Thunder, Perfect Mind

map Thunder, Perfect Mind

by Matthew Lykins

Published in Issue No. 223 ~ December, 2015

Wait Here

After the lights go out and the tornadoes rip through, the rain lashes the windows, the sirens wale sporadically and the radio mumbles news of funnel clouds, overturned penitentiary buses, jackknifed semis, and roads blocked by fallen telephone poles before simply throbbing a repeated emergency message: Find shelter, await further instructions, find shelter…

The instructions never come, and the repeated message snaps into static.

I check my cell every few minutes, pick up the landline. Nothing on either.

I sit tight, rising only to coax Gavin away from the stairs and back to the Adirondack chairs behind the workbench. Sometimes a strange new neural hiccup will wipe out most of Gavin’s identity save that he was the father of Colin Lemon, and though Colin is not here he will return shortly.

Sometimes feels like I’ve given Gavin my memories, the only ones he has, the last tether to what he once was. But even those memories are warped by illness.

I was there; I made Colin feel safe, and loved, and he repaid us with pain. The gift of memory is a burden I envy Gavin for losing, and yet he holds on to the memory of Colin before the boy withdrew, became secretive and sullen, and died. Gavin’s love holds neither grief nor dread, but that’s all I remember, and I’ll carry that for Gavin, until I can’t.

Gavin’s asked me to kill him twice. His second, written plea concluded: And they will find me there, and they will live, and they will not die again.

His once-perfect handwriting reduced to that of a child in mittens.

they will not die again.

await further instructions…

It’s a lie to say I haven’t imagined my life without him. I don’t fear loneliness; I’ve been alone before. Christ almighty, I know what life is like with loss.

To see your husband shit himself because he got lost going to the bathroom is heartbreak. That this unknowable man seems to recognize–under the dead eyes, messes and wanderings–that he’s made me forget why I love him shakes me like few things have.

“Kathy,” he says. He looks commanding. “We have to go watch at the door,” and he rises then strains as I wrestle him back into his chair. I haven’t fired up the generators yet. I have plenty of kerosene, and it’s still daylight, grayish-green, aqueous, like our house is at the bottom of a fish tank in a bright room. We should have enough juice to power the fridge, TV and lights but any appliance that needs more voltage than a can-opener will be worthless.

“We need to stay down her, baby.” I say.

“But Colin–”

“Colin’s fine, honey. Colin’s out of town. Remember?” He nods. He does not. At the beginning of this phase, I was as honest as possible and told him that Colin was dead. He crumpled and wept, crunched into a shaking comma, and then sat up, in the middle of the floor, and asked, again, “Where’s Colin? He was right here, wasn’t he?”

After Gavin took three bullets in the hip, ribs, and spleen twenty years ago, bleeding out onto the Bert Combs Parkway while he called for back-up, we had five quiet years, until our son Colin turned fourteen and fell in with two older boys, brothers.

I’m almost positive they never meant to kill him, just as they hadn’t meant to leave the capped molar near the shallow hole and eviscerated body. The only thing that linked Colin to the mess in the ground.

Just as I couldn’t take Gavin’s life, I couldn’t take my boy’s, not again and again as I suspected I’d have to. So I lied, and told Gavin he was at the movies, he was with his girlfriend, he was just up in his room, asleep.

“He never wants to see us anymore, does he?” It feels dirty and necessary, and what isn’t in this life, when you get down to it?

The lights snap on, then out with a crack. The landline rings in the kitchen, then stops. “Colin?” he asks.

“No. I don’t know.” The surge is odd, but nothing seems damaged or charred after a quick check upstairs.

I return and snap the portable radio off. No sense wasting the batteries, especially if the electric and phone are well-and-truly out.

As heavy as the wind is, as loud as the rain pounds, there is peace in the basement. The dogs settle. I look up from my book to check the clock—11 PM—and look at Gavin, who’s dropped off. I turn down the lanterns and decide to do the same.

Gavin bolts upright, eyes wide, at the pounding on the door. I pull my .38 from the hiding spot. a locked top drawer of my workbench.

“Colin?” he asks.

I shake my head and rise from the chair, but he’s at my side, keening. “Colin? Colin!” and then he’s out of the basement and up the stairs, and on the landing I hear him throw the door open. “Colin!” he squeals.

“Close the door now, man!” says the voice.

“Colin,” my husband says again, and I’m running now, my old legs shaky on the pine steps.

“Man, you need to–”

I hit the first floor and point the gun at the man, a boy really, no more than thirty, though it’s hard to tell with the grime and sweat, crouched with his back to the door. The man at the door wears dark blue dungarees and a white t-shirt, a red bandanna over a drawn, grimy face. Short, greasy hair stands up in clumps. He smells like the woods and burnt leaves, and when he yanks the bandanna down, he reveals a deep, dirty scar, pocked with clumsy staple marks, from his lip to his ear, a whiplashed sneer, like someone tried to peel back his face. It’s all I can see.

“What’s your business?” The words feel ridiculous in my mouth.

“Look, lady–” he starts.

“Colin?” Gavin asks.

“Gavin, this isn’t–” I begin.

“Basement,” the boy says. “Now.”

“No basement. Get the fuck out of my–” and he pulls a Ka-Bar from behind his back.

The knife’s at Gavin’s throat. “Lady,” the man says, voice calm, hand steady, eyes wide and darting. “Whatever you’re prepared to do, we’ll do, bloody or not.”

“Don’t, don’t,” and I lower the weapon. He’s still hugging Gavin close, and he smiles. “Bitch, you have no idea what I’ve been through.”

“Colin.” Gavin says it as a statement, an admonishment. A whisper. “Colin, don’t talk to your mother that way.” The boy looks at me and then at Gavin’s right ear; I see the gears click over, a new setting.

He drops his arm and lowers the knife. “Sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean to–”

Gavin spins to face him and gives him a light slap on the cheek like he used to when Colin cursed.. “Well, you did. But it’s nice to see you.”

The man looks at me. “Gavin,” I say, “Gavin–”

But the man simply looks at the gun in my hand, then down in the knife in his, daring me. He locks eyes with Gavin, and seems to pick up the thread. He flips the Ka-Bar around and hands it to me by the handle, like Cub Scouts are taught. “I don’t want trouble, I just need a place to crash.”

 

The boy sits by the window, Gavin and I prisoners only in name. I don’t speak to him but Gavin does, bringing him pre-packaged brownies and lemonade made from powder shaken into plastic bottles of water.

“The storm’s over, Colin. No need to watch out the window, Toosk.”

I never got a pet name–Gavin was jealous with his endearments. He once told me that a pet name was more sacred than your surname, because it emerged from the person you are, not the one your parents hoped you’d be. I told him he sounded like one of my translated poets.

“Watch it with the artsy-fartsy shit,” he said, cocking a pretend gun at me.

“I know it’s over,” the boy says. Gavin glances at me, the joy around his eyes an ice pick in my gut. I’m plugged into a kitchen chair, quiet and surging. I flip my phone open: nothing.

The handset for the cordless: nothing.

Await further instructions

And they will find me there…

Eleven hours of watching. No cars, no change. Do you ever sleep, Toosk?

Gavin built the house with privacy in mind, privacy and calm after a career spent striding up to car windows he was never sure he’d walk away from, and once barely managed to.

I realize now that he built our tomb.

I feel for the gun.

Gavin bought me a pistol; after he started wandering, I hid it in the tool bench. I kept his rifles, unloaded, on pegs in the basement. Protection became not about what was outside but in: inside the house, inside Gavin’s head, inside our love.

When Colin died, it occurred to me that a world where the bereft were forced to take action was a world that failed. I never doubted the police force Gavin served with until I was told that they would find my boy’s killers. They didn’t: not for a week, two; a month, two.

It took Gav three days. Simple. A few hundred bucks to some lowlifes behind a rest stop, a tip, and the brothers were in the trunk of his car in the Daniel Boone National Forest.

They neither begged, nor confessed.

“Welcome but unnecessary,” said Gavin, when I asked if he had proof. He saw the demons behind their eyes, the black behind the pupils that told him more than their words ever could.

I lost no sleep about that, but plenty worrying about a world that would make an old man with a bum hip walk out into the middle of the forest and throw two bodies into a sinkhole by a vanishing creek. A world that makes me keep a gun and hope we don’t have to use it, again.

So use it, Kathy. Point it at him and make him leave. I don’t. I stare. The boy looks calm, at peace, even. So does Gavin; Gavin, who for months has flipped from catatonia to manic rage, walking through the house, flipping through old phone books, sorting garbage into indecipherable piles.

He speaks quietly to the boy.

“Tomorrow we’ll take a drive to the lake…Do you still like tuna fish? I’m afraid it’s about all we have…How’s the wing? Maybe a catch later?”

Gavin forgot our address paying bills in 2003, the names of our dogs in 2005, his sister’s name in 2009. Most days, he tolerates me–I don’t scare him. Twice he’s hidden in the bathroom and called 911 about the stranger in his house. Once, he found my keys for me. He once read three books a week, did crossword puzzles in felt-tip pen.

The boy never asks me what’s wrong with Gavin. He never asks where this Colin is. Once, I see him reach over and pat Gavin’s hand; I’ve not seen that light in Gavin’s face for years.

Use the gun. Get him out.

I check the phones again, the silence as solid, profound, and useless as the pistol lodged in the small of my back, hidden by a bulky cardigan.

The boy rises occasionally to visit the bookshelf, his back to me, but I make no move. He hasn’t disarmed me, and as the hours pass I wonder if I am the prisoner the jail keep. What keeps him here? What does he want?

He pulls out photo albums, thumbs through, Gavin by his side. “We loved that vacation,” Gav murmurs.

“Myrtle Beach,” the boy says, flatly. The album is not marked or labeled. Perhaps there’s a photo of us by a sign. “Two weeks.”

I hear Gavin murmur. Poetry. I’d read him translations I was working on before I stopped writing transcription for U.K.’s Languages Department and started transcribing for a medical outfit. “In my weakness,” he says, “do not forsake me, and do not be afraid of my power.”

I walk upstairs to the bathroom. Looking in the mirror, I see only the boy; I clap my hands over my eyes, press until I see stars, and think of Colin’s face, try to square it with the face downstairs. When I open them, all I see is a scared old woman, hope curling the corners of her mouth.

In my weakness do not forsake me.

Colin, whom I’ve forgotten; Colin whom I blame for what we, what our lives, have become. For making Gavin sick. For leaving me alone. For locking us in the amber the word “vengeance” hardens into when it touches a life.

Fifteen years, gone. Ten years with a man I cannot love. I stay. Still I stay.

do not be afraid of my power.

It’s amazing what a human being can endure.

The evening of the second day, after a night and a morning of checking phones for service, stealing glances at the computer, looking in photo albums and out windows, the boy turns towards me. “Kathy?” He cocks a thumb and forefinger, releases the hammer. “Kathy, right?”

I nod.

“You got that gennie downstairs. Gonna fire it up?”

I nod, slower.

“You got gas, right, or are we gonna have to suck it out of the vehicles?”

“I have fuel,” I say, straightening in my chair.

“Let’s do it, then.”

“I’m sure the power’ll be back up soon.”

“Don’t imagine that’ll work,” he says, flipping a dead switch up and down half a dozen times. There’s a certainty that makes me leave the matter unquestioned.

He follows me down into the basement. His eyes scan the shelves when I hit the lights, to the rack of rifles on the back wall.

“Quite a set-up,” he says. “Knew I had the right place.” He runs a hand over the labeled boxes: “Xmas lights”, “winter clothes”, “fabric scraps”. He rubs the dogs’ heads. “They like to bark, don’t they?”

I say nothing, looking at the boxes, past him, then at the dogs. “Sometimes,” I say.

“Never liked dogs,” he says.

Alarms ring in my head, but I don’t press him. Best he think I’m scared, cowed. That I will shy away from killing a man.

“I’m surprised you’ve let me live this long,” he says, reading my thoughts.

“Me too,” I whisper.

“Man like Gavin, years on the force, a man of action.” He smiles, a disarming sweetness. “Definitely a risk coming here, you know? But I guess, now…”

“Who are you?” I ask.

“Does it matter? You’re going to kill me down here, right?” And I realize that yes, I am. I am going to kill him. Gavin’s upstairs, out of harm’s way. Yet it was the boy who suggested the errand.

It was he who chose to come down here and die.

My voice is a husk. “My son, Colin?” He nods. “He was killed years ago.” I stop and wait. He simply stares. “They cut his throat, beat his face in with a bike chain, yanked his teeth.” He squats, looks at me behind his thick brown brows. “Gavin took the boys out to Daniel Boone and shot them, buried them.”

He looks at the cement floor, painted a slick gray. “Made you feel better, I suppose.”

“The point is we aren’t afraid.”

He traces an invisible symbol into the floor with his ring finger. “Boy gets fucked up that bad, it’s personal. Your son sounds like a piece of work.”

“He made a mistake,” I say. He sold the boys Klonopin and said it was Oxy. He was fourteen.

“Seems to me he probably made a couple, or the same mistake more than once.”

“You’re an expert?”

He shrugs again and hitches his pants. He stares into my eyes. “You telling me your boy did this one thing, got killed for it? You never had your doubts? Thought maybe he had a little of the devil inside him?”

“It’s not your business, is it?”

“I’m dying soon, right? Seems like my business is whatever I damn well please.”

“You remind me of him, is all.”

“And you’re going to shoot me. Goddamn lady, seems to about sum up your feelings about your boy, huh?”

I make no gesture, I’m sure I don’t flinch, and the barrel quivers only a little. “Who are you?”

“It’s not important. It’s interesting, but not important. It’s a story.” He turns his back and wrestles a ten-gallon can of kerosene off the shelf. “I guess you did need my help,” he says, pointing at the height of the shelf and weight of the can.

I raise the pistol. “Are you going to tell me?”

With his back still turned, he says, “I’d hate to take a bullet before the ending. Seems like a disservice.”

“What do you know?” I ask.

He turns, the gas can still dangling from a fist. “Kathy,” he begins, closing his eyes and looking at the ceiling for a beat. “I want this,” and he spins his finger in a circle by his left ear—all of this, this house, us–“to be something we can live with. I have to see if this is something you can do, I can do, we can do. Too much too soon is never the way to begin something new.”

“You know my son?” I ask again.

He cocks a finger at me again. “Now, see—that right there. That’s what I’m talking about.” He sets the gas can down and puts his hands up, shoulder-height—don’t shoot!–and says “Haven’t I done everything I can to make this tolerable?”

“Tolerable,” I repeat. “You’re in my house, messing with me–”

“My apologies,” he says.

“–with my husband, who’s sick–”

“Far as I can tell he seems right as rain.”

“I need to know we’re safe, even if that means pulling the trigger and digging the hole.”

The pistol’s shoulder height now and I pull the hammer. Say something he’ll finally acknowledge—last chance, or you have the count of three. All I muster is “Please, I need to know how this ends.”

He drops his hands and rocks back on his right foot. “Then baby, you’re on the wrong fucking ride. Before I showed up and after I’m gone.”

What did Gavin whisper to me that Sunday morning at church?

For I am knowledge and ignorance

I am shame and boldness

I am shameless and ashamed.

I am strength and I am fear.

I am war and peace.

I smelled the woods in his hair, tried to look past his wild eyes. I hadn’t expected him back so early, but there he was, in a tie, unshaven. Shaking, exultant.

As was I. A chance to start over, to rewrite the story. My son, who was difficult, and secretive, and ultimately unknowable. My son, of whom I was afraid, but told no one.

I am suddenly so tired. His defiance is not a dare. It’s an acknowledgement. He knows more than he’s telling me. He is more than a liar and derelict.

“You need to start talking,” I say.

“You won’t listen. I tried to–”

“Open your mouth.”

“What are you on about?”

“Let me see your teeth.”

A smile.

Acknowledgement?

For I am knowledge and ignorance…

“Seems like a mother would know without having a full dental work-up.”

And I should. “Open your mouth,” I say again.

“Ain’t but half of what’s left in my mouth mine, anyways,” he says, “So it don’t matter.”

I am shame and boldness

A switch has been thrown, because who he is and what he knows does not matter. It’s both inextricable and irrelevant. He’s either here because we were right years ago, in which case he needs to die, or because we were wrong, in which case he needs to die. He is no different than the tornado: something to defend against, the reason the guns hang on my wall.

“Pull that trigger, old woman, and you’ll never know anything,” he says, but he knows I don’t care anymore. He’s weary too, tired. Whatever he wants from us, whatever he wanted, is gone.

“I’m good with that,” I say. “I’m good with not knowing.”

I am shameless and ashamed…

That smile again as he closes his eyes. “No one’s good with that. Especially you.” He sits back on his heals and folds his hands in front of him.

My finger tightens on the trigger and we exhale together, my eyes widening as his close.

And we both turn towards the inhuman howl coming from upstairs.

When we reach the kitchen, Gavin stands behind the island, the chef’s knife drawn from the butcher’s rack, the big blade trembling.

“Give me back my boy,” he says.

“Baby,” I say.

“You have him,” he says. “You took him away.”

“Dude,” the guy says, “you need to—“

“Give him back,” he yells.

I tuck the revolver into the back of my pants and start to walk towards him. “Baby, put that down and we’ll talk about it. We’ll put on your video and watch it together.”

We have several DVDs of Colin when he was a boy. It calms him; he watches them every day, talking to the screen like Colin was there.

“Computer’s broken,” he says.

“With the generator, we can make it work,” I say, but he cuts his eyes to the boy. “It was going to tell us things that weren’t true. It was going to lie to us, so I broke it. I-” and he makes a slash with the knife, a cutting of the a cord.

“What did you do?” I ask, but the boy is silent, hands at his sides.

I grab the phone off the wall, hoping the lines are back up. Nothing.

“That’s gone too, chief,” he says. I swing wildly around, looking for my cell, then my purse. Why’d I leave it up here? “Look, Kathy, when you come to terms with the fact that we’re here, by ourselves, and that’s how it’s going to be, the better it’ll be for all of us.” I turn to see him holding the phone, then flip it open and break it in half. That same, sad smile as before. “It’s just us, just like you wanted.”

Like Gavin wanted, not me.

The thought scares me as much as the man in my house.

The men in my house.

Await further instructions…

I am strength and I am fear

I am fear…

He sets the broken phone on the counter. He walks toward Gavin. “It’s OK, Gavin.” A glance towards me, and then: “Dad.” “Mom and I,” he whispers. He’s close now, and he turns, briefly, with sleepy eyes. “We’re not going anywhere. Not for a long time.” He’s turned back to Gavin, but the words, I feel, are meant for me. He reaches for the knife, shaking in Gavin’s hand, and he squeezes the blade. A drop of blood appears on the floor between them. Gavin drops the handle and he holds the knife by the blade. His grip is tense; the cut must be deep.

“Toosk,” Gavin says. “I hurt you. I cut you. You–”

“Dad,” he reassures.

“You can’t just wander up when I’m working. Let me see.” He sets the knife on the counter, smeared with blood, the crimson like rust on the blade. Gavin grabs his hand and inspects it, then presses it to his chest. “My boy. Colin.” He grabs a rag, revealing the bloody handprint on his white t-shirt, a symbol I cannot fathom.

“You’re back,” Gavin says.

“I didn’t go anywhere, Dad,” he says. “I was right here the whole time.”

“Where did I go? Where have I been?”

And I can’t help myself. “Visiting, Gav. You were out for a bit. We’ve been waiting for you.” And the boy turns towards me and his face is unmasked, for the first time, and I see recognition, remorse, and gratitude flicker across it. This is not my son. My son has returned.

My son has returned. He was never gone. We were the ones who left.

 

“It was when you stepped in that hole on the trail in Tennessee. I thought you’d broken your ankle.” I set the deer stew and cornbread down in the middle of Gavin’s story.

We’ve heard nothing, seen not one car, and the phone only manages a distressed hiccup every time I’ve removed it from the cradle.

Gavin remembers details from trips to the beach, he remembers where we keep the sugar and how to draw a bath. He remembers I like my tea with honey and my toast with blackberry preserves. He is as unknowable as before.

This idle, this untenable hope, cannot continue, and yet I let it continue, because it is as close to home as I’ve felt for the longest time.

I stare at Colin, testing him, to see if he will pick up the story. He looks like Colin might’ve looked. Same hair, same jaw. The scar is distracting. Are his eyes a lighter brown? His pinned-back shoulders and thin hips seem incongruous with the softer, rounder boy I knew. Every time I try to make a real comparison, my mind’s eye shimmies and flickers. He shovels more food in his mouth and smiles, silent.

“I remember that,” I say, and both men look at me like I’m interrupting.

Colin says, “Not broken, though, right? Dad said staying in the forest would toughen me up.”

Would Gavin say that? Is that my husband?

It sounds like something I would say.

“I made you a splint, showed you how to brace it,” is all I can choke out. He pulled ligaments, missed basketball for a few weeks. Was there a picture of him in the air cast? Was it a lucky guess?

“Thought about making a run tomorrow,” I say.

“We’ll all go,” says Gavin, patting Colin’s hand.

“Not the best idea, Dad.”

“I’ll go alone, then.” I stare at the boy, who returns my gaze. He has a choice: let me go alone, forbid me, or leave Gavin in the house alone. I’ll know where we stand regardless of what he chooses.

“We have everything we need right here,” he says.

“Not forever.” I cut my eyes to Gavin’s, will him to look at me. He does, but just shrugs and smiles. Kids, huh?

“Long enough,” Colin says. His face becomes a mask, something he’s forced to wear, someone behind him trying to smother him with a sheet of plastic wrap.

Those aren’t Colin’s eyes. I feel foolish for even entertaining the thought, even if I’ve seen the same intentions, the same anger, in my son’s. But behind the rage is something weary, resigned. I see the end behind his eyes.

What can he see behind mine?

 

“Pictures stop after about 1998,” he says.

At first I think he was only looking through them to ingratiate himself with Gavin, but now he’s alone, Gavin having turned in early. The .38 is in the crack between the cushion and the chair frame. We’ve had no reason to draw weapons since that evening in the basement.

“Yes,” I say.

He nods, as if I’ve confirmed a suspicion. “Too bad there aren’t more,” he says. “Too bad we can’t make more pictures.”

“Whoever you are, I need you gone by morning,” I say.

“No way anyone’s going anywhere right now,” he says, spinning a finger in the air again, as if it’s the chaos that swirls around this part of the country, the storm and clean-up, and not the phantasmagoria within these walls.

“I’ve played along, and I’m not saying I’m not grateful, but this has become a situation that I, that we–”

“Mom.”

“Don’t call me that,” I say.

He doesn’t look up from the album and points to a picture of Colin and Gavin when they picked me up at the airport after a conference in Salt Lake City. Gavin’s hair is fresh-cut; Colin’s eating a corn dog. I realize, looking askance at the photo albums with the weight of hindsight that Colin was Gavin’s boy. I’d forgotten. His murder was our loss, but Gavin’s burden and tragedy. I’d felt guilty about that once, but I’d recalibrated, reshuffled.

“A lot of things can happen to make you stop wanting to make memories. I should know. What’s been done to you, or what you’ve done. Whatever. But when you stop remembering, that’s when you stop living your life. Might as well be, well…” he spread his arms out and stretched, then turned a complete circle. “You make a home for yourself and try to stretch it around your life, but life’s too big and you got to be willing to keep stretching, keep pulling it around the stuff you already got. Got to keep pulling, rearranging, making room, even if it’s not the home you thought you wanted. This is the home you got. Only got one.”

“I don’t know what you think you know, but whatever makes you think I can’t–” and he spins and is on me, his knee in my stomach and his hand on the gun in the crack of the couch.

He pulls the gun from the couch and puts it to my head, pulls the trigger two, three, four times. Empty chambers. “Would Gavin’d made the same mistake? Been as careless?” He stands, rubs his hands down his face, bored.

“I’d check on the dogs if I were you. They’ve been awfully quiet. Maybe we’ll talk after that.”

I force myself to sleep, taking a few deep pulls from a supply of Early Times I have squirreled away behind the washer. I have to step over and around the dogs to get to it, and the warmth of them still brushes against my legs when I’m in the middle of the scrum. A pile of blood red, brown and black, they are quiet and dead and gone.

The guns are still on the wall, firing pins removed, ammo devil-knows-where.

It won’t work without a gun.

I draw deep three times, letting it burn through from throat to belly, and scrape a lawn lounger in front of the dogs. Before I lie down, I pull an old box marked “Xmas Lights” off the shelf, and rustle under the tangle for the .32 Gavin carried for eighteen years. Until he used it to put holes in two young boys. It wasn’t police issue; he carried it in an ankle holster in case his service revolver, for whatever reason, was unavailable.

I am strength and I am fear…

Find shelter…await further instructions…

Find shelter…

I am war and peace.

.await further instructions.

We make our own luck.

I sleep peacefully, distressingly so. The Early Times does its work, and it’s ten PM when I shake upright. There are no noises from upstairs. I rise and grab a shovel and head out back. I am noisy but there are no sounds from the bedroom.

I dig a hole. I’m too old to dig a hole the size I want, but too old will not cut it tonight, so I dig. The ground is wet under the few days of sun’s brittle’s crust. Dew soaks my sneakers.

The morning sun is low and orange in the east and I’ve thrown the dogs in when he steps out of the house.

“That’s quite a hole,” he says.

“The dogs need to fit.” I am as tired as before, when I had the gun to his head.

“Bigger hole than you need.” He smiles. Grins, really, and I pull the gun. I can see the morning in his face. “Am I going in there too?”

“No.” The dogs are a jumbled puzzle.

“No?”

“I am.” I jump into the hole and put the gun to my head. His grin reflects the rising sun. Awareness. Certainty.

“You’d leave your husband?” he asks.

It’s my last chip. “You stay here with us, as your hostages, you’ll have cover from questions. Your story’s bullshit, so whoever comes will want to know why you’re here and I’m not. You can use him for leverage against me, I know that, but you can’t use him at all. You’d be doing me a favor, chief. He was your ticket in, but I’m your ticket out.”

“You know I’ll kill him,” he says.

“Maybe. Then you’re on the run again.”

“Then kill me.”

I say nothing.

“You know,” he whispers.

“I don’t know anything anymore. I don’t know why you’re here, I don’t know what you want, but I don’t believe in ghosts. Help’s coming. You explain to them about the dogs and the old woman in a pile in the back yard and why a crazy old man is telling the police that his son is home, when we both know that boy was killed with a bike chain fifteen years ago.”

“Fourteen,” he says.

“What?” I ask.

“It was fourteen years. Fourteen years, seven months, two days.” I drop the gun to my side.

“Get out of here.”

“No.”

“Then I’ll–” but Gavin’s at our open bedroom window, and I know.

And they will find me there…

I pull the hammer back. “Either way, you killed my son,” and I point the .32 at the window. “He knows. He knows better than either of us. It’s ruined, either way. Either way, you are not my son.” And for the first time in days, I stop looking at the boy and look at my husband—strong, stern, and at peace, sighted down the barrel. He closes his eyes and lowers his hands to his side, waiting, waiting.

I am shameless and ashamed…

He’s my strength, one last time. And I’m his.

One last time.

“You can’t do this,” says the boy, “you’ll ruin it.”

I stifle a sob that feels like an eruption of broken glass. “Thank you, but you ruined it.” I don’t even know what it means, but I say it again. “Thank you, you ruined it.” I look at Gavin at the window, sighted down the barrel, and know that he understands that too. It’s been ruined for a long time. The sun is in their eyes, blinding as truth, blinding me.

We were so sure, weren’t we Gav? You and me? But not as sure as we are right now. Right now is for us.

There’s not a lot of time, there never was.

…and they will live, and they will not die again.

I’m ready, baby. Are you?

Maybe?

We used to be certain about everything, once.

 

account_box More About

Matthew Lykins lives in Oxford, Ohio with his wife and three kids. He has been recently published in Spittoon Magazine. Visit his blog at 50percentfinished.wordpress.com or his novel-in-progress at 50percentfinished.tumblr.com.
  • W. E. Miller

    Bittersweet tone couples with dramatic tension. The reader is led to the edge of knowledge then left teetering. Excellent story!