Sometimes, we forget our words. Sometimes, we don’t remember how to mourn. Silence stands between us, a leviathan of unspoken grief. We linger in its shadow, waiting for the delicate whisper of rain.
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I didn’t know what I was expecting when I broke into Grandma Marie’s old house with my girlfriend, but the man falling out of a hole in thin air to land at our feet wasn’t it.
“Look, man, I’m sorry, we thought the place was empty.” It sounds inane. No, mundane, like men fall at my feet every day. At Barbi’s maybe, but not mine. I don’t even bat for that team. I don’t take my eyes off of him.
The man looks up at me through long strands of dark hair that are escaping a neat braid at the nape of his neck. He’s wearing faded jeans and nothing else that I can see. He’s got the roundish face and bladed nose marking him as a descendant of the Illinois peoples, though I might have missed it if he wasn’t also dressed like a goddamn stereotype. He blinks a couple times and sniffs the air, then rolls back up onto his haunches and inspects his knees ruefully. Blood smears under fingers still dusty from his tumble.
“Bastards.” He’s not just taller than me. He’s really tall. “You’re Marie’s grand…. She never said anything about you being one of us.” He frowns, rubbing one hand over his opposite shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t think we’ve met.” I try to say it like this happens to me all the time, like people just pop out of the air in a regular basis covered in blood, like my girlfriend summons light with her hands.
“No, I was just a little’un the last time you were here. Why are you back? Did she leave word?”
I shake my head. “I haven’t been back since Gran died.”
“Okay.” He doesn’t sound so much disappointed as resigned to the inevitability. “Can you hand me Nina’s cell phone, then?”
“Who? What cell phone?” I’m getting more confused by the second. “Who are you?”
“I’m Danny.” He pronounces it dah-nee and I wonder if I’m spelling it right in my head. “Nina is my sister, and her cell phone is right behind you and I need it if you’re not going to help, because the Lonely Ones are active tonight, and there’s only three of us.”
I look where he points. The phone’s on a chair. “Lonely Ones?” I’m off balance again, in a way that should be feeling pretty familiar by now.
“Wanaghi,” he says impatiently. “Look. Are you gonna let me get the phone, or fight me or what, because my sisters are stuck on the other side right now and I don’t have time for your shit.”
“Do I need to fight you?” I hold the phone out. It’s an old one, a flip phone. He opens it and thumbs the power button, then starts cursing.
Barbi glares at me. At me, not him. “Can we help?” she says quietly, in her talking-the-girl-in-the-school-dance-down-from-the-bathroom-ledge voice.
“No, there’s no fuckin’ batteries and I don’t know where anyone is, and fuck fuck FUCK THIS!” The phone explodes into component parts when it hits the wall.
“No, really,” Barbi says again. “Can we help.” I feel that dizzy flexion of the world around me that means she’s powering up.
I tense and give Barbi an are-you-sure-about-this? look. “I have a phone,” I tell Danny. “You can borrow it. Or you can tell us, quickly, what the FUCK is going on and maybe we can be, I dunno, useful.”
“It won’t have the numbers in it,” he mumbles through his hands. “Fuck, I’m useless. Come on, then, if you’re coming.” He holds out his hand.
Well, dammit. I look at Barbi, who’s still glowing like an angel. I can’t exactly back down now, not in front of her.
Danny clamps down on my wrist harder than I was predicting, and pulls. There’s a brief pressure like being underwater, like pushing through one of those hanging curtains on the freezer case at the supermarket. My ears pop, and suddenly I’m… standing in the kitchen.
Well, kind of. If I squint. There’s a bush where the sink should be, and a big rock for the fridge, and the brittle late-summer grass changes color where I think the wall is. Past that, where the bathroom was added onto the house, there’s a little wellspring of fresh water. I can see the big tree that marks the start of the driveway, off there behind Barbi.
And all around us the plains stretch out to the faint glow of the horizon.
Before sunset, I light a fire.
Word after word I feed into the flames. Words like stay, and more, and please. The air is full of them: embers striving to be stars.
I feed your name into the fire as well, every syllable a promise. The trees thrust grasping fingers into the sky to draw down night’s blanket over us.
The ashes fall lightly on me. They stain my clothes, my hair, my skin. The ashes fall lightly, but they fall.
“I have one favor to ask. Just one. Please?”
We were standing by the river’s edge, waiting for a small barge to take us across to Camp Westwind, where we planned to spend the weekend in rustic cabins without internet or cell service with a hundred strangers – all families of children in our kids’ school program. The ground by the pier was a complete bog.
“Please don’t get mud all over your shoes. Can you do that?” I asked my 8-year-old, N.
Some nights, you set up the telescope. Tonight, we lie on the blanket instead.
“Cygnus. Cepheus. Cassiopeia.” Your arm follows the sweep of the sky, like a caress.
Four inches from your hip and light years away, I hardly dare to breathe.