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January 27, 2015 Fiction


Katherine Robb

Grieve photo

Call brother Henry in Louisville. Tell him to call baby sister Clementine in Augusta.

Call Clem yourself to reassure her. Say: Nobody saw this coming.

Call the florist about the flowers.

Arrange for someone to clean up the blood.

Wash the dishes in the sink.

Decide whether the rug is salvageable.

Tell yourself there was nothing you could have done.

Remove the 9-point buck from its wall mount, the one he and Sheila shot last fall, so you can bring it back to the house, to your house, to the house where people are still alive.

Feel Sheila squeeze your hand, kiss your fingertips.

Make tea.

Swing open the screen door for Mary Margaret from on down the way. Take the cookies from her and listen when she says, “It’s okay. I’m sure your father will still go to heaven. After all, God forgives.”

Don’t tell her he wouldn’t have gone to heaven regardless.

Tell Sheila you’re fine, you’re just busy with the arrangements.

Ask the funeral home if they’ve covered up a bullet hole before. Try not to feel sad when they say yes.

Call the cousins.

Call Aunt Sara. Brace yourself for when she hangs up the phone. Know you did the right thing in calling her even though the last time they spoke each vowed it would be the last time, which it was.

Wonder if anyone will come for the service.

Think about Mom’s service, about how it was standing room only, how everyone dressed in their finest.

Tell Sheila to eat without you, to go on, eat.

Go back to his house and comb through the suits in his closet. Lay them across the lifted California king bed with the handrails you added.

Decide on navy blue.

Drive away.

Drive back.

Decide on black.

Sit in the kitchen staring at the loaf of cinnamon bread on the floor, the one you baked and brought over that morning, the one you still can’t bear to pick up, much less throw away.

Wonder if you’ll have to disclose what happened when you sell the house.

Decide to bring both suits home and let Henry, Henry the decisive, decide.

Make tea.

Write the obituary.

Re-write the obituary. Decide to make it simple, to say simply: Roland Parker II died on August 28, 2011. He is survived by three children: Henry Parker, Clementine Reynolds, Carla Parker, and two grandchildren: Reginald (“Reggie”) and Anna Parker.

Wonder if you should mention spouses. Think how Dad would roll in his grave if the local paper said: Survived by Carla Parker and her partner Sheila Lowenstein.

Spin his money clip through your swollen fingers.

Think about your phone call with him that morning, about how he said, “How’s our buddy Sheila doing? Remind her to keep a wide stance and brace for the recoil.”

Wonder if you’d have the guts to do it. If it’s in you. If it’s in your blood.

Pick out Bible passages. Read them to Sheila and laugh at the absurdity of reading Bible passages for Roland Parker II.

Decide to read Ernest Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat” instead. Hear Sheila say, “There won’t be a dry eye in the house.”

Pick baby sister Clem up from the airport. Tell her it’s not her fault. Tell her it’s nobody’s fault. Don’t ask why her husband, Drunk Ray, didn’t come.

Don’t say Drunk Ray.

Leave Clem with Sheila.

Rest your head on Sheila’s shoulder, just for a moment. Whisper: “Thank you.”

Walk away before she asks if you’re ok.

Drive to the florist to check on the flowers in person.

Pick up Henry, Henry the decisive, and prim Peggy and rambunctious Reggie and baby Anna.

Hold your smile taut and remember to breathe when Reggie asks what it looked like when you found him.

Don’t tell them how you lifted up his head to pull the gold chain from round his neck.

How you knelt in the blood gathering the chain in your fists. How you beat those fists into his chest until you realized the blood was drying on your fingertips, its stickiness sickening your stomach, forcing you to stumble outside to vomit on the dried yellow grass.

Take solace when Peggy slaps Reggie upside the head for asking such a question in the first place.

Decide with Henry the decisive on the blue suit. Hear yourself say, “You’re right, it looks less severe.”

Make tea.

Put on your best black dress.

Wrap three scarves around your neck: The one he gave you when you graduated high school; the one he gave you the money to buy when you married Sheila, alone on the beach in Massachusetts; the one you stole from his closet to hold back the cries when you went back inside to make the first call.

Drive to the funeral home.

Be amazed at how well they covered the bullet hole.

Listen to Clem tell the story of Daddy teaching her how to ride, about how Samson, her horse, bucked her off and Roland Parker II punched Samson square in the nose, then told Clem, “Don’t let things think they can own you or they will,” and made her saddle right back up.

Listen to Henry talk about God. Try not to scoff.

Squeeze Sheila’s hand.

Drink whiskey.

Press palms with the cousins.

Say thank you for the casseroles.

Be surprised at how many people showed up.

Make tea.

Unzip your dress.

Sit down on the bed.

Rest your head in Sheila’s lap.

Hear her say, “Grieve. Grieve now, sweetie. Grieve.” 


image: Tara Wray