Remembrances

by Evan Guilford-Blake

Balloon

The day was for shit: windy, chilly, dank and overcast. That was apt. There was an eighty percent chance of rain, according to the Weather Channel, so I wore my lined raincoat. I was still cold but then, I’d never been to a funeral where I wasn’t. Not even in the summer. Shari told me it was “empathetic response.”

The service was solemn. They were always solemn. People cried and whispered and shook their heads, laid flowers and tossed their handfuls of earth into the pit. I did too, although it was just a ritual. It didn’t bring me any comfort. I don’t think it brought anyone comfort. There is no comfort in saying goodbye. Fin told me that. Fin was, among other things, a fucking brilliant philosopher.

Like always, I stuck around after everyone else left, holding the bag with one hand and staring at the flowers and the dirt they’d tamped down firmly after they piled it over the box they’d locked him in. To keep him there which, even six feet under, was going to be tough. Fin was not a person you kept anywhere he didn’t want to be. 

He was my friend, maybe my closest friend and, except for Shari, and my oldest. I loved him. Forty-fucking-two years old, an artist, always had time for everyone and everything. He was delivering a meal to someone, an old woman who lived alone, no kids, couldn’t cook for herself; he didn’t even know her, really. But three afternoons a week, like clockwork. This time it was raining, the car skidded, hit a rail, and…

I hate losing people. But I’m at an age where it’s happening too often, though most of them are closer to my age than Fin’s. It isn’t just the loss itself; it’s the getting past it. Yeah, yeah, Life Goes On. I know: That’s what the service was all about, some kind of closure. But after they’re over I never feel “closed.” Just closed off. I hate funerals too, and I hate cemeteries. They’re all so about – death. 

I hate death too. Probably not a particularly reasonable thing to hate, but there you have it. Of course, I’ve never made any pretense of being a reasonable man. Mel, and Shari, they both said I love too hard. Hey: Love is love, y’ know? I don’t know any other way to do it. But, thank God for Shari anyway. She – clarified, I guess the word is, things. About Fin, like she had about Mel.

When I was in college — this was in the ’80s — I had this friend; Mélisande, no less — a name that made her cringe. So I called her Mel, like everyone else. The thing I remember most about her?, was yellow: Her favorite color, she wore it everywhere. We just sort of found each other our freshman year; I don’t even remember how. She was a lesbian, but neither one of us hung around the bars or the clubs. And this was way before the closet door was open, even on campus. We were inseparable — oh, yeah: gay guy, dyke chick, but, like, for three years the only thing we didn’t do together was make love. It was our running joke.

I even spent a summer with Mel’s family, at their “castle” on the Virginia shore. That was a trip, being the showpiece so she wouldn’t have to charm the local straights and could go out with the woman she loved. Shari. She was older, and really grounded: a Zennist, very accepting of the world and people and their places in it. I got to be pretty good friends with her, too. The three of us?, we were probably the strangest ménage that ever lived. 

And…

Just before the end of the summer?, Mel drowned. In the ocean, maybe a hundred feet out, she must’ve gotten a cramp, or… No one ever knew, but one minute she was there, the next… We — all of us — were devastated. It was like we couldn’t stop crying. Except Shari. She was an absolute rock; and at the interment she brought a big shopping bag with her. People looked at her, but she ignored them. She stood there, the whole time, holding it, just silent. And after everyone else had left the gravesite, even the diggers, just the two of us still standing there, she reached into the bag and she took out two huge, enormously yellow balloons. She gave one to me, and held hers up; then she let it go. And it went up, high into the sky until, finally, we couldn’t see it at all. Then she turned to me and said: Now you. And I let mine go, it rose and flew away. She put her arm around me and she said: There: Now she’s free. So are we.

I think about that every time I go to a funeral. Like today. Some of the people looked at the bag, at me, like I was, y’ know, kind of strange. I don’t care. Fin was my friend; I loved him, he loved me. You love people, it’s hard to let them go. You don’t forget them, but you have to let them go.

So when everyone else was gone, then I opened the bag. I took out the enormously purple balloon — Fin’s favorite color — and looked at it, held it by its string, let it rise above my head. 

“You need to be free,” I told it. “So do I. It’s something I have to do. For both of us.” 

I let go of the string.

The wind took the balloon; it fairly raced into the gray sky. I watched until it was out of sight. Then I folded the bag and put it, and my hands, in the pockets of my raincoat, and left. The chill was still in the air and I needed something warm.

end


Visiting 

Last Sunday was my Grandma’s birthday. I went out to visit her — drove; the first time Dad’d let me take the car to go anywhere outside the city. I just got my license a few weeks ago; I had to wait ’cause I was – sick the last couple years.

It’s not that far, maybe forty miles; a little past “civilization,” just into the country south of where we live. It’s a real pretty drive on a nice day, and Sunday was beautiful. The trees’d just budded, there were those little yellow flowers, I don’t know what they’re called but they smelled wonderful, all along the roadside. I had plenty of time so I stopped and picked some. I figured they’d look nice in her bouquet. The breeze blew on my hair and face, and it felt so good! I missed that, all the time I spent inside. And in the car, there was just enough breeze so it was comfortable to ride with the window open and listen to the whip of the wind instead of the air conditioner. Not a lot of traffic, which surprised me. Of course, when I left, most everyone was still in church: I went to the early service, so I could start out before it got too hot. The sky was very blue. Nimbus clouds, lots of birds. Butterflies and birds.

I got there about ten o’clock, a little before they opened. I parked in the lot — there were only maybe half a dozen cars there — and waited, drank the thermos of black coffee Mom’d prepared for me. She made me take a couple biscuits, too, but I let them sit. Mom makes wonderful biscuits but, truth? I don’t much care for them cold. Most mornings, they’re fresh and hot, and we smother them with butter and honey. When I was in the hospital?, after I woke up anyway, I think I missed her biscuits more than anything. Them, and eating them with Mom, and Dad, and Billy; he’s my little brother. He wanted to come with me to visit Grandma but Dad wouldn’t let him. I’m glad. I love Billy a lot, but I wanted to come by myself. I mean, it was the first time I’d gone to see her since she died; it happened while I was in the hospital.

Anyway, I drank my coffee and then I walked in. Where Grandma’s buried?, it’s kind of a long way from the lot. We’re on the west side; it’s the oldest part of the cemetery. It’s really big, too. I don’t know how many folks are there, but some of the stones go back to the early 1800s. They had a farm near there, my grandparents, a really successful one. They raised corn and soybeans, kept a few chickens and some cows. My mom, she told me how she used to milk them and churn the cream and butter by hand, even though there were machines; Grandma just said it tasted better that way. She spent her whole life doing it like that. She even taught me how, when I was little. Or she tried, anyway. I wasn’t very good at it. I mean, I couldn’t figure out why I should do it when we could just drive to the store and buy as much as we wanted! I guess I was kind of lazy when I a little girl. Grandma never said that, though. She just kept showing me how and, eventually, I sort of got the hang of it.

So… I found her stone and I laid the flowers I brought on her grave, and I talked to her, about being in the hospital and like that, that I was sorry I hadn’t been able to tell her goodbye and that I’d miss her. Which I do. Then I just stood there a while. It was so quiet. Grandpa was the one who bought all the plots — ninety-six of them! — so we could be buried together, at least for a few generations. And they’re all marked — we all know where we’re going to spend eternity. Where our bodies will, anyway. Mine is near the southern edge, right under a weeping willow. I kind of like that: They’re my favorite trees. I could see it from Grandma’s grave, the tree, and, and standing there?, looking on it, I could imagine — no; no, not imagine: I realized I knew what it was like, to lie there, in the earth, to not know and, and yet to know: That there was a world you’d been a part of, full of sadness and loss, and laughter and love. I felt – I felt, for a minute, like I did when I was in the hospital. I dreamed, in the coma. I know I did, even if I can’t remember them. It’s funny — when I woke up, the first thing I did?, was cry, because I knew – something, I knew there was a world — one where sight and sound and smell didn’t matter — a world – apart, from this one, and I knew I’d been a part of it, too. And even if I tried I would never be able not to know that. That’s what I talked to Grandma about. I’m pretty sure she understood. I haven’t told anyone else, though, not even Billy. I don’t think he’d understand and anyway, it’s kind of my secret. 

Anyway, I stood there, looking even though I think my eyes were closed. Then I kissed Grandma — her stone I mean — and I walked back. I didn’t stop at my plot, or at any of the other graves. I’ll come out here again; there’s plenty of time.

end

Butterfly  

I met Robby when I was twenty; that was, oh, a lot of years ago. He was older, pretty near the same age I am now, and he’d been around the block more than a few times. Me too, even then. But goin’ around the block was what you did in those days, what ev’ryone did. It was 1983. Hey, didn’t none of us know no better, yet. 

Ondine introduced us; she was his roommate back then. ’Dine and me, we met at this club, a bar, really, where she danced and served drinks. There were lots of places liked that in New York, back then. Still are, I guess.

They couldn’t’ve been more different. ’Dine, she was big and black and beautiful. Solid as a rock, fierce as a mama mountain lion protectin’ her cubs. Robby, he was beautiful too, but he was a butterfly: small, light, delicate. Seemed like he floated. Like music; like his music. And, he was a cowboy (and before you break out the Brokeback Mountain jokes, he never set foot west of the Poconos). But, y’ know — we both were: I mean, I always liked boots and chaps and spurs and leather vests. And ropes; and – stuff. And he really liked me – in them.

Bein’ a piano player, the other thing he really liked was, of course, music. All kinds but especially the music he wrote. So did I, once I learned a little. Once he taught me. A lot. First time I met him, he was playing at the bar where ’Dine worked. Blues. Not that he had the blues — I was dark; Robby, he was all light — just, he favored the music. Me, I grew up on C&W. Moved to New York when I was nineteen and didn’t know much of anything else. 

I was just sitting there this one night, nursin’ my beer, waitin’ for some guy or other to ask me if I was lonely, and listenin’. Likin’ what I heard. Ragged, but smooth too, and sad, and mellow. Blues on a piano? You get to hear in between the notes, the music that ain’t there, the empty spaces where the music comes from. And ’Dine came up to me after the set, asked would I like to meet him, the piano player. I said, sure.

She introduced me to Robby, and Robby introduced me to that. The music, I mean. But, like I said, to a lot of other things, too. I guess you could even say love. Being in love. Didn’t take long. Robby was the kind of guy a lot of people fell in love with. I was one of the lucky ones, though. He fell in love with me, too. Couple months after we met? He asked me to move in with them. Him and ’Dine, I mean.

I came home this one night, maybe a month after I moved in. Ondine was there, dancin’. Not the kind she did at the club, but this slow, swayin’ kind, the kind I didn’t really understand. Robby was playin’ his piano, and he just raised his one hand, real slow, to his lips. “’Dine’s dancin’,” he mouthed. I stood there and listened. Watched. Wondered. Somethin’ about ’Dine’s movement, the shadows it made that were risin’ in the loft and mixin’ with the sound of the music. It all, I don’t know, kinda captivated me. I think I held my breath.

He kept playing till he finished it, three or four times; and ’Dine kept dancin’. Big smile. On both of ’em. And when he finished, they smiled at each other and he got up and came over to me.

“That’s for you,” he whispered. “Like it?”

“Yeah,” I told him. 

“Good,” he said. “I hoped you would. I call it ‘Anthem for a Cowboy.’”

And he put his arms around me and held me in this, kind of dance, kind of swaying. And Ondine, she danced around us.

“Like a cocoon,” he murmured. “My little butterfly.”

Course, he was the butterfly. His wings were his music, Ondine says. Yeah. But, y’ know, butterflies don’t fly very long. But he still – visits me. In the dark; and when Iget darkest. I can feel him, his arms. We sway. And, I still got the music; his music. Maybe it’s not the same. But I still got that.

end


Lulie’s Blues

On the back of the scarred wood door is a calendar: “1993” is imprinted beneath the beer company logo; the pages with the months hang below. The current one is September; sketches of falling leaves are scattered across the boxes with the dates. She’s seen it, or one like it, a thousand times: They’re dressing room de rigeur

The spartan room is paneled in scratched walnut veneer. The usual mirrors run the sixteen-foot length of the makeup counter, where only her makeup and the assorted paraphernalia lie. She is, after all, the “name,” the one they pay to see. And, anyway, she’s the only woman. Used to be, she’d have to share it with men. Not any more. Elderberry Wine’s owner grants her that privilege.

The mirrors, into which she peers from time to time to check just how red her eyes are, are surrounded by the usual weak lights. A black-and-white plastic clock on the wall above shows 8:32. Its second hand turns relentlessly. In eight minutes DuBose will knock. 

The door is closed, and there are no windows. The air is stale, despite the fan at the far end of the counter that hums inharmoniously, blowing the few dresses on the gray steel rack in random patterns. There’s a comfortable floral-print cushioned chair whose colors jibe with nothing else in the room, a squeaky-wheeled wrought-iron stand with a mini wood-grain refrigerator, and a worn faux-black-leather-covered loveseat. A small oak table on which an open instrument case sits. And three armless oak chairs. She sits on one, in her modestly fashionable, navy-and-ivory, long-sleeved, below-the-knee Cool Wool dress, her back stiff.

Lulie’s hands are on her knees. Her wet eyes close and leak. Beyond the room, there are sounds: music and ambient noise, the sort she’s heard most every night of her adult life. White noise, like too much of the music she hears in places that try to emulate Elderberry Wine but fall short. That’s not music! Is it, baby?

She opens her eyes and dabs them with a tissue, glances at the clock, at the mirrors, then at the loveseat, and sighs. “How you doin’, baby? You comf’table?” she murmurs. “I always liked that loveseat. That’s what they call it, a loveseat, ’cause people? they sit on it real close, holdin’ each other. Like they’re in love. I’d do it with you, ’cause I love you more than I love breathin’. You know that, don’t you. 

“And people make love on it too, sometimes, if they’re small enough. Sometimes even if they’re not.” She laughs. It’s a downtrodden laugh, no mirth left in it, just a way to get it out of the heart and into the air where it collects on her face for people to see and think, That’s what six months of constant, intractable pain looks like. “I made love on one just like that. Made love, made you. Made your beautiful face and your sweet smile and your teeny-tiny body. And you just loved me lovin’ you. Like you were The Blues themselves, ’cause we both know what they mean. We both do.” 

She sighs deeply and stands wearily. 

“Almost time for the show, Shan. You gonna listen, aren’t you. You never get tired of listenin’.”

Lulie goes to the open case, lifts the instrument, a pocket trumpet, its silver body and bell glimmering even in the dull light, polishes it a moment, then inhales deeply and blows into the mouthpiece. Just a few blue measures to remind herself of the beauty of the sound she can make, although she is intimate with every note she creates, she has blown each one, heard each one, sweated each one, loved each one a million times. But even a million times, each one is a snowflake, just a little bit different: half a heartbeat longer, a rainbow in the arc unnoticeable to anyone else, a never-before-present quiver in the tremolo; and she always marvels at the trumpet’s lightning fluidity. It’s smaller than the Bb Clifford and Miles and Dizzy played, but the sound is just as rich, just as encompassing. She’s bound in it: Hatshepsut’s wrappings. Her every waking hour is consumed with those sounds. Now. Before, it was Shantarelle and the trumpet. She still hears them both constantly, like the wind hears the thunder and the rain.

She sits on the edge of the loveseat, reaches down and touches it. “Trumpet’s sweet too. Mostly as sweet as you. You like The Blues too, don’t you.” Lulie sighs. “You be good now. I got to —”

Someone raps on a the door and a man’s voice says “Lulie? Five minutes.” 

She nods.

There’s a pause. The voice adds, “Okay?”

Lulie continues to look at the loveseat. She strokes it with one hand, caresses the valves with the other.

“Lulie?” the voice says, a little more insistently.

“Okay,” she replies, barely audible.

“What?”

“I said ‘Okay,’ DuBose.”

“Okay. You, um, need anything?”

“I need” she begins emphatically, then lowers her voice to a whisper, “to go back in time. Can you help me with that?”

“What?” calls DuBose.

“Nothing,” Lulie answers. “I’ll be out in a minute.”

“Okay.” DuBose raps on the door once and leaves. He’s busy. He’s a good man, just new to her world. He met her, stepped into it, for the first time tonight. He has sympathy but it’s matter-of-fact: There’s no understanding. Whatever else, things have to be tended to, after all. Even things that don’t really matter.

Lulie stands and looks down. “I’ll be back, baby. I promise,” she whispers. “Soon as I can.”

Carrying the trumpet she steps to the counter and looks at her unused makeup. I don’t need that, she thinks. I need this. She picks up a thin plastic syringe and squirts a drop from the tip. Yes? No?

Lulie stares at it. In the reflection she can see the empty loveseat behind her.

end









back to the 2020 FLASH SUITE Contest
home/ Bonafides

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather
Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssby feather

3 Responses to “Remembrances”

  1. Remembrances | Defenestrationism.net Says:

    […] « Remembrances […]

  2. Remembrances | Defenestrationism.net Says:

    […] read the suite in order […]

  3. Elissa Forsythe Says:

    Rememberances is a favorite; ways to face loss. Each one so different.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to
defenestrationism reality.

Read full projects from our
retro navigation panel, left,
or start with !What's New!

Follow Us