Stale sunlight filtered through smudged and swirled glass plate. The fly ringing between the chipping sill and case of the window sounded the final alarm of the morning. Even as he rolled over and off of the mattress, Chip could feel the weight in his chest anchoring him to those last few minutes of sleep. He fought a heavy under tow as he made his way from the bedroom, bracing himself against the door frame and staring blankly into the abysmal gray of the midmorning hallway.

I can't do this.

Adjusting to the dim light, he shuffled along the uneven hardwood planks. Chip eventually found himself in the kitchen. The front door let in a vertical thread of light. Darla's coffee mug was still on the counter. The ring around it formed a dark brown crater in the smooth, thick wood. Some fuschia wildflowers had wilted and weeped onto the kitchen table, their dry petals dusting a stained and ink-smeared napkin. He peered over it and read around the debris. The handwriting looked childlike and rushed.

"They say it's ok, now. They want me to do it. They say they will take care of it."

He'd seen it last night, while getting a drink at the tap. His sister would rather write than talk more often than not. It was easier for her.

He sighed and brought the heel of his hand across his cheek, covering his mouth. Chip picked up the crumpled note. Frowning, he held it up to the south light in the window. There was something else written there. Near the bottom, in a microscopic scrawl, he found a post script:

"It's the right thing for me to do. The right thing to do. I understand. Tell little brother goodbye. And thank you."

His brow twitched, face going slack.

He was able to catch hold of a chair before collapsing. Head in hands, he slammed to the table. The heartbeat in his throat was choking him. Gasping like a banked trout between sobs, gripping handfuls of mahogany hair, unfocused pupils rolling around the woodgrain as if they'd detached-- That was it. That was what it was. She's done it. It's done. Oh God.

The thoughts came racing as a merry go round of childhood snapshots: riding bikes past whitewashed railing in a faraway town, warm ice cream cascading over sticky fingers, wool-socked feet bathing in the glow of a brick fireplace, toads clambering out of mom's canning jars. Even since the diagnosis, even since the separation, the isolation, the stigmatization, it hadn't been that bad. The sun would still rise on the ebb and flow of fields gone to seed. Not that bad. Still set along the trails they'd walk quietly listening for the shift to dusk. It wasn't that bad. No, it was quiet. It was good. It was a good life, damn it.

He let a fist hammer into the table. The pain jolted him, reeled him out of a fog of whirling thoughts. His eyes began to bore into the tile wall. They lasered in on that blue hand painted rooster directly ahead, as shallow forceful breaths began to bring his mind and body back into alignment. Chip stood, still focused on the tile, shoulders still heaving rhythmically.

The heavy door whined as he pushed it wide. It's cry shot over the open porch veranda, echoing out across billowing waves of gold and green and magenta rolling back into the hills. The view that harmonized so well with coffee and orange juice and creaking doors and quiet contemplation, that gave solidity to unspoken understanding... The noise was a violation of the frozen atmosphere trapped before him.

He turned as he stepped onto the worn painted blue deck. A midsummer breeze blew through him. The hot, dusty air stirred a cast shadow to the east, playing with the hem of a summer night dress. His gaze fell leaden; he drew it slowly as a blind man's cane across the overturned kitchen chair, the deep cobalt silhouettes cast in morning light, the dull corona reflected off of splotchy fading paint, finally alighting on the toes that dangled just a few inches from the simple, contented life they'd walked the day before. His whole face clenched. Maybe, if he could've shut his eyes just a little tighter, they would never open again. He wished to just blow away, like a stack of ash snowing over the fields, and never have to be again.

In a small, violent jerk, he forced himself to face it. To look into the contorted grim reality that was now his responsibility.

Back lit almost directly by the ascending sun, the figure looked like a saint cut into the fabric of the sky. In the high contrast her slept-in strawberry blond hair seemed to blend with the black shadows, wafting, fanning out and combining with the body of her gown in perfect parody of a deathly snow angel.

His life drained into the ground. He was a machine of arms, legs, and slow deliberate motion. In working to release the tight knots in the rope, his nails bent and broke and knuckles begain bleeding freely. The pace was steady. He barely noticed her weight once freed. Cradling her, he stepped down one one step, two steps, dirt.

Standing in the middle of a sun-drenched field, his young, squinting upturned face was lined with the dried traces of dirt, sweat, tears, blood, pain. The sun was at its apex. A cool zephyr swooped gently in from distant foothills; he let it steal the last scents of emotion, washing him with an emptiness not felt in years. Eyes closed, he released himself down onto the bed of warm grass.

A muddy, trembling hand crawled into his jeans pocket. He drew his father's revolver slowly from its hiding place.

Holding it above him, he watched his reflection in the polished barrel. Weighed it between his thumbs. Traced a finger pensively along its outline. With a deep and measured breath, Chip flung the shining metal piece far into the obscurities of nature.

I couldn't have done it. Thank you, Darla.



October 21, 2009 at 5:20 AM

im glad you're still writing lots:)