Dark Cloud Is at the Door
I guess you both planned it that way, the way he left. I guess it was better than a big fight and him storming out the door with a suitcase, yelling, “You all just keep the house, you bunch’a lazy—”, even though us kids didn’t know we were Indians. We just thought we were Protestants with a really good tan. And you’re yelling back at him in a language foreign to us, as doors slam, dogs growl, and the sky turns the color of a really good Tequila Sunrise. He stomps through the grass that used to be in the front yard, and tears off in his truck, careening around the corner. You throw rocks, and the crows call after him, “Yeah, well, we don’t need you.”
But that wasn’t what happened.
Us kids were in the den, huddled around the color TV like wolf pups. It must have been a Friday. Barnaby Jones was on. We had a car like Barnaby, except ours was tricked out with an eight-track player and cloth seats. He entered the room with a suitcase the same shade of Barnaby’s LTD and set it down, even though he said he was leaving.
With tears in his blue-green eyes, he said it was the hardest thing he’d ever have to do, but he did it anyway. Dad was brave. He left us sitting there on the yellow plaid couch that always made the back of my legs itch in the summer. It must have been summer. The TV flickered as Brother and Sister cried openly, shamelessly. I, like a real Indian or Protestant, choose to hide my sorrow outside, where the sky was not magenta, and Dad’s pick-up with a camper and rearview mirrors that stuck out like big ears didn’t careen around the corner, but it turned, rather slowly. Gravel crunched under the wheels and it sounded just like a line from a good ol’ country western song, just like a line in a story about us, just like that—
And then he was gone.
The Mountains I Become
The first time I saw one of my parents cry is embedded like a silicon chip in my amygdala. It glints and sparks even as other memories that surround it erode. I’m sure when I die, when I’m burned to a crisp in the incinerator at French’s Mortuary, the chip will remain.
I hope when my time comes, I’m not left in some cardboard container sealed shut with yellow crime tape like I saw at a patient’s house one afternoon. The brown cylinder with Grandma in it sat amongst an array of dusty tequila bottles that seemed to be more cherished than her.
“No. You’re telling me that’s your mother in there?”
“She wanted a huge funeral,” her daughter said, as the mechanical lift of her chair whined bringing her to a nearly upright position. “She wanted to be rolled down the aisle of First Presbyterian Church in a great white casket. Do you know how much those cost?”
I stared at the brown cylinder containing human remains atop the liquor cabinet. She wasn’t even placed in the empty Patron bottle. “Did she like to drink?”
“Never touched the stuff.”
For sure Grandma was sitting in the room somewhere with sharp knitting needles and I should have said a prayer for her but all I could do was wonder what were my final wishes and who would carry them out? A wife? A nephew? Some nice nursing assistant doing it because I remind her of someone she loved, or because she liked me and she’ll miss me, or, because I paid her?
I could see, the nursing assistant, in her in navy blue scrubs under her too thin winter jacket and tennis shoes perched at the jagged edge of the mountain, ten-thousand feet in the cold winter sky. She opens my urn/cardboard container and remembers that I had requested a song. She sings “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.” The only song she knows all the words to, the only song her mom ever listened to on the little portable record player in her bedroom. The sun is setting and the mountain glows like a pink fortress. Her black hair blows in the wind, cheeks aflame, as she wonders simultaneously why the old people die so quickly in the winter and why her mom was so sad.
I fly into the mauve sky. The silicon chip catches the fire of the dying sun. A crow diving through the canyon catches it in mid-air, carries it to her nest, and tucks it between juniper twigs, feathers, and twine, and waits—waits for the day she cries, and her children see her.
Cynthia Sylvester is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and the University of New Mexico. Her short stories and flash fiction have been published in ABQ in Print, Lunch Ticket, As Us Journal, Bosque –the magazine, Dimestories Anthology, Apricots and Tortillas – Anthology. She lives and works in Albuquerque NM.