an excerpt from BLACK

black-cover

I reached to touch his face, to feel this sleeping man’s cheek, because I couldn’t remember ever doing it. But I stopped short. Pulled away my hand. Stood and looked around the room until my eyes came to something I’d never seen in the house before. A Bible. Next to Dad’s alarm clock. On the night stand.

It was strange, seeing a Bible there in the bedroom, in our old house. Even though Mom had been active in the church, organizing rummage sales and playing piano for the choir, my folks weren’t particularly religious and Dad had never attended services. Their literature was practical. Cookbooks. Encyclopedias. Dictionaries. Newsday, McCall’s, and Dad’s Field & Stream. There was a copy of the 1973 Farmer’s Almanac and a Chilton’s manual for every vehicle they’d ever owned, an Oldsmobile, a Buick, a Chevrolet, then a string of Fords, but as far as I’d known, there’d never been a Bible in the house.

I picked it up and opened it to a page that was book-marked with a Clem’s Bait & Tackle receipt. Part of Psalm 6 was underlined with pencil.

Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am weak: O LORD, heal me, for my bones are troubled.

Further down. Another part. Underlined in ink.

I am weary with my groaning: all night I make my bed swim: I drench my couch with my tears.

I looked at Dad. Imagined him alone at night. Reaching for Mom. Wanting to feel her. To hear her breathing by his side. But having nothing. No warmth. Only his own body sprawled out in empty space. Kicking away covers. Pulling the pillow over his head. Hiding away from the thoughts that come to a man only at night when he is so close to the dark and so very far away from the morning light.

Dad sighed. Curled up tighter. Brought the pillow to his face.

I put the Bible on the night stand. Looked at the alarm clock and noticed the hands were dead. That time had stopped one day at 4:12 p.m.

Batteries, like every other odd and end, were kept in a kitchen cupboard. Duracells next to Wonder Bread. Shoe polish and RAID guarded spices and crackers. Fishing line and 3-in-1 oil mingled with meat tenderizer and vinegar. Jars of nuts and bolts and boxes of shotgun shells stood alongside cans of tuna fish, smoked oysters, and windmill cookies.

I was headed for the kitchen, with the intention of finding fresh batteries, when Dad came to life.

“Where are you going with my clock?”

“Batteries,” I said. “Don’t you keep them in the kitchen?”

He stood in a rush. Grabbed the clock from my hands.

“The clock’s fine,” he said. And he put it back in its place next to the Bible.

“Go on and warm up the truck. I’ll just be a minute getting dressed.”

I turned and walked down the hallway, past the walls of family pictures. Our faces, moments and memories—our lives—captured and framed behind wood and glass. But I did not look at them. And I did not think about them. I moved quickly, away from Dad’s lonely bedroom, the dead clock, the Bible, and I moved on through the kitchen, out of the house and got into the truck. I turned the key. Sparked the engine to life. And I thought of the dead clock on Dad’s night stand until finally, it came to me. 4:12 P.M. was the coroner’s best guess at Mom’s time of death. And now, it was Dad’s constant reminder.

 

(copyright 2016 by K.J. Stevens)


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