Greetings, fellow indie writers and readers! I am Beem Weeks, author of the historical fiction/coming-of-age novel JAZZ BABY and SLIVERS OF LIFE: A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES. My goal in life is to promote the indie movement to the world. I can be found on Twitter @VoiceOfIndie and @BeemWeeks. I enjoy indie films, loud music, and a well told story. Lansing, Michigan, USA.
Slivers Of Life
Once a month she makes that three-hour drive just to be near him, her boy, the son of her old age. She always brings a juice box along, a banana, and a copy of his favorite story. It’s worn at the spine now, that book. And even though he’s heard it a thousand times, she never tires of reading aloud from Where The Wild Things Are.
It’s all she can afford now, these once-a-month reunions. Maybe someday her situation will ease, burdens might grow lighter. More likely these monthly traipsings will lose all their meaning and fade like most everything else.
That’s the worst part, the missing out on what’s already been done, forgetting what you know—even the good parts.
She’d just turned forty-six when her body began to change. Menopause, she figured—until the doctor claimed otherwise.
“Pregnant,” he said.
“Can’t be,” she retorted.
“Can so,” he assured her.
Twenty years of marriage and twenty years of trying brought only twenty years of failure. She blamed him and he blamed her, and nothing ever got done about it. They couldn’t afford any of those fancy fertility clinics with all their expensive fertility drugs. To adopt, well, Ted’s drinking put that option to rest.
It came about on a hot August night a full two years after the divorce. Just once, is all it took by then. And Ted, well, he’d been too drunk to recall any particulars of that brief moment.
“Can’t be mine,” he claimed.
“Can so,” she assured him.
He never did live long enough to see the resemblance in his son’s face. Cancer got at him, took him down a week too soon.
Ten pounds is awful big for a newborn. But that just meant he was healthy, carried none of the wreckage left in Ted’s wake. This one, he’d make his own mess—good or bad.
Arlington, Virginia, lured her down from the highway, sent her along to what still held a certain familiarity—vague, though it had grown.
He’d be waiting for her, like always, out there in the middle of it all. That’s just his way, always needing to be the center of attention.
Except for kindergarten.
“I don’t wanna go, Ma,” he said that first day.
“Nothing to be afraid of,” she assured him.
Then that pretty little blond-headed thing traipsed past, those pigtails tied with pink ribbons, and that was that. Nothing could come between those two—until Kandahar, that is.
They joined up together right after graduation. The Mr. and Mrs. they meant to become had to be put on hold. Noble cause, they both agreed; the needs of a nation.
Ted had been of a noble breed once, as well, back when the cause answered to the name of Vietnam. He never really did return from those faraway jungles.
* * *
The backpack came easy to her hand, though its weight promised more than just a simple box of juice, a banana, and Sendak’s masterwork. Like maybe a secret or two might have stowed away when she wasn’t looking. Hard telling, what with the way things fade anymore.
Her feet found solid ground outside of the car. A quick spring breeze swirled around her like a cleansing devil, blowing away winter’s heavy sediment. She wouldn’t breathe, though—not just yet. Not with the confusion in the air, a thing thick as dust.
“Afghanistan,” she said aloud.
“Afghanistan,” she repeated.
Speaking that name made it real, brought it all back to the day he first spoke it.
She went first, that little blond-headed thing with the pigtails. An IED, they called it, some sort of explosive device. It went off beside the road just as her vehicle made its pass. If those in charge were to be believed, she never felt a moment’s pain.
But how would they know?
Civilized people never sent their daughters into harm’s way.
The contents of her backpack spilled out before that white stone with his name spelled out in bold black. Just twenty-three, is all he’d been. Gone by his own hand, in a tent in that godforsaken patch of earth somewhere over there. He’d received word of her demise, decided the mother he left at home wasn’t enough to keep him tethered to this world, swallowed a bullet from his own rifle.
“Suicides go to hell,” the priest claimed.
“Where’s that written?” she wondered aloud.
Never did get a definitive answer, a particular scripture of any kind. Just a lot of red tape, is all.
“Arlington, sure,” said the man in charge. “Just not National.”
She pressed the straw into the juice box, set it before his stone, peeled the banana like she did all those years ago.
“How about a story?” she asked, holding that book of imaginary monsters.
It’s his face she recalls easiest—though not the one he took when he left. It’s the one he wore back when he was just five or so that comes to mind. The ones that came after, they’ve all faded now, wiped clean by some doctor’s pronouncement.
“Alzheimer’s,” he called it.
“Silly name, that,” she said.
“When it’s gone, it’s gone,” he promised.
Can’t quit the inevitable. A thing like disease will go where it wants, do what it will, all the while mocking those who bear its destruction.
Even her name slips away from time to time, like a mischievous pup gone for a roam. It always returns, though, jogged by a particular memory, an emotional sentiment more likely fictitious in its resemblance than real. But who is there to remind her?
The banana goes uneaten, the juice box untouched, the same way it always is after each visit. But he heard Sendak’s words—of that she can be sure. It’s his favorite story, after all. He’d never miss out on a visit from the monsters.
“Give him back,” she whispered at that patch of earth.
Pleading is useless, though; the ground never returns what’s been buried.
It came to her then, a mind of its own, that heavy black revolver stowed away inside her backpack.
She remembered now, the intent of such a device. It could certainly bring about the end a chapter or two sooner. Maybe they’d be waiting for her, Ted and her boy.
Would he still call her Ma on the other side, or would the crossover change that relationship? And suppose the priest is right?
Could they share a place in hell together?
Cold steel pressed hard against her temple; her finger found rest on the trigger. Maybe swallowing would be the better way to go. That’s how he did the deed, her boy.
But intent fell short of action; more so from fear than any fading from disease. She still had that.
Fear of living and fear of dying.
It’s all the same, though; living is dying. Some just take longer to get around to it.
* * *
Once a month she makes that three-hour drive back to her home, away from him, her boy, the son of her old age. The backpack lies empty now, fallow, but for the book. That other thing, heavy with potential, found rest in a trash can inside the park. No sense in keeping damage within arm’s reach. Besides, there were tablets of the sleeping sort she could always turn to for that kind of comfort—but only if life ever grew so dire.
And surely it wouldn’t.
Not with those other ones always stopping by, checking on her welfare, offering their own brand of comfort.
Family, of some sort. Ted’s kin, most likely, with their two youngsters who took to calling her “Grandma” out of habit. And she didn’t mind, either. Their boy called to mind her own boy. And their girl, she could pass for that little blond-headed thing—without the pigtails, of course.
Girls today don’t do pigtails, claimed the child’s mother.
They never did mind her slips—like calling their boy by her boy’s name. A thing like that only made them draw closer to her.
“Why don’t you come stay with us, Rose?” the man often asked. “Let us look after you for a while.”
“Don’t need any looking after,” she’d assure him.
But truth to tell, she did need help, someone to look after her, to keep it from getting away from her.
Her hand found the telephone where she left it last. Names and numbers never came easy anymore—not like they once did, back when a thought was readily retained.
Maybe they’d call her, she hoped; save on all that random confusion looking for places to grow, to bear fruit of a rotten nature.
Or maybe this, too, would pass, leaving her to her old self once again. Perhaps all those lost thoughts would return, restoring things to the way they’d once been.
“Neat and orderly,” she promised herself.
But he wouldn’t be there, no matter how clear her thoughts. He’d never come to her again—at least not in this life. And maybe there’s the blessing in her disease: the more things fade, the less those losses are felt.
Even, perhaps, the loss of life.
* * *
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