by Graham B.
Every one deals with grief in different ways.
|"Dag nab it, I can't find my shoes!"
"Right here, Dwight," she said, holding up the slightly dusty, but still shiny loafers.
Dwight snatched them away, and his bushy white eyebrows knitted together into a scowl. The laugh lines near his mouth battled with the more recent frown lines, and lost.
"Don't know why we got to dress up for this thing anyhow!"
"You know Lisa is going to be there this time, along with Fred and Helen. What's wrong, dear?"
Dwight grumbled as he sat down to pull his shoes on over threadbare argyle socks. He stood up to his full five-foot-nine height and endured Doris's hands flitting about his tweed suit, making sure that it hung properly from his slight frame, and straightening his tie one last time. She finished, and beamed at him. The deepening scowl was his only reply.
"There! We're ready, dear. Shall we go?"
"Every year we do this," muttered Dwight. "Every year. What's the point?"
He stood aimlessly near the front door, as if waiting for something to happen. Doris pulled the car keys from her purse and jangled them expectantly. The keys didn't improve Dwight's demeanor in the slightest. His vision had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer drive. Doris had to handle any long trips, such as the one they were about to take.
"Bobbie and Terrance are waiting, dear," Doris prompted, and Dwight grabbed his hat and headed out to where the faded yellow Dodge sat waiting in the driveway. On either side of the driveway, the lawn was yellowing from neglect, but a few daisies still bloomed around the edges. He muttered something about keeping up the property.
Every year it had been the same, for the past fourteen years. Only now, Dwight could no longer drive, which somehow made things worse. Driving was a distraction, a way for him not to think about where they were going, what they were doing. Now, all he could do was sit in the passenger's seat and stew.
The sun shone brightly in the Pennsylvania sky despite the encroaching September cold. But he was in too much of a funk to appreciate it.
"What's going on?" he said as Doris pulled the car out and accelerated. "The car's never made that noise before."
"The car's just fine," said Doris. "You're imagining things, dearie."
"I know my own car!" said Dwight. "Been driving the blinkered thing for twenty years! Don't tell me about my own car!"
"Well, we're not going to get there by complaining about it, Dwight. Now stop distracting me!"
"I don't think you're driving it right," muttered Dwight, before lapsing into silence.
It took ten minutes to get to Bobbie and Terrance's. The couple greeted at them as they got into the back seat, and exchanged pleasantries with Doris. Dwight grunted a greeting but kept his eyes straight ahead.
"Boy, you never get used to these things, do you, Dutch?" said Terrance, cheerily invoking Dwight's nickname from his college baseball days.
"Oh, leave him alone," said Bobbie. "It's a fine enough day when we get him out of the house."
"What a fine day, eh, Dutch? I'm of a mind to have us a picnic after!"
"Why, that's a great idea, Terry!" said Doris.
"A great idea for catching our death of cold," said Dwight. He fiddled with the heater.
"Are you kidding, Dutch? Look at this weather! I think Chris would have agreed."
Dwight didn't react, but Bobbie frowned and squeezed Terrance's arm.
"What? It's been fifteen years!"
But the name filled the car and swallowed the two elderly couples in suffocating silence. The car puttered on down US Highway 30, past the farms and granaries, with the sun chasing them from cloud to cloud. Dwight's scowl had sunken into melancholy, which added to the blanket of silence.
It was Bobbie who finally broke it.
"I joined a book club," she said.
"Oh really?" said Doris, relief palpable in her voice. "What are you reading right now?"
"It's called Ordinary People."
"Oh! I know that one. Didn't they make a movie of it?"
"They did, but I haven't seen it. We started reading, but haven't really discussed it in detail. Dwight? Have you read anything good lately?"
"Just The Herald."
"Did you catch the scores?" said Terrance. "How about those Phillies?"
"Oh dear," said Bobbie. "Once you get Terry started on baseball..."
Somewhere under Dwight's right foot there was a pop, followed by a flapping noise. Doris slowed the car and brought it to a halt at the side of the 30.
"No problem," said Terrance. "I've got this. Pop the trunk, Doris."
"No, dammit!" said Dwight, opening his door. "I might not be able to drive any more, but I'll be blinkered if I can't change a tire on my own damn car!"
He slammed the door and stomped back to the trunk and the waiting spare. He paused as he lifted the jack out, taking care not to disturb what Doris had placed in the trunk earlier before they left.
It took five minutes to jack the car up. Dwight was sweating by the time he had removed the lugs and gotten the blown tire off. He sat on the spare and rested for a moment while breathing the cool, clean breeze which brought to him the buzzing of the year's last remaining cicadas. Then he saw the daisies. They stood as sentinels next to the highway, with their perfect white petals like naval uniforms. Chris had been in the Navy, Dwight remembered. A portrait of Chris still hung near the front door next to a family portrait, looking resplendent in his Navy whites. Navy portraits were usually taken with blues, but Lisa had always preferred him in his whites.
The breeze made the daisies ripple, and Dwight's old bones shiver. He picked up the tire iron and bent to the remainder of his task. As he did so, he heard muffled voices from inside the car.
"He never really cried, you know," he heard Doris say. "Never. I wonder how he took it."
"He's always been tough. He deals with it in his own way. I know him. I've known him for a long time."
That was Terrance, good man.
"But it seems to get harder every year," said Doris. "It's like dragging him to the dentist, which I can tell you is quite a chore. I worry about him. I really do."
As Dwight cranked down the last lug nut, the tire iron slipped loose, and his fingers smacked soundly into the steel rim. Dwight dropped the iron and managed to withhold a stream of curses. Instead, he put his injured knuckles into his mouth, which made them sting.
Dwight thought about this day as his fingers throbbed. He thought about Chris, about the last fifteen years, about the trip that he had to make every year at this time - a time when the fall winds began to descend and turn the leaves brown on the trees. Time marched on for a few more moments as Dwight's head began to throb in time with his knuckles. He looked down, and saw the daisies staring back at him, impassive and resolute.
Dwight turned around and saw the others in the car staring at him. He waved half-heartedly at them and began putting the equipment away.
"Oh dear, are you okay?" said Doris when Dwight finally took his place in the passenger's seat.
"I'm fine, honey. Just bashed my knuckles out there."
He put his knuckles in his mouth again, and this time, it didn't sting as much.
Doris put the car into gear and the two couples began to chat the remaining miles off of the long trip. They talked about books, sports, food, and movies. They even talked about the election, though they carefully avoided voicing their own political opinions. Somehow, that seemed sacrilegious on this particular day.
Finally, the glistening sheen of Indian Lake swung into view. They were close. Doris looked for the turnoff, the same one they had made each year since that fateful day, but it was her first time driving to this spot, so she was careful. Dwight's eyes were wide open, and darted left and right, trying to miss no details - the curved, gray concrete building, the silent trees just beginning to hint at their fall yellows and oranges, the inevitable crowded parking lot.
Doris managed to find a spot on the side of the road. Dwight opened the trunk and took out the wreath. The four began trudging toward the open meadow, ignoring the building with its crowds of visitors, dignitaries, and reporters.
They walked into the waving grasses and past the daisies which blanketed the ground, heading toward the place where it had happened fifteen years ago. The place where the plane had gone down with Chris in it.
Lisa was waiting for them at the spot, along with her parents, Fred and Helen. Standing next to Lisa was a lanky, athletic fifteen-year old girl who bore a striking resemblance to Chris. Dwight faltered at the sight of his granddaughter, and his breath caught in his throat. He gathered himself, carried the wreath to the spot and placed it on the ground.
The families stood near the wreath in silence for a few moments. No words were spoken, and none were needed. Somewhere back at the memorial, a state senator was giving a speech, but no one could make it out.
Doris turned to smile at Dwight, and her smile changed to surprise. Tears were coursing down Dwight's cheeks, and his lower lip quivered. He tried to wipe them away, but they kept coming. Doris pulled her husband into an embrace, and was followed by the rest of the family. The girl was last.
"Thanks for coming, Grandpa," she said, as she hugged him.
The beginnings of a cool northern wind began to gust across the field, threatening Dwight's old bones, but he didn't feel it.
Word count: 1674