Sitting on the hard bench, I closed my eyes and muttered along with the prayers I’d heard since childhood. But today was different. Even though everything was the same, it was all different. My brother’s death left an empty space next to me on the bench. People stood in the back; made no effort to claim the vacancy. I’d laid his bible next to me once it was apparent that I would be sitting alone.
Mid prayer, I looked up at the priest and let my words fade into silence. I had no use for scripts today. Why God? That was the only prayer that my heart could sing. I laid my hand on the book and traced the letters sunken into the cover. What had he ever done wrong? But I could think of no answers.
His smile flashed into my mind. It was like he was there next to me. All wiggles and impatience that I had to contain until the service was complete. Then a burst of energy that wormed through the crowd and into the day. There was no holding back the rushing waters once the dam was broken with the final prayer. Release! It was time to run beneath the rainbowed trees and to kick up the sprays of colored leaves. This had always been his favorite time of year. But those times were gone long before his death.
I stifled a whimper and got to my feet. People looked to see me go, but no one said a word. The tears went unnoticed. Or perhaps I had long ago become unapproachable. Had my bitterness become a taste to difficult to swallow? I slipped into the bathroom and sat on the floor. Leaning my back against the door, I dug through my purse. Fishing out the lighter and the thin black case of cigarettes; I smiled. It no longer mattered.
“Fuck it,” I muttered to myself as I lit up. Drawing in the rich flavors and bringing the heat deep into my chest, I coughed. The cloves were always a strong and hot smoke. But it was also satisfying. Each inhalation left the traces of apple pie and wood stoves in my mouth. It was like eating childhood’s memories.
I got up, shuffled up to the sink with my purse strap tangled up on one leg. Looking into the mirror, I took note of the smudges beneath my eyes and the puffiness of the lids. Several years had added themselves to my face. With him, I had also died. My body just didn’t have the good sense to stop.
I dropped the cigarette into the trash can and snatched up my purse; wagging around my leg until the strap released me. I strode out of the bathroom with an angry glare flung towards the small cluster of women coming from the chapel. Smoke wafted behind me. I kept walking even when the fire alarm screamed out my sin.
I kicked off my shoes. The leather had cramped up and bitten down on my toes, leaving them stiff and aching. I didn’t need them. I’d need any of it!
He was shy and quiet. Not many people ever got to hear him talk freely. Most knew only the soft mutterings and darting glances. He had forgotten how to trust. The world did that to him. I tucked my cigarette case beneath the shoulder strap of my bra and dropped the lighter in between my breasts. The purse was discarded.
I left it behind. The bible, the church, the purse, the car… I left it all. I kept walking, following the road. When a car came, I stuck out my thumb. It was time to leave everything.