Tuesday, July 20, 2004

vignette: jerry

Jerry lay as still he could within the coffin, watching with wide eyes as his father slowly lowered the lid, until everything turned dark.  It was his birthday, his seventh birthday to be exact, and instead of having a party with cake and soda and hats and clowns, his father told him it was time for the coffin.
Jerry counted each blow of his father’s hammer as it struck the nails (four times for each one, sometimes five for the extra kick), imbedding them deep into the rough wood, making them bite hard like pointed teeth.  He listened to his father sing a song that sounded both old and new:
This is for my mother
who taught me how to love;
This is for my father
who hit me with his glove;
This is for my daughter
who learned young how to run;
And this is for my little boy
my son, my son
my only one
When his father was finished and content with his work, Jerry heard him speak closely to where his head rested.  “Try not to breathe,” his father said.  “Air, in darkness, becomes foul.”
And so Jerry did his best not to breathe.  But when his lungs felt like they were on fire, he gave in and swallowed the tiniest gasp of air.  His father was right – the air tasted dry and sharp and bitter all at once, like an old cardboard box that held something living once, like a hamster, and then was left far too long in the sun.
He missed his mother and thought about her as he closed and opened his eyes.  Not that it made a difference; it was dark either way.  He thought about the things he missed most about her: the way she held him when he cut his knee against the angry spokes of his wayward bicycle; the smell of lilac and lavender that trailed after her for hours after she left the bathroom steaming and bright; the sound of her voice when she told him his favorite story – the one about the seal who could not feel cold; the saltiness of her tears when he kissed her that time a plate slipped from her hands.  But most of all, he missed the color of her eyes, a simple, honest brown that enfolded him with love.
Before long, Jerry grew very thirsty, and all the swallowing of his saliva could not sate the dryness in his mouth.  In all that time, he had not moved, except to close or open his eyes or to take a little gasp of strange-tasting air.  He also had an annoying itch behind his left knee, and it took all of his self-control not to rub his leg against the bottom of the coffin.  He thought about other things to distract him from the maddening itch, the itch that he dare not scratch.
He thought about Lucas, his best friend and neighbor and the pillow fort they made yesterday, when he was six.  He thought about Maureen, the big girl who sometimes came to play.  He thought about Mrs. Gonzalvez, the old woman who lived down the road with her stuffed parrot. 
And he thought about his father. 


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