"Sorry, mother, it doesn't fit."
"I got it in your size, Granty," Grant's mother said firmly. "Try it on again and see if it really doesn't fit."
Grant O'Reilly tried it on. He knew very well that it wouldn't fit, and it didn't. The coat was tight across the shoulders and his wrists stuck three inches of cuff out past the sleeves. He had gotten used to this kind of thing. His mother had bought all his clothes for the wedding, and as usual she had assumed he was younger than he was and gotten everything too small. This time it was serious. It was Sunday, and they had come a long way out of town for his wedding in this small church where Lucy's aunts and uncles and cousins had been married. There was no chance of buying or renting a morning coat.
He looked at himself in the mirror, trying to see himself in the eyes of Lucy's poised and influential relatives. No, it wouldn't do. Lucy would be dismayed, ashamed of him with his wrists sticking out like a gawky farm boy. He tried to tug the sleeves down. Today of all days, he had to look sophisticated, the way Lucy liked him to be.
His reflection stared back calfishly from the pier glass and made the same plucking gestures at the jacket cuffs. He didn't really like this tall, thin young fellow with the ash-blond hair. The eyebrows were so light that they were almost invisible, giving the face a gentle, saintly expression. When he was away from mirrors he always imagined himself stronger and darker--the fit husband and defender of a lovely woman like Lucy.
Lucy! A warm glow flushed his face at the thought of her. It was more of a physical thought than a spiritual one and he felt that it somehow didn't belong in church. He turned from the glass and tried to shrug off the jacket and the thought at the same time.
Herb Collomb slumped in his chair against the far wall and puffed composedly on his ancient pipe. The strength in his solid form gave Grant a feeling of security--the same way it had done all the way through college. They had roomed together and graduated together. It was only fitting that Herb be his best man. Herb grinned around his pipe and Grant was surprised to find himself grinning back.
The vestry window was open and a warm breath of spring air blew in. A bird was singing somewhere outside; the whole world seemed very wonderful to Grant.
Then he looked at the ill-fitting coat he held in his hand and felt the unhappy tension building up inside himself. How could he get a new coat? But it was already too late to do anything; he could hear the warming-up notes of the organ and the shuffling feet of the guests entering the chapel. He muttered a repressed damn. "Don't swear, Grant. I'm sure Lucy would be very hurt if she heard you talk like that. She's from a very good family."
"I'm sorry, mother."
"That's right, dear. I always want to be proud my son is a gentleman."
Herb dropped his pipe and picked it up, looking somewhat red in the face.
Grant tried to smile, and then felt the old, sinking change coming. He tried to stop it. No, not now! Why did it have to be now? Once or twice in his life--by a great effort--he had managed to postpone an attack when its timing was bad.
But he would not be able to hold it back through the entire wedding. Better to get it over with and not spoil the wedding later. All he had to do was to get away from the voices and eyes and be alone for awhile. There was a thin ringing in his ears, coming closer. He stopped fighting it and let it come.
"There's ten minutes yet," he said, hastily over the singing in his ears and the feeling of growing distance between himself and all others. "I'm going to step out in the fresh air a moment."
There was a comfortable old graveyard outside, with slanted stones and long green grass and a gnarled peach tree in full bloom. It was cut off from the outside world and the passage of time by a high stone wall. The side door of the vestry opened to a little flagged path that curved around the building, away from the observing eyes of windows. A private place for a moment at least.
"I have to avoid excitement," Grant thought, letting the door shut behind him. It was too late to avoid it now; he'd have to take his medicine. Anyone watching would have seen Grant's lips curl back from his teeth in an unhappy grimace that showed irregular canine teeth and changed his angelic appearance to a rather pleasant animal look, like a blond bird dog. He wandered on, past thought with the pounding in his head, unconsciously seeking a sheltered spot to let go. He found it, a deep right angle in the stone wall where it turned. He blundered off the path and into it and leaned forward against the wall, propped himself in a corner and waited for the petite mal, the time of stone-like unconsciousness.
There was no knowing how much time had passed, but the sudden pressure was gone and the thin ringing in his ears, and he could see and hear and feel again. He leaned there a moment longer, grateful for the cool roughness of the stone against his forehead, thankful that he was not the kind who fell down and thrashed around. He could go stand quietly in the bathroom with the door shut and not frighten Lucy with it when they were married.
The sickness had deprived him of the games of childhood, hedged him around with the watchful care of his mother. It had taken away his freedom to risk and dare, leaving him only the second-hand adventures of poetry and books, but he was not going to let it take his marriage away from him. His hard-learned ability to feel the fit coming would let him live a normal life and earn money as an architect without his clients ever seeing anything wrong with him. With warning enough, there was always a quiet place where he could go to have an attack.
He turned and looked out across the greenness of the deep grass and the old stone wall with the small sandstone tombstones slanting right and left; everything was more vivid, as if sight were cleansed.
There was a window above his head and he could hear his mother's voice trickling out, very clear and distant, like a memory. "Granty has fits, you know. If he gets excited, that is. It took me a great deal of trouble to get him exempted from athletics at all his schools without saying what his trouble was. His father had fits, too; they began after we were married. Such a sweet man. It runs in the family. They're sensitive, you know."
He ignored the unhappy feeling the words gave him and told himself that everything she did was for his good. She would take care of the jacket, too; she always fixed things so they came out the right way. He stood up to return inside.
Then he saw it.
It was long and white and huge. It was like a giant bar or an elephant's tusk stretching across the sky from horizon to horizon. One instant it was as far away as eternity; the next it was swooping down towards him. He couldn't tell where that awareness came from, but he knew it was true. It was coming directly towards him. It was like being on the tracks in front of an express train.
Before he could scream--before the thought that formed the scream was fully born--it was too late. It struck without impact--softly with a sudden sensation of tremendous motion.
The world vanished. In his eye he could see the after-image of the graveyard, the orange of the grass and the red of the sky. The bright colors slowly faded and were replaced by nothing.
That was the only word that described the sensations he felt. At first his mind went out in an expanding spiral of fear, then contracted back to something like sanity. He felt nothing, he heard nothing. What he saw was puzzling until he realized it was no-color. It was also not black. It was nearest to gray, a gray fog of velvet that pressed in on him from all sides.
With a heart-stopping shock he realized that he wasn't breathing. But his heart couldn't stop, because it wasn't beating. All the functions of his body were dead.
I am dead.
The thought had been scratching at the surface of his mind and now it gibbered its way in. His tightly held thoughts collapsed and his mind screamed out in madness.
There was no measurement of time or duration, so Grant had no idea how long the period lasted. It could have been years or seconds, but slowly it ebbed away. After the insanity came thoughts, but they helped no more than the madness; he had no idea where he was nor what had happened.
After the thoughts came boredom, and this lasted for eternity. His mind became like his body and he hung there in the unchanging gray fog, changeless himself, and waited.