FICTION January 6, 2023

Letter To The Next Closed Casket

They stack you into heaps and hand them to me outside the school. They say that the person who did this to you is dead and that should be some consolation. I carry the blubber and the chunks home, walk past the garden out front where you planted a beefsteak tomato plant, and inside the living room I try to talk to the pieces left of you and ask if you were scared and whisper that we were there with you through the end, and Mom says that maybe the way we looked at you on the day you were born wasn’t enough. I sift my fingers through splintered bone and sinew and fumble around for an answer, but there’s nothing and no reply and no television set you ask to turn on, just cold flesh and meat. I take you to bed and whisper reassurances about empty closets and unpopulated bedsheets and how monsters don’t exist, and it’s all met with that ringing, vacuum-sealed silence, your light snuffed into an empty husk dripping melting fat onto the carpet.

I drag pieces of you to the lawyer’s office and smear you onto heaps of paper with fancy words and fancy names and leveled accusations, and the lawyer tries to tell me it won’t go anywhere, it never goes anywhere, but I color your leftovers into the documents anyway, drag strips of skin across signature lines and paint initials with bile and strings of tissue and wait for an answer, but by now your blood and flesh have dried, indistinguishable from the ink of countless others that didn’t smell like you, look like you, sound like you.

I carry your guts onto a local news show and scream into the microphone, yell and shout, hold up intestines and stomach lining and the annihilated splatter of where metal and velocity tore your rib cage to tatters, but the lady, afterwards caked in Maybelline and rot, bristles white teeth into a scripted so sorry so sweet so sad, pivots effortlessly into who are you and what do you do and have you tried the café downstairs, and she says oh you wouldn’t believe it, had somebody on before, maybe a week before, same kind of thing, just as sorry.

Inside your bedroom, I take the bedsheets caked in dried blood and run them underwater. I drag wet sheets to the garden, the vines all cracked and splintered. I squeeze those sheets hard, dripping pink, frothy blood onto the soil where you once tried your best to work those roots underground, threading tiny hands inside of dirt that barely moved to your touch. I watch the liquid be slowly slurped into the ground. 

“Come on, please,” I whisper. “Anything.”

I wait. 

“Please. Anything. A weed to trim. A bush. A tree. Anything, please.”

A month ago, planting the tomato in the garden out front:

“What do we do now?” you ask.

“Give it water. Give it some love. It’ll grow. All good things can grow from love.”

I wait for that good. I watch them talk about good on the TV. I listen to the promises about how this is the zeitgeist, this is where we make a change. I wait for a week and a month and another month and a year and a decade and 100 years and 1,000 years and 10,000 years, and your blood bubbles inside the ground with all of the other blood and meat and flesh and sinew that was promised some great return at the end, but time comes and goes, and eventually I don’t really remember what you looked like on your fifth birthday or how you used to ask me to put you to bed twice. I just get better and better about spotting those ashen-faced people in the crowd who knew what it was like to bring their babies home in garbage bags.

Andrew Cusick lives and teaches on the Jersey Shore. His work has been published in Orca, The Hunger, Sky Island Journal, trampset, and elsewhere. He is working on what will hopefully be his debut novel.