Character: Zack Grant, “No Way Out”
Disclaimer: The following story has been written with no intention of claiming ownership or solicitation, nor does the author claim the movie character(s) as his/her own. The movie character(s) have been borrowed solely out of a love of the particular movie and is not intended for any other purpose but amusement and entertainment.
“I don’t know why I can’t let him in. All I know is that I can’t.”
It was the first time he had spoken in one of their meetings in ages. In fact, it was the first time he had said much at all since the beginning when he had spilled the whole story. Before they began and during breaks, he usually made small talk with a select few, but that was it.
There were looks of surprise, and even one lady gasped, the blue-rinsed one who always wore the black velvet hat with the veil.
The facilitator didn’t rush in to crowd him. Her role was merely to let the participants express what they were feeling and get feedback from each other.
There was such a long pause after he had voiced his trouble that Maggie thought she would have to jump in just to save him from the embarrassing silence.
Maggie had been coming to group now for six weeks. She had lost her daughter to cancer coming up two years now. The ache in her heart, even after all this time, never subsided.
Her family had pressured her to let out her grief and mourn in a way they thought of as normal and releasing. They meant well, but Maggie’s pain went too deep to put on a public spectacle of tears and lamenting. She finally had agreed to sit in on a one-time occasion at this bereavement group she had seen advertised in the back of her church bulletin.
By the end of that one session, she began to see that she was not the only one who suffered. Just by being with this small sample of people who all shared a loss in common, she was able to take some bit of comfort home with her and make it last, at least until the next day when she woke yet again with a broken heart and an emptiness that knew no boundaries.
Looking at the man who now was holding his head in his hands, she felt such an anger growing inside her that she trembled to think she might let it erupt and not be able to contain it. It wasn’t fair, she raved inwardly.
Almost as if he sensed her turmoil, Zack raised his head and looked straight into her eyes.
She wasn’t positive that she could shield her rage so she looked away at the coffee cart that was being wheeled in.
The facilitator called for a ten minute break.
Maggie stood up and hurried off to the washroom. Inside the cubicle, she attempted to suppress the dark emotions she was experiencing. It wasn’t right to blame the young man for what he had said.
She hadn’t heard him personally talk about it, but she had listened to others discuss how he had lost his wife. She had died during childbirth, a relatively rare thing these days, and he had been present to witness it all. His infant son though had survived.
Maggie wiped her eyes and stared at her image in the mirror. She didn’t look any different from yesterday. But somehow she knew if there was some way to cast a reflection of her spirit, she would find a hollow, shrivelled up corpse staring back at her.
Zack stood outside in the cold night air lighting up another cigarette. He had actually quit smoking five years ago but had started up again the moment he had attended his first group session.
To relive again and again Sam’s death was like a knife being constantly plunged into his chest. He had to do it though for Eric’s sake, for his son’s sake.
Zack had thought his demanding job would be enough to protect him, to stave off memories of her and their short life together. Fighting off the bad guys and making them pay for their crimes was still not enough. Nothing was ever enough to stop up the hole in his heart. It was Eric’s tiny little face wincing as Zack yelled at him once more for some small act of rebellion that drove him to try and seek help.
In the four walls of this room, he mainly listened to other people’s stories, but their agony had never touched him. He was too hardened. His career as a FBI agent had made him jaded to the every day violence, hatred and destruction he saw on the streets. What was one more death to him? He hadn’t cried in…he couldn’t remember when he had last shed a tear.
Zack heard the tell-tale shuffle of feet and the muffled strains of chit chat that signalled break was over. He flicked the butt of his cigarette, brushed a hand across his scraggly beard and prepared himself to go back inside.
As he took his seat, he saw the blonde middle-aged woman’s eyes shift to him and then dart away as his own made contact with hers. He couldn’t recall her name, but he knew she had lost a child. It was a daughter, he thought, not a youngster but a woman full-grown.
The leader was now speaking, and his thoughts drifted.
Their wedding day had been the happiest of his life. Sam had never looked more beautiful. Standing there in his tux, he had still been in a state of shock, not believing that this independent, radiant, intelligent and witty free spirit had actually consented to become his wife.
She had such a zest for life in everything she did. They had played hard and fought harder. Some of their knock-down drag-out fights had culminated in the most amazing make-up sex of their lives. In fact, it was after of one of their passionate battles that Eric had been conceived.
Sam, as always, threw herself with gusto into her pregnancy and avidly read up on the latest birthing techniques.
Zack had not been quite as enthusiastic. Sure, he wanted kids…some day. But right now, he just wanted Sam and the life the two of them had created. He didn’t want to share her with anybody just yet.
What Zack hadn’t known at the time was that Sam’s doctor had warned her to take it easy. She had a family history of difficult pregnancies. Her own mother had to stay in bed for the entire gestation period.
Sam had just laughed off the doctor’s dire alarms. After each checkup, she told Zack everything was proceeding by the book and that she felt fantastic.
Who was he not to believe her? She had been so happy.
During the final months, there had been problems with her blood pressure. She still refused to slow her life down. If he had only known then what was to come, he would have made damn sure that she stopped. He would have been firm and not let her jeopardize her health.
The day she went into labour, he had been on a stake out. By the time he raced to the hospital, she was already in the delivery room. Throwing on a mask and gown, he entered a war zone.
Both mother and baby were in distress. In a daze, he held onto Sam’s hand as the doctors and nurses surrounded her bed. The medical jargon went over his head: Toxaemia and Pre-Eclampsia meant little to him.
She was screaming out in pain. Zack just held on and echoed everyone’s words to hold out and fight.
It had got out of control. The monitors that were hooked up to her went wild, bleeping stridently and steadfastly. Zack remembered the worst: “We’re losing her.”
Soon Zack himself was shouting and shaking Sam violently. It was no use; she was gone and he was muscled out of the room.
Zack blinked quickly and was brought back to the present. People were getting up and putting their coats on. He reclined back in his chair, tipping it onto two legs, just enough for his head to hit the back wall. He closed his eyes, and when the leader approached him, he shot out of the chair before she could pin any empathy on him like a medal.
He made it to the parking lot and leaned over to retch. He thought everyone was gone.
Maggie watched as he was doubled over. She wanted to just get in her car and drive away, but she couldn’t leave anyone alone who was in that much torment.
“I’d like to say it gets better, but you and I both know I’d be lying.”
Zack slowly rolled himself back up. It was her, the woman who had been staring at him. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve.
“It took a lot for you to say what you did tonight”, Maggie continued.
Zack breathed in and out heavily. What did this woman want of him. He needed to be alone.
“How old is your son?”
He started walking to his car. “He’s nearly eight.”
Maggie followed behind. “So, it’s been eight years since your wife died.”
It wasn’t a question. Zack nodded but didn’t turn around.
“Eight years and that poor boy still suffers for it.”
This stopped Zack in his tracks. He pivoted to face his accuser.
“You can’t let him in. That’s what you said.”
His jaw jutted out in anger. “Lady, I don’t need your help or your pity. Save it for someone else in there”, Zack snapped pointing back to the room they had vacated.
“Oh, you won’t get any pity from me. You can be sure of that. You still have your child.”
Zack’s fury began to dissolve at the edges as he realized that she wasn’t out to assuage his pain but her own.
“My daughter was twenty years old when she got her death sentence. From the day she was diagnosed to the day I held her in my arms for the last time, I never stopped praying; I never stopped hoping; I never stopped loving.”
Zack’s eyes were glued to this mother’s face.
“My girl was so busy being worried about me and how I would get by that she was too busy to get on with dying.” Maggie’s eyes filled but not one drop fell. “I wanted it to be peaceful for her. I just wanted her to meet her Maker with a clean and clear soul. And all the time she was fretting about me and my life.”
Maggie walked up to Zack. “Her last words to me were, ‘Mama, be happy. You’ve done a good job. You were the best.'”
Zack awkwardly reached out to touch her arm.
She recoiled. “You’re letting that child down. Every time you ignore him or you let him cry himself to sleep, a little part of him dies just as you’re dying right now. All you can see is your pain, your sadness. But that boy of yours not only lost his mother but his father too in that delivery room.”
Zack found his voice and it cracked when he spoke. “You don’t understand. I want Eric to be happy and have a good life. I’m trying…I’m trying so damn hard.”
“You’re not trying hard at all”, Maggie’s voice rose, “You’re punishing him for something not his fault. Why don’t you just admit it? You hate him for being born, for living while she didn’t.”
“I…do…not…hate…Eric”, Zack stressed every word. He fell back against a van behind him. He then punched out with his fist to hit the door.
“But you blame him all the same.”
He got close to her, right up in her face. “Maybe I do. You see, he’s better off without me. What can I possibly give to him? She took it all.”
Maggie drew herself up to her full height and slapped him hard across the face.
Zack staggered back, stunned but not defending himself.
“I wish with all my heart that my daughter was still alive so I could have more time with her. And you’re throwing the time with your son away. You still have him. You’ve still got a chance to make things right. You can still hold your son in your arms. You can still protect him from sickness and the evil that’s in the world. You can still tell him you love him.” Maggie was crying but held up a hand to stop Zack from trying to comfort her. “When’s the last time you told your son you loved him? Can you even remember?”
Maggie gave him a withering look and began to walk briskly away.
Zack slid down to the ground. His hand brushed against his cheek, and he was astonished to find it wet. He sat there with tears rolling down his face not being able to stop until there was nothing left inside, until he was at last dry.
He wasn’t sure how he made it home but he did. He stumbled up his porch stairs and pushed open the door. He paid the sitter and went directly to Eric’s room.
He was curled up on the bed with the Batman sheets half off him.
Zack fell down on his knees and lightly stroked Eric’s cheek.
Eric opened his eyes sleepily. “Zack? Are you okay?”
Zack bundled up his boy in his arms and held him tight. “I love you, son.”
Eric smiled then, and it was the most beautiful sight Zack had ever seen since his wife’s face.
“By the way, Sport, I think it’s about time you started calling me dad.”
Zack never went back to the support group. He had got the answers to all his questions that night.
Maggie would forever wonder what got into her that same night. She prayed that the young man would forgive her brash attack. Years later, she would receive a letter from an Eric Grant thanking her for giving him back his father.
As she read the missive, Maggie looked heavenward. “He’s doing right by that boy now. He’s doing his best.”