Authors: Nadene Seiters
Text copyright © 2013 Nadene N Seiters All Rights Reserved
Image Copyright ©
Zurijeta, Giancarlo Liguori
All Rights Reserved
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
For my father, who has managed to remain true to himself all these
I think you’re supposed to cry at funerals, especially when the person being put into the ground is your best friend. I’m looking straight ahead at the tree that he’s being buried underneath, an oak tree with bright red leaves that are just about to fall off. But it still feels like summer today. I think it’s also supposed to be raining at funerals, but the sun is beating down on me like I’m at the beach on a hot August day.
My sister’s tears fall down her face silently as she clings to my hand. This is her first funeral. It’s my second in my lifetime. The first time I cried, too. But no matter how awful and dead I feel inside, the moisture will not flood my eyes. They feel as barren as the Sahara Desert right now.
“Ashes to ashes,” I’ve always hated that line at a burial, he’s not being
cremated. But I keep my mouth shut and continue to stare at the peeling bark on the tree. There are ants crawling up it, and I have this awful thought that maybe they will find dinner in the ground tonight. Then I wonder if ants sleep at all. I might have to look that up on my cellphone when I get to my motorcycle.
I watch as my best friend’s mother collapses into the grass with her hands knotted into her Sunday dress. Her red-rimmed eyes turn up to mine as I finally look away from the tree and she screams at me. It’s a harsh sound that grates against my ears. I still can’t cry.
“Why?” She screams over and over again as if I have all the answers. I just stare at her with my mouth set in a line, not smiling and not frowning. I feel like someone else is standing in my skin right now. As if I’ve been taken over by an alien race.
I tell her quietly as if that will answer everything. I look up at the pastor and down at my sister holding my hand. She’s frowning up at me, her fat tears rolling down her face. She’s seven years younger than me, my half-sister if I want to be correct. She’s thirteen.
I read in her eyes that she wants to know what I mean by ‘because’, but I can’t tell her.
I’m not sure I even know what I mean right now. Maybe I said ‘because’ since it’s what everyone always told me when I asked why on several occasions. I asked that when they found his dead, mangled body in the front of an eighteen wheeler. And I asked why it hadn’t been me, but him who died.
I shouldn’t have come here, but my little sister begged me to. She was friends with Ronald, too. He had been
like her second big brother. I tighten my grip on her hand, and she looks back at the grave, at the white casket with gold rim. I remember Ronnie telling me he wanted to be cremated and his ashes spread across the first strip of road we raced down when we were kids.
But his mother didn’t want that.
She wanted a normal funeral for Ronnie; she never cared about what he wanted. Suddenly I feel the anger welling up in me, and I struggle to control it. My free fingers curl into a fist at my side, and I look back at the tree. The pastor clears his throat and begins his sentence again, holding the good book in his hands.
My sister is riding home with my parents, who are on the opposite side of the grave from Ronnie’s mother, Mrs. Needle.
Just as the pastor is finishing up his sentence I hear the telltale noise of motorcycles, and I see the panic on my mother’s face. I look her in the eyes then, my jaw working at the nerve that they would deny Ronnie’s friends a chance to say goodbye.
Needle is hysterical. Her twenty one year old son is being buried today. But it is no excuse for what she does next. She’s never been a woman to cuss and swear, but she starts screaming as the men pulling up on their motorcycles, tuxes on, holding their helmets to their chests as they get off their bikes.
“Get out of here you murderers!
Fucking murderers!” She screams, waving her arms in the air. I grip my sister’s hand and proceed to lead her away from the casket, away from the scene. No one should have to see this, and this is far from what Ronnie would want.
“I want to stay,” she whispers to me, but I can tell by her pale face that she
actually doesn’t. She just wants to see Ronnie’s casket lowered. I nod once to the mass of men on their bikes as we pass and swing a leg over my own. My sister clambers on behind me and I see the disapproving look on my parent’s faces.
I’ll hear about this later. So will my sister. I just feel
sorry for her that she cannot go home to her own apartment later; she has to put up with them.
roar my bike to life and take off with a squeal of my tires, the smoke pouring out behind me. I’ve been cordial this entire day, at the viewing where I didn’t look at my best friend’s body lying cold in his casket, and all the way here to this gravesite where he wouldn’t want to be. I glance back on the bike to make sure my sister was able to get her helmet on before I took off.
She has her eyes closed with her cheek on my back, completely trusting. I turn around on the bike and take off into the unseasonably warm air of November. The town of
Guilford, New York falls behind us as I gun it to South Hill. I pull onto one of the dirt roads that Ronnie and I used to race up and down with our dirt bikes. Even with the memories filling me, I can’t cry.
I pull over and cut off the engine of the bike. My sister pulls off her helmet and sets it on the back of the bike as she gets off. I push out the kickstand and stand next to her as she stares at the trees surrounding us.
“That was wild, Mrs. Needle doing that. Disrespectful of her,” she kicks at a stone, and I put a hand on her shoulder, trying to comfort her. She’s not crying anymore, but I can tell that she’s close to doing it again soon.
“She’s upset, that was her son in there.” Even though I say the words with meaning, I still feel pretty dead inside. My sister starts walking
, and I remove the key from my bike to follow her. We walk along blindly for over half an hour, silent. Sometimes silence is the best balm for grief; words are never enough to express how a person feels.
“Mom and Dad are going to worry,” I tell her quietly, feeling the weight of my cellphone in my pocket. I should call them and tell them where we’re at, but I can’t bring myself to do that. I don’t want to hear my father tell me it was my fault all over again. I’m having a hard enough time beating myself up over the accident; I don’t need my folks beating me down, too.
My sister twirls around on a rock and for a brief second her face is peaceful. I’m glad that, if only for that second, she seems normal. I won’t see her again for a long time. I’ve been banned from the house and I’ve been restricted to texting my sister behind my parent’s backs. They don’t want my
bad influence rubbing off on her, and part of me feels that maybe it’s a good thing. She doesn’t need any ideas from me. She had enough from Ronnie.
“They’re probably at the church dinner, sucking up to Mrs. Needle and her drunk husband.” She spits out the words angrily, determined to get them all out before she starts to cry. I watch her collapse onto the rock and put her face in her hands. I’ve been home for four days, and I still haven’t told her what
actually happened. I have a feeling my sister had an innocent crush on Ronnie, my best friend, but now I’ll never have to worry about him pursuing it. That, all in itself, makes me sad.
“Come on, you should go home, wait for Mom and Dad. I have to grab my stuff and get out of here before Mrs. Needle starts burning crosses on our lawn or something.” My sister hiccups and giggles at the thought. We make our way back to the bike in silence again as if neither one of us want to ruin the surroundings with our angry words.
I hand her the helmet, and she puts it on grudgingly. Ronnie never made her ride with one, not when we were all hanging out. I beat the crap out of him on several occasions for that reason, but he was always careful with her. Never went over the speed limit and never raced when my sister was around. He was a decent guy, even if he did something stupid.
I can’t say the same about myself.
I twist the key in the bike, pump the accelerator a few times with my hand, and head down the dirt road at a slow pace. Just as we’re at the end of the dirt road, I see the gang that Ronnie hung out with riding by. They all put their hands out as a sign of respect, and my sister puts hers out. I worry about her. Ronnie told her about the rougher gangs out there, the ones where women are property and to be traded or sold. But the way he spoke about riding enchanted her. Sometimes I agree that maybe I shouldn’t be hanging around her. She needs to have normal friends and a normal life.
When the last of them passes by
, I pull out from the dirt road and head in the direction of town, the direction of where I used to call home. Not anymore, I’m a freelance tattooist now, and pretty skilled at it. It takes me twenty minutes to get home because I drive slow this time and take the back roads. As I pull up to the driveway to my parent’s small home, I don’t even bother putting up the kick stand.
My sister slides off the back of my bike
, sets the helmet down, and secures it. I watch her walk up the drive, and when the door opens with my mother behind it I take off into the sun’s dying rays. Before this, it’s been months since I’ve talked to my mother or father, and I have a feeling it’ll be months before I talk to them again.
I know it’s a bad idea, but I swing by the graveyard to stop
at the fresh grave. I kneel down by the fresh dirt and watch a worm wriggling around in it. I pluck it out and toss it into the nearby grass. There’s dirt on my fingers from touching the worm, and I raise my hand to stare at it in the dying light. A breeze blows overhead and a few leaves fall off the trees, their red color glinting in the sunlight.
I don’t know how long I kneel there with my hand raised up so that I can stare at the dirt but by the time I lower my hand
it’s dark. I wipe the dirt on my blue jeans and put my hands on my face, still no tears. Maybe it’s because I feel guilty, or maybe it’s because I’m insane, but I can’t seem to cry.
My eyes sting with their dryness and I struggle to my feet. I want to say that I’m sorry, but Ronnie would have said it was falling on
dead ears, pun intended. I smile at the thought and turn away from the small, wooden marker where his gravestone will go. His parents wouldn’t even put a motorcycle on it, just his name and the dates, nothing more.
I’ll have to come along sometime and carve one in for him.
My bike roars to life as I push the start button. I pull up the kickstand and rev if a few times before I take off in the dark, my lone headlight shining a path for me. The wind kicks my hair back as I get onto the highway outside of town and merge into an empty lane. I see one lonely headlight on the opposite side, and none on my side.
I want to let it rip, but doing that at night is dangerous. There’re numerous things lurking in the dark alongside, like the cop car I just passed about half a mile back. I block out the images of everyone’s teary faces at Ronnie’s funeral
; instead, I think about the trees and the sunlight shining down through their dead branches. As I head further upstate, the air grows cooler against my skin. I should have worn a jacket.
My cellphone buzzes in my pocket and I ignore it. It’s
probably Ronnie’s friends inviting me to a party at the local bar they chose, but I’m not in the mood for parties or women. I’m in the mood for a good fight. My best friend just died, and everyone blames me. I’m not sure if I want to kick some ass or if I want someone to kick mine, but it’s a Saturday night, and I know of a good underground fight happening in Rochester. So I take the exit that will lead me up there.
It takes me another
good hour to get there, and by the time I do it’s well past ten in the evening. But when I pull up to the club I still hear fighting inside. I kick down the stand and pull my cellphone out of my pocket. As I’m walking inside someone in the dark grabs hold of my arm and I almost forget, the fee. I root around in my pocket for a ten and shove it into the burly man’s waiting hand.
“Thanks,” he tells me, opening up the door.
The first thing that hits me is the smell, and then the lights. It smells like stale beer, vomit, and blood. The lights are shining so bright they make my eyes hurt, and I have to squint to be able to see my surroundings. And then as two fighters get ready on either side of the ring the lights focus on solely them. I watch as they pound on each other, taking hit after hit in the ring until one of them falls to the ground. The referee, a scrawny man, tries to pull the winner off the loser, but ends up getting elbowed in the face.
are jeers and shouts of disapproval as the referee finally gets the winner off the fallen man and raises the winner’s fist in the air. He doesn’t look like much of a winner to me. His face is smashed in, and he’s missing a few teeth. I thought I wanted a fight, but I’m beginning to rethink this entire idea. So I grab myself a beer and settle in the stands. My legs are set apart as I lean forward to watch the fights.
They go on well into the morning, one man pummeling another until there’s finally declared a winner. He’s a large man without an inch of ink on him, which I find
surprising. Maybe I should hand him one of my cards. I’m about to reach into my pocket and grab one of my cards when I spot a young woman sidling up to me.
She’s wearing a jean miniskirt with a sequined top and looks no older than eighteen or nineteen. I doubt she’s old enough to be holding the beer that’s in her left hand. She gives me a sloppy smile and sits down next to me, the smell of beer wafting off her. If she looked older, I might give her a ride on my motorcycle, and then a ride back at my apartment. But I toss those thoughts aside and steer my eyes towards the victor of the fight, bouncing around the ring like a madman.