Ritual- excerpt from EYE SKIN



The service is short and to the point, neither he nor Marian were overtly religious. There was a Baptist deacon who chuntered an excised  Protestant liturgy; he was paralytic, barely hears any of it. Terser acquiesced to the needs of Marian’s family to ritualize – in truth he had no strength to resist, because none of the sights, shambolic churring of hymns or comforting prayers could shake him out of the ellipses of shock.

          Marian? Dead? Why was I at work? Why didn’t I make love to you every moment of every day? How could I have ever made you sad?

 Sitting with his arm around Clive he retreats into a sepulchral hollow where all words are static, all handshakes like desperate swats. Grim expressions of condolences masking quiet terror of mortality- the winged chimera mankind has been taught to resist, (fear not) rise above (fear not), disdain,(fear not) until it consumes hope in a moment, fully, completely —all piety tenebrous, and all veracity fastuous, (fear not) grey is the only color that matters—all cliché rings true, His one stipulation was that there be only the apricity of live flowers – big yellow daisies, bold red poppies, orange roses—only plants that smiled, reminding him of the light in Marian’s nitid eyes, after she made a corny joke, after they made love, she burned biscuits up at the cabin — Terser could bear nothing reeking of sadness or finality. Everything else around him filled those euphotic parameters.

In the pews: Clive’s grandparents sat to his left —Jason and Carol Broussard from her first marriage to William ‘Bully’ Broussard. The ex-father-in-law making no attempt to hide his tears, weeping for a daughter-in-law and his son now gone. The ex-mother-in-law wearing dark glasses, dry lips trembling, seeing in her mind Marian and Bully in the peach orchard, certain she was now rejoined in a Christian heaven with her heroic son killed in Kuwait, somber, post-lachrymal, speechless, except for answering bromidic dipthong , the King James Concordance, (fear not) the catafalque, the well-crafted asperity designed for the necessary comfort to guide the speechless, the mourners, the ones who cry as much for themselves as the ones honored.

Jerry and Evangeline Long, Marian’s parents, sat in the pew behind him. He could feel the grief sapping Jerry’s antagonism. He knew Jerry would certainly be drunk by now—facing emotion other than malapert derision was not a strength her father ever developed. Evangeline led Jerry in the prayers, speaking loudest, making a courageous showing of it. The thought of her little girl dying so brutally, impossible to conjure. Thankfully, she and Jerry requested a closed casket. Charlie Terser agreed. Marian’s parents knew that he identified her remains at the morgue,  nothing can fix that. Terser sits, holding Clive’s hand, frozen externally, internally shambolic, staring straight ahead, praying that the service be over, and at the same time begging  it would never end. He floats above it all, watches himself sitting in the pew, hovering above the mourners, a futile supernal shadow, culling dreams, death’s reality, still-life pictures of Marian’s every facial expression, her body clothed, her body naked, resplendent in the morning sun,  her laugh amicable and discursive, her words of love broken into phrases about the trees, snakes, biscuits, art, horses, paint colors, country songs, his mud covered boots on her freshly waxed floor, all three of them laughing under the Christmas tree, her bitching about prices of groceries, standing silently watching the stream tickle the earth, chewing red licorice, filling her lungs with sweet mountain air, her hair done in a twist- smiling, ever smiling, crying over a dead goldfish, a gerbil or movie star, laughing at ruined bunt cakes or burnt toast, collapsing on the bed beside him, their first apartment, exhausted after un-packing moving boxes. I love you, Charlie. I love you, Marian and I love Clive. I’ll never leave you, not ever. Unless I need to work. Unless I need to find lost people (fear not), unless I need to read memos (fear not), unless there are cases to solve(fear not). Only then. Never, ever – except—(I am afraid.)

Dust thou art, and to dust ye shall return.

 Standing in the receiving line, shaking hands with family, colleagues, people he’d never met or seen. A deacon for whom he felt the urge to choke with his pedantically appropriate neck-tie. Now it was Zip at his side, with Lonnie from the office. “Charlie we have to talk. Maybe. Tomorrow.” She puts her hand on his shoulder, looks him full in the eyes, gives him a mournful punctuated hug. “Please, I’m so sorry about the timing. It’s that urgent.” “Clive buddy, go see pap and nana for a minute, okay?”

Clive  starts walking , the expression on his face unchanged since his mother’s death.

 “I didn’t mean now Charlie, god…all of this.” Zip said apologetically. “I need a strong drink, can I get a witness?’ “I have something in the car.” Offers Lonnie.

Yes, Terser nods, yes. “I need some air.”

Walking to the parking lot, Charlie tries not to look anywhere but up, at the sky. Lonnie hands him a fifth of bourbon. “I don’t have a glass, boss. Sorry.” He holds the bottle a moment; the last time he drank anything stronger than a beer was at last year’s Christmas party; even less to celebrate now. His heart told him this: brace yourself for a long re-acquaintance. “What is important, Zip?” He swigs, winces. It burns less than  grief.

Zip rolls her eyes, unsure how to get the words out. “They have a suspect in custody. And it gets worse.” Terser doesn’t blink, still feeling the bourbon burn.  “It’s J.J.” she nearly whispers. “…it looks like a set-up, Charlie. A plant of the…excuse me…what…um.” “The gun?” “No, Charlie.” Lonnie broke in; “…the other…thing.” “My god.” “Charlie…it could have waited, I didn’t want this now, today, here.” “You mean they have him? He’s being held?” “Charlie, they haven’t formally charged him. They arrested him at the airport leaving town.” “I knew that was a probability, him leaving town…but this other thing, they found the bat? Where?” “Behind his motel. He didn’t have any luggage. All his belongings were just as he left them in his hotel room.” “Guns?” “No guns I know of. The detectives called me and asked if I had any idea where J.J.’s truck was. They said you weren’t answering your door or your phone. Listen, Charlie…” She starts, watching with mounting anxiety as Terser took another solid get-me-smashed gulp from Lonnie’s bottle, patting him on his arm, gently , she takes the bottle away, hands it to Lonnie.

“…all the rest will wait until tomorrow. It just has to. You need to be with Clive. Why don’t both of you come stay with Tyler and me again tonight?” Terser feels the alcohol quicken inside. “No. Thanks, but no. Clive is going with Marian’s folks for a few days.” “Well you know the offer stands, what about you?” “It’s the best thing for Clive.” “Yeah, but boss…what about you? Don’t choose to be alone.”

 Terser returns a funny slant, a hurt smirk. Zip is apprehensive, she never saw Terser drink hard liquor from a bottle.

“It’s best I be alone now; Zip, Lonnie. Thanks. Everyone has been gracious. Kind. I need to make it through another forty-five minutes of this and then…” he trails off; “…then I guess I’ll see.” “Charlie. You shouldn’t drive. Please. You shouldn’t be alone.” Terser nods, ignores, looks away, and starts for the  funeral chapel, wordlessly brushes her cheek with the back of his hand in passing.

 I’m not alone. I have Marian.

©2020 J.D. Brayton

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