Today feels like a short story day …
A SONG FOR MISS CLINE
Uncle Ephraim has this weird habit of digging up the bushes in front of the M. Lauder Bank. Dead people can be crazy like that
sometimes. Hell, everybody’s a little crazy I guess.
I keep hoping that someone’s like me. You know, not dead. But I think whatever got Momma and Ephraim got to the town, too.
Miss Cline is dead, but she thinks it’s always Valentine’s Day. Every day, she gathers up all the valentines she’d made herself and
then sets them out again. Like clockwork, after the last one’s on the mantle, she pets her cats. They died some time back, locked in
the house, but she don’t notice. She just strokes their bony backs, rubbing the fur bald. There’s not much left to her face now, but she
don’t notice that either.
I feel bad for them cats. And her.
Other dead ones, like Hugh Crafter, ain’t that different from what they were when they’d been alive. Hugh still cleans all the time.
When she was alive, Momma would always say that it was pointless for him to clean his shack of a house. She’d say, “Bathing a
dead dog still gives you a dead dog. He might smell nice for a few minutes, but he’s still dead.”
I keep our house clean. But the smell’s still there. I guess Momma was right.
The snow’s setting in. If I don’t get out tonight, I won’t. The world’s a mean place is what Ephraim used to say when he
was alive. Real soon, I think it’s gonna get a whole lot meaner.
More of them dead ones are in front of the house.
Watching me like I watch Miss Cline. Except their eyes are a whole lot meaner. The ones that got eyes, anyway.
Ephraim’s on the porch. I can hear his boots creaking against the loose floorboards, making a long whine kind of sound. Momma’s
in the back bedroom. She hadn’t made a noise for a few days now. I don’t go into her room no more. I don’t want to see what’s left.
When Ephraim and Momma took sick, I stayed with them.
Back when she was alive she always said I’d never leave her. Said there was no reason to leave. Family was family. And you
cain’t never trust no one like family.
Miss Cline’s got music on tonight on some kind of wind-up record player. I haven’t seen nothing like that in a long time. It’s a soft
kind of music, like a love song.
I’ll wait for you forever … and I’ll never let you go. You’ll always be mine … Always … Always … And I’ll take care of
you, just know …
And I can hear Ephraim on the porch. He’s scratching at the door like a hungry dog wanting in for supper and I can hear him whisper real soft, like he’s singing to the music.
… And I’ll take care of you …
Food’s gone. No heat. No power. But that ain’t the storm. Hadn’t had power for a long time. Up here we lose power a lot. But the city … there’s always the city.
I make myself go out the back door.
The snow keeps sliding softly down and I feel it all over me, little bits of cold digging into my eyes. As the wind spirals by, the
snowflakes swirl like ants swarming on a dead thing. It’s hard to see. Everything’s all grey. No colors. It’s easy to get turned around in the dark. In the snow. I could go back home. Go through the motions. Pretend.
But that look in their eyes … and the smell … I’m not like them. And they’re starting to get that.
I kind of want to break something. Just so I can hear some noise. Hear something to remind me I’m not dead. That I’m not them.
And then I do hear something in the woods. I hope it’s just wolves. I hope I didn’t wait too long. But I promised Momma I’d take care of her.
… Always … Always …
Behind me, the boot prints I made are being filled up with fresh snow. I bet Miss Cline is still listening to her song.
Always … Always …
I just keep going, trying not to look back.
And I’ll take care of you …
If I make it a little farther, I should be able to see lights from the city. I want to see those lights. If I cain’t … No, if their power’s out, then there’ll be fires. There’ll be something, little lights like fireflies stuck out in the grey. I almost start laughing. Used to catch them things when I was real little. As a kid, I felt bad when I put them in a jar and woke up the next morning and they was all dead.
I’m crawling up the hill now, slipping and sliding every which way. Gonna go as fast as I can. But I’m gonna see them lights. I’m gonna see them. Momma used to take me up here when I was real small. Then I look.
I’m laughing like an idiot until I feel a hand on my shoulder that’s colder than the snow.
And I think of Miss Cline and her cats.
… until the world ends …
Got a feeling that Momma ain’t been in her room for awhile. Maybe she just wanted to see the lights, too. Then I hear a voice, real
soft like the snow.
“… and I’ll never let you go …” Momma says.
… Always … Always …