A vignette about how a wholesome family deals with an accident. Bit of a gorefest, really.
|“Your sister’s dead,” my father said to me. “Dead as a doornail. What are you going to do about it?”
I stared at the corpse of my nine-year-old sister Claire sprawled on the lime-green shag carpeting of the living room floor. Blood was seeping from the corner of her silent, slack mouth and trickling from her glazed-open eye down the bridge of her perfect, darling nose. My mother sniffled quietly on the couch.
“Well?” said my father.
I shrugged, still gaping. Dad lit a cigarette, exhaled loudly and paced the room; his hands working like they always did when he was trying to think of a cover-up. They worked overtime last month when the police came by because one of the neighbors complained of smacking sounds loud enough to tan ten hides through at once. Now, his hands mewled and mauled over each other like mating sparrows, and he sucked the cigarette down to the filter in three puffs.
“What do we do, Charlie?” he demand-pleaded to anyone listening. He was actually addressing the filigreed wallpaper.
My mother sniffled again.
“Shut up, Darlene,” Dad said. “Just shut up.” Then, “Charlie!”
I jumped. I didn’t really mean to. Jumping when Dad is jumpy is never a good idea, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of the spreading, darkening bruise that was enveloping my sister’s caved-in forehead.
“Get a towel and get rid of that…” he pointed to the hammer lying on the floor beside the couch, “…that thing.”
“What do I—“
“Just lose it.”
I got a towel and picked up the bloody hammer with it, careful not to get anymore fingerprints on it. “Dad?” I said.
“What?” He eyed me like a sliver.
“What if we call the police and—“
“Are you fucking crazy, Charlie?” he bellowed. “Is something wrong with your fucking mind?” The first two fingers of his right hand flew up to the side of his head and corkscrewed against his temple. “Do you want to get rid of your mother? Look at her! She’s flipping out and they’ll fucking take her away for sure!”
“But we could say it was an accident…”
“There’ve been too many accidents in this house, Charlie,” Dad said. “Now get rid of that.”
I held the soiled hammer in the towel and carried it outside into the night. I stared at it for awhile, not quite knowing what to do with it and wondering if the neighbors heard the hammering like they heard the smacking last time. I ended up burying it in my mother’s flower garden. I dug a hole at least two feet deep and wedged the hammer in there as tight as I could. I figured I’d deal with it later. Maybe Dad would have some ideas, but for now, hiding it was crucial. I understood this like I understood the mewling of my father’s hands.
When I went back in the house, Dad was just finishing up wrapping Claire in a king-size, brown bed sheet. My mother hadn’t moved. She just sat there on the couch making jerky little sobbing noises, her dark hair falling down over her face and exposing about three inches of gray roots.
“Grab an end, Charlie,” Dad ordered. My eyes widened as Dad went around to the end that used to be Claire’s head and grabbed it, sheet and all. He motioned toward her feet. “Go on,” he coaxed.
“But, Dad, I—“
“Do it, Charlie!” he shouted. “Just fucking do it!”
Mom wailed, then fell silent again. I picked up Claire’s feet, which were all ready a little stiff, but strangely to my twelve-year-old mind, still warm to the touch. Dead bodies, as one might think (as I thought), don’t instantly turn cold, just heavy. Dad and I carried her out to the garage and set her down on the cement floor.
Then Dad started to empty out the icebox where he kept the Old Milwaukee and brown butcher-wrapped deer meat. “Help me, Charlie. Put these against the wall and run the meat in the house and tell your mother to put it in the fridge.”
I lined up the cases of beer neatly against the side wall. Compulsively, in fact. I pushed them right flush against it, making sure each edge was even with the next. I was so absorbed in this task that I didn’t hear Dad calling me.
“Charlie, damn it, I’m gonna whoop you!”
My head jerked up. “Huh?”
“Get over here and grab her feet again!” he said.
I did, and together we heaved her into the icebox. Dad dropped the airtight lid shut and leaned on it like a mourner leans on a coffin. “Good enough,” he muttered to the top of the lid. “Good enough for now.”
I stood silently by my father’s side for a moment, mentally making the Sign of the Cross and trying to remember if I was supposed to cross over my left shoulder first or my right. As I was pondering this, Dad’s breathing grew husky and panting, like a hunted dog. “Dad?” I said.
“Wh-what do we do when people start asking after her?” I wanted to know.
“We’ll say she’s very sick,” Dad answered. “We say she’s sick and then she’ll die soon after…”
“But…Dad…Daddy…” I felt hot tears starting to burn my eyes, but I fought to hold them back. I knew crying would not be a good idea at this point in the game.
Dad looked up at me. His cold, blue eyes, my eyes, flashed for a moment and then softened a little, something they never did before and would never do again. He gripped my shoulder the way a father would whose son has just lost his favorite dog. “Take the meat in to your mother,” he said, “before it spoils.”
I stared into his eyes a moment longer, sniffed, nodded and carried the three packages of meat into the house.
“Mom?” I called as I walked through the back door that joined the garage to the kitchen. “Mom?” The brown wrapped packages were heavy, dead weight, so I set them on the kitchen table and peeked around the wall into the living room. “Mom? Dad said—“
But Mom wasn’t there. Claire’s blood was drying on the carpet, making for quite a mess to clean up later. There were little meaty chunks, too, and the whole conglomeration reminded me somehow of the time I got Silly Putty stuck in that same carpeting and it wouldn’t come out for anything. I got whooped then, too, but this was not Silly Putty.
From down the hallway, Mom’s bird-voice meandered, eerily singsong against the narrow walls.
“Mom?” I said again.
“In here, Charlie,” it fluted.
I followed her voice to Claire’s bedroom. My mother was sitting on the bed in her nightgown and she was hugging Claire’s favorite doll to her chest like Claire used to do. The memory twisted in my gut like a rusty blade, but I swallowed it down as best I could. “Mom,” I said, “Dad told me to tell you—“
“Charlie,” she interrupted, smiling a vacant smile. Her eyes were dead and dark. “Go tuck your sister in. She…she’s crying…” My mother handed me the doll. “Go,” she said, snot running from her nose. She smiled again and gently pushed me toward the door. “Go, before your father hears and gets upset.”
“Right,” I said, backing away. My mother was gone. She was here, but she was not here. At twelve, I understood this, too. “Right, Mom. Okay.” I dropped the doll and left the room.
As I made my way back into the kitchen, Claire’s blood and brains glared at me from the carpet. If they had tongues, they would have stuck them out at me. A thousand tiny tongues to mock.
In the kitchen, I opened the fridge and made room by clearing a spot between the fruit salad and the leftover Chinese. Then I took the heavy deer meat packages, wrapped in brown paper, and shoved them all the way in the back where, if they spoiled, the smell wouldn’t hit you right away when you opened the door.
Outside, in the garage a dismal thunder tore along the wall against the kitchen. I bolted to the door, hearing my mother’s pattering footsteps running down the hall. In the center of the concrete floor of the garage, my father lay with his hunting rifle plugged into what used to be his mouth, except now it was a jawless, noseless, gaping yawn in the center of his face. The top part of his head was gone, too, and blood, brains and scalp were splattered everywhere. Behind me in the kitchen, my mother hummed as she began to fry up the venison that I so carefully hid in the back of the fridge.