I sighed and stretched out along the new spring grass, laying on my back under a wide blue sky, the odd fluffy fat white cloud skating across the pure blue surface. The sun was out, the weather warm, but it wasn’t hot. It was still too early for that. Hell, we were lucky it wasn’t fuckin’ snowing. We’d had some late winters in recent years so having an actual spring was a real nice change of pace. I breathed in slow, deep, and even and cleared my throat.
“Hey baby, I missed you. Wanted to get here sooner, but I’m definitely getting older and the cold just ain’t agreeing with me much anymore.” I smoothed a hand over the tickling fresh green and fought the urge to light up a smoke. She hated that I smoked and so I didn’t do it here, when I was with her like this.
I let my hand rest on the ground, the sun warming me through my leathers and closed my eyes. If I imagined it hard enough, I could almost feel her hand. Under the grass, under all that fuckin’ dirt my misdeeds put her under. If I breathed real slowly, I could almost hear her laugh. Hear her talking to me; and even though she was gone, I still lived for those moments. Even all these years later.
“God, I miss you, Tillie,” I murmured. I sniffed, and let out a breath. I wouldn’t cry about it, but sometimes, even now, even years later, it was a near thing. I rooted in the inside jacket pocket of my coat and pulled out the rumpled picture I’d brought with me.
“Our boy done good, baby. Just look at that little man.” I held up the picture above us, over to the side so that she could see.
“One year old and counting. Strong, just like his Pop Pop, and strong-willed just like you. You should see our son with him, baby. He makes such a good dad. Way better ‘n me. Raisin’ Dray, that was all you, sweetheart. I damn sure can’t take credit. That was all you.”
I closed my eyes and stared at the fire on the insides of my eyelids, listening, straining to hear her laugh, her voice, like I sometimes did and instead felt my heart plummet when I heard weeping instead. I drew a deep breath to console her when I realized that it didn’t have the same quality as when I heard her the other times. When I heard my Tilly, it came from both nowhere and everywhere at the same time. This weeping, this broken-hearted crying came from behind us… where my brothers were buried.
I frowned and the light spring breeze carried with it the faint scent of roses and the sound of weeping with it. I smoothed a hand over the grass covering my wife and sighed.
“Sorry, baby. I’ll come back, I promise.”
I pushed up off the ground and stood, body creaking a little more than it used to and peered through the wrought iron bars surrounding the section of cemetery holding my brother’s plots. I couldn’t see anything at first, around the backs of the standing grave markers but the heavy, broken sobbing was definitely coming from that direction. I worried for a minute that it was Hayley, but the voice wasn’t quite right; unfamiliar to me.
I took a halting step forward, past my wife and towards that back fence and paused. I didn’t want to scare the shit out of anybody, but I couldn’t pinpoint a name to call out. I scraped my bottom lip between my teeth and settled for a “Hey, yeah, who’s there?”
The sound suddenly ceased and I caught a flash of copper as a woman stood. I scowled not because I was pissed or anything that she was there, but on a kind of the fact I had no clue who she was. I took a step forward and she took a step back.
“Hey, wait!” I called but she had turned, mute, and fled. I made strides but there weren’t no back gate to the group of plots, so I had to make my way around. By the time I reached even with the front of the wrought iron fence, she was ducking into her car.
“I just want to talk to you!” I called, but she started up and took off. I squinted and managed to get a good portion of her plate, but not all of it. Still, with the make, model, and color of the car, it should be enough. I pulled out a worn out notepad from my cut and a pen, jotting the information down.
I turned, the slight easy wind rustling the trees sweeping the mild drama away; the cemetery returning to its peaceful silence. I scanned the stones in front of me and picked out the one that she’d popped up from behind. I let myself in the little gate and went to it, squinting at the print. Damn eyes were gettin’ bad. Was lucky I was able to get the numbers and letters off of her plate at that distance that I did. I pulled out my reading glasses and put them on.
“The fuck?” I said aloud, though I kept my tone muted outta respect.
Still, outta all the brothers a broad could get worked up over, Duracell was the last one I expected. Don’t get me wrong. Once a brother, always a brother. You fight for ‘em you die for ‘em, and they do the same for you or-fucking-else, but Cell? Cell was a different animal from the rest of us. Charming, cunning, but a cold piece of work and a fucking liability. If he’d tried to patch in to my chapter, it never woulda happened, but he hadn’t come from my chapter. He’d come from up yonder and he had brought Blue with him.
Blue was a good man, and what was done was fucking done. I didn’t have a good enough reason to pull Cell’s patch, and to lose Cell would have meant losing Blue and I hadn’t wanted that to happen to poor Blue. It’d been a blessin’ in disguise that Cell’d bit it like he did, though you’d probably never hear me admit that shit out loud.
“Well, ain’t you a mystery?” I muttered thinking back to the woman. She’d been older than Cell by like a lot, but younger than me. Probably late forties, early fifties if I had to guess. Her hair, while copper, held that quality of a deeper copper that said good salon dye rather than natural, and didn’t hold the stiff quality of most natural ginger’s locks. It’d tousled with the wind and had lost, ruffling in the breeze sparking fire from the glint of the sun on it.
She’d been willowy and light on her feet, dressed like most conservative white women around these parts in jeans that’d looked like they’d seen an iron and a simple western blouse. She had brown and worn-in cowgirl boots on her feet as she’d dashed across the sweeping drive through the cemetery to her car, a modern Honda CRV.
I stood for a long time staring at the marble gravestone of our most recently fallen brother and gave a grunt. I had a feeling I knew who it could have been, but I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions. I let out a gusty sigh and stared over the stones of my brothers, through the wrought iron fence at the back of the white marble stone that was my wife’s.
I hated that our visit had been cut short, but another stiffer breeze carried with it a breath of rose scent and I knew she was tellin’ me to go. She knew I loved a good mystery, and this one needed solvin’ before I could let it go completely.
“See you around, boys,” I muttered and went back around, stopping at Tillie’s plot to leave behind the photo of our grandson.
“Be back soon, baby. Promise.”
Copyright A.J. Downey 2018.
Unedited and subject to change.
All characters are fictitious; any resemblance to real life people living or dead is purely coincidence.