Dust, so much dust.
Running across the desert, the sandman found his way into every nook and every cranny. Your eyes, your nose, your ears, everywhere.
He made his way through the hearse’s windows, finding its way to my tongue, no matter how long the journey. Usually, I’d spit the stuff out of my mouth, pretending it was tobacco.
But I was a boy then, and now, as a man, all I could think of was my mother’s corpse in the back of the hearse.
“No black carriage for you,” I whispered, letting more dust into my mouth.
The driver, looking half dead himself, readjusted himself in his seat.
I gave a lazy look his way. I had expected him to pity me, to try to comfort me. Instead, all he did was ask if I wanted to ride up with him. I didn’t see why not, so I took him up
When my father had died, his coffin, along with those of Leroy Simmons and Uncle Ken, had been led down Main Street in carriages. Dad and Uncle Ken had died fighting Krauts during the Hundred Days Offensive; Mr. Simmons had been swept off the deck of a minelayer in the Northern Sea.
Sure, he had died for our country at a time of extreme nationalism, yet did my father deserve so much more? It sickened me how different my parent’s endings had been, and how different their services were.
I hadn’t witnessed my father’s death, and yet my mother was not the first person I had seen die.
So long had I forced memories into the dark of my mind, and yet it seemed as though nothing mattered while within the confines of the hearse.
Did it matter who the fault lay with? Was it important that mine was the final blow?
Would anyone even care?
Did it matter that I loved her? Was it important that I didn’t want things to end that way?
Does anyone even remember her name?
People die. My involvement does not matter.
And yet the images still played in my mind, their full truth flashing before my eyes for the first time in years.
Harold Prior had been my best friend for all of my fifteen years. He did not ride in a black chariot, nor a hearse. He sunk to the bottom of Lake Rufenwald, chained to his bicycle.
I closed my eyes to hold back tears, though I suppose the driver would’ve mistaken them for grief over my mother.
But they weren’t.
Harry and I had argued before, even got into scrapes, but it was during an Indian Summer that things got more heated.
His steady, Amy, had come to me seeking advice on how to deal with him. I had suggested that she stay out of his way when he got violent. She took this advice and decided it would be best to leave him.
I was out fishing the next morning at the lake, minding my own business, when Harry rode up on his new bike. He laid it next to an old spruce and started running at me. I sensed there was trouble, and asked what the matter was.
He responded by punching me in the gut.
I fell, and he kept punching.
Eventually, he spoke, “You gonna quit? You gonna give up? You gonna die in a fucking ditch like your yellow father?”
I was stronger than Harry. It didn’t take much for me to throw him off me. I pinned him to the ground and pulled out my pocket knife. It wasn’t good long enough for me to kill him, but I cut him up good. I laid down on top of him and made vertical lines all down his arms and the back of his neck.
“My father was no craven,” I said, picking him up and heaving him into the lake, a couple of feet away.
Harry was bleeding pretty bad by now, and he was sobbing hysterically.
“He received a soldier’s death,” I walked out to where he was floating and grabbed the back of his head.
“You won’t!” I plunged his head down into the murky green water. He didn’t fight back for long.
I calmed down pretty quick and realized what I had done. I wasn’t sick to my stomach, nor did I regret what I had done. I was, however, sad that it had come to this. Harry had been violent for years, but I never thought I’d be the one to put the bad dog down.
I wound up all my fishing line and tied his ankle to his bike, sinking both into the depths.
I opened my eyes. We were entering Jonasville, only a couple minutes from the cemetery.
So close, and yet she managed to sneak into my mind.
Not my mother, no. Nora.
She was my paramour. At seventeen, we took each other’s innocence.
Our love was true, and strong. I would have protected her from any enemy, foreign or at home.
But I couldn’t protect her from myself.
It was that night after she made me a man, and I made her a woman, that I slipped.
We were in the back of Uncle Ken’s old Model T, and I got up for a smoke.
There had been stories of bears up in the hills, where we were, so I had made sure to bring a firearm with me.
I leaned against a tree and went through about half a pack of Menthols. I had been thinking about where our relationship was going, whether we would get married, what I’d do to put food on the table, and so forth when I heard a branch snap behind me.
I suppose it was instinctual.
I turned around, shot three times.
The second and third shots connected.
Once in the sternum, once about an inch to the right of the bridge of the nose.
Nora was dead in an instance.
It was an accident, and yet for years I questioned whether I had known, deep inside me, that it was really her.
Maybe it was like Harry.
I buried her body up in the mountains and explained to her parents and the rest of the town that a bear had eaten her. They believed me. Just like how Harry had told me about his plan to join the French Foreign Legion. They believed that, too.
And when I told them my mother swallowed a whole bottle of sleeping pills, they believed me again.
The hearse stopped. We were at the cemetery.
“Well, this is it,” The driver said, looking at me with his corpse eyes.
“Yes, it is.”
I slammed his head into the dash. He was an old, frail man, and thus was out for good.
I went around back and threw my mother out of the rear.
“No black carriage for you! You didn’t earn it!” I stared at her cold, dead, indifferent eyes.
“Henry did! I did!” Her face remained icy and emotionless.
“Damn you! Damn you and father! Damn you, father, and Nora! None of you deserve this!”
I started weeping.
“This is no place for you! You don’t belong here!” I cried more, though I was now angry.
“Go home! Go home!” I screamed for what seemed like an eternity. The dead do not listen well.
“I earned this! I did! I deserve this!”
I pulled a couple cans of kerosene from my coat and threw them all over the hearse, my mother, the driver, and finally, myself.
I pulled out a box of matches, struck a match, and leaped into the back of the hearse.
I deserved this.
I had earned my place in the back of the hearse.
In my last moments, I thought how my ashes would drift with the dust into another hearse, into another young boy’s mouth.