Some Questions Are Best Left Unanswered!
In the small tight knit mountain community of Wishram, tucked away in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State were no more than 20 weathered cabins. At the edge of this little town were the railroad tracks of the only link over the mountains, connecting eastern Washington to western Washington. Day and night long trains carrying box cars loaded with products, fuel, automobiles, lumber and grain passed through.
Wishram’s only business in town was the Ridge Top Cafe, a rest stop for the train crews to eat and see family. It was a chance for families to be reunited for a short time with their husbands, fathers, brothers, cousins and grandfathers. It was a time of laughter, hugs and long missed kisses before the engineer, blew the train whistle three times. All those who ate their meal talked faster and more excitedly as they glanced up at the Union Pacific clock behind the counter.
They shared a common bond. They were simple folks, good folks. The type of people who lived and sadly died proudly. They asked little of others would give the shirt off their back to help someone and never complained. They took care of each other the best they could. Perhaps you could call it fate, the hand of God, or just pure chance that in Wishram, two totally different individual’s lives would come together and in that most unlikely moment one would live and sadly, one would die.
Joshua was 19, a tall lanky boy who had fallen on his head as a child many years before and the injury to his head left him with the mental comprehension of a 10 year old. City folks would have called Joshua ‘The Town Idiot.’ Or ‘The Retard.’ but everyone here loved Joshua. To bring him happiness, a sense of purpose and sense of accomplishment, we gave him a tin star that said Sheriff.
With flashlight in hand and a smile, Joshua patrolled the three dirt streets in Wishram looking for danger or ways to help anyone. Emily though wasn’t quite so lucky. She was just eight and in all respects could win the hearts of the coldest, uncaring person. Her long golden blonde hair could almost reach her waist now. Her deep blue eyes could reach clear into your heart and find tears not yet cried.
She was born crippled from a birth defect that affected her ability to walk. She could hobble with her cane, but it was always a chore for her to get around. A chore she never once complained about in her short life. Her speech was slurred severely and often times we had to guess what she was trying to ask for or what she wanted to do. This was heart breaking for Emily and to all of us who waited on her every need.
But you'd never find another fifty-one people of all ages who loved her more. It was clear to all of us that Joshua loved her and would never hurt her. But we were always careful to watch Joshua when he was around her. Sometimes Joshua had seizures and well, we weren't afraid of what he might do as much as worried he might fall on her or knock something over on her.
There weren’t any electric power lines to Wishram. The railroad company supplied us with generators and the fuel to run them. We had no phones either. Well, not the kind with a cord. But we did have cell phones. We had TV’s, radio and though rustic by many a person's standard we were happy. There was no crime, few disputes and each of us had their part to play in keeping everything going smoothly.
In the spring, the forest comes alive with vibrant colors, in the summer time; days are lazy as deer shyly grazed near the meadow whiles eagles soared above the trees. In the fall the leaves looked like they are on fire with colors of gold, red and orange so bright what you’d see takes your breath away. In the winter, well, it’s a winter wonderland as we use struggle to push the snow off our roofs, just to do it over time and time again.
But it was May right now and no one seemed to have a care in the world. Engine number 4216 would be arriving in oh, maybe just under two hours if they didn't encounter any landslides across the tracks or a herd of stubborn elk refusing to step out of the way. The cafe was a buzz of excitement because on the train in addition to the three regular crew members were three more kin folk all returning from Iraq.
It had been their first tour and tears were flowing freely as the mother's, daughters and wives hugged each other grateful they came back unhurt. Even Joshua understood why this day was special to everyone. What we all didn't know was why this day would also be one of sadness. The Ridge Top Cafe looked like a typical small town food place except for all the railroad memorabilia displayed on the walls.
Even the large clock behind Mary, the only waitress had a scene of a train crossing the mountains. Near the door to the left was a special area made just for Emily. It was near the window and allowed her to look outside and see the world, her small world. We always took delight no matter how busy we seemed to be for Emily if we heard her trying to explain what she suddenly had seen out ‘her window.’
A speech therapist had worked with Emily, oh for maybe three years now but she had reached a plateau so we were told. Her progress probably wasn’t going to get any better. I had faith though that she would become better with her speech impairment in time. You wouldn't expect to find a common bond between Emily and Joshua but there was though none of us could quite tell you what it was.
But there it was none the less. It couldn't be ignored. It was seen and felt. While Emily's life was predictable, planned and monitored for her safety. On the other hand, Joshua's day was always filled with responsibility. He had the job of making sure that there were no robber's, no fires and that if there was something that might cause an accident that he would come tell Mary.
We also had a brass bell to the right of the front door of the café that was used to signal everyone in Wishram if there was a serious emergency. I was glad to say, few times was it ever heard. Most of us here due to necessity had four wheel drive vehicles, though nary a one was new or expensive. We weren't hillbillies by no account. We were just good folks living a quiet country life.
Some grew and tended large gardens and orchards while other's raised chickens. You might have labeled us homesteader's in a way because we lived with country in our blood. On this particular day the cafe was filled with many folk’s finishing up their breakfasts and the eight stools at the counter and the three tables were filled with chattering voices.
Emily was sitting at her table by the window with an empty plate in front of her as she peered out the window. One of the things that brought her joy was when she was able to catch a glimpse of a doe and her two baby fawn's coming out into the meadow to graze. When she saw them or thought she saw them, she’d make it known to everyone in the room hoping we too would come take a look.
This morning though, the momma doe and her two youngin’s came out into the meadow a different path almost out of Emily's view. But Emily did see them and her eyes filled with anxious delight as she struggled to stand and lean to her left, straining to see better. Her hand was at the edge of the table for support and her weight caused the table to flip over.
Emily fell to the floor hitting her head as blood gushed onto her dress. Everyone was in a panic and people were screaming as we rushed to her. Darlene ran to the front porch pushing the door open with a bang as she shook the alarm bell. Beth was the one who had the most knowledge about first aid and medicine but she wasn't in the cafe. I cradled Emily's head in my arms as I held a towel against her forehead watching the towel turn red.
The bell rang and rang and rang. A signal that whatever the problem was everyone was needed no matter what they were doing or where they were. Joshua was busy picking up some glass from a broken bottle he had found. When he heard the sound of the bell, he did what he and everyone else was taught to do, to come running. By the time Joshua had gotten to the cafe, many others had reached the cafe ahead of him.
He could hear the panicked, frightened voices. He could hear a mother's frantic crying. Joshua wiggled and nudged and pushed his way through the crowd of family and friends until he could see part of Emily’s body on the floor. He was crying just like many of the others and he pushed forward harder and then between two people's feet he crawled his way through to Emily.
He tried to reach out his hand to Emily but someone pushed it back and told him, "No, Joshua. Emily's hurt. You can't touch her right now." Beth had seen Emily’s injury just minutes before Joshua arrived and she was on her way back with a large first aid kit used for medical emergencies. Someone saw Joshua try to place his hand upon Emily's head and he wouldn’t be deterred.
He brushed aside Harold's hand and ignored the order for him to stop and managed to place his hand upon the blood drenched towel on Emily's head. Suddenly the room was so quiet a pin could have fell to the floor and been heard as Emily's entire body emitted a soft glow of light. It was a moment of comfort in everyone's mind, not one of anger or confusion.
Maybe it was just shock for all of us to see what was happening. I really can't tell you what we felt. I do know the first noise I heard was the steps of Beth as she burst through the front door. Everyone, I found out later had moved or stepped aside until Beth had a clear path to Emily. When Beth saw Joshua's hand upon Emily's head and her body glowing, she stopped where she was in shock, in shock like the rest of us.
Emily was awake now and her eyes were looking into Joshua's eyes and she had a wonderful smile upon her face. Joshua though seemed to be dying. His arm was beginning to shake, to slip and to weaken. Perhaps that was why Emily placed her small hand on top of his hand. I wish I could tell you the happiness I saw in both their eyes at that moment. Emily's eyes began to fill with tears as she shook her head no and tried her best to speak.
"Please don't go Joshua, please don't go!" she stuttered. Tears were falling upon her dress sleeve from her eyes as Joshua slumped forward and we watched the glow around Emily fade away. Beth rushed up to Joshua and she reached around and lifted Joshua’s body off of Emily. Beth felt for a pulse. Anguish was written all over her face when she cried out, “Oh my God, Joshua's dead!" She laid him gently upon the floor as others helped Emily.
The room was deathly quiet as I leaned back and watched Beth carefully look under the towel. Emily had suffered a long gash across her forehead but all that remained was the scar. Her injury had been healed, unexplainably by Joshua. Everyone had witnessed something that wasn't possible, that couldn't be explained. Joshua in some supernatural or spiritual way had given his life to heal Emily.
As if that in itself weren’t a miracle blessed by God, what happened next was truly a miracle. As Emily's mother held her in her arms crying, Emily looked up into her mother's eyes and said, "Momma I'm okay, please don't cry momma." Emily had spoken her words perfectly and clearly for the first time in her life. Those words that made everyone's jaw drop to the floor.
Emily placed her hand on her mother's cheek and once more asked her momma not to cry. With the love that grows between a mother and daughter, Emily was held close and rocked in her mother's arms. Someone had left the cafe in the mean time and came back with Joshua's favorite blanket off his bed. It was a Sheriff blanket he received for Christmas 3 years earlier from a deputy.
It was placed over his body gently as tears flowed freely. “Joshua is dead isn't he momma?" Emily asked in a tearful voice. All Emily’s mother could do was shake her head yes. “He talked to me momma, the whole time he had his hand on my head." Everyone looked confused at each other as Emily's mother began to speak. “Honey, Joshua never spoke a word. He just looked down at you smiling." she said.
As Emily looked up at everyone’s blank staring faces, she was adamant. "Joshua was talking to me the whole time he had his hand on my head momma, I remember every word he said. He told me not to be afraid and to not cry because this was a special day for me. A day he wanted me to promise him I wouldn't forget him. Momma, I promised him I wouldn't forget him." Emily said as her eyes filled with tears.
Not a person in that cafe had heard Joshua or Emily speak a word. Yet for reasons no one could explain, Joshua had given his life in a magical and mysterious way in order to save Emily’s life. Slowly Emily's mother helped her to her feet and the table and chair were placed upright. "You just sit down Emily and I’ll get your cane for you." Emily’s momma told her daughter. The next words stunned Emily spoke everyone in the café even more.
"Look momma, I don't need that old cane anymore!" she said in a surprised voice. If anyone in that little cafe didn't believe in miracles before, I swear they did at that moment because there Emily stood stomping her foot on the floor. The same foot that had made her lead a crippled life since her birth. The world is full of Joshua’s and Emily’s.
Times when one person touches the life of another and sometimes gives up their life, in order to save another.
©2006 Raymond Cook (All rights reserved)
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