In this way they saw the strength leave his arms and the light wink out from his eyes. No longer would the stairwell creak under his weight. No longer would the bottles balance on edge at his glance. No longer would the constable be shaken from bed by the late-night, bimonthly call. Blood around town would curdle less.
Not to mention Beth and what it did to her seeing it happen. She’d heard of breath escaping, a word she thought out-of-place and overdramatic for what it was describing, trying to church up something mundane and regular. But in this case it was the appropriate use and, in fact, the only adequate description. Seeing Warton’s breath escape, she was rooting for the breath. Like a movie about jailbird wrongfully convicted burrowing beneath baking acreage and finding breath at last, that’s what it felt like watching. What do you make of that? she asked herself. What do you make of it when you empathize with a dead man’s last gasp? She didn’t see it as his soul leaving his body or him returning home or going toward the light or any tired euphemism you can conjure up. She saw it as the liberation of one breath after 70-some-odd years.
She did not cry. She did not feel remorse. She did not, even in the slightest, feel that anything was missing from her life. For once, she felt heavy. She felt the stairs bow beneath her weight. She felt the attention of objects in the room and her own gravity. If her bones had been hollow, they were now run through with lead. Beth was not herself. She was more than herself.