Five Sketches of a Story About Death
by Leesa Cross-Smith
My mom let me wear roller skates to my uncle's wake. She carried me and my feet dangled there past her hips; the wheels, glitter-red and heavy. And I wouldn't look at him. I pushed my face into my mom's neck and closed my eyes because I was seven or eight. I couldn't look because I was seven or maybe, eight. Or maybe I was six. What matters is that my mom let me wear my skates. What matters is that my uncle wouldn't stop doing drugs. And that one night he got so wasted, he passed out on the railroad tracks and his friends left him there. Because there are people who will leave you on the railroad tracks and there are people who would never do something like that. Not to a friend, not to a stranger, not to an animal, not to a leaf.
When my grandma died, I was sad because my mom was sad. My dad bought me a cheeseburger on the way back from the funeral home. For some time after that, cheeseburgers wrapped in pale orange paper reminded me of funerals. I stopped eating cheeseburgers but that wasn't why. I can't remember why. Maybe that was why. I didn't know my grandma very well and she ignored me most of the time. But I remember when her dog bit her and she cried on the phone. She was wearing a red leather jacket. What matters is that she was the only one who could get me to eat eggs because she put cheese in them and I didn't even know they were eggs.
When my grandpa died, I was too young to remember. What matters is that people tell me he was crazy about me. What matters is that he had a big pickup truck; gold like bourbon. You can die when you're in your early fifties because you work too hard and you don't take care of yourself and you don't stand up for yourself or teach your children the right things or learn the right things.
When my grandma died, I was sad because I look just like her. And she liked to recite poetry from memory. Lines and lines and lines as she looked out of the car window. We would drive from home to Alabama. From Alabama back home. What matters is that when she went to Detroit we'd go pick her up from the bus station and my dad would give me quarters so I could watch the little black and white TV they had bolted to the seat. And when the time was up, the TV would just go off automatically. It scared me every time. What matters is that I miss my grandma and how she had those poems memorized and how she'd look out of the car window and how she always wore navy blue skirts.
When my grandpa died, my dad found him. I remember sitting in his garage with the door open when it was raining. And the time he put a fish sandwich in the kitchen drawer. What matters is that one night my dad and I found him wandering the streets and he said the moon was chasing him. And when he pulled out a shotgun and shot through the ceiling, my brother cried. What matters is that when they buried my grandpa, the ground was frozen. Too frozen. It took them a long time to dig the hole.
What matters is that you talk to your kid and let them wear their skates to a funeral home and feed them and realize that they get sad when you get sad.
And what matters is that the moon is chasing us all.
I wrote this in an attempt to teach myself how to write flash fiction after having written twelve short stories and two novels in a year.
When I was in the first grade, my mom let me wear my Rainbow Brite roller skates to my uncle's wake because I had a roller rink birthday party to go to later that day. Last week I called my mom and told her thank you for that (again.) And now that I'm a mom, it means even more. I love country music and stories about grandpas smoking on front porches and grandmas cooling pies in kitchen windows. I remember my grandmother telling us not to walk too hard or jump near the oven because she didn't want her cake to fall.
But I never had a close relationship with any of my grandparents. I don't even know what it's like. I try to picture it sometimes, but I can't. I only have quick memories of them and most of them aren't good. When I wrote this I was trying to create a mixed bag of snapshots. Good, bad and sad memories of a family and how both the roots and branches of a family tree never stop reaching; pulling in opposite directions. Forever. An attempt to understand the deaths that happen so early in your childhood that you can't process them. You don't even realize how young the person was until you, yourself, have grown up and passed them in age.
And I really did love sitting in my grandfather's garage with the door open as it rained. I still do. Even better if it's rainbow weather.
Leesa Cross-Smith is a Kentucky girl; a preacher's daughter, a wife, a mom, a homemaker, a writer. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Storychord, Bluestem Magazine, Carve Magazine, The Blind Hem, Word Riot and Little Fiction. Her short story, Whiskey & Ribbons, won Editor's Choice in the 2011 Raymond Carver Short Story Contest. She is the author of a short story collection called Everyone Breaks Everyone's Heart and hopes that some darling little indie press will publish it someday. She loves classic rock, hot sauce and sports emotions. You can find her if you look hard enough but LeesaCrossSmith.com is a pretty good start.