Roll the Sky
by Yegor Chekmarev
I really wish I could remember simple things, like Daddy’s face. Then I wouldn’t have to hide behind the stones and statues whenever he comes by. If I knew Daddy was back to see me, I could finally hug him and tell him everything is okay.
See, there’s this man walking alone down the main winding path. He’s dressed in a dapper black suit with his gray hair parted. When he comes by, I hide behind an obelisk. I don’t know who this man is, but I have a good feeling about him. I’ve had a lot of good feelings before, but this one is the strongest. I found fresh flowers on the ground earlier, and I know Daddy came by not too long ago. Who else are they for, if not for me?
Because the sun has finally come out, today is a good day. The cloudless sky is a wonderful bright blue, and my dress ripples gently in the breeze. I decide that the man is my father and that he’s coming to see me again. Today is a good day and I want to be right.
But he’s not carrying any flowers and he’s walking too fast. He’s scowling, with a set, tense jaw. Daddy wouldn’t be smiling, though. It’s hard to smile in a place like this, but it makes things better. Whenever I feel sadness coming, I just give myself a little shake of the head and a slight smile. It hurts for a moment, but it works. I wish he would smile.
He stops at one of the stones near the back. Maybe it’s a friend’s. Maybe it’s mine. Where is my stone? Another simple thing I can’t remember. Was there a ceremony recently? They all blend together, grimly dressed families standing around a fancy box, weeping, crying, and always softly. It’s just a box. There’s nothing in it.
I hate how the families look. I’m always wearing a white dress, and even though it sometimes gets dirty, it’s much better than the drab, faded black that all of the other girls and women wear. The men and boys look like soldiers in their identical black suits.
They march, stone-faced, up and down the paths, and I trail behind, out of sight. One of the men stops, eyes shut as tight as a vice, but the tears still slide out. He tries to stifle himself but it sounds like he’s choking. No one comes to help him, so I run over and hug him.
His memories rush into me and every single part of my body is screaming to let go because it hurts so much to remember. But I don’t dare let go. We collapse to our knees and I can see and feel everything. The anger, the grief, the sheer sadness pounds at us, but I can’t let go.
After a bit, the crying slows down, the breaths become deeper and less ragged, and the man stands up, wipes his eyes, and keeps walking. No more marching. No more hiding. I try to hold onto the memories like jewelry, but they’re more like shards of ice. Soon, they melt and fall through my hands.
There’s so much crying for the loved ones. I want to tell everyone that they aren’t suffering anymore. I like to think that it was their time and they were tired. Here, they get to rest.
If one of them decides to come out and say “Hi” to me, that would be nice too.
I creep closer. Daddy is still standing by the stone. He hasn’t moved in ages. Sometimes he stares off into the distance as the occasional car flits by on Witherspoon Avenue. Sometimes he looks down at the stone and covers his mouth with his hands.
When it gets dark, Jerald closes the gates and locks them with a rusty, wheezing padlock. He spends the whole day in his office. He doesn’t come out to say “Hi” to anyone. He dreams about his wife and kids but I have never seen them visit him. When I stop by to say “Hi,” it sometimes feels like he’s actually looking at me. I think he’s even smiled once or twice, but it’s a sad smile that doesn’t linger very long.
After Jerald goes home, I go back to my tree to sleep. It’s an old sycamore off of one of the smaller paths. When I touch it, it tells me it’s been here for a million years and will be right here for a million more. It’s always cool and dark under the tree, and when I have trouble sleeping, I like to listen to the world slowing down. The wind stops whispering through the branches above and begins to howl. Some nights it really gets bad. I can’t imagine what’s scaring the poor wind. Surely it can just flow through and around everyone?
There’s the crunch of leaves underneath the shoes of someone going home to their family, the click of a lamp turning off in a bedroom, the sliding of deadbolts as doors are locked until morning. And then you expect silence, but instead you can suddenly hear the ground, crawling with nasty little bugs that aren’t so nasty when you don’t think about them.
You can hear the heartbeat of an entire town. Do you know what the funny part is? It sounds like someone is pitter-pattering randomly on some soft drums at first, but when the sleep gets as deep as the night, then it’s all one, steady pulse. All of these people, never really knowing anyone outside of their house or apartment, but at night they all breathe the same.
Sometimes when I’m lost in silly thoughts like these, I feel the ground vibrate. Cats pad around on the concrete and grass, and they even try to sneak up on me. They don’t know that I heard them a mile away. Right as they prepare to pounce, I roar at them! You should see the looks on their faces! They jump nearly ten feet in the air and scamper away, scared half to death.
In the middle of the night, kids sometimes climb over the fence and do stupid kid things. I like to think I’ve outgrown them, but I can’t even remember how old I’m supposed to be. It looks like they’re having fun, even when they bring drugs, alcohol, and spray paint. They try to be quiet, but they’re always giggling and shushing each other.
I’ve seen some of them dance on the grass, trying to be funny. They think they’re dancing on other people’s loved ones, but there’s no one beneath them. I dance with them in the dark because it’s too loud to sleep. After they get tired of dancing, they drink and smoke and paint some of the bigger stones.
When everything slows down and the kids stop dancing and get sad, that’s when I go to hug them. Their memories are soft and muted, like butterfly kisses. They’re happy, they’re bored, and they have problems with friends and family, but they don’t know what pain is. They haven’t dealt with the grief that the older visitors have.
When I let go, they finally go home, tired but hopefully less confused. Jerald gets grumbly at them in the mornings, but he knows how to clean the paint off the stones. It gives him something to do. I don’t get mad at all. They’re just kids, they’re not trying to be mean. There just isn’t much to do in this town.
Daddy finally moves, dropping to his knees at the stone. He’s talking to himself now, and the blue sky above him is spotless. It’s a beautiful day, yet he acts so strange. The left side of his jacket hangs lower than the right, and sometimes he pats it to make sure whatever he’s carrying is still there. Then, he looks around but there’s no one. Jerald is having lunch right now, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with banana slices, along with a small flask of whiskey.
Daddy’s hands are restless but he doesn’t caress the stone as others do with their loved ones. He stands up, reaches into his jacket, and pulls out something shiny. I can’t make out what it is. He holds it high above his head and it catches the sun. A hammer!
I hold my breath as he brings it down hard on the stone. It connects like a firing pin to the back of a bullet. The crack splits the air, echoing in the stillness of the day. After it passes over, I forget to breathe. Daddy hangs his head over the stone, his right arm hanging limply at his side.
When he takes in a deep breath and raises the hammer again, I run out from behind the stone yelling “Daddy! Stop!”
He brings the hammer down with both hands. A comet’s tail of dust shoots into the air, and the earth below our feet cracks in half like a fissure. My ears are ringing and it’s hard to keep my balance. I keep running, yelling, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”
I see him clearly as he raises it for the third time. Sweat drips from his temples, his eyes wide, white, and red, and he’s so angry, terrible, and frightening. His teeth are clenched, but spit hangs on his lower lip, his neck is taut and tense with all the veins and arteries bulging out, wrapped around his throat like a noose. I’m so close to hugging him. I want to comfort him but he can’t hear me at all, and when I finally touch him—
Leaves whisper on the road. The odor of gasoline cuts through the chilly breeze of the afternoon. It is cold outside, but inside the two tangled cars, it is still warm and dusty. Something is beeping and everyone is still.
The hospital is covered in a layer of gauze. The nurses are mummies. It hurts so much to move. The pills don’t really help. He sits there, wishing he was dead so that he doesn’t have to wait. The doctors give him the good news.
The house is empty. He is waiting by the TV day and night, always drinking coffee and always smoking cigarettes. His eyes are always closed but he can’t fall asleep. The phone rings. The bad news arrives. On the TV, the news reporter flashes the faces and names, one young, one old, both beautiful. He leans back and opens his mouth to scream.
There is a third face, a third name. He waits for a long time, repeating it over and over again until it burns in his mind like a flare and he can’t sleep.
His jacket is heavy. He walks right past their stones, the first two names already receding, and goes for the third name.
—I pull back and crumple to the ground. I was wrong. My daddy wouldn’t have so much hate in his heart. He’s scaring me and I can’t help him. That scares me even more. I’ve given him pause with my touch, but I won’t be able to wrap my arms around him and let him cry into me because he’s too busy swinging the hammer. He’s too busy destroying himself.
The echoes roll the sky like thunder. The ground shakes and all the birds take flight. And I lie there, sinking into the earth as he pounds the stone with the hammer until there’s nothing left.
Copyright © 2014 Yegor Chekmarev