As She Lay Dying ©

The girl stood beside the bed fanning her mother. Her brother was outside the window. He sawed, measured and hammered out a box. The girl wished he wouldn’t build the box so close to the house where mother could hear, but he couldn’t be told anything reasonable. He said mother couldn’t hear noway, or something like that, the girl couldn’t recall. Besides, he told her, he needed to pass the boards in front of the window so she could nod her approval of the planks.

The girl’s brother hammered late into the night until the box was complete. The following day the girl’s brother brought a shovel from the barn and dug a hole outside his mother’s window. The girl asked her brother not to dig there, so close to mother, but her brother said it would be better this way. He couldn’t be told anything. The girl thought to pull the window closed so mother couldn’t hear, but decided against it in favor of the breeze.

It had been several hot days since the girl’s brother had mailed the letter to their father. “He probably won’t come.” The girl said. But if he does, her brother thought, he’ll need a place to stay. Her brother stopped digging long enough to lean on the shovel, wipe the sweat from his eyes and relight his pipe.

The girl thought her father would sometimes toss aside a spent match after lighting his pipe. She wasn’t sure. The girl was no longer sure that her father had ever smoked a pipe. But he prayed. The girl was sure of that. Nightly, the same prayer pounded against his palate so that it became smooth repetition. A repetition that caused his prayers to become empty vessels of lost emotions. She at least remembered it to be that way. The girl’s prayers, like her father’s, now floated from her lips and drifted away like sulphur from a discarded match, expiring. Father had been away for many years.

A storm was coming. It was cooler now. Pages of mother’s bible flailed on the table in front of the open window. Thunder cracked in the distance. The girl closed and latched the window then lay down beside her hollow-cheeked mother. The storm grew closer. Trees beyond the barn began to thrash about. Rain started. The girl and her irremediable mother slept through the storm.

Had father arrived in the night. Hadn’t she heard voices, a scuffle. Was it a dream of a night long forgotten. Were things broken. Why did no one wake her?

In the morning the girl’s brother was outside the window again. The storm had passed and another warm day was promised. The girl raised the window. A whisper of wind circled the room as if to survey the things mother would leave behind, then turned the thin pages of mother’s bible again, invisible fingers searching for an appropriate proverb. The girl fanned her gaunt mother and remembered the last time her father left the house. She cried when he left. The girl was too young to understand why her father was leaving, but she remembered knowing he was going for the last time. She had chased after him. The girl remembered tripping and falling and scraping her knees and palms. The girl lay in the dust on her belly and cried. It was from that pitiful position that she watched her father walk away. She called for him. He didn’t turn around. The girl’s father didn’t come back to kiss her bleeding palms, he only donned his preacher hat, climbed into his rat-colored car and drove away.

Now that mother is dying, the girl thought, maybe father will be back. The girl sat on the edge of the bed next to her grey, etiolated mother and watched her brother work. The window frame captured him just the way he is, hardworking, stubborn, unforgiving. The girl’s brother whistled as he shoveled earth down onto the box in the hole near the window. The girl didn’t ask her brother why he was filling the hole. She knew him to be unreasonable about most things anyway.

With the hole filled, the hammering had started again. A board passed in front of the window for the girl’s approval.