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death, Fiction, Guest Posts, Life, Pets

The Silo

April 29, 2022
Sequoia

By Kate Abbot

The snow began to fall on Tuesday around lunchtime.  Sequoia Williams barely noticed it as she sat in the lunchroom of the regional high school.  By the time she got off the bus, the snow was deep enough to reach her shins.   It squeaked as she walked up the half mile dirt driveway to the farmhouse.  It was mid-March and the days were getting longer.   The cows had been out to pasture for several weeks, rooting around in hopes of a sprig of spring growth.

Her older brother, Dale, was chopping wood.  Dale was a two time drop out, once from high school and then from the regional GED program.   Sequoia tried to stay clear of Dale; he had a hair-trigger temper and it was worse when he was drinking or popping the pills he thought she didn’t know about.

“Where’s Pa?”  Sequoia stomped the snow from her boots and shook the flakes out of her hair.   Ma was chopping carrots and potatoes.

“He went into town, to meet with the man from Wells Fargo.”

Sequoia wasn’t supposed to know that the bank was on the verge of taking the farm from them, the 600 acres that had been in her mother’s family for at least three generations.

“I’ll see to the milking, Ma.”

Sequoia shrugged her parka back on and trudged out to the barn.  The snow was falling harder now, wet and heavy.   She was out of breath by the time she had rounded up the eight milking cows.   The milking machines made a steady whooshing noise and the cows crunched on their feed.   Next, she checked the henhouse, made sure that it was locked tight against the marauding foxes and that there was plenty of fresh water.

Ma joined her, tossing the vegetable scraps and day old bread to the pigs in their pen.   Together, they mucked out the stall that contained two draft horses who were mostly pets but could still be counted on to pull the plow if the tractor was on the fritz or Pa couldn’t afford gas.

What little light that should have been in the western sky at five thirty in the evening was missing.  The snow was knee deep and still falling.  Dale barely acknowledged the two women at the supper table, slurping loudly at his beef stew and then belching as he guzzled a beer.   He disappeared into his basement room without even clearing his plate from the table.

“Like father, like son,” Sequoia thought to herself.   She said nothing of the sort to Ma, instead shooing her into the family room to fall asleep in front of the television.

Sequoia cleaned up the supper mess and then climbed the stairs to her room on the third floor of the farmhouse.   The sheepdog mix followed her, whining anxiously.

“What’s wrong, old girl?”

Patches put her paws up on the windowsill and peered out into the darkness.

“It’s just a late winter snow.  It’ll be melted by tomorrow afternoon.”

But the next morning, it was still snowing.  Three feet at least.   Sequoia slogged through the stuff on the way to help Ma with the morning milking.

“Let’s leave them in the barn, Sequoia.  Nothing for them to do outside today.”

“I’m going to bring the hens inside.  The coop is getting full of snow.”

Sequoia stood at the head of the driveway, contemplating the half mile walk to the bus stop.   The snow was pristine, which meant that Pa had not returned home.   That was certainly not unprecedented but she had hoped to walk in the snow pack created by his truck tires.   The day was yellow-grey, not sunlight but not darkness.    The snowfall was no longer wet and heavy.   The wind stung the fine powder against her cheeks.  She turned back to the farmhouse.   She heard a snow-mobile approaching.

Great, Henry.   He was just as much of a loser as her brother.   Sequoia stayed out of his way as much as she could.   He leered at her whenever he got the chance and once, in the kitchen, he had copped a feel.   He laughed uproariously when she slapped his face so hard that her palm stung for an hour.

“Phone’s out.”   Ma looked worried, hands on her hips as she surveyed the white landscape from the porch.   Together they watched as the snowmobiles disappeared into the whiteness.   Ma shook her head and went back inside to knead bread.

“Don’t worry, Ma.  The snow will stop soon and the phone’ll come back on.  I’m sure Pa is holed up in town, trying to call us.”

The words sounded hollow to Sequoia.  She wondered if her Ma felt the same strange despair that had begun to weigh upon the farmhouse.   She spend the morning studying for a history test and then the afternoon on her English term paper.    By evening milking the snow was up to her chest.  Ma had dug a path with the shovel and the snow blower from the house to the barn.   It was full dark when the chores were done.  The women had to use the rope that was strung from the house to the barn to feel their way back to the house.    Sequoia never recalled having used the rope before and she barely remembered her grandfather telling about how it had saved them getting lost going out to the barn to care for the animals in the blizzard of ’67.

The power went out sometime during the night.   Ma fired up the woodstove in the kitchen and started the fireplace in the living room.   Patches paced around, whining intermittently.    Sequoia tried to outpace the snow and keep the path to the barn relatively clear but the snow blower had given up the ghost.   There was no sign of Dale or Pa.

That night, Sequoia brought a basket of eggs in from the barn and restocked their vegetables from the root cellar.   Ma went to sleep on the couch in the family room right after dinner.    The snow completely blocked the front door and was past the second story windows.    From her third story bedroom, Sequoia could barely make out the outline of the full moon.   She awoke to Patches barking frantically and then, a terrible crashing noise.    The farmhouse roof was sloped enough to keep the snow from building up but the porch next to the family room was a different story.     The roof had collapsed from the weight of the snow, taking out the exterior wall.

Sobbing, Sequoia tried for several hours to dig through snow, shards of glass and bits of insulation to reach Ma, who was trapped beneath several thousand pounds of snow and building debris.   Her hands were bloody, her face raw and chapped, when she was finally able to grip one of Ma’s hands.  The fingers were waxy and stiff in hers.    The chimney had partially collapsed and snow was blowing into the family room.   Sequoia sank to her knees on the kitchen floor.   Patches licked anxiously at her cheeks.

Finally, with great effort, Sequoia hauled the contents of the refrigerator, the dog food and all the flashlight batteries she could find out to the barn.   On the last trip, she could barely get the barn door open.   The snow was well past the eaves.    She climbed up into the hayloft, exhausted.   Patches curled up beside her under some old horse blankets.   When the barn cats emerged, Patches only opened one eye and sighed as the felines nestled alongside Sequoia.

The lowing of the cows asking to be milked awoke her.   Halfway through the milking cycle, the back-up generator that had kept the milking machines going ground to a halt.   Sequoia finished the milking by hand.   The milking machine, like the milk and grain silos, were remnants of when the farm had been profitable.   The herd had once been over 100 and the harvest bountiful.

Sequoia went out through the door that led from the barn directly into the shed connected to the grain silo.   The shed roof groaned and Sequoia shuddered.    There was a faint daylight coming in through the top of the silo.   She stared upwards and then started the long climb up the ladder to the roof.   The silo was topped with a dome.  Fresh air came in through spaces in the cinderblock walls and under the dome.

She was about ten feet up the ladder that wound around the inside of the silo when she nearly tripped.   She put her hands out to grab the ladder and touched wood.   Cautiously, she crawled up onto what appeared to be a platform.  The platform, when she fished her flashlight out of her jacket pocket, held what could only be described as a fort.   Someone, it had to have been Dale, had hauled a couch and a table up onto a platform of rough boards.   Beer cans and cigar ashes were scattered about.   There was even a television and a small refrigerator, both of which were, of course, utterly useless in present conditions.

She continued her climb.   When she reached the top of the silo, some 100 feet off the ground, she could see outside.  It had been snowing for five days.  All she could see of the farmhouse was the third story.   She wondered briefly if she would ever set foot in her bedroom again.    The barn below was rapidly disappearing into the snow; only the loft area was still exposed but the snow was drifting quickly.

She looked east, towards town.   She thought she saw some smoke in the distance but she couldn’t be sure.   To the west, nothing but white.   It was so quiet, no birds, no engines, no tractors.  No planes in the sky.   She imagined that she was the last person on earth.   The sound of one of the horses neighing jolted her back to the present.

For the next few hours, Sequoia hauled whatever she could from the root cellar and the grain shed into the silo.   Each trip she took back into the barn she knew could be the last.   She was pretty sure that the air in the barn would soon be unhealthy.   Every crevice was blocked by tons of snow.

First she brought the horses into the silo.  They balked but Patches nipped at their heels.   The cows came next, more complacent.   She was worried that the pigs might go after the chickens so she brought several of the laying hens up onto her platform.    She was about to return to the barn one final time, to grab a few more feed buckets and tools, when the barn cats came racing through the shed, Patches barking wildly behind them.  Sequoia reached for the dog, worried that she might tangle with the cats and their sharp claws.  Her fingers brushed the nape of the sheepdog’s neck and then she heard a muffled explosion.   The shed had crumbled under the weight of the snow.

She shut the door, sealing herself and her charges into the silo.   When she looked out of the dome the next morning, the barn had disappeared.   She couldn’t tell how far up the side of the silo the snow reached.  It was all just so white.

And for the immediate future, if it were not for the cows asking to be milked, twice a day, at dawn and dusk, Sequoia would not have known day from night.   Years later, when she thought back on the time in the silo, she realized that keeping the animals alive had kept Sequoia from losing her mind.

There was milk and eggs and vegetables.    The animals had grain and feed.   There was bedding.   She rationed everything.   Water came from the snow she scooped out the back door where the shed had once been.  She was always cold, but not freezing.   She imagined that the warm air from the animals rose up to her perch where she huddled with Patches under horse blankets.    For the first few days, she cried herself to sleep.   She thought of Ma and her friends from school.   She wondered if Pa or Dale, or anyone, were alive.   After a while, she got tired of thinking.

And then came the morning when the light woke her before the cows.   She peered out from under the silo dome.   The sunlight was blinding and the sky was as blue as she’d ever seen it.   Below her, a rooster, one of the chicks that had hatched a few months earlier, began to crow.   She was afraid, when night came, that the snow and the dark would return but the sun was even brighter the next day.   Water dripped into the silo and moisture beaded on the concrete walls.  On the third day of sun, when she opened the door to retrieve snow for the water buckets, ice water gushed into the silo.  She closed the door quickly.   Water was leaking into the silo from the spaces between the concrete blocks.

As she sat on her perch, warm enough now to strip down to her t-shirt, a terrible thought occurred to her.   Had she and her charges survived the snow only to drown in the silo that had been their refuge?   Where would all the snow melt go?   The farmland that surrounded them was flat as far as the eye could see.   There were creeks but not nearly deep enough to carry away all the water.   Her grandfather had talked about a big flood many years before Sequoia was born, when the center of town was six feet under water.  Supposedly, a better drainage system had been put in place as a result.

With the sunlight and the change in temperature, the air inside the silo had become rank.   The animals were covered in their own filth.    Several of the pigs appeared sick and two of the chickens died.  Sequoia tried to clean up after the animals, painstakingly hauling bucket after bucket of manure up to the top of the silo and dumping it out.   The morning she threw the chickens out of the silo, she heard the shriek of a vulture.   Bits and pieces of the wreckage of the barn and the farmhouse began to emerge.   The oak trees that surrounded the house were battered but still standing.   It was hard to tell from the top of the silo how deep the snow was, or if there was standing water on top of the snow.

And then, it started to rain one afternoon.   At first, a pitter patter and then a deluge.   The next morning, the rain had stopped and the landscape had become an ocean.   Bits of wood and trees floated by, some thirty feet below her prison gable.   She saw three tractors and a car the first morning, as well as the bloated carcasses of several cows.  Later that afternoon, she saw something coming from the west.  She squinted into the setting sun.   As it got closer, she could see that it was a homemade raft, fashioned out of sheet metal and pieces of wood.

“Hey!”  She called out, voice crackling with tension.   The figure standing in the middle of the raft looked up at the silo.

“Is there someone up there?”   Sequoia couldn’t tell if the voice was male or female.

“Yes!”

Sequoia wanted to bite back her response.  The base of her spine tingled with nervousness.

The raft came closer to the silo.  It was a young man with a small dog at his side.   The dog began to bark and Patches responded from deep inside the silo.   The man on the raft laughed, or at least it sounded like a laugh.

The man paddled around the silo, making a full circle.  Sequoia thought he had disappeared, or maybe that he had been a mirage.

“Water’s up above the door by about five feet,” he called up to her.

One of the horses whinnied.

“What do you have in there with you?  Are you by yourself?”

Sequoia hesitated, perhaps he meant them ill.  He must have sensed her unease.

“It’s all right.  I’m sure you haven’t seen anyone in a long time.   My name is Salvador.   I live in Omaha, at least I used to.”

Rather than answer his question, she asked if he was hungry.

She tossed down some carrots and a few potatoes.   Salvador shared them with his dog, which Sequoia thought was a positive sign.

With that the raft receded in the distance.   The hope that Sequoia had felt soon turned to despair.    Days passed.  She became convinced she’d imagined the man, that she was so starved from lack of human interaction that her mind had created another person.

One of the pigs died but it was too heavy to haul up the ladder.   Their water supply dwindled and she was afraid to open the door lest the silo be flooded.  She managed to get a small bucket on a rope under one of the narrow openings in the cinderblock to collect some water.

Some days after the man appeared on the raft she saw the water had gone down a bit more.   There was no more rain.   She could see patches of earth under the water.   It was mid-afternoon when she began to hear what sounded like hammering.   Then she saw Salvador towing several large pieces of wood.   Then some sheet metal.  He must have gotten it from the collapsed barn.   Her heart pounded in her chest.   She clutched a hayfork in her trembling hands.  At her feet, the dog whined nervously.

“Hello there!  I am going to see if we can get you out of there.”

The raft disappeared behind the silo.    Sequoia watched the water, which now seemed to be streaming around the silo, moving more rapidly than before towards the road and fields beyond where the farmhouse had stood.   As the summer, it must have been summer by then, light faded from the sky, a knock came upon the door to what had been the shed.

Sequoia opened the door very gingerly; the barn cats streaked past her.  She looked back into the silo.   The horses and cows were pushing towards her, frantic to get outside.   She stood to the side, behind the door.  The pigs and chickens were next.

Sequoia fought the urge to slam and lock the door.  She was seized with terror.  Was she afraid of Salvador or was she afraid of leaving all that remained of her past, the few traces of the farm that were left in the silo?  What if he stole her animals?

“Are you coming out?”

A fresh breeze wafted in the open door.  She stepped outside to the first fresh air she’d breathed in months.   The pitchfork was firm in her hands.

Kate Abbott has written three novels: Running Through the Wormhole (Black Rose Writing 2015), What She Knew (Black Rose Writing 2019) and Asana of Malevolence (Mascot Books 2016). Her work has also appeared in Mamalode, Screamin Mamas, Sammiches and Psych Meds, The Good Mother Project, the Ottawa House, Manifest Station, Persephone’s Daughters, and Kudzu House. She lives in Fairfax, Virginia and Fenwick Island, Delaware. Mom to three grown (almost) sons, she shares her life with rescue animals of all sorts.

***

Writing Cohort Opportunity

Circe is offering: Crucible – A Year-Long Writing Cohort 

Let by Gina Frangello and Emily Black, this cohort is designed for writers seeking to spend a year deeply immersed in writing or revising a book length work.

Cohort Includes:

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    • 2-3 members will have their pages workshopped per meeting (each participant will be workshopped twice)
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  •  100 manuscript pages read and reviewed by Emily and Gina

Email info@circeconsulting.net for more information

***

Statement on Black Lives Matter and support for social change

Binders, cancer, Family, Guest Posts

Of Mice and Snow.

February 6, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

By Mackenzie Cox.

It’s strange to think that Papa had sixty-five years of a life before me, because in my life, he was the fourth person to hold me.

Dad.

Mom.

My sister.

Papa.

Since he died, I’ve mourned as if I were some other person. I don’t really feel grief until it’s all consuming.

It’s a strange kind of yearning; not necessarily wanting my grandfather back, but more, being sad that he was ever cold, or lonely or hungry.

But above all, I mourn for a piece of himself he lost in France.

In the snow.

He had just turned eighteen when he was drafted into World War II. He wore glasses and weighed one hundred thirty pounds. Within two years, Papa was awarded a Purple Heart and a medal for “Courage Under Fire.” He was one of 500,000 American soldiers in the Battle of the Bulge, which put him in the city of Ardennes, France.

When I was little and learned that Papa had been in a war, I asked if he had killed anyone. He told me:

“Oh, hon, with the glasses I had to wear, I couldn’t see two feet in front of me. I had no idea what I was shooting at.”

Years later, I was reading Night by Elie Wiesel. Papa and I always talked about books. When I mentioned this one, he said something along the lines of,

“Those poor devils, they looked like skeletons.”

“Were you there?” I asked.

“I watched them come down from the hill,” he said. As to which hill, which concentration camp, I have no idea. I wish I had asked, but the way my grandpa looked, suddenly sunken into himself, his arms folded over his belly, I knew he wanted to change the subject. I loved him, so I did.

I do know that the American military liberated four camps. The one closest to the Battle of the Bulge was Buchenwald. It’s an alien feeling, imagining that my grandfather was one of the men to liberate Buchenwald. He would have been nineteen.

I want to ask him, “What happens to your soul Papa, in places like that? Did your innocence fall off of you? Or did it melt away with the snow?”

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

 

*

My soul, my innocence, shattered. I stood in pediatric oncology with my family. I heard the doctors tell my sister that my 2-year-old niece had cancer. The sky above me cracked, gave way. It fell in sharp, dagger-like pieces exposing a black void. Unfair and untimely death was suddenly real. My niece was hooked up to an IV with chemicals dripping into her tiny body. I held the pieces of sky in my hands, not sure what to do with them.

My sister’s baby.

Gone. My naiveté. My innocence.

At some point, it happens to all of us.

*

Papa and I had one of those relationships where we just gravitated towards each other. We were amazed by each other. We adored each other. In every picture we are in, one of us is staring at the other, smiling.

He was there for every holiday, every birthday, every big moment. He had my first essay titled “Papa’s Dumb Boat” framed. He hung it on his home office wall, along with my other achievements, like the ceramic plate I colored in preschool. He titled the plate “A Vision in Purple” and displayed it, also, in his office. It’s like he’d been waiting for me and couldn’t believe we had found each other in this life. He always greeted me by saying, “There she is!”

*

My best friend called me. His voice was almost indiscernible. I rushed out of Geology lecture. Any strange number on my phone almost always turned out to be Sean, calling from Iraq. He was one of many Marines deployed during the Iraqi War.

Through sobs, he told me his friend had just died in his lap. Whatever Papa lost in French snow, Sean lost in Iraqi sand. I curled up in the corner of the hallway, mourning with him.

My best friend.

My brother.

“He looked just like me,” he said. “It could have been me. Same haircut. Same uniform. Mac, there wasn’t a difference between us, except that I was next to him.”

He would have been killed if he had stood one foot to the left. Just one foot to the left. It was gone. I was there with Sean. I wish I could have been there with Papa.

*

I couldn’t have been more than four. Grammy was making dinner. Papa had carried me upstairs to where Grammy kept her collectable mice.

They were simple. Just little cloth mice. I was only allowed to play with them if Papa played with me.

Papa would let me pick a few to play with and we would lie flat on the bright orange carpet and act out silly, mice-like stories together. Playing with Papa was special. He changed voices for each mouse and created dramatic plot lines that were appropriate for the costumes the little collectables were wearing. If it was a pirate mouse, Papa would say ‘shiver me timbers’ while covering one eye. If it was a mama mouse, she would be kind and attentive. Always running around the other mice asking how their day was. Afterwards we would eat dinner and watch the only movie I had at their house: Tiny Toons Summer Vacation.

When I graduated from college, Papa and Grammy picked out the mice with which I’d played with the most and sent them to me along with Tiny Toons Summer Vacation, as a graduation present. Eighteen years later, he still remembered.

That routine we had was special to him and he knew it was special to me too. We were special to each other.

*

There is a place. Some of us have it. My husband calls it a spider web. You feel something touch your web and it shakes your world. Your dreams go surreal and you wake up tired because you feel like you were out there doing something. You have the wind knocked out of you. You fall. You smell things that aren’t around you. When Sean collapsed in Iraq from exhaustion, I collapsed in my parent’s driveway from nothing. When a taxi hit my husband I went home from work with a blinding migraine. My life. Call it what you will. This is a part of me. People to whom I am close somehow ‘trip’ my web.

It works both ways.

People find me. Something inside me that’s deep and old recognizes them. The ones who find me tend to be very, very ancient souls. They find me. And we hold hands. For days, they stay in my head. No drugs, no weird séances or prayers needed. If I’m trying to reach someone, though, it helps if I am in that in-between space of awake and asleep.

It’s not a place for the living to be. It’s a place of echoes and memories. You can slip into a memory to talk to a friend, a relative, living or dead. But if you’re going back to the corporeal world, you only have a little bit of time before you must return.

*

It took Papa two years to die from lung cancer. One day in January 2014, Dad texted me from Papa’s hospice bed, letting me know that ‘it’ was finally close. Still, he wouldn’t let go. For days, we waited. He grew weaker, holding on. Waiting. I had visited two weeks prior. Papa and I had held hands and spoken a few words. But the person in the bed, the skinny person with a slowing brain wasn’t my grandpa. The grandpa I knew was always reading a book, doing a chore, eating too many sweets. This frail, skinny person, I simply did not know.

He was past his time. I asked Dad if they needed me. He told me to stay put. He said,

“Sweetie, he’s not here anymore. You stay where you are. Concentrate on school. I love you. We’ll have a wake or something in a year.” My family and I are not religious people. The most important thing to us was that Papa found peace. That his ashes were next to Grammy’s.

So we waited.

I didn’t sleep for days. I wanted Papa to find peace. I was feeling that deep hurt, when you know someone you love is suffering. I sat down to rest my eyes. I had to reach him. I had to tell him that he could go. In that place, where we are all connected, we can find each other. I could find him. I could see him. I could tell him to let go. I closed my eyes and searched.

*

I knew where he would be. He would be at our convenience store. When I was tiny and he was younger, we would go there, sit on our favorite bench, eat vanilla ice cream on cones and talk about what the clouds looked like. My feet wouldn’t touch the ground yet and I’d be wearing a baseball cap my dad had hurriedly shoved my hair underneath.

I found myself like that again. I found myself in Jelly Shoes and a frilly, white summer dress. I found myself unable to touch the ground with my feet.

I heard him.

He called to me from the parking lot.

“Hey! There she is!” He clapped his hands once before opening his arms wide, waiting for the flying leap. I gave it my all because it had been a long time since I was four and I missed being held by him. We hugged tight. The clock was ticking. I couldn’t hold my four-year-old form for long.

By the time Papa put me down I was already a preteen with dark eye makeup. Somehow he had dark hair. I had never seen him with dark hair.

He was getting younger while I got older. He was closer to death, to being born again, while I was still somewhere in the middle.

“You need to go,” I said through tears. It was just us, outside the store with the setting sun turning the sky orange and yellow.

“Oh, I’m fine, hon,” he told me.

I told him he wasn’t fine. That he was getting worse. I told him what he was living in; grown-up diapers, a nursing home and that Grammy was already gone. I told him his skin was paper-thin and he couldn’t even hold a toothbrush. I told him it wasn’t going to improve.

“You have to go. You need to leave.”

He just had to make that final leap. He needed to understand. I couldn’t hold my form any longer. The living, the truly living, are not allowed in that place, that web, for long.

He assured me he would go, but not quite yet.

He was getting younger than I had ever seen him, his 30’s, his 20’s. I changed height, weight, gained years, lost years, trying to stay with him. He held me tight over his large belly, which for some reason never shrank.

He hugged me at every age I have ever been.

He hugged my life.

When we let go, he was old again, getting older. The web was shaking, vibrating. A spider was approaching. It was time to go.

“Please Papa, you need to go soon. You’re not happy. I know you don’t want to, but please, let go! Don’t be afraid. I’ll love you forever.”

“I’ll go soon. I’m so proud of you, sweetie.” I told myself not to reach for him, to not make a move or cry because that might make him stay longer for me. I couldn’t stop my arms from reaching out anyway.

The spider grabbed me. It had me by the ankles and was dragging me back to the world where my real body was. I was twenty-six. Papa was old again. His white hair was back, along with his favorite grey sweatshirt and jeans. He walked heavily back to our bench, to watch a final sunset and imagine pictures in the clouds. Maybe he wanted to remember me the way I used to be, one last time.

*

When I was in in high school I wrote an essay called “The King of Clouds.” It was the last essay of mine Papa had framed in his office. Every time we spoke he would look at it, and tell me he was reading it. He loved reading about the clouds even though we had lived it together.

“Just beautiful, Mac. Just beautiful.” He meant the writing. Before he died, I received a letter from him containing a check for thirty thousand dollars. In painful, scratchy handwriting he scrawled, “This is for your school. I am very, very proud of you and I love you a bunch. Merry Xmas. Papa.”

There’s a reason why this was so profound to me. All through my childhood my grandma would re-gift me. I’d get a sweatshirt obviously too small for her. My favorite stuffed animal, Tiger, is only mine because Grammy gave it to my sister, who turned it down. Grammy wrapped it back up and gave it to me the following year.

Papa, on the other hand, snuck me Barnes and Noble gift cards.

He bought me books.

And school.

Reading and writing. He knew me. He knew me before I knew me. With Grammy gone, and Papa on his deathbed he was finally able to do what he had been waiting for: to give me everything I wanted. He was my King of Clouds.

*

I woke up to Mom calling my cell phone. I was back in my body, exhausted, puffy eyed. She told me,

“Papa died early this morning.” I told her I knew, because I did.

“I found him, Mom.”

“Did you?”

“I told him he could go.”

“I’m glad, sweetie. He was waiting for you.”

Was he really? He had said he was going to go soon. I found him at night and he died in the early morning. Someone else must have taken him the rest of the way to wherever we go. Whatever our souls turn into.

Who was he waiting for?

He was my fourth person.

Dad.

Mom.

My sister.

Him. I would have been waiting for him. Were his first three people already gone? Maybe he was waiting for others. Others I never knew because I only knew him as a beloved grandfather. I didn’t know him for most of his life.

*

Grammy passed away first. Papa and I stood at the threshold leading to my grandmother’s wake. We were holding hands. Maybe he offered to escort me. Maybe I held my hand out for him. Or maybe we had just been holding hands. My husband opened the doors for us, my cousins followed awkwardly. But it was him and me. The pair of us. Together.

He allowed me to lead him through the crowd of people. Old women in black approached my Grandpa, saying the usual things.

“God’s plan.”

“She was so special.”

“We’re so sorry.”

To each of them, he held up my hand, showing them how much love and support he had and said, “I’m in good hands.”

He was.

*

I mourn in the most honest way I can. My mind understands that he was old. He had lung cancer. This was expected and not a tragedy. This was a natural passing of life. I tell myself that, and a large black cavity that masquerades as anxiety grows inside of my chest. It isn’t until I’m closing in on a panic attack that I realize I need to cry.

I hope the person who saw his innocence melt away in French snow was there to take him the rest of the way. Who saw him after I did? Who did he wait on our bench for?

It’s moments like that, moments I wasn’t there for that make me selfishly jealous of anyone who ever knew him before I did.

I want to find him, so many years ago, shivering in French snow, stinking of piss and blood. I want to find him and hold his hand and let him know that no matter what he sees, no matter the repercussions, he’ll be a great grandpa. That after he sees those poor devils come down from that hill, after he suffers in a hospital, receives medals for it and lives for another forty years, he’ll have a granddaughter. And they’ll ‘play mice’ together.

I want to be there with him.

Be cold with him.

Be afraid with him.

But I can’t. He wouldn’t know to look for me there. It’s not where our story started. I envy the person who was special enough to take him the rest of the way. I mourn for the bits and pieces of him I never met. Never will meet. I mourn for the pieces that fell off of him along the way.

Somewhere in the snow.

Mackenzie Cox is an MFA candidate at the University of California, Riverside.

 

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human. It involves writing and some yoga. In a word: it's magical.

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human. It involves writing and some yoga. In a word: it’s magical.

 

Join Jen Pastiloff in Atlanta March 8th. Click the photo above.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Atlanta March 8th. Click the photo above.

Featured image courtesy of: paraflyer