Tuesday, 13 April 2010
PENNIES FOR ADAM By Sean Michael Smith
I arrived at the funeral parlor as the mourners were beginning to shuffle out. I kept my head low, hidden behind black sunglasses. I snuck through the crowd to the back of the room where the funeral director’s young assistant stood with his hands solemnly crossed.
“There are a lot of people here tonight,” I said.
“Yes, there were quite a few testimonies. Are you a relative?”
“I’m her adopted son.”
He looked over to Ryan. “Your brother will want to know…”
“Please don’t tell him I’m here,” I asked. “I haven’t seen my family in years. I don’t want to make a scene.”
He glanced at me curiously. “Mr. Connor never mentioned any siblings.”
“Like I said, we haven’t been close in recent years.” I retrieved a flask brimming with Jim Beam from my coat pocket and took a swig.
“Your brother doesn’t seem the type to approve of your drinking.”
“My brother doesn’t approve of a lot of things. Kind of a pain in the ass, isn’t he?”
He grinned despite himself.
“Would you like a drink?”
“I really shouldn’t. Somebody might see.”
I slipped him the flask. “Just keep it cupped in your hand and drink quickly. Everyone is too busy saying their goodbyes to pay attention to a couple of guys in the back of the room. Besides, I’m sure it’s been a long night for you.”
He gulped it down like a teenager sneaking a drink at the prom. His cheeks flushed immediately.
“I guess my brother will have some time alone with her before the casket is closed?”
“Yes, we always allow the immediate family fifteen minutes alone to say goodbye.”
He took another furtive gulp.
“Can you keep your boss from barging in on us long enough for my brother and me to hash some things out? For our mom’s sake, ya know? All we need is an extra ten minutes or so.”
He handed me back the half-empty flask. “Sure, the director usually retires to the office to do paperwork and leaves the wrap up to me anyway.”
I hid in the men’s room until my accomplice knocked on the door, and then crept into the main room. Ryan flinched. He was kneeling in front of the casket with his back towards me. I could tell by the way his posture stiffened he knew it was I. “Shouldn’t you be in New Orleans? Or did you move again?” he said.
“Glad to see you too, little brother.”
He stood up straight and smoothed out the wrinkles in his black suit. “Who told you?”
“I have friends,” I said. “My friends have friends. You should have called me.”
He whipped around.
“Fuck you Adam! Fuck you for not having the decency to mourn the woman who took you in off the streets, fuck you for always running, and fuck you for everything else you never did for her.”
“I’m not here to fight with you.”
He ran his fingers through his hair. “Then why are you here?”
I held out my flask to him. “You might want a drink first.”
I emptied the flask as he watched. His still-boyish cheeks flushed with anger as he glared at me with wide brown eyes. He looked just as petulant as when we were kids. I hoped he wasn’t still as stubborn too.
“Well?” he said.
“I’ve learned a lot of things while I’ve been away,” I said. “Things you can’t even imagine…”
“First you were Atheist, then a Buddhist, now what? Voodoo?”
I took off my glasses and met his glare. “Something like that.”
“Get out of here,” he said. “You’re just as fucked up now as ever. All these years you’ve been off finding yourself, I was the one who watched mom cry when months and months went by between your late night phone calls”
“I know. That’s why it’s so important that I get to talk to her now.”
“She’s dead you asshole.”
I fished two copper pennies with precisely inscribed Voodoo symbols out of my pocket and held them up for him to see. “I had these blessed by an old Voodoo woman. The real kind, not one of those tourist trappers. These vévés have power Ryan. They’re connected to the Voodoo gods – the loa. They’ll let me make contact with her.”
He slapped the pennies out of my hand. “I told you to leave. I don’t want you here.” Tears flowed down his cheeks. Suddenly, I realized what he must think of me; how far removed from their lives I had really become.
“Please,” I said fighting back tears of my own. “Don’t you think I know I’m a shit? I’m not so heartless I forgot everything she did for me. The only home I ever had was with you two. I never got the chance to tell her that. I owe her an apology.”
Silence. My heart thumped in my chest.
Ryan walked across the room and picked the pennies up off the floor. He placed them in my hand, holding it for a second. “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard you apologize for anything you’ve done wrong.”
“Before she took me in, I never counted on anyone but myself. Maybe I’m a selfish prick, but I couldn’t handle the attachment.”
He dropped his gaze, staring at the inscriptions on the pennies. “Remember that winter you talked me into following you across Gordy Pond and I fell in? This is a much dumber idea.”
“Probably,” I said flashing my best grin. “But I’ve got to try.”
“You always do,” he said.
Ryan looked back at me as he opened the door. “Hopefully I’ll see you back at the house later?”
“I’m not leaving any time soon.”
As soon as he was gone, I got to work.
“Damballah,” I whispered as I stood in front of the coffin. “Please help me.”
I laid the pennies over her eyes and kissed her powdered cheek. Then I knelt in front of the coffin while I clutched her frail, icy hand. All the memories I buried over the years came flooding back to me. They hit me like a kaleidoscope of impressions …the flowery smell of her perfume, the three nights a week spaghetti dinners when money was lean, our weekend camping trips, and her tears of joy the day my adoption was finalized. I remembered everything, good and bad. The laughter, the tears, the arguments and the overpowering feeling of loss we both felt the day I left.
Suddenly, I heard her voice whispering in my head, “Adam…Adam…where are you?”
My back hit the floor. A cacophony of shrill voices. Wailing. Crying. They were overlapping hers; my mother’s voice was getting lost in the din, fading further and further into the background.
God, the smell! It was like meat left on the counter for days, piles and piles of decomposing meat. Everyone was screaming; thousands of overlapping hands tugging me in all directions. I couldn’t fight them. I covered my ears with my hands to block out the shrill wailing. Blood poured out of my nose. I couldn’t concentrate. There were too many voices. I couldn’t hear her anymore.
Trembling, I remembered the old voodoo woman’s harsh whisper as she handed me the pennies. “Your connection must be strong. Very strong. There are too many angry dead folk out there. If your bond in life was irrevocably shattered, it may not be powerful enough to draw her spirit to you for protection.”
I was too late. All the years I wasted had created too wide a gulf between us.
A thousand hands tore through me at once; ripping my clothes, my veins…peeling layers of flesh off my body like onionskin. One hand splintered my chest, another yanked out my heart. I could just barely hear its thump-thump-thumping fade away over the cackle of angry spirits. I fell backwards in a pool of my own blood screaming, “Mom I’m sorry!”
Then, there was only darkness.
I woke up some place softer. Satin pressed against my skin. My body was completely rigid. I couldn’t open my eyes. I had no idea how much time had passed.
Ryan’s tears fell on my cheek.
“You never listened to anyone but yourself. You always tried everything at least once.”
Cool metal pressed against my eyelids.
“I never understood you,” he said. “But I always wanted to.”
I wanted to scream. No! Please Ryan, let me go. Don’t try to follow me now…
Sean Michael Smith has published stories online with Flashes in the Dark, Dark Fire Fiction, Tales from the Moonlit Path and Microhorror. He’s too lazy to set up a web page, but you can email him at email@example.com.