by Rion Amilcar Scott
That wolf you saw lying on the sidewalk by your uncle’s house on 53rd—all blown about, tongue lain to the left, blowflies swarming the red meat of the bullet wound at his side— he too saw the blinding white light that enveloped him into a wolf heaven. He’s in a better place now. I know that sounds trite, but words fail in the face of death. Always have. The only thing we have to fall back on is the tried and true. I’m sorry for your loss. My condolences. You said the Dogstar’s Prayer over the corpse, but he wouldn’t have wanted to hear that shit. He has his own religion. With his own God and—we now know—his own Heaven. And his wolf wife and wolf kids certainly didn’t want to hear that shit. All they wanted was a comforting cliché. For you to humble yourself and not be so damn sophisticated. A simple, Trust it will get better with time, would have sufficed. But you couldn’t even do that. All your fancy learning taught you that cliché is evil incarnate and originality is the Dogstar himself, but it didn’t teach you how to be human. Just as that wolf’s fancy instincts couldn’t prepare him for an eternity in wolf Heaven. Now, how do you live a life without the wolf that roamed your uncle’s neighborhood? The one that you knew, that you fed, that you loved? Take it one day at a time, of course. He’s in a better place. That first part is what my brother told me while we stood at my grandmother’s grave with the cold November breeze battering our faces, both hurting the same, watching her casket sink into the earth. I made up that second part myself—the bit about the better place. It’s trite, but it’s true. Trust me. Wolfland is real and your wolf friend is there waiting.
Sometimes I wonder if my oldest brother remembers the time he saved my life, cuffing my back hard enough to loose the cherry pit that had tipped into my airway and stopped my breathing. It was so long ago. I don’t even think I had begun school yet. I remember my grandmother frantically yelling. My brother bounding up the stairs to her calls. Cuffing. Cuffing. Cuffing as hard as he could until the pit left my throat and rested on the kitchen floor. What if he didn’t strike hard enough, I wonder sometimes. What if Duane and Granny arrived a minute too late? What if Duane didn’t hear Granny’s cries? Or he ignored her, thinking she was yelling at him for doing any number of silly things children do? Would my family have taken solace in the clichés people tell the grieving?
The my condolences and the I’m sorry for your losses that I never tired of hearing in 2008 when my grandmother passed after 101 years. Pitiful isn’t it, a writer finding comfort in cliché. The very words I’ve been trained to regard as weak, ineffectual and, worst of all, a lie. How little patience I had for those who chose silence over the trite and well-trod; for those who attempted originality, but only succeeded in babbling. Death is the ultimate cliché, isn’t it? Standing at my grandmother’s grave as her coffin lowered into the earth—just as the narrator of Wolfland—I confided in the brother to whom I owe my life that I didn’t know how to feel; happy one moment that Granny was out of pain, sad the next that she’d never be there to tell me another story. Duane responded with the same cliché as the narrator’s brother. And I didn’t feel as if he had again saved my life, though I felt something nearly as valuable: less alone.
Rion Amilcar Scott has contributed to PANK, Fiction International and Confrontation, among others. Raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, he earned an MFA at George Mason University and presently teaches English at Bowie State University.