A Prayer For You, For Me
Mother told me a prayer once, one that explained my death, though I cannot recall it.
Death is an odd thing to consider if you really stop to think about it. Mother told me about death, about what it would be like. All white lights and comfort, outstretched hands and welcoming smiles.
Sadly, death is nothing like that. It is neither glamorous nor special, though some might call it simple.
But no, I am afraid that it is a bit more than what Mother thought.
The wood floor creaks the same with each step, but the sound remains lost to the world, somewhere unseen, somewhere unheard. The walls look the same, ever enclosing, that dull off white that surrounded my childhood, my every memory.
The world is different, as if I had been dropped into a deep hole with no escape, but there is no hole, no dark cellar responsible for my creeping fear. The fan moans with every pass, flickering shadows while the incandescent light baths the room in a dull, yellow glow. I push through the door and out of my room. The hallway is just as narrow, the entryway just as empty.
A warm breeze kisses my face when I step outside, making its way to everywhere, to nowhere. There is still wind, though I suppose I should not be surprised. I look around. The paint still separates itself from the weathered wood beams that surround the porch. The house continues in its drab existence.
How similar being dead is to being alive, almost like I am simply dreaming.
Father swings open the screen door and spills himself into one of the porch chairs. His white t-shirt displays remnants of last night's dinner. He rubs his hands over his scalp, through nonexistent hair. I stand directly in front of him, but remain unnoticed, overlooked like everything not in a whiskey bottle. His eyes are glazed. His breath is sour. He tugs on the bottle of whiskey and slouches farther back into the chair.
Mother would be in the kitchen sitting at the table, stacks of papers and unopened envelopes surrounding her. Her eyes would be locked on the wall at the far end of the room with an almost invisible line of tears trailing down her cheeks.
A can pops open from inside the house. Grandpa found his recliner. There is no TV in the sitting room. The beer would be a substitute for any visual entertainment. He will greet one large gulp with another, each helping to wash away the burden of consciousness.
I glance at my father. His face twitches. His knuckles clench. It will not be long now. I go back into the small house, through the sitting room where Grandpa sits silent, mute, and into the kitchen where Mother sits crying. I move closer to her and place my hand on her shoulder. She cannot feel it, at least not in any physical sense, but I watch with a quiet smile as her mood lightens and she slowly begins wiping her tears away with her sleeve.
She turns her head to me, slightly to her left and over her shoulder, as if acknowledging my existence, though I am sure she did not fully understand. With a silent resolve she lifts herself out of the chair and pushes through the screen door into the backyard. Sheets, blouses, coveralls, and faded jeans litter the weighted lines. I follow her out, but stop at the wooden steps that lead down into the small yard.
I hear the front door crash shut. Grandpa mumbles something in dissent and catches what sounds like the back of Father’s hand. The yell comes next. “The hell you at woman?”
Mother’s face blanches. Her eyes search frantically for any source of refuge, but the backyard is small, too small even for a child to hide.
Father stares through the door; his face full of color, his words ripe with venom. “I thought I told you to clean that shit up!” He punches open the screen door and lumbers down the steps.
He moves straight towards me. His face contorts into its usual display of disgust. He passes right through me and continues on to Mother. She remains fastened to the ground, arms at her side, head lulled at her chest.
“She’s gone damn you, gone forever.” His eyes rage with drunkenness. He pulls her eyes to his with a slap that snaps her head to the side. “How many times do I have to fuckin’ tell you? Dammit woman, between you and your piece of shit father, God knows how I survived this long.”
Tears make their way down Mother’s cheeks once more, but Father is too enraged to care. He tears down the sheets in his path and stomps his way back towards the house. “Get this house cleaned up or I swear by Jesus I’ll punish you.” He doesn't even waste the effort of turning over his shoulder while speaking before he disappears back into the house.
He will grab the bottle again, buying mother a brief respite before the next rage. Mother drops to her knees, gasping for breath in between sobs. She looks around, lost, distraught. “I’m so sorry, baby. I’m so sorry,” she says to the empty backyard.
Grandpa peers out into the yard cautiously before finally coming out. He crosses the yard to where Mother sits and helps her up. “Why? Why do you stay?” he asks her, though I am sure he knows the answer as well as anybody.
Mother shakes her head. “He’d find me. No matter where I went or how long it took him, he’d find me. You know what he’s capable of.”
Grandpa nods his head, sullen in his agreement.
Not long after my tenth birthday Father started sending Mother away on pointless errands and time-consuming chores. Grandpa hadn't moved in yet, so it left me at home alone with Father. Once Mother left, he would make me take baths, even when I didn’t need one and even though I no longer needed help. Father insisted, and if I ever said no, well, I only made that mistake once.
Mother knew. I suppose mothers always know. She tried everything possible to stay home, or to take me with her, but Father would say no with words first, then with his fists. Mother called the sheriff, but he and Father were old friends, so he paid us no mind.
One day Mother fought back. She sunk a knife in Father’s back, but it didn’t do all that much. She almost paid for it with her life. She didn't come home from the hospital for almost two weeks. Father wouldn’t let me go and see her. “She is being punished,” he said.
She could barely look at Father after that. God knows what he did to her.
When she finally came home she looked terrible, like she had been in a train wreck. Grandpa moved in a few days after that. “Grandpa’s sick,” Mother told me, but I thought he seemed pretty healthy.
The baths stopped for a while, but I noticed Father drank more. He looked at me with his hard eyes, and every time he did I just knew that he hated me.
One night a few weeks later, he decided that he didn’t need baths anymore. I don’t remember much about that night other than the stink of alcohol on his breath and pain, lots of pain. Mother and Grandpa screamed and banged on the door, but Father had wedged my chair up under the knob.
The world faded in and out after he left, but I remember a commotion outside. When Mother’s face appeared I saw that she had already taken a bruise, and part of her hair was matted to her head, though it was too dark to see with what.
“Oh God, my baby. Oh God,” she said through the sobs. She cradled me. The world faded in and out as she rehearsed a quiet prayer. “Lord, we will be leaving....” But her words drifted away, lost to the darkness.
I don't recall what happened after that, though I know I felt safe.
Some days later, when I woke, all of the pain was gone. Everything was somehow the same, but unmistakably different. I heard Grandpa talking to a man that I assumed was a doctor. “She will make it, though I am not sure how with wounds like hers, not to mention her…” His voice trailed off as he thought about what to say, and more importantly, what not to say, but he recovered quickly. “She is a fighter.”
The doctor looked right at me, or through me, but couldn't see me.
He shook Grandpa’s hand. “I am truly sorry... for everything,” he said with a sympathetic nod before leaving the house.
It took almost a week for Mother to get out of bed, another two before the men stopped coming. I assumed they were different kinds of cops, for they were always with Father’s sheriff friend, but I could not be sure. They never stayed long.
Mother cried. Father drank. All the while I remained unseen. I soon began to wonder what exactly had happened, though I was sure I did not want to know the answer.
Grandpa’s voice brings me back to the yard. He shakes his head in disgust at the house, at Father. “If only I had been here sooner. I could have helped.”
I know he is talking about the time Mother fought back.
Mother falls to her knees again, her body racked by the same relentless sobs. “It’s my fault,” she cries. “It’s all my fault that she’s dead.”
“Oh honey, no. It isn’t your fault.” Grandpa does his best to console her. “There is no one to blame but that…that evil man.” He raises his eyes back to the house.
“You don’t understand, Pa. He didn’t kill her.” Her body shudders with the revelation. Her sobs come stronger, faster.
Grandpa’s face is etched in confusion. “What are you talking about, dear?”
“She was still breathing when I went in there. You were unconscious. I couldn’t stand to see her like that, not my baby. She was broken. Her little body was broken.” She coughs momentarily, barely able to hold it all together. “I tried to go with her. I wanted to go with her. I don’t know what went wrong.”
Slowly, she pulls up her sleeves up one at a time, revealing two long, white scars that traced up from each wrist. “They saved me somehow, brought me back, but I wanted to be…” She pauses, unable to finish.
Grandpa gulps as he tries to hold back the tears. “You… you killed her?”
Her body rocks forward, her hands are in front of her face. “God I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry.”
The screen door swings open and Father sloshes his way down the steps. His whiskey bottle is in his right hand. Anger is clear on his face. “What the fuck did you just say?” he bellows through slurred lips.
Mother looks up in horror. Grandpa places himself between her and Father, but he is no match for the younger man. Father tosses him to the side like a twig and moves on to Mother.
I watch in terror as he wraps his hands around Mother’s throat, as the blood builds up in her face and she coughs and gasps for air. “You took her away from me, you bitch! I should have rid the world of you long ago!”
She sputters, but manages to choke out a few words. “I… saved… her…”
He squeezes harder, and for the first time since my death, I cry.
I didn’t see the shovel until it made contact with the back of Father’s skull. His hands fall away from her throat and Mother collapses to the ground, gasping for air through a crushed wind pipe.
Father stumbles forward. He slowly turns to see Grandpa holding the shovel in both hands, ready for another swing.
“Go to hell you son of a bitch,” Grandpa says before sending one more devastating swing straight at Father’s head. The metal crushes into the side of his face with enough force to make a sickening crunch. Father's knees buckle and he crumples to the ground.
Grandpa runs over to Mother, discarding the shovel as he kneels down next to her. He hugs her head in his arms and speaks in the softest voice. “I’m sorry, sweetie. I’m sorry for everything.” The smallest smile crosses Mother's face, ever so briefly, but before she can answer her head sinks forward, limp in his arms. With a shudder, Grandpa lets out a terrible, sorrow filled cry.
The world brightens. I look around, unable to figure it out. And then, I see her walking towards me. I run to Mother and she catches me in the warmest embrace. She looks deep into my eyes and starts a quick prayer, one that I am sure I have heard before. “Lord, we will be leaving, we have to leave. Help Pa understand. Tell him not to forget you, not to forget us. Tell him that we will meet him again in heaven. Amen.”
She kisses my forehead and hugs me once more. “Come, darling, there is somewhere I want to show you,” she says through a loving smile. She takes my hand and leads me away.
I see the light shimmer, the light Mother spoke about before, and somehow, I know that everything will be okay.
Word Count: 2,268