Oh, Del, you know we’re sorry, right? We’re sorry. We couldn’t be more sorry if we got in a circle with no shoes in the snow and wailed and whacked ourselves and each other with sticks. I’m serious.
We thought we were doing something beautiful. We would pay our respects by the river, and listen to the water going by, there would be birds, we would stand there and ponder the sky, and tell our stories about you. There on that flat dirt place, the wide spot in the trail where you always liked to pause and stand there, hands on hips, head tipped back. Your favorite nature walk, you always said that was.
We took you down in a wheelbarrow, head first. You stared up at us, or you would have if your lids hadn’t been covered over with stones. I thought you might like having the sun on your face so we left it sticking out.
None of us are gardeners. We don’t know how to maneuver a wheelbarrow. Gene, he thought he could get the thing a little farther along the path, you know, give you the best view. So he just, pushed on it a little. Nothing huge.
When you slipped out none of us moved, we all just stood there. I would characterize this as paralysis. To be honest we had already gone so far outside of the proverbial “comfort zone,” bringing you down there, I think the idea you might fall out of the damn thing just short-circuited our minds into dumb rocks.
So we watched you thud and roll down the embankment and land face-down in the stream.
I saw the back of your cream-colored sweater, and one of your hands, as you bobbed there in that little bit of shallow water.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t enthused about pulling you out of there. I’d been keeping my distance, about ten feet back, through this whole process. I could see your face and halo of fuzzy hair, and the rust-colored wool blanket over your body, but that was as close as I intended to get.
Having you contained in the wheelbarrow, that put you in a nice defined space so we could see you there and talk about you, and honor you, and sing, and all the things we had planned. Beth did a great job, by the way, putting together the program. You would’ve liked it. She used this marble-pattern blue paper that she found in her drawer.
And now, here we had to figure out how to pull your dead self out of shallow cold water. That was getting up close and personal, let me tell you. You there in that stream water, right smack in contact with the living world of rocks and grass and all of it, that threw me, I have to say. And you’re not a small guy. As you know. The grass waving in the water around you, it threw the dead and the living into high relief like a brick wall suddenly hit with a floodlight.
This must be when you got mad. Because we retreated to talk over the situation, shuffling our feet in the dry leaves under the aspen trees and whispering even though there was no one around and you were dead, nobody was gonna hear. But the shame shushed us up I guess. And you got real mad. I would too, face down in the river, if my friends were blathering like idiots in the woods instead of getting my body out of there. Trust me, I would have been furious.
So, we meant no disrespect when we scattered like that. When you came walking through the trees, dripping wet and with the stones still over your eyes, and I have to say your walk, it was all different. You walked like a giant robot or an NBA player, fierce and stiff, nothing like you used to be. No stoop or shuffle. Just straight-ahead walking. Boom boom boom.
We don’t understand what the hell you are doing. I’ve spent every single second for the last twenty-four hours trying to figure it out, at least when I’m not straining to anticipate which direction you will walk next and get the hell out of your way.
All I know is, you’ve got to stop the walking. Beatrice, she just keeps throwing up. She can’t get it together at all. And I feel a little bad for Beth, after all that work she did on the program, we didn’t even sing one song. Not one.
We are sorry we dropped you. Okay? We were trying to do the right thing, and now we’re all running around out here and throwing up and you just keep walking your NBA walk in the woods, crunching over the leaves, boom boom boom. And I don’t think we can do another night of this. The flashlight batteries are gone, and I’m serious if I end up with a dead car battery stuck out here with you walking like that, I’m gonna start throwing up too.
Tell you what Del, if you’ll just lie down somewhere, real quiet, or maybe just lean up against a tree, your choice, we’ll get you back in the wheelbarrow and take you right on home. I promise. I’m over the keeping a distance thing, I’ll get you in that wheelbarrow myself. But I have to be double, triple sure that you’re done walking, man. I can’t handle that. I’m not coming within a mile of you when you’re doing that.
You can just go on back to that favorite spot of yours, and lie down, and stop all this, and we’ll come get you. Or, wherever you want. You decide. But please, do it soon, will you?
If you hold still and stay that way (I’m not kidding, you have to be a proper dead person, Del), I promise we’ll come on over and sing you your favorite song. And then we’ll get you home.
BETSY STREETER is a Science/Speculative Fiction/Comics Author/Artist. Her YA science fiction novel, Silverwood, has just been accepted for publication. She publishes the webcomic “Neptune Road” at her site and at Perihelion Science Fiction. She has a cartoon in the Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory’s traveling exhibit on black holes, she understands the Infield Fly Rule, and she once devised a way to score infinite points on Space Invaders for the Atari. She lives with her husband, two kids, two cats, a tarantula and two persistent deer in Northern California. See her work at betsystreeter.com.