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Northwest Mourning

Story by Peter Vaudry-Brown (Read author interview) March 16, 2005

Coming up to the grave, Trey says, “You should be wearing a bra.”

I have on almost silent headphones but still make a show of turning down the volume. “There’s an underwear protocol for visiting graves?”

“It’s respect.” Tremaine is half Rasta-man gangster. Bob Marley wanna-be with guns that go unused. Having the little brother along’s been weird, him crouched in the back, silent. Darnell.

We’re all crushed. No one’s been to school this week and Kayla’s dead. Because she is. An answered cell phone, an over-correction of a skid in a light drizzle and then an embankment, a small car choosing then to fold over on itself, neglecting to spit out the young occupant first.

The boys are from Rainier Beach and bus up to Roosevelt. We are, were, Madrona girls. Our parents have made money in tech firms, internet start-ups. They encourage interracial dating. Responsible drug use. This is Seattle.

The grave itself is unassuming, a plot like any other, staid, understated, letters on the marble cut in some art-deco font. Locals know this is where the celebrities lie though, Cobain, Hendrix and Bruce Lee. Sonny Sixkiller and Chief Sealth. You can see the 520 Bridge from here, real well, high ground over Lake Washington and the Arboretum, with freeway noise.

We smoke, Tremaine’s gear, good stuff. Kind Bud. Strong enough for the establishment of distance. Distance.

He touches my elbow. Something friendly happens. Something more. “Damn, girl, I need someone to help me understan’ this.”

“Your brother.” But I can’t think of a reason not to. We’re just teenagers.

Lack of underwear becoming a blessing here, Tremaine moves easily on top of me. I look to him, to share this, but that feels weird. Him and Kayla were together long enough that it stopped seeming like a novelty.

I try looking away, but the marker’s right there, dust from the stone-cutting still showing around the letters. Feeling Trey do his thing to me, resigned, I close my eyes, half covering them, as if the light’s too much for me.

I feel the first few drops, on my forehead and on the back of my hand, the droplets that get through my fingers splash onto my eyelids. I announce, “Rain.”

But something’s not right. Too bright out. This is Seattle.

I open my eyes and look up, and there he is, Tremaine, still thrusting up into me, and I watch the tears spill out of him, looking like hot oil against his dark skin, dropping from his cheekbones and the corners of his mouth down onto me. Shocked enough that I stop pretending the sex.

Tremaine’s watching me. He slows down, and then stops. Walks away. But the brother’s there, Darnell, pants tented-up. And I say, “You’re lonely too, aren’t you?”

Darnell’s lighter skinned than his brother, without the dreds, and I do my same act, like the light’s getting to me. But I keep sneaking peaks, waiting for him to cry over her, like his brother. But he only gives me the deep look, the one they do when boys think they’re reaching you, and then gives it up inside of me.

After, he gets up, puts on his underwear. “Did you like that?”

“It’s just something, right? What people do when they want to break out of their little selves. Me, I don’t know what I feel. Something.” I’m considering the gravestone as I speak, watching it through Tremaine’s legs.

He’s standing at the grave edge, looking like he’d jump in, were it still open. Somehow, the turf has been replaced, woven into the grass around it, looking like Kayla’s been there, interred, for a while.

Trey gestures me up to him, after some silence.

I stand beside him, my arm snaking around him, natural feeling, as we consider the turf and the stone. Darnell eventually gets to stand beside us, floating on the other side of Trey, out of my immediate vision but also right there. We’re all still wearing tank tops, this is Seattle, and we stand, crystalline, high — White Ass, Black Ass, Boxer Briefs — in a line, looking at Kayla’s grave.

After a minute, two, Tremaine makes a gesture, something that communicates intimacy to me. I go to lie down, ready to finish him, my mind wandering off somewhere now, thinking about a music fest in Belltown that we all went to. But Tremaine keeps me drawn to him, then turning me into him, locking his arms around me. I feel the first tremor, and I almost step back, thinking vomit. But then they come, and I relax, understanding. The way the sobs well from inside of him, I think of an espresso maker my mother has, the pressure releases, and then builds up and releases again, and, distant, I wonder if this is racism, the association, and I enjoy it, considering that line and wondering if it means anything, mentally hopscotching on either side of comparing Tremaine to an espresso maker, until I feel him firmly settle his head onto me, onto my shoulder, and relax with his misery, the tears just flowing now.

A hand on each shoulder, Darnell joins, his arms spreading around us, sharing the moment. And, after a minute, Tremaine or Darnell, I don’t know which one, but it wasn’t me, I couldn’t talk, caught up in thinking about her, one of them says, “Girl wouldn’t have wanted this. She wouldn’t have.”

Sex. Crying. Pot. Lack of underwear. Some of us are thinking one and some another, but we all manage to hug, our faces coming together, cheeks, noses, kissing, hugging, crying, the tears and spit mixed, drawing lines between us, connecting us, celebrating Kayla, as we say, “Nonononononono.”

About the Author

Peter Vaudry-Brown was born in Seattle and raised in Canada. After college, he spent two years teaching English in Venezuela and Colombia. Currently, he is a writing professor at Jackson State University in Mississippi, where he lives with his three-legged dog, Tutu. He has previously published in Third Coast, The Shore Magazine, Segue, the Mississippi Review, and Georgetown Review. He can be contacted at vaudry@lycos.com.

About the Artist

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison’s work here.

This story appeared in Issue Eight of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Eight

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