Sunday, June 22, 2014

Grief, Noise, and Dishes (A Summer of Flash Fiction #4)

A swift-flying crow swooped across the dull gray sky, passing over the old elm. I followed it with my eyes as it crossed the area of sky above the miniature wooden bridge that arched over the little creek. A false, fairy-tale like scene for a masquerading, lonesome park. A late September breeze rustled my hair, my forest green sweater preventing a shiver from coming over me. I continued to trail the crow with my eyes until it passed in front of a tall young man with a golden retriever. He was thin and brunette, his bulky gray sweatshirt rolled up to his elbows despite the chill in the air. His dog roamed free, no need for a leash, but it remained close, either out of loyalty to its master or out of fear of what lay beyond its master’s sight.

I released the crow from my gaze, my eyes landing on the young man. He was beautiful. Thin and tall, brunette curls, this was all I could discern from the distance, but I still could see that he was beautiful. The golden dog leaped over the dry grass away from him, but the young man did not follow; he merely stood, watching. I traced the curls on the back of the young man’s head, sweet brown curls that fluttered in the biting breeze.

I stepped forward, the crunch of the first fallen leaf resounding from under my shoe.

“Lovely day, isn’t it?” I said to the young man, and he turned to face me.

“Bit chilly,” he answered.

I shrugged. I glanced up at the sky, the clouds obscuring the blue, only the filtered light of the sun dimly showing through.

I pointed at the golden retriever galloping farther and farther away.

“What’s your dog’s name?”

“Verne. After Jules Verne.”

“Oh really? Is he your favorite writer?”

“One of my favorites.”

“I adore Virginia Woolf.”

An odd glance from the young man. A judging smirk.

“And Flannery O’Connor.”

The look from the young man caused me to pause and assess my thoughts before voicing them. Up close, the young man was even more beautiful than he was from far away. His eyes were blue, and freckles dotted his cheeks.

“Aren’t you going to ask mine?” he inquired. His expression was vindictive.

“Yours?”

“My name.”

“Oh, yes. What’s your name?”

“Adam.”

“Hello Adam. I’m Jordan.”

Verne paused for a moment to sniff something on the ground, then continued to hop about, lost in his own world. Adam watched Verne, and I watched Adam, basking in his mysterious, enveloping aura.

“So Jordan. Do you have any siblings?”

“No. I’m an only child.”

“Are you self-righteous?”

“What? No.” I was slightly taken aback. A twinge of anxiety was beginning to creep up on me, but Adam’s expression remained quite the same.

“Self-righteous? Self-absorbed? All only children are self-absorbed.”

I thought it over for a moment, giving him the benefit of the doubt—despite his awkward stance, his left foot cocked out slightly in front of his right, he seemed to know what he was talking about. One dark eyebrow was lifted, not inquisitively so much as judgingly. “No. I don’t think I am,” I assured him.

“I have a sister,” he said, though I hadn’t asked him the question in return.

“That’s nice. Sometimes I wish I had a sister.”

“I used to have a brother too. He blew his brains out last month.”

I flinched.

“Because his girlfriend broke up with him.” Raising my eyebrows, I hesitated, unsure what to say. Adam did not seem to be in need of condolences. In fact, he appeared to enjoy having the tragedy in his life.

“You’re so frank,” I said.

Adam smirked, still looking at Verne. “Frank is my middle name.” I let out a short laugh, and Adam’s smug grin remained, though there seemed to be a punchline hovering in the air, to a joke of which I was unaware.

I waited until the echo of my laughter had faded. “Is it really?”

Finally a real laugh from the young man, coupled with a slow nod. “Yeah it is. And it was my nickname at school.”

“Wow.”

“We cremated him. My brother.” The sudden shift in emotional content of conversation left me speechless, but it did not appear to bother Adam in the least.

“Oh?”

“We have him in an urn, sitting on a shelf.”

I hesitated again. Adam was beginning to make me wary, but there was something about him that kept me from walking away. “I’ve never seen an urn before,” I found myself saying.

“Would you like to see my brother’s?”

“Ok.”

Adam put a finger and thumb in his mouth and whistled loudly. “Verne!”

The dog came running toward his master, ears flapping joyfully and naively at the sides of his head. Conveniently Adam lived only a block away, having brought Verne to the park because it was so close and dog were allowed. We walked in silence, my wariness increasing.

“My mother’s locked herself in her room,” Adam said when we walked in the front door of his house. The screen door clicked closed behind us. I glanced around the living room we had just entered. The walls were blank; no photos were hanging in celebration of family and love like there were in my parent’s home. Only a stark, dark brown wooden crucifix, merely a foot long, adorned the far wall of the living room.

“Where’s your dad?”

“Oh, he beat it years ago.”

I followed Adam and Verne into the kitchen where a young woman with cropped blonde hair was doing dishes, washing them by hand though there was a dishwasher that appeared perfectly usable embedded in the counter beside her.

“Hey Lillian.”

She turned and faced us. Her smug expression was identical to her brother’s. “Brought home another stray, have we?” she sneered.

I glanced down at Verne to see a light blue collar around his furry yellow neck.

“Uh, I’m not a stray,” I said shyly.

With unexpected force, Lillian slammed the glass plate she had been drying onto the counter. It didn’t break, but the noise caused me to jump. Lillian’s face flushed as she glared at Adam.

She exploded into a stream of angry words. “Why can’t you be more like Douglas? Why do you have to be so strange? I can’t take care of you while I’m still taking care of mom. Douglas could take care of himself. Why can’t you?”

Adam remained calm. “I don’t need you, Lillian. I can fend for myself. I’m doing just fine without mom.”

“Yeah because you have me!”

“Cooking and cleaning isn’t ‘having’ you.”

Her eyes not leaving Adam’s, her body still except her arm, like a robot with only one function, Lillian reached over, picked up the plate from the counter, and slammed it on the floor with incredible force. It shattered.

I jumped back. “I should, uh, go now,” I said, the nervousness evident in my voice.

The sound of a slamming door exploded from upstairs. I jolted once again, but Adam still did not flinch.

“See Adam. You’ve upset mom.” Lillian pointed toward the stairs.

“No, Douglas upset mom.”

Lillian whipped around, returning to her chore. I glanced over at the staircase with my eyes, realized that simply slamming a door did not mean she would come down to see what all the fuss was about, and then I moved my gaze to Adam.

“I’d better go,” I said.

“Ok. Goodbye.”

I turned swiftly on my heels and sped across the living room and out the front door, into the chilly autumn breeze. A crow swooped by again, silently grieving the loss of the flighty geese and the hibernating bears, the friends it’d never had.

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