Shiner 1920 1080 Garrett Stack

The house on Jericho Street had been left on mute since the funeral. It was still plugged in, but there was no one there to watch it. Beverly couldn’t shake the feeling that the black-clad guests were still loitering around, quietly and just out of sight, clutching sweating lemonades wrapped in cocktail napkins. She kept turning corners expecting to run headlong into John’s uncle Phil, jostling his little plate of meatballs, apologies already forming on her lips. Pall. This is what pall feels like, she thought, a new ingredient in the traditional preparation of the dish of grief.

Bev felt that the pall suited her: dim light, heavy air, an inclination toward loose dark clothing. And she might not have minded going on this way, waking late and going down early and shuffling indefinitely between, if it weren’t for the boys. She watched their little chests rise so slowly beneath their shirts that she worried they might just wind down to a stop. Her sense of time became interminable, sitting around the darkened kitchen table, watching them eat cereal and gasp silently in the pall.

So for their sake she cast off her mourning, threw on pastels, opened all the windows, got out the mop. She tried to sing more, to play the kitchen radio, to leave the TV barking in the family room. She made them go outside, though she let them avoid the backyard where John had set up the little batting cage and the swing set and, against her wishes, the deathtrap trampoline. But it was John who died instead and now all of it was tainted, haunted. She thought absurdly of the children’s song she’d learned in a long ago elementary school music room and which echoed around her head as she cleaned and cleaned: “Have you seen the ghost of John? Long white bones with the skin all gone. And wouldn’t it be chilly with no skin on?”

School might have helped the boys, but the cardiac infarction had been perfectly synced with the first week of summer, and Bev cursed John for his timing then wept guiltily in the bathroom for cursing her dead husband for dying inopportunely. She’d perfected her quiet sob by now, just as her boys had. She wouldn’t even have known they still cried if she didn’t press her ear to their bedroom doors at night, unsure whether to enter or remain, to comfort or let grieve. So she hovered in between, one hand on the knob. Have you seen the ghost of John?

The thing she missed most was the energy. Her boys were natural doers and goers and movers because they were her husband’s sons, and when all three were together it was a tornado of wrestling, tossing, running, falling. Bev remained apart, not because she wouldn’t have enjoyed the play, but because it seemed so intimate and exclusive, a boy’s club, and mom diving in would have just made things weird. But now the energy seemed to have dissipated from the house, whisked away with the ambulance. Long white bones with the skin all gone.

John was the problem, of course. Aside from his towering absence, the boys had adopted John’s consistently gentle handling of Bev. He’d played football in college and approached her with a care that she never felt was warranted. He opened doors and swept out chairs and draped jackets over her shoulders. He was never rough in bed even though she’d asked for it a time or three. He even refrained from resting his arm over her ribs while they slept because he was worried the weight of it would stop her breath in the night. And wouldn’t it be chilly with no skin on?

She watched her sons’ ribs sluggish expansion, her own breath baited for their exhalation. Pall, ghosts, grief, she was sick of it. Sick to death.

“I’m not glass, you know?” she finally said to Robbie, her eldest, over breakfast.

“Huh?” the ten-year-old had been staring at the back of the cereal box, finding his way through a maze with eyes.

“I can play with you guys, too,” she said, leaving out the “like dad.”

“Yeah,” he said. His eyes darted to his brother, George, who kept his head firmly pointed into his milk. “Sure.”

“I’m just saying that, if you wanted to, we could swing or go hit some baseballs after breakfast.”

Robbie stirred his spoon clockwise, the clinking devoured immediately in the kitchen gloom. “No thanks,” he said.

“George,” Bev said, shifting to address her seven-year-old. “Would you like to go play outside with me?”

George shook his head, still staring into this bowl, so that his little cowlick waved at her like a lonely cornstalk.

“Well then, I guess I’ll go jump by myself,” she said, sliding noisily from the table and slamming the backdoor behind her.

Bev was being childish and she knew it, but she wondered if that was part of it. Wasn’t the allure of John his playfulness? She certainly found it appealing so many years ago and did still. Her chest hurt despite the sunshine as she walked to the trampoline, thinking of him, laughing even when he shouldn’t have been, louder than life. But not anymore. She was always so pissed about all the noise. He walked loud, chewed loud, sneezed loud. He played the stereo all the time and at such decibels that she was forever turning things down. She’d thought a little peace and quiet wasn’t too much to ask for. Now, she was ready to admit she already missed the music.

She shifted the trampoline’s protective netting to one side and slid in awkwardly, lying on the hot black surface and thinking of John staring down at her in her pink sweatsuit. “Whaddya think?” she asked him. “Like a shrimp on a griddle?”

She rolled to her knees and climbed unsteadily to her feet, hobbling and staggering colt-like around the circle until she found her equilibrium. Then she jumped. And fell. She made the mistake of trying to land, her knees giving way as the surface absorbed her weight and redistributed it unexpectedly right back at her. But she picked herself up, determined, and tried again, this time going for a second jump after the first. When it worked, and she didn’t fall, Bev let out a little screech of triumph. She went for another jump, then another, and she found she was enjoying herself. She closed her eyes and felt the sense of weightlessness, like an astronaut, as her momentum shifted from her feet through her thighs and hips and settled in her stomach with a pleasant tingle. That’s one small step for woman. She giggled a little then opened her eyes to find she was suddenly very high and heading straight for the netting at the edge. She screamed as she crashed.


She shifted her head to peer blearily towards the house.

“Are you okay, Mom?” It was Robbie, peeping through the doorway, George lurking in his shadow.

She lay there, uncomfortable but unhurt, and grinned. “Better than butter!” Bev said. “Room for two more!” She heard some whispering, maybe an argument about what to do, and then she heard the door shut. Bev recognized her mistake as she clambered back to her feet. “Better than butter” was John’s phrase.

The next day, Bev didn’t even ask the boys to join her. She just got up from breakfast and went outside. Her legs burned a little from the strain after all the unfamiliar activity, but as she bounced higher and higher her head cleared and her lungs crackled and she looked up, allegedly John-ward, into the bright June sky.

Next she decided she’d go hit a few baseballs. She gripped the bat awkwardly and gave it a practice swing before teeing one up. She missed completely. Then she hit the tee and had to reset the ball before missing again. But on her fourth cut she made clean contact, and she felt the reverberations go through her hands and into her spine like the tingle of John’s tickling fingers. Bev noticed that blisters immediately began forming on her palms, and she wondered what her husband would have thought to see her make such clean contact with the ball. She pretended she could hear him wolf whistle from the porch. Have a look at that form, would ya?

On the third day she skipped breakfast altogether, though she left out bowls and spoons. She was actually looking forward to the trampoline, to the strain in her legs and the feeling of not-quite-flight. There was dew on the shiny black surface so that when she slid in, she came up damp and strangely invigorated. She jumped for a while and tried closing her eyes again. She could stay in the middle now without trying, and she was wryly proud of her little skill. Eat this, carpool moms. Then she felt a little shift in the surface when she landed for another jump.

She opened her eyes to find George hopping shyly in one corner. She bounced nearer to him and gave him a high five, then pulled him into the middle to jump with her. He smiled and gripped her hand while they jumped in time. She watched the house to see if Robbie was watching, spying, but there wasn’t any sign of him.

They jumped for a while and George showed her how you could pop the other person up if you timed it just right and that had them both laughing after George, small as he was, sent Bev careening across the surface of the trampoline. Then they got out and tried the swings where George made it clear that she’d been pumping her legs wrong her whole life. Watching his little matchstick legs, Bev wondered how they’d ever grow into the tree trunk calves of his father. Maybe she could start giving him some caffeine, halt the process, stop the growth, slow the inevitable time between now and when his own heart gave out, exhausted from lugging around so much meat.

Finally they went over to the little batting cage where George put on a helmet—safety first—and demonstrated hitting technique. Bev nodded gravely as he dug his little bread loaf shoes into the grass and stuck out his butt and took a monster swing. The ball seemed to quiver a little as the bat soared over it, and then all three of them, mother, son, and ball, sat still for a moment in quiet contemplation.

“George, that’s not how you do it!”

Robbie emerged from some bushes where he had apparently been observing the lesson and snatched the bat from his brother’s limp hand.

“You gotta dip your shoulder, like this,” he said, and took a low hard swing, which made perfect contact with the tee and the tiniest fraction of the ball, causing it to improbably fly backward and sideways at high velocity, right into Bev’s unprotected face.

First, everything was yellow.

Then, there was the sound of an old radio tuning: snatches of conversation, clips of music, static.

Finally, the color came back and the radio landed on the station of life, and she was on her back, staring into the worried eyes of her boys, who were kneeling over her and shaking her gently.

“Mommy?” George said, eyes brimming, hands tight on her arm.

“I’m so sorry,” Robbie moaned over and over. “So sorry. So sorry. So sorry.”

Then, to everyone’s surprise, Bev laughed.

She cackled with delight. Tears rolled down her face. Her eye hurt like hell, but she could see out of it, and all she could think of was how much their little worried faces looked like John’s every time she got jostled or caught a cold. She laughed and laughed until the boys started laughing too. The relief on their faces made her laugh harder, which made the boys laugh harder, until they were all lying in the grass together, winding down, staring up into the low morning clouds.

“I told you I wasn’t made of glass,” she said.

Later, on her way to the store, she observed the swelling around her eye in the rearview mirror as she checked on the boys in the backseat. They were going in to peruse basketball hoops for the driveway. Bev thought she might be good at basketball, with a little practice. She pictured herself walking into the sporting goods store. She could see a clerk elbowing another clerk, who would look up from lacing a pair of cleats to whisper, “Would you get a load of that shiner?”

Have you seen the ghost of John? She’d hold her head up, proud as anything. No, not today.

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