A black hearse was parked at the Baptist Church across the street. The church is my son’s church, and his refuge. I sat anchored in a garden chair mulling a 12th step mantra, “Say what you mean, don’t say it mean,” a mantra I use when I feel disjointed and angry. I’d used it in a therapy session with my nineteen-year-old son. It helped me, but not him. I’d been thinking what could temper the weight of us when he emerged from the basement door.
“I thought you’d be at the funeral?”
“Couldn’t go,” he said.
“Some kid about my age… he had cerebral palsy. Too horrible. His mother…”
“His mother what?”
‘Here we go,’ I thought.
“She beat him to death with a hammer to his head,” he said.
I once struck him in the head with a wooden spoon in a furious response to his threatening me with a butter knife. This red-bearded man-child of mine could still incite me to riot. He stood before me slightly bowing his close-cropped skull. The barber had recently buzzed his curls. The mourners across the street hugged one another. The hearse matched the blackening sky.
“Where is she? Did you know her?”
“The dad came around a few months ago in his red pickup. He always came to church alone. I never met them.”
“Mama! How can you feel sorry for her?”
“Because I can! Because I understand,” I said too loud, too fast.
He spun around and re-entered the house. The piston on the storm door staggered close.
I googled the story. Just before the incident the boy and his mother were in the process of being evicted from their apartment. The mom worked two jobs as a maid to try to pay the bills; the father was long absent from their lives. Days ago, I’d noticed a red truck parked near the parsonage. A man in his fifties, my age, athletic and good looking, stood with the pastor on the new walkway. The white stones cut through the sward, and against the gray-shingled house the men, holding hands and their heads bowed in prayer, made quite the tableau.
Just the other day I’d seen a blue heron wading in the park near the pipe that siphons water. Wily bird. The gullies in between the rocks, over which the water flows, traps minnows and tiny crustaceans unable to escape. The wetland horizon flushed pink against the marsh grass and the sandstone-colored beach. I stood spellbound observing the elegant bird with its elongated legs, handsome profile and bill.
It, too, epitomized patience as it preyed.
Lucinda Kempe’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Elm Leaves Journal, New World Writing, b(OINK), Frigg, r.kv.r.y., the Summerset Review, and Coffin Bell. The recipient of the Joseph Kelly Prize for creative writing in 2015, she’s an M.F.A. candidate in writing and creative literature at Stony Brook University. She was nominated her for a Pushcart in 2017 and has just completed her memoir. Preying was published with the approval of Lucinda’s son.
(Previous: Kollyva by Georgia Bellas)
Feel like submitting? Check out our submission guidelines
Special Issue Call for Submissions: Stories for Dead People
Image: nigel CC2.0