Down The Stairs and Up The Road

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It’s hard to accept when someone’s gone. It seems temporary. Much like when a little kid is told that their turtle just took a trip. “Don’t worry Little Sally, he’ll come back soon.” I’m not used to people suddenly disappearing. One word and they’ve vanished. They’re be gone until those pearly white gates, that Grandma talks about. I’m not a stupid child. What if I can’t wait until the pearly white gates? What if I miss Uncle Jimmy now? I want to ask him why.
“Jimmy?”
“Yeah, Sal?”
“Why did you commit suicide?” That was too forward. But can you offend a ghost?
“There are many reasons someone makes a decision like that.”
“Jimmy, I’m not that naïve. There was something.”
“It’s complicated, Sal. It’s an adult matter.”
That was, no pun intended, the kiss of death in my imaginary conversation.
“It’s not an adult matter, Jimmy. It’s a bad conclusion to a lot of bad thoughts. You had no right to take yourself away from your family.”
Even through my dream I could see his eyes. They were avoiding every little thing. His whole existence was avoidance.
“I was scared. I never felt so sad. It hurt to feel like that.”
“Have you ever heard of a second chance, Jimmy? A re-do? You can’t give up so entirely that you just...” My voice trailed off and then I woke up.

.........


All I wanted was some peace and quiet. If not a day, just a moment. I wanted time to absorb everything. Since... Well since it... I hadn’t had time to breathe. My family didn’t talk about it. Grandma thought she talked about it when she told me about the funeral, but that wasn’t what I wanted to know. I had so many questions and all of them seemed to be just too insensitive. No one understood how hard it hit me. Everyone was dropping like flies around a campfire. I hated camping.


“Sal, time to get up.” Grandma’s harsh voice whipped through the room. She was a shrill woman, sharpened by years of dealing with loud people. I stuck my head above the covers to be greeted by the refreshed today. The air was like butter. Everything here was like butter, though, except the grass. The grass was green and sharp and new. Like a crayon in a box of ball point pens.


“Peek your face out, girly. Say hello to the morning.” Her southern accent rang loud and clear. She sounded just like her mother, and her mother’s mother and her mother’s mother’s mother. Not my mother and not me. I liked the way I was a perceived as foreigner. I was never boring to these people. I was an alien.


“Is it almost over?” I used a hint of mystery in my muffled voice.
“Is what over, Precious?” She was stumped.
“The week. The dream week.” I was so tired of everything this week. None of it seemed real and I wanted something real, right now.

“What are you talking about?” Her face went pale. “Oh.” She stared at me like I had said something scandalous. “Sal, one doesn’t go around belittling a tragedy. It’s not a dream. Now get out of bed and come downstairs and put a smile on. A convincing smile would be best. Thank you.” She looked me straight in the eye. They were blue eyes that could pierce through Old Iron Sides. She stomped out of the room with her slippers making an unnaturally harsh patting noise. “I’ll see you downstairs.” And then the door slam came.


I wasn’t threatened because I knew it was an act. She was too scared to process what had happened. Grandma didn’t want to recognize that things have changed. She was one of those people. Those people walk down the street with their heads straight and their minds sealed. I don’t like those people. I respect them, like Mama says, but I don’t like them.


The sheets were tossed to the end of the bed. My mouth expanded for a giant yawn and my eyes opened wide. In the morning, my senses are acute. I could feel the humidity building. That was exactly what I wanted right now.


My dress slipped on easily. With the bow in the back tightly tied, I moseyed on down the stairs. The oak bannister slid under my hand like water under a bridge. The sounds of Louis Armstrong and his trumpet wafted from the kitchen. Mama was humming her little heart out. Everything was back to the way it had been before. It was a warm day, everyone was happy, and the birds were chirping. It was so perfect. Jimmy wouldn’t have wanted it any differently.


Then I ran. I looked around at the place I had spent all my life. The quaint kitchen wasn’t mine anymore. The lace curtains weren’t mine. The smiles certainly weren’t mine. None of it was mine anymore, if it ever was. I didn’t want it. I wanted to run to my one day of quiet, only one. After that one day I would be more than willing to take all of that nonsense back.


The screen door slammed behind me and I felt the grass under my feet. The transition brought me out of one universe and into another. The change was lightning fast. So were my feet. I bolted out of the front yard and onto the dirt road, not ever stopping to see if anyone noticed. Well, of course people would notice a young girl running along the side of the road, barefoot. They wouldn’t notice the purpose, only the action. Maybe they were those people.


I had no idea what I was doing. Where was I going? The road went on for miles and miles, and where would I stop? Somewhere it would turn from dirt to gravel. I was asking a lot of questions, for someone who had made such a rash decision. No, I wasn’t going to think about what was going to happen, I was just going to think about what was happening. Keep on going, except not forever. Forever is a really long time to run. I couldn’t tire myself out before I got where I wanted to be. “Maybe here is where I want to be.” I muttered under my scarce breath. “Or here?” I wanted to find somewhere before forever was over.


My feet flew out from under me and I landed on my back. I made a really loud and gruff noise, like a prairie dog being thumped against a rock. It hurt so bad, until I opened my eyes. The unforgiving ground I landed on was not familiar, but it was incredible. It was a field with trees and grass and a pond, right off the road. It was so perfect, more perfect than the perfect I had been exposed to. I liked this perfect. Then I remembered that I was only about 25 minutes away from...home. But maybe that’s enough. Everything today was a maybe. “I don’t want life to be maybes, I want stability. I really want stability.”


I’m not going to go into the details of what I did. That would be too boring. In short, it was a nice day. That day is over, though. I’m back to the land of avoidance.


When I walked in the door, with the sun falling behind me, Grandma asked me why. The problem was, I didn’t know why. I thought it was because I wanted freedom and quiet, but after experiencing my freedom and quiet, I realized that wasn’t why I did it. Anyway, what did I do? I just went where I wanted to go. What was wrong with that?

.........

When days are over the sun sets. When a movie’s over the credits role. Death is different because there’s no finale and no closing. No one ever says “The end” and then sighs their last sigh. The trumpet sounds and they fade into glitter to take them to the pearly white gates. That’s what Grandma says, at least. I should stop judging life by what Grandma says, though. I’m going to make my own earthly laws.
“Hi, Sal. How’s the weather?” I was astounded at his humor. I didn’t know dead people were funny.
“You never cease to surprise me.”
“Big vocabulary, eh Sal?”
“Not really. You really didn’t believe there was no way out?”
“I’ll tell you later.”
“When’s later?”
“You’ll see.”





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