Fiction · 08/04/2010

Resting In Place

My father saved me from drowning in the Atlantic Ocean. I remember, even if he can’t anymore. My tiny self toddled around on the hot sand. I scooped up fistfuls, threw it into the air, and watched the wind whisk it away. Waves crashed, the peaks of white foam beckoned and I entered the water without fear. I went deeper and deeper until the current grabbed my ankles and pulled me down. It felt so peaceful. After the initial sting, water burning my nose and lungs, it ceased to hurt anymore. I believed myself to be a mermaid, breathing in and out as the waves rolled me into a soothing embrace. I bobbed along the sandy bottom. My eyes were open the whole time. Shells, grass, and debris alternated in murky brown light. Where are all the fish? This was going to be my last thought.

“Come on Lucy, breathe honey!” My father’s warm breath pumped into my tiny, salty lips. I could taste the bitterness of beer on him. Water evacuated my lungs, and I vomited the ocean to the dry, dusty sand. It evaporated under the spotlight of the sun.

Neither he nor my mother noticed.

“Why weren’t you watching her?” he yelled and with one deft hand left the imprint of his palm red on her face. She fell, her lithe frame hitting the ground. Snot bubbled out of her nose, and tears tangled up in her long hair. She cried like she always did and hummed her sorry song.

“I don’t know, I’m sorry Fred, I’m sorry, I don’t know. Please… please, forgive me.”

+

I held my father’s remains in a small maple box, heavy for its size. I waited in the foyer that smelled of wax and mothballs. After a few minutes a corpulent gentleman reappeared in the dim hallway, his dark navy suit appearing purple in the muted light. In his pale, well-manicured hands he held a large, brown leather book. He placed the large book on the small table and held out a slip of paper to me.

“Ms. Kingston, my apologies for the delay, but I’ve discovered a small problem with your family’s account,” he said. I could feel his dark eyes sizing me up, probing my stance for some hint of emotion, and finally settling his gaze on the maple box in my hands. He adjusted the knot of his yellow striped tie.

“What is this?” I asked.

“Unfortunately there is an outstanding debt for your grandfather’s funeral. We won’t be able to bury your father until this issue is cleared up,” he concluded with a voice both smooth and melodic.

“$1,178? You can’t be serious…” I scanned the paper. “It shows here that the original amount was $232?” I asked, pointing to the black numbers on the thin slip.

“Unfortunately Larsen Funeral Associates imposes interest upon unpaid balances. We sent your father many notices, but he neglected to clear up this debt.” He cleared his throat and coughed, bringing his long delicate hands to cover his red, wet mouth.

“I realize the amount due is quite a bit of money, but perhaps with the life insurance settlement or inheritance…” he started and trailed off. There is nothing. I bit my lip to stop the obscenities from escaping. I wanted to fling my father, in his ugly maple box, against the wall just to see if he would break.

“Thank you,” I muttered. I spun around on my too-high heels that clicked on the floor as I made my way to the door. I slammed the door on my way out and the wreath of fake flowers hanging on the front rattled in my wake.

+

I took my father home. I couldn’t stand to look at that box, so I put him in my front closet, on the floor, next to those ugly green rain boots I’ve never worn. I sat on the couch and stared at the closet door for the longest time, until the room grew dark. He needs to be buried next to his own father, his grandfather and all the other great, greats. The words in my head twisted into his loud, serrated voice. He wasn’t finished either, an echo of his favorite phrase tumbled in next: “Jesus H. Christ, can’t you do anything right?”

My eyes began their familiar burn. I pressed them shut and focused on the bleeds of white light under my eyelids. I took a deep, shaking breath and then asked aloud, “Who skips out on their own father’s funeral bill?” The volume of my own voice surprised me.

Jump. Run Away. Move. Become someone else. I could dye my hair black, bite off all my fake, pink fingernails, and wear sunglasses forever. Yet I knew it wouldn’t matter. I’d keep hearing him. That empty unrest would seep through the confines of my closet, it couldn’t be muffled by my old coats and scarves.

People jump off ships and into the open ocean more often that you would think. It rarely happens at a port. Normally they find nothing, not a scrap of anything left. My father left all his hard, calcified parts behind, just enough to constitute a corpse to drag up and eventually burn.

The fish ate his eyes. Sea lice ate every last inch of his flesh: his freckled arms, drooping ears and short stubby fingers. The remnants they returned, pieces of him with no home or resting place, constituted a stroke of luck they told me. Is there something else that eats the bones, when the microscopic bugs are done?

+

I waited another month, for the ground to thaw. My small shovel struggled to prick the hard surface, and chip away at the dead winter grass studded with new growth. I pulled through the tangle of stringy roots. It was hard to see in the darkness, under the soft glow of the half full moon. Dew made my hands wet, cold. Mud lodged under my fingernails. The dark brown earth yielded in clumps. My shovel strained under the weight of the effort. Only eighteen inches or so down I settled the box to rest. The dirt covered over and left a small mound. There would be no marker, no stone, but he was with his own father and all the greats.

+++

Jennifer Marie Donahue lives with her family in Ohio and is Marketing and Publicity Manager for the online journal Literary Mama. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland and recently attended the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop in Fiction. This is her first publication.