandywine, Connecticut. “I believe tonight is the first time the whole family has been together since last Christmas. Am I right?”
“Yes, they're all here now reminding me so much of the you I remember from our early days.” Olivia sighed and waited for Ben to respond.
Ben's thoughts drifted while lightning crackled in the sky, and rain pounded the black-tarred roads around him. “Time flies by too quickly, Olivia.”
“You've got a few months left, then you'll retire and have nothing but time to be a grandfather and a father doling out advice. Even if they don't want to listen to us. They never do, do they? Wishing you could turn back the clock. At least we can finally take our trip to Europe…” She paused. “Are you still there, Ben?”
Ben snapped from the storm's hypnotic trance upon hearing Olivia's rising voice. “I'm sorry. Recalling their antics over the years distracted me. I don't know how we survived five boys.”
Ben heard her beautiful snicker–about to tell Olivia he loved her–when the car swerved as it neared the final exit on the slick asphalt curve, unaware traffic had come to a full stop ahead. He dropped the phone from the unplanned change in direction, grabbed it from under the front passenger seat, and raised his head.
Ben's heartbeat and breath paused significantly longer than usual, enough to recognize the encroaching overpass column directly in his purview and to accept the impending fate laid before him.
Whoever said life flashes before one's eyes in your final moments never lived to truly describe it. In Ben's case, although they only lasted ten explosive seconds, those moments managed to include all sixty-nine years of his existence, each image punctuated by a blinding flash of pure white light and deafened by the harsh snapping sound of an old-time camera shutter.
CRUNCH. Grinding squeal. Bright light glimmers in a dark vacuum.
The enchanting depth of Olivia's cerulean blue eyes the night they first met at the opera. Their wedding day when he truly understood what it meant to find one's soulmate.
SNAP. Utter blackness, followed by a perforated vibrant glow.
The Thanksgiving feast spent at the hospital when his sister-in-law, Diane, broke her foot trying to avoid dropping the turkey on Bailey, their ten-year-old Shiba dog. Seeing his granddaughters nestled in tiny pink blankets when his sons brought them home the first day.
POP. Sharp, dark void. High pitch release of pressure, then a translucent shining flash.
The white-water rafting adventure on the Snake River in Yellowstone National Park where his boys rescued him from falling into the cold water only to stumble upon an angry moose searching for dinner. The final family portrait taken the prior year when everyone wore shades of black and white for a retro-style Christmas card setting.
BOOM. Screeching whistle. Bright light fades to total darkness.
The parchment letters which held the secret he kept from Olivia, pawned off on his attorney to handle once anxiety and fear defeated any chance of Ben telling his wife the truth in person.
The car hydroplaned atop a few inches of the warm, pooling rain and crashed into the steel overpass. The collision immediately torpedoed him through the front windshield, shattering what was the well-lived but haunted life of Benjamin Glass.
A final burst of the bulb's filament into jagged shards.
* * *
Despite Olivia's tendencies to lead and control, she'd little ability to plan Ben's funeral services on her own. Diane recognized her sister's fragile grip on reality teetered on the edge, volunteering to go with Olivia to the funeral home to manage most of the phone calls, selections, catering, and organizing.
Choosing Ben's burial clothing served as the only funeral activity Olivia handled without any help. After pocketing an hour's worth of sleep and waking up alone the morning after the accident, she accepted his death was anything but a dream. The restless night highlighted a comfort she didn't know how much she had relied until stolen by fate. Olivia thrust her tired body out of their bed, walked to the closet, and pushed a slew of hangers across the sleek metal rod reminiscing while passing each suit as though every year of their lives disappeared before her weary eyes. She searched for the one he'd worn to the Met's opening opera the prior year. After weeks of shopping that summer, she'd finally convinced him to expand his horizons with a new designer, selecting a modern-cut, three-button black wool suit adorning him better than any other had fit in the past. Even Ben had admitted she chose correctly. And he'd rarely admit so, given she'd laud it over him teasing Ben for days. They enjoyed their game of one-upmanship over the years, but now days later, she knew it was lost forever.
The final burial service ended thirty minutes earlier, and although everyone else had left, she stayed behind for her own last goodbye. Olivia's memory focused on the somber tones that had serenaded the lowering of Ben's casket six feet into the ground. Once the skirl of the bagpipes blasted its sorrowful resonance, Olivia, standing a few feet from Ben's freshly open grave, could no longer thwart the wrecking ball that planned to decimate any remaining strength. The slow, melodic sound sliced away at the newly loosened threads once tasked with keeping her heart intact and sheltered from acknowledging a widow's pain. Her battered eyes betrayed any remaining fortitude she'd stored deep within her body, and as the chords of “Amazing Grace” resounded from the chanter pipe, the cords of her soul, once intricately woven into Ben, ripped from Olivia's chest. The flood of tears from her stinging red eyes trailed her cheeks as she walked to the car leaving behind a single set of prints that marked an unknown future.
As she stepped off the cemetery's grassy path, she pulled a black cashmere sweater closer toward her shivering skin to halt the biting frost growing deep within her bones. Ben always said her true beauty glimmered when she wore black and gray, complimenting her on the elegant silhouette against her ivory skin and dark sable hair. She kept her shiny locks shoulder length, usually tied back with a clip, and although gray had appeared the last year, the varying shades were regal and striking on her patrician face.
Olivia pressed her palm to her chest and lowered her head until she'd emptied a few layers of grief. She opened the car door and slid across the back seat next to Diane.
All that remained before her impending post-Ben world began was to tell her driver he could leave the cemetery, but uttering those words felt impossible. As if Diane sensed the struggle within her sister, she leaned forward and motioned to the driver to start the car, allowing Olivia a few moments to accept the beginning of her new life. While the car served as a false protection from the reality waiting outside the doors to its passengers, it also evoked a budding nostalgia.
“I'm so sorry, Mrs. G. He was a good man.” Victor had been her driver for twenty-five years taking her to each child's pediatric appointments, all her charitable foundation work, and every dinner with friends and family. “I'll take care of you today, Mrs. G.” He checked the rearview mirror and nodded when he saw Olivia's eyes, a quiet acknowledgment she'd heard his words. They sat in silence as Victor released the brake and inched the car away from Olivia's latest prison.
Olivia and Diane had come from a poor upstate New York family where they shared a bed until they were nine years old, later pushed out of the door to work as housekeepers by age thirteen. Their parents told them only enough money existed for one to go to college, even if they could secure a scholarship to pay for most of it, and Olivia earned the lucky windfall. Diane believed school held no importance to her appearing content to remain in the small comforts of her home. Supporting her sister seemed easier for Diane than choosing her own path in life, focusing on anything but what she ought to do for herself.
“It was a beautiful ceremony.” Diane relaxed into the car seat. “The cherry tree you planted alongside the grave was touching, Liv. You've created a lifetime of memories for your family.”
“Is everyone else at the house?” Olivia pressed her fingers to her temple, pacified by the warm blood swimming through each one under her clammy skin.
“Yes, they're setting up lunch. Only your boys will be there. We've spent enough time with friends and neighbors. I even asked George to stay away, so I could help you without worrying about him.”
George, Diane's soon-to-be ex-husband, had attended Ben's funeral service and conveyed his sterile condolences to Olivia. Though he'd been married to Diane for thirty years, George barely knew his wife's family, not ever having an interest in other people's children nor any of his own. Diane had finally grown tired of his cavalier attitude and vigilant penchant for ignoring their marriage, requesting a divorce earlier that spring.
“That was a good idea. You really should have dumped that unfortunate man years ago.” Olivia placed her hand on Diane's noticing the age spots more prominently displayed on her sister's than her own. Her voice stammered, but she held firm until finishing her thoughts. “Thank you for everything you've done for me these last few days.”
Despite being a few years younger, most people assumed Diane was at least a decade older than Olivia. She'd grown out her hair the last few years and tightly braided it to her lower back, wearing the same dress as she had to her nephews' weddings and other recent funerals. She hated to spend any time fussing with her appearance. “It's a shame Ben's brother couldn't make the funeral.”
Ben was the youngest of several siblings. When Olivia called her brother-in-law, he could barely even speak on the phone from the impacts of grief and his aging mind. His children stopped in for the wake but chose not to stay for the graveside burial.
“No, his family has withered. Ben only had us left. It's unbearable for our children to go through this agony. You first focus on your own pain but watching them suffer steals all remaining breaths.”
Diane fumbled with the clasp on her purse and handed Olivia a tissue. “And without any warning. It's awful, but you'll know how to help them through it.”
“I can see the pain in Ethan's eyes, but he's strong and will grieve privately. He'll miss Ben the most. Ethan's always been so focused on spending time with all of us, his grandparents… oh, I can't…” Olivia dabbed her eyes with the tissue.
“It's such a shame to lose his father when he's so close to becoming a doctor. Ben would have been so proud when Ethan fulfills his dreams.”
Olivia nodded. “Matthew had to tell his daughters their grandfather died. They're too young to understand, but it was dreadful for him to show them Ben's casket. He keeps talking about all the father-son weekends fishing and camping at Lake Wokagee. They'd planned another one this summer.”
“They loved those trips. Well, maybe not all of them.”
“That's true. Theodore has alienated himself from us even more than usual the last few months.”
Theodore was Ben and Olivia's eldest son, and though she would always call him by his proper name, everyone else chose Teddy. Ben had groomed him to take over the law practice at the end of the year, coaching his son on how to act as a stronger, more respected leader and to become a less antagonistic man. Teddy's actions were always packaged with a rough edge, and the tone of his words and speech pattern sounded robotic. Although Teddy had shown up to football Sundays and movie nights, interacting with his family always resembled more of an obligation rather than an enjoyment.
The car turned passing the corner where Ben had always dropped off the boys for the school bus in the morning on his way to work. A few heavy drops fell from Olivia's eyes. She let them roll across her cheeks, reluctant to grant them total control. She imagined Ben lining each son side by side, inspecting his loyal soldiers, and patting their heads as he christened each one ready to begin his day.
“At least Caleb is back for a few more days.” Diane rubbed her sister's shoulder. “You'll get to spend more time with him.”
Caleb had only agreed to attend the anniversary party the prior weekend after much pressure, but he stayed in Connecticut for the funeral to grieve for his father's passing. Olivia once thought Caleb would stay home with her and Ben when they grew older, but abandoned hope when he disappeared to Maine ten years earlier.
“Caleb's hurting. I know my son. I wish he weren't all alone. He needs someone to lean on… a girlfriend, a wife. The guilt over living so far away must be consuming him.”
“Caleb is strong like you in so many ways holding back to protect himself from the intensity of it all. I'm sure he's got friends to look out for him. What about Zach? Are you still worried he's using…”
Olivia interrupted. “He drove back to Brooklyn last night for work. I heard him arrive early this morning. Zachary's actions are always unclear.”
Olivia thought Zach often spiraled out of control when he left his five-year-old daughter in her and Ben's care unsure of what trouble he'd engaged in. She and Zach hadn't been close the last few years, and despite a few attempts at a reconciliation, it always proved futile.
“Five boys without a father. We should have had more time.” Olivia leaned forward and reached a hand to the front seat to sturdy herself. Her head sloped toward the floor of the car when her voice cracked.
Diane rested her head on her sister's back. “I know, Liv, but you'll support them. You'll remind them of Ben, and they'll find a way to get through their grief. It takes time. Pain is different for everyone. You need to replace it with memories of something positive.”