Flinging Themselves at Light by Brad D. Green

A gath­er­ing of the fam­i­ly today with­out a death. A rare occur­rence. Nor­mal­ly it is a loss that pulls our short­ly-flung ranks back to a home base. Not today. Just hot dogs and ham­burg­ers and my-how-you've-grown or my-how-you've-lost. There is always more excla­ma­tion at the loss. That is what we notice. We notice that M- arrives with­out kids or hus­band in tow, alone in her round, yel­low car. The brakes squeak as she stops next to my grandfather's old truck. The angu­lar bones of her face scrunch up. She juts when she speaks, each sen­tence a punch, a cut, a kick in your gut. Her hips have grown larg­er, I notice. I try to notice the putting on as well as the tak­ing off. A small black ball pierces her low­er lip. That's M-.

There's also LA‑, J‑, S‑, and A‑, younger than M- by five or six years. All of them mid-twen­ties. Most have met­al in their faces and live among con­crete and glass. Pierced eye­brows and tongues. Splash­es of col­or on calves, shoul­ders. They seem wild to me, that bunch, too open in their ways. I'm more pulled into myself, like an elbow on a cold day. I recall them all as tod­dlers that fol­lowed me around. Kids with locked knees, dumb with their motions, shy. S- fell asleep in my lap once, now she lurch­es about, mak­ing loud men­tion of her butt. They all seem so far away even though they are right here, glint­ing under the Texas sun.

My grand­moth­er: a prune in a lawn chair. She makes these lit­tle laughs around her cig­a­rette, the smoke ooz­ing out between her fin­gers. With each of her laughs, she deflates. I nev­er recall her thick with laugh­ter, but I watch her now in her chair in front of the box fan, bored and some­what puz­zled by the chil­dren. She shrinks each time she exhales. Per­haps laugh­ter is like an ovar­i­an egg bun­dle-one only has so many to last a life and near the end the tank hollows.

There's also T‑, who has HIV. Thin and brown. Shaved head. He wears a Blue­tooth phone all the time on his ear. Looks like a Borg, only not bad-ass. He's con­stant­ly mov­ing. Nev­er sits. He smiles, but it's a motion like kiss­ing a pane of glass. T- is an emp­ty room, his move­ment an attempt to dis­cov­er the edge of himself.

Oth­ers as well, par­ents of the met­aled-out kids: J- and N- and D‑, the last two my mother's sis­ters. My broth­er with his shorts on, black socks and bald­ing head. Three or four more that I don't know, oth­ers pulled in by the youth. They move fast, as if they expect things to hap­pen now. Per­haps it does for them. I sup­pose all the glass they live around reflects the world back to them, throws out the images they crave. I imag­ine M- there catch­ing an image and stamp­ing it to her low­er back like a tramp. I reach down and fill my palm with dirt. M- looks at me with a face sour as a young raisin. I let the dust fall through my fin­gers. She doesn't under­stand. She flings her­self at bright reflec­tions in the glass, sees anoth­er lone­ly per­son there clam­or­ing toward her.

Most of them suck on their cig­a­rettes and sweat. T- walks around spray­ing Lis­ter­ine on the tables to keep the flies away. He insists it works, but we all flick our hands about our faces, watch the flies launch from our hot dogs.

My grandmother's house. Thick with rock. Chalky with grout. It's stout, her house, the trim great inch­es of brood­ing wood, joined with angu­lar black nails. She recent­ly had every­thing redone. New paint. New appli­ances. A bru­tal rip­ping of mem­o­ries from the house. Hard­ly any­thing of my grand­fa­ther left in here. One pic­ture there, small­ish, above the square TV that's bare­ly watched. She chose col­ors that he wouldn't like, fast col­ors one finds curved around soda cans. New soft fur­ni­ture, round pil­lows with tas­sels. The main room has been rearranged around the emp­ty spot where my grand­fa­ther nor­mal­ly lounged. His chair is gone, of course, but there is obvi­ous­ly an area there, left wide and open, though his pres­ence has been hushed else­where. Each seat in the room faces that emp­ty gap.

The sun doesn't find its way easy in this house. At our house a cou­ple of hours away, wasps sneak in through open doors and then fling them­selves at what­ev­er light they can sense, under­stand­ing that a motion toward that is pos­si­ble escape. It's the same here with shad­ow. Shad­ow strikes out, arch­es along the wall search­ing for cracks and open spaces to flood; it mutes the col­or that's been flung every­where. None of the plants in the house are real now that he's gone.

I sit here in the liv­ing room after lunch with my daugh­ter. Every­one else play­ing horse­shoes or wrestling. They have a love with­in them, these kids. They demon­strate it through col­li­sions and wed­gies. My daugh­ter is ten months old and tired. I rock her and hum. I hum row row row your boat and twin­kle twin­kle lit­tle star. Slow­ly, she loosens in my arms. Like a bolt stub­born with rust, she seeks to hold her posi­tion to con­scious­ness, but once bro­ken free, she spi­rals off and is gone. Peo­ple used to being around babies have a frag­ile motion when they see one asleep. The tat­tooed and span­gled kids bus­tle about as nor­mal, sheep­ish­ly offer apolo­gies when she stirs. I wave them away. I want them out, so my daugh­ter and I can sit qui­et­ly in the room with my grandfather's absence, a man she nev­er met. She curls her lit­tle fin­gers around my thumb and vibrates from some­thing she's dream­ing. I won­der if it's that emp­ty space. Has it reached into her? It felt like a star­tle, that shake she had, the stiff­en­ing of her right leg. That's when she grabbed my thumb.

I'm here, I whis­per to her. Her hair stands straight out like she's been elec­tri­fied. The spot on the top of her skull puls­es gen­tly. I'm here, I whis­per again. She set­tles more deeply against me. I hold her, wrap what's strong about me around her. I close my eyes to shut out that emp­ty spot where he should be. If I could breathe hard enough with­out wak­ing her, I think that my breath would slide around the spot-or per­haps get sucked in. The room is lever­aged around that loss. All the new­ness in this house is hol­lowed. M- feels it too. The loss camps with her; it's why she's scrunched up and sprung out. She hides in the reflec­tions of oth­er things, unable to dis­cern the source of light. They all do. With my eyes closed, it feels as if the absence in the room is larg­er than it real­ly is, that if I were to draw in too deep a breath, what the room lacks would loom into me.

Brad D. Green lives in North Texas with his wife and two chil­dren. He nur­tures a strong dis­like for skunks. Oth­er jour­nals kind enough to pub­lish him are John­ny Amer­i­ca, Side of Grits, The Shine Jour­nal, and Grass­lands Review. He'd be hap­py if you take a gan­der at his blog, Ele­vate the Ordi­nary.

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