i know what they’re thinking

I’m crying and I don’t want to, don’t need to.  My tear supply is parched and dry, expired, my emotions… encapsulated and numb.  It is an ashy Saturday.  From this hill I can see a portion of every house in our sleepy town, some flat with acres and horses, others stilted, without yards.  Beyond them…a sea of green prairie birthing a range of mountains to an unappreciative horizon.  In the houses and in the cars I see coursing through the veins and arteries that are our roads, I know that there are summer plans, children’s plans, that will be augmented today because of the sun’s absence.  That saddens me and I leverage the pity to fabricate sobs.  But I am not crying because of the funeral.

My mother cannot stop.  Her head is full and heavy.  She has barely enough strength to resist the gravity insisting it to the ground.  The earth accepts the casket, she removes her shawl.  For so long it has been a black skin, girdling her emotions like a plaster mold.  Without it she is raw and sensitive, unable to gel, and so she cries without stopping, the steady streams eroding her cheeks.   It is a cotton shawl, woven by her.  That is appropriate I think.  It is a web of guilt.  She spreads it on the lowering coffin, releasing herself and harnessing my father for all of eternity.  That is appropriate too, I think.

At her side Brian is preoccupied in fantasy.  He gazes into the distance, sifting experience through wide eyes, fueling curiosity, the journey of evaporation, words that rhyme, skipping rocks, red hot coals… creased consciousness.  His affect is flat, two lips reciting a silent anthem.  Unlike me, he feigns nothing.  I worry about him, that his eight year-old soul has been splintered by the snap of a leather razor belt, permanently dismissed to a more sheltered, but uncharted, retreat.  A steel room at the bottom of the ocean.

An unused tissue on an unused chair sits in solitude in the front row.  Someone has strategically placed it there, a depository for emotional debris, discard, closure in more ways than one.  Loitering clouds, ethereal sadness, a breeze hinting an unforeseen shower. That tissue is teased out of its chair!  Up above, floating on anguish, it is a virtuous halo deciding if it will govern the day’s activities.  It is whisked over the side of the hill, out of  sight.  I breathe a sigh of relief.  It will forever remain an empty vessel, pure, unsoiled by human misery.  It will not be missed today.

There are too many chairs.  An odd assortment gathers this afternoon, thirteen people of varying interests and opinions, not including the guest of honor.  Two men begin to fill the hole, dropping spades of earth on my dead father until the vacancy no longer disrupts the continuity of this rolling hill.  Pat the earth with the flat sides of the spade.  Pat it flat you fucking drones.  I’ll be back at midnight to dance.  You pat it flat. Across the burial cavity Uncle Clifford looks at me, as does Sheriff Edmund.  I look back until they turn away.  I know what they are thinking.

It is time for my anguished mother to lead the procession down the hill.  She does so with Aunt Clara gently encouraging her, a leading arm crooked around her elbow.  I follow.  Brian follows, disregarding us all.  With his hand he knots and tangles his fingers.  What is he reflecting I wonder?  Disarray, disorder, blistered youth with the protective layers peeled back and festering.  The walk from the burial site is longer than the service.  More steps to take than sentimental words to say, I guess.  The trail was blazed by mourners before us, a path no one ever wishes to take.  A path that bridges the living and the dead.  Over the years it has been infected with so much sorrow that it, too, is dead…brown powdered earth void of grass and thistles.

Aunt Clara will drive us in her car, a Buick, appropriately dark.  She is not weeping.  Her face has been etched out of stone, grim, her mouth a thin line.  She will never voice what she is thinking, out of respect to my mother.  She will never say “The old bastard deserved it!  I’m glad Joanie killed him!  The drunken lunatic!”

We are the first of four cars in transit to our home where neighbors will arrive with cakes and casseroles for the widow and her two children.  Mother will solemnly thank them and invite them in for a tea.  They will politely decline but she will insist and prepare a tray of sweetbreads and cookies.  The visitors, certain enough of a supervising God, will accept out of a sense of duty and speak vacuously, with courtesy but unnaturally, never mentioning the event.  But they will be driven by curiosity and morbid speculation and steal glances at me when I am looking elsewhere.  Mother will speak in quiet philosophy when the silence becomes uncomfortable.  They will smile in relief, appreciating her rescue, and look at each other, giving somber nods with everything she says.  And she’ll walk past my room to get them more tea.  She will look out of the sides of her eyes, without turning her head, to see if I am there, sitting on my bed.  But she will not make eye contact with me.  She may never again.  Brian will not exist in person, thought or dialogue.  He’s holed away in his room, sitting on the floor with his knees pulled to his chest, rocking, staring…projecting.

He and I climb into the back seat of the Buick.  The action figure he left on the floor is waiting for him and he grabs it and begins to drift away…peacefully.  I know that I love him deeply.  There are other cars we must wait for, another party of mourners nursing their own fresh wound.  The deceased is obviously missed, there are fifteen cars transporting the grief stricken.  Our town is small, but I do not know who they are.  They know who we are, who I am.  As our four cars wait on the side of the road that winds through the cemetery, the others slowly pass by, sometimes stopping.   Through the back window I can see an older woman.  She sits in a black car, alone in the back seat except for a tissue.  I hope she did not find it on a hillside.  She seems familiar but I do not know her.  Tears have diluted her mascara leaving branches of black beneath her eyes that may be permanent.  They are of a different recipe than mine, than my mother’s.  She does not cry, she weeps, and with no guilt or relief.  Her pain is a dull ache that rests in the pit of her stomach, a heavy abscess that will remain forever unattended.  She blots sunken eyes, one at a time.  She looks out her window, past Brian, picking up my gaze.  Across the invisible chasm we share a connection.  It is her that turns away first.  I know what she is thinking.

Sheriff Edmund is watching us pull away, or watching me.  He will talk to me later, or perhaps he won’t.  He has not yet decided.  It is a shame that he has a snarl like this on his plate, that he must somehow deconstruct what has happened.  It is unfortunate that I am the only one that knows, even more unfortunate that I will not tell him.  I am looking at him through the back window as he gets smaller.  This time he is not looking away.  I know what he’s thinking.   You wish my forehead were made of glass so you could peer into my soul. So sorry.  I am sure that if that were possible he would never be compelled to embody the dread he would find into a narrative.  But that is a wish.  I am not made of glass, I am a vault with layers of locks and codes, some I, myself will never be able to unlock.  Maybe I’ll surprise him, swing open my forehead and unload an avalanche.  Bury him!  Smother him with all the things he never knew he shouldn’t ask.  I’ll shake it up first and spray him in the face!  Drench him.  See if it leaves him sticky and immobile, staring at the ceiling, overpowered, weathered, wet and humiliated.  FineHere you go you arrogant bastard! Night without darkness, a halogen barn light projecting across the courtyard, illuminating the queen size stage.  A protective curtain of black draped around a bed on which a hastily written message has been left for lingering angels: Please don’t judge.   Beads of sweat and bourbon trickling down the back of my neck, which is sore, rubbed raw from abrasive whiskers.  A scalpel tongue held against my jugular, carving words out of a raspy wheeze, “Act sexy!” Streams of pain punctuated with inadequacy, I don’t know how. Sour breath, contaminated with evil, panted into my mouth, poisoning my lungs, infecting my blood.  Self-loathing.  There are cords of chastity, strewn about the floor with rumpled underpants and crayons and they grab at my ankles and trip me on my way to the bathroom.  Purging yellow bile, heavier than water, twisting to the bottom of the basin in swirling ribbons.  An insoluble lingering, fused to my palette like a thick salt.  Drag your tongue across your teeth, it doesn’t work and you should know that.  The noxious odor of sin corrodes like sugar on a tooth, leaving a gaping cavity even after it has been washed away.  Running water, bleeding stains, canvassing sobs.  Shame.  Write about that if you really want to.  Then find a vacant wall, if one still exists, and hurl a thousand objects at it, each with a different velocity.  Never say why.  That is me.  Social ineptitude, entrenched in someone else’s cosmetics, a brightless facade.

You write about that

Runner Up – Tickled by Thunder Short Story Contest