THE WEATHER SUITED Mattie's mood perfectly. All afternoon there'd been a hard rain with soot coloured clouds so low you could touch them, and a wind that pierced right to the marrow. On the way to the memorial through the dark, slick Surrey streets the rain had become mixed with snow.
About a dozen of the strip regulars had come out for the memorial along with the same number of volunteer outreach workers from the local church. Everyone huddled under a huge tarp tied to an eight-foot chain link fence and stretched across the sidewalk to the roof of the catering van from which coffee and sandwiches would be served once the preacher had finished sermonizing. He was taking full advantage of his captive audience.
"Will this guy ever shut up?" Jonathon whispered. They stood slightly away from the tarp under a huge umbrella Jonathon had brought. "All this time and he hasn't mentioned Liz or anyone else by name. I don't think he knew any of them."
Mattie wasn't listening. She'd been barely functioning all day. Her grief was so profound it surprised her. It came on like an attack and swept over her in waves leaving her sobbing uncontrollably. Her brain felt filled with cotton batting and all she wanted to do was sleep. Even when her grandfather had died she hadn't felt this bad, but then he'd been sick a long time and in the end welcomed death.
"These people must be freezing. At least the candles keep their hands warm."
Mattie looked at the small jar with the nub of a candle in it. The flame flickered and went out.
"Would anyone like to share a memory of one of the departed tonight," the preacher said.
"They're dead, lets eat," someone shouted.
"Anyone?" The preacher searched the crowd that started to move toward the catering van.
Mattie stepped out from under the umbrella.
"I knew Liz Castelo," Mattie said.
"Yes? Can you tell us about her?"
"No, not really. I can only tell you that I judged Liz and she knew it." Mattie cleared her throat. "I was wrong to judge her. Not because of the judge not lest ye be judged thing, I really don't care what people think of me. I was wrong because I now realize when you pass judgment you stopped trying to understand. It's way easier to condemn people as weak or selfish or stupid. It's easy to say their life hasn't been any worse than mine and I'm not a drug addict. It's easy to say helping them is just enabling them and what they need is tough love, in other words, no love."
Mattie looked at the ravaged faces. Were they even listening? Did it matter? She took a deep breath.
"It's hard to love them. It's hard to look after them, but maybe if you try to understand them, even just a little, it might be a beginning."
Someone in the middle of the crowd started to sob. Carla was wrong, her daughter did have friends.
"I have more patience and tolerance for birds than I have for people. I love birds unconditionally and some start out mean as hell. But eventually I win them over, love wins them over. Why couldn't I do that with my friend? I didn't and now I won't have the chance."
There was silence except for the distant swish of cars on King George Highway.
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