I saw somebody reading Huckleberry Finn yesterday, and I thought of you. That used to be your favorite book since before you could even read. You plucked it off Poppa’s shelf one day and just wouldn’t let it go. I used to read it to you almost every night, even though you had no clue what was going on. You liked the name of the title. “Hucka-hucka!” you called it. Do you remember that? I’ve been trying to hold on to every memory I have of you guys. I’ve had a lot of time to think, a lot of time to wonder a lot of things: is Cap’n Crunch still your favorite cereal? Can you still whistle through your fingers? Will this be the letter you respond to? I love you, son. After everything that’s changed, that’s one thing that’s stayed the same. I’ll see you soon, kid. Till then, I’ll just keep writing.
With a casual flick, I toss the letter into the wastebasket. This was the third one I’ve received from my father this month, all of which had met their unfortunate deaths between crumpled tissues and wads of gum. I breathe evenly, attempting to steady my mind, and hold back the angry swell of emotions that threaten to erupt.
A knock on my bedroom door blissfully pulls me from my thoughts. My mother stands in the doorway, her heavy-lidded eyes downcast.
“Dinner’s ready, honey”, she says softly.
I smell the cognac from where I sit, the warm scent swirling beneath my nostrils, threatening to climb down my throat. She shuffles out the room. I follow her out, helping her to bed. She stumbles twice, burdening me with her full weight. She hiccups her apologizes. I lay her up right and fully clothed. The room is stuffy, and smells of mold.
Suddenly the house is too hot, too small. I need to leave. Bounding out the room and down the stairs, I grab my car keys off the hook without looking towards the kitchen. My mother hasn’t been in there to make anything but a stiff drink in three months. Around the same time my father left.
It’s about 8 o’clock, and the sky is beautiful. Watery pink begins to bleed across the horizon, staining it a brilliant sherbet. I wish I could feel its beauty. As I drive, I realize where I’m heading. The place I’ve been avoiding. The place where it all started.
The sun hangs low in the sky as I enter Sunset Valley Cemetery. The groundskeeper greets me kindly, pity in his dark eyes. I park the car. It surprises me that I know the way, having only been here once before. I walk through the neatly trimmed grass, stirring up the still silence of the dead, and interrupting the grief of the living. Arriving at my destination, I notice the smooth marble plaque has a small bouquet of fresh flowers atop it. The card is addressed to ‘Evan’, written in a childish scrawl.
I sit beside my brother’s grave. A slight breeze sends the card drifting in my direction. Catching it, I see the name “Daniel” scribbled in the “From” section. A chubby kid with a bowl cut I remember playing Nintendo with Evan some Saturday afternoons.
The swell of emotion comes surging back, not angry, but instead filled with an aching sadness. I grit my teeth, and press my knuckles to my temples, but it’s no use to try to hold it back any more. And so I start to cry. I cry for Daniel who lost his playmate, I cry for my mother, who was too drunk to even deliver Evan’s eulogy. I cry for the pain in my father’s eyes as he told me he’d be back in time for dinner. I cry for every other person that had to bury one of their own. I cry for sadness, I cry for love, I cry for my ten year old brother, Evan Parker.
When I am finished, I kiss the cool stone of his grave. I tell him I love him, and I leave.
As I begin to drive out of the cemetery gates, I see the groundskeeper reading a novel on his evening break. I glimpse the title. Huckleberry Finn.
Once home, I sit at my desk for a long time, pen in hand. My mother’s booze-soaked snores creep between the walls, counting the seconds as they go by. With a deep breath, I press pen to paper.