Sackcloth and Ashley by David Drury

Sackcloth and Ashley

“Do you see it?” she said. “The whole world is grieving.”

I did not see it.

“Even the garbage trucks are in mourning.” One was chugging up the drive just then. It rumbled past us, just below the balcony. We held our noses.

“Up before the birds,” she said, “singing a pain made of sighs and groans. They wake the whole neighborhood with their grief.” We let go of our noses together. “They fold out their little…”

“Forks,” I said

“Arms,” she said. “See. How it takes up the bin and dumps the whole thing over its head? Like a Hebrew prophet mourning dead sons of Israel. Sackcloth and ashes. Sackcloth and ashes. The ashes of our life together.”

I nodded. She laughed at my nodding, but her laugh was light and without malice.

“No,” she said. “You don’t see it. It’s why we are not meant to be and why you will get on just fine without me. You — how can I say it? — don’t mess with the business of grief.”

We loaded her Civic in silence. Only then did she remember the rocking chair with the quilted slipcover. “I’ll come back tomorrow,” she said.

She put her purse on her shoulder and knelt to say goodbye to the cat. We’d picked out Arturo together, when he was just a kitten. She held his face in her hands and apologized to Arturo for a universe filled with stubborn, impossible landlords who have no place for cats in their buildings or their hearts. She apologized that she could not take him with her, and she kissed him on the nose.

She never returned for the chair. The chair she’d rescued from a blackberry bush on the side of the road. The chair I never sat in. The chair that kept rolling over Arturo’s tail. This was her calculated fingerprint, like a thumb to my eye. For my sake, and Arturo’s, the chair needed to go.

I wrestled it to the dumpster, only to run into the landlord’s wife. She raised a grim eyebrow and tilted her head at the “No Furniture” sign taped to the dumpster. I dragged the chair back to the apartment. What now — break it apart? Slip it into the dumpster piece by piece? Under cover of darkness?

The next morning, I heard the truck in my sleep. I jumped up, dragged the rocking chair to the balcony, and waited. The truck was shaking the dumpster clean, turning it right side up, setting it back into place. I had come to the window for weeks now, watching the trucks, looking for signs of woe in the little raised forks. Does looking for grieving count as grieving? But I never saw it. Raised arms are also a sign of victory.

I hoisted the chair up to the railing. As the truck rolled by, I sized things up and let it drop. It fell straight into the hollow with a clang, landing right side up on the heap of pressed garbage. The seat landed flush with the opening, and the chair back stood tall out of the hole. It was a chair at the top of the world. And the truck kept on rolling. I raised my forks in triumph. With a whine at the back of his throat, Arturo sprung to the railing beside me, tensed, and vaulted into empty space. He sailed and came down hard, sinking two claws into the quilting of the chair, sliding sideways and nearly twisting off into the void. He pulled himself up, flattened with paws held wide against the back of the chair, squinting into his new unknown as he sailed off down the street. With my two arms still hanging high in the air, a tickle in my chest became an itch, became a hairline fracture, became a tear, became a garage door, became a lunar sea, became a barren, shrieking, bottomless grief.

 

Sackcloth and Ashley

 

David Drury may not be the first preacher’s son to get kicked out of every casino in Las Vegas, but he is the first to have done so quietly. David lives in Seattle, Washington. His fiction has been broadcast on National Public Radio, published in Best American Nonrequired Reading, and is forthcoming in ZYZZYVA and Lost Balloon.

 

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