The Dark Girl

Saw her at the funeral, talking to my cousin. Darkest little angel, long black hair, sunglasses shielding her from oppressive summer heat, overwhelming sun. It’s everywhere like God’s supposed to be. But there is no God, only sun and nowhere to hide. Me wearing a suit and tie, melting inside out. Dead inside like my grandfather lying there, in his metal coffin. Trying not to cry as if there was any feeling left besides being left alone. My grandmother standing there, little fat lady, tears streaming down, unwilling to let him go under the red clay dirt in Georgia summer.Looking at the girl as if to feel, as if the heat of a dark young girl was more than the sun, more than the death of the only father I ever knew. Wondering why people show up at a funeral when they really don’t care, didn’t know “the deceased” as he is now called. Not Gramp, like I always called him, or Will Causey; just “the deceased.” A sickening name for anyone. The girl talking to my cousin, like this isn’t where she’s supposed to be. Doesn’t matter for some reason; she’s okay. Somebody else, I’d be really ticked off about it.

Gramp was always dying, and always fighting to stay alive, ever since I was little. His heart was bad, and always Gramp taking his medicine, going to the doctor, going to the hospital, and then coming back home to be with us. That was the good time, when we’d get him back and like he was never going to leave us again. Like a gift almost, a special gift that’s all any kid would ever want. To have your parent safe and home and with you. Gonna stay this time, no one can take him away.

But the pain was always there, inside his chest. Great big man, you’d think nothing could ever hurt him. And such a warm gentle heart inside that big old bear of a man, holding me, a little boy, on his knee teaching me to tell time, and abc’s and numbers, and all that stuff. Stories from the Bible, stories from his youth, about our family, his life, all that. But the pain would come on and he’d have to sit down and rest, take some pills. Him sitting there, red faced, somber, embarrassed about it. And nothing you could do. “You wanna glass a water Gramp?” “Yes…please” he’d say, whether he wanted it or not. Just to make you feel like you were helping. Like this was a family thing and the little boy could help the old man, keep him from dying by bringing him a glass of cold water.

You worry about it in your dreams. What’ll it be like without Gramp. Who’s gonna take care of us. How we gonna make it. What’ll we do. Every night you wonder if this is the last time we’re gonna watch tv together, or play cards. Maybe you shouldn’t try to beat him ‘cause you can always win a card game some other time, but this could be his last. It’s like that all the time. Christmas, birthdays, he’s never gonna see you grow up. You get numb to it, but it’s always there like living with death inside you that never goes away.

Then one day he quit fighting. “Go wake up your grandfather” she tells me and I go into his room and he won’t wake up. Just all cold, pale, lifeless. That one thing you’re always so afraid of. Now the sun shining through his window, suddenly so lonely and quiet and sad. Isn’t scary or frightening or anything. Just all empty and lost, feeling nothingness touching everything.

How can I tell her. Fourteen years old and gotta tell Gram her husband is dead, her life is dead. The man she loved for almost sixty years has left her. Never coming back. I don’t know what to do. Nothing I can do, or anyone can do. Can’t make Gramp not be dead. Just stand there looking at him, his room and the sunlight from his window. Tears stuck in my throat and running down my face. Just me and Gramp. Go over to him, hug his big chest and kiss him on the cheek. “I love you Gramp” I tell him. And that’s all there is.

Now just me and Gram left, a fracture of the little family we’ve always been, all I’ve ever known. The mainstay that held us together, broken and useless as dust. None of it matters to anyone except us, and nothing matters at all. But you have to do things, call…the authorities. They’ll come and take him away, the deceased. Like a diseased animal that has to be removed.

That’s my grandfather, asshole! Handle him with care, with dignity, please. He deserves that. Don’t you understand. He means a lot to me, everything to me. “Be gentle with him” I tell them “he was good man.” But the words catch in my throat, have to turn my head, cover my eyes, fight the tears. Never wanted to say “was” about Gramp. Now it’s all you can say about anything.

Have to call everybody and let them know, our relatives in Georgia and Dakota and Canada. Not so many really, but all spread out. We live in Michigan, so there’s nobody really close by. Poor Gram just sitting there in the kitchen, in Gramp’s big old chair where he’d sit and puff on his pipe. Gram sitting there, trembling, crying, praying the rosary to herself, quietly, her lips mouthing the words. Don’t know what to do for her. Go into Gramp’s room, find some medicine, some valium, and make her take a couple of pills to try to handle the pain.

Take a couple of ‘em myself, so I can calm down a little, try to get things done. Uncle Wes in Georgia is gonna handle everything. His voice is calm and quiet on the phone, soothing, to hear his voice and the strange unrealness of it all. Knowing how hurt and sad he must be, feeling what I feel. But trying to calm and re-assure everyone, to make it seem matter of fact, make you think it’s gonna be okay when you know it isn’t but like some kind of vague hope to hold on to, wrap around you like a blanket. Wes’ voice and the hope that’s it’s gonna be okay.

We’re gonna have the funeral in Georgia so Gramp can be with his folks. Seems like the right thing to do ‘cause we always go down there to visit whenever we go anywhere. That’s where Gramp’s two sons, Wes and Orin are, and all the grandkids and all. So we’ll go down there on the train, me and Gram, and Gramp in his coffin. The last time he’s gonna go anywhere.

In the end, a funeral is just like another family get together. Lose track of what you’re here for and fall into the old familiar pattern like just visiting, like on vacation or something. Seeing everybody again. Catching up on things. Gram trying to help in the kitchen with cooking, serving, putting stuff away; keep moving keep busy, try not to think about anything except that. Get your mind onto something other than Gramp is dead and there’s nothing left for her.

Trying even to transfer that onto me. What’s gonna become of me. Who am I gonna stay with. Everybody talking about that when really it’s her that’s so all lost and alone now. She’ll go up to Dakota and stay with her sister. I can go too, to live with them. Aunt Connie is so nice and friendly and sweet, just like Gram, really. But her husband, Uncle Jaron, is kind of a gruff old goat, doesn’t much care for kids or anybody else, so it’s not all that great.

I can always stay with Orin and Marge, and their kids; that’s where I always stay whenever we come down here for a visit. So it’s all settled then. I’ll get my bags and clothes and go with them, but don’t want to. “I think…I’ll just stay here for now, if that’s okay.” Uncle Wes’ house, the farm, where we’re all gathered. Nobody says anything. Don’t know what to say. Why would I wanna stay at the farm, instead of in town with the boys, cousins who are about my age. At the farm there’s just my cousin Merri to hang around with. She’s a year older than me, so gorgeous, and my favorite person in the whole world. Yeah, think I’ll stay here. The rest of you can deal with it, okay.

Then it’s quiet all of a sudden. Awkward silence, nobody knowing what to say, to get the wheel spinning again. Everybody was talking at once, back and forth, filling the emptiness of Gramp’s death with this chatter about who I was gonna stay with. Something to do, to fill the void. And I broke it. Made it dead end. Caught them off guard. So surprising that I’d do that. Tell ‘em what I wanted, instead of letting everybody else decide for me, like always. Like it’s always been, just doing what I’m told, going along with whatever it is I’m supposed to do.

Don’t wanna do that anymore, don’t…just look at Gramp. Dead and gone, forever. Jeez, did he ever get anything out of life. Ever do what he wanted to do. I dunno. Hope so. Hope every minute of his life was exactly as he wanted it. And I know it wasn’t. Never got anything but all those years of hard work and pain and nothing to show for it. Almost a blessing to be dead, to not have to fight and struggle anymore. And that’s a bunch a crap. He deserved better.

Wish I coulda done something, made things…good for him. Be able to give him that. But I can’t. All I can do is…keep his memory alive, maybe make something of myself that he’d be proud of. His name, make something of that. For him, my Gramp. Miss him so much, everything just lifeless and pointless without him.

No reason to do anything, no reason to be. Used to always tell him what happened in school, or playing ball, whatever. He’d listen and pretend it was all so wonderful and interesting, exciting. A big smile on his face, eyes lit up and proud, and “oh yeah? That happened,” and the other and so forth. Going along with me, asking about it, like he cared.
But it only meant something ‘cause I could share it with him, so he’d know and be a part of it. Like I was performing all this for him. And he was my audience. Now there’s nobody. No one to share it with.

Later on, Merri and I go out walking around the farm. So hot out, burning beneath the hot sun; thick smell of pine forest in blistering heat, brown pine needles crunching under our footsteps, heat rising up from the earth. So familiar, you’d know where you were with your eyes closed, the smell of Georgia pines, the forest. Known this place my whole life. It’s comforting, familiar, like being home. Empty now, and lonely, quiet; without Gramp around. Like his presence was in all of this, the pasture land, the trees, the creek, all of it. Without him, it’s just cardboard, stick figures that aren’t real.

We don’t say anything, me and Merri. Aren’t any words. Just tears stuck in my throat, spilling from my eyes. The two of us sitting there on the cross board of the fence, like it’s all over, nothing left. She feels my jerky breathing, tears that won’t come out, and puts her arms around me. Lean my head on her shoulder and let the feelings loose, crying and shaking, hugging her tight against me. Merri crying too, for Gramp or for me, I don’t know, maybe both. After a bit, I start to feel better.

Look at her sweet young face, misty eyes, and wipe the tears away with my fingers. She’s so tender and soft and lovely, I pull her close to me and kiss her. She’s thinking it’s just the emotion, Gramp’s death and the loss and all that, but then she realizes that it isn’t, and gently pushes me away. “We can’t” she says “we’re cousins. You…we can’t…do that.” “I want to” I tell her, knowing it won’t make any difference; just to tell her how I feel, not that it matters, but just so she’ll know. Just to hear myself telling her that.

She changes the subject. “You miss him, a lot; don’t you?” But I don’t have any words to tell her about that. “I like being here, being with you.” She doesn’t say anything, and I add “it helps, a lot, y’know; to have somebody, to be with somebody.” “Yeah, I know.” I try to kiss her again, but she pushes me away. “Don’t…okay. Don’t do that.” Her voice is soft, calm, but there’s a warning in the way she says it. Like a tough guy saying ‘don’t fuck with me.’ Like this sweet young girl could be as tough as nails, if she wanted to.

And I don’t have any way to explain it to her. That she and I have always been…so close, such a natural bond between us. Ever since we were little kids, playing here on the farm, in the creek, wandering around the old buildings. Always so special, so much fun, and nothing to do with this place or these things, just that the two of us, always felt so good together. I take her hand and squeeze it, wondering how I can make her my un-cousin. She lights up a cigarette and blows the smoke into the hot dead air. Reminds me of something else.

“Say…who was that girl, at the funeral. The one you were talking to, with the sunglasses.” She thinks for a moment. “Oh, that was Dale Blakely Her dad owns Blakely Motors.” I remember hearing that name before. She’s a friend of Merri’s. And always with that same joinder ‘her dad owns Blakely Motors’ like a big ritzy car dealership, and she must be some kind of rich kid that you can’t even mention her name without adding that on. Like it’s a part of her, who she is.

“She’s a pretty girl” I say. “You think so” she asks. Then kinda looks at me, her little cousin, quizzically, kind of smiling. “Nicky, you looking at pretty girls…” she leaves off ‘at your own grandfather’s funeral’ but both of us know what she means. “I dunno” I tell her “couldn’t help notice the two of you…laughing and joking.” “We weren’t laughing and joking.” I know that, it was just something to say. I look out over the farmland, the sunshine, all of it serene now. Calm, like after a storm. Don’t say anything, just feeling sort of relaxed, like all the pressure’s gone, and maybe things’ll be alright, like Wes says.

Merri feels it too. Like we’ve passed some sort of hurdle, made it through okay. “So… you wanna meet Dale” she asks. “Sure” I say, as casually as I can, but she can see right through it. Smiles at me, makes me wonder what I’m getting myself into.

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One Response to “The Dark Girl”

  1. […] The Dark Girl a novel in progress […]

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