Imagining A New Death

Page One

I done twenty-four years of . . . time, that’s it, just only time. How? Hell, it ain’t all that hard really. Ma and Pa was good at being, what’d you call it? . . . role models. Yep, that’s where I learnt it. They’s just like me—or is it me’s just like them?—a feared of walking out the door. I know it sounds crazy after all them years of Pa downing breakfast grits and gravy, then fetching that old beat-up silver lunch pail what smelled of pig’s feet, pickled eggs, and coal dust—no matter how hard, nor how many times Ma scrubbed the damn thing. Then him, all used up like he was, to go get on the company bus, and ride fifteen miles just to slip into the mouth of mother earth and ride that elevator down seventeen, eighteen hundred feet into hell. How’s a man like that gonna be a feared of sitting in a little 'ol movie house to eat some popcorn and watch one of them movies with Robert Redford and Paul Newman and the Sundance Kid? It’s cuz he done used up all the luck the Good Lord’s give ‘im. Used it all up in that shithole filled with other folks’ money and nothing for him but a broke-ass back, lungs that’s black as pitch, and skin that hangs loose off his bones like a winter storm rolling over top of Spruce Knobe, all grey and cool to the touch.

So why’d I follow? Hell, if I knowed that, I wouldn’t a been following. I guess if you see anything long enough—more to-the-point, from the first minute you crawl from the crib—and that’s all you ever see, you followed ‘cuz that’s all you know they is. If you ever thought about leaving, even as little as askin' Ma what learnin’ you could do in them higher grades, she’d swell up like a bullfrog and start croaking like a small air horn on one of them eighteen wheelers.

Page Two

She’d get started about me leaving her and Pa, with no one else to help ‘em put that shit they called food up on the table. I thought about it plenty. But then Pa got to getting sick. So that fixed any idea ‘bout leaving. What with Ma there alone and nary a soul to help. Pa all shriveled up and already making deals with St. Peter for just one more day.

I never did figure out why he ever wanted more time for coughing out his lungs. That and spitting blood and grey-green goo and pieces of himself, the dead, black pieces—and the smell of it was awful. But that’d go down with a flush and whoever lived where that come up had to deal with the smell, but not us. What was worse, what we couldn’t get shed of, was the smell of the stuff still dying, still hanging on to his insides, like the smell of hog fixin’s set out too long from the fridge and let to go bad. His mouth always held the smell of dying, didn’t matter what he washed with, ain’t no mouth cleaner getting rid of the smell of dying. It’s sure enough beyond making sense to me why someone’d want another day of that. Hell, that can’t be what the Good Lord would call living. But Pa didn’t care. He was more feared of dying than even the movie house. Instead of praying for his lungs to stop working, he went to praying for just one more day—everyday—for nearly two years. You gotta be scared shitless of a thing to want something other than to be free of all that pain. Free of the hurt in Ma’s eyes. Free of them doctors that was there only so’s they’d collect a pay check—damned sure not for making Pa’s final days any easier.

Page Three

As bad as all that was, the total worst of it all was the smell of him dying. It’s been six months now and if you stand near the closet that sits between the toilet room and Ma’s bedroom, when it’s still outside, you hold your head just right, it’s there, the smell of death, still hanging, heavy like the bedding on a rope between the house and the White Ash. Only thing is now, least it ain’t like right before he passed. Then it was like a bad humid day. When the water’s so thick in the air you wonder how it ain’t raining, how you even gonna breath without gills. That’s how it was near the end. That smell filled the house like a fog or sometimes worse, when, I swear you could see bits of rot dangling like snowflakes only they’d float not fall. What was worst, when you’d try to get away from it, the smell, like when you’d leave for no reason but to walk away from it all, them dangling bits what smelled of death, would take that walk with you. And it weren’t like you could out run it either. 'Cuz I tried. Them bits would cling to your britches, your shirt, even your socks every time you’d try. After we put ‘im in the ground, I’d went to one of them wash-o-mats where for a couple of quarters you’d stick your clothes in a machine, dump in some soap powders, and after some bit of time, your stuff’d be clean—well, after four or five tries at it. Anyways that were the worst of it all.

Finally even St. Peter got tired of all the hacking, and spitting, tired of Ma’s tears, and too I guess, tired of my cussing and carrying on about his fighting and not just givin’ in. And not long after that, Ma was gone too. That’s why I’m a standing here I guess. I thought the mountains back home was pretty—I mean the ones they didn’t cut the tops off to get at the coal. Hell, they’s more like titties on a twelve-year old girl than real mountains. I seen a picture of this very spot in one of them magazines at the mortuary, so I got to wondering what it would feel like to step off this here ledge. I been plenty of times, in that elevator shaft dropping 175 floors into the belly of the earth, but that can’t be like the same thing as this—stepping I mean, off this here ledge. With God’s sun warming your face, all the while the wind chasing away coal dust and coal death and the smell of all of that, replacing it with the smell of pine trees and lake water to fill your nose and lungs instead.

Page Four

I know what I don’t want even if I ain’t ever gonna know for sure what I do want. That’s Pa’s death. Slow and painful with no such thing as glory that a real man’s death’s supposed to be, no sir just agony. If that’s what St. Peter’s got in store for me, it ain’t gonna be me that’s joining Ma and Pa after dying like that. I’m taking my last dollars and coming back here to this very spot, waiting for a day just like this one, where a fella has to only listen just right so’s he can hear that bull moose in the valley with his bugle telling all them female elk he’s ready for baby makin’. All the while and at the same time even, hearing something as little as a sapsucker and his pecking at them pines looking for some bug or beetle for breakfast. That’s the music God meant for us to hear, not the clanging of shaft elevators, the squealing of conveyor belts, the ear-spliting dynamite exploding so some pecker–assed, city slicker what’s got more money than God himself already, can sell more coal and get the one thing he ain’t no need of.

So I guess what I’m saying is almost as silly as what Pa was saying all them years. What I want most in life is that mine don’t end like Pa’s. I know that’s really wanting something in death more than wanting something in life, but that’s the kind of death I want life to give to me. There ain’t no money in the world that I’d take over being free from what my Pa give to himself. So standing here figuring what I want, now I know I ain’t just done twenty-four years of time. I done what I done, Pa done what he done and Ma too, so’s I could die a good death. Not just only what I know, only all what I’d seen, but a death that a man deserves from his God, not from some rich pecker what don’t even know I died ‘cuz of his shitty-ass mine.

The material on this page is the original work of Bruce L. Farrow-Smith and is protected by U.S. Copyright Law. If you have any questions regarding its copyright status contact the owner using the information Here.

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