Part 2 - Chapter 29

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Stanley Reece meandered through the tall, dark figures

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Stanley Reece meandered through the tall, dark figures. Men in black suits, women in black dresses. They were nothing more than blurs in his peripheral vision. They engaged in quiet chatter, but Stanley didn't pick up on any particulars. Occasionally one of them glanced at him. For the most part though, they averted their eyes. Good. He preferred it that way.

Before, in the church, he had felt their eyes crawling over him, like he was some sort of exhibit. It was understandable. He had lost his mother less than a week ago.

Stanley's loss bore deeply into him, leaving behind a peculiar weightlessness. He had imagined grief would come down hard on his shoulders, like a great boulder he'd be forced to carry. Instead, it had imparted a sense of disconnect. His footsteps seemed to land silently, almost as though he only partially existed in this world. He felt like he was deep inside one of his more vivid dreams, the kind that takes a few minutes to awaken from. The ones where he wasn't merely a passing guest wandering the long twisting halls of his subconscious, but a part of it. An integral character with a very specific part to play. Like a superhero that must overcome tragedy to realize his purpose.

What that part was in real life, however, was presently lost to him. Everything felt lost.

In his own black suit, Stanley passed the last of the murmuring phantoms lingering in the living room and entered the kitchen. But even that room wasn't safe. Four ladies in black were busy making coffee and arranging a platter of cold cut and crackers. One of them stopped and stooped to eye level with Stanley.

"Do you remember me, Stanley?" she asked. Stanley nodded. "I'm your Aunt Kelly."

Aunt Kelly lived in California and had rarely seen Stanley and his parents. The last time they had been together was Christmas, about four years ago. Stanley wondered why she stated her name when he clearly nodded, confirming that he did indeed know who she was.

She pursed her lips. "How are you doing?" Stanley shrugged. "You know, your mom and I weren't just sisters, we were best friends." Her eyes were red and watery. "Not having a best friend to talk to when you really feel like talking can be very difficult." She took his hand. "So if you need a best friend, I'm here for you, okay?"

Stanley felt his own tears begin to surface, but he was able to stifle them. He nodded and Aunt Kelly released his hand, blotted her eyes with a tissue and went back to preparing food. Stanley left the kitchen, walked down a short hallway and descended the basement stairs. The Reece's kept a secondary refrigerator near the washer and dryer and an old dart board that hadn't been used in years. Aunt Kelly's husband, Mark, pulled two beers from it, handing one to a relative Stanley didn't quite remember. Stanley had heard the two men talking, but they became quiet as he neared. They nodded as Stanley passed and Uncle Mark patted the boy on the shoulder.

An exterior door opened to a set of ascending concrete steps which led outside to a patio. In the yard Stanley's cousins were kicking a ball around. He slipped passed them and then scampered along the rear of the tool shed. Across from it, shielded from the cousins by a row of ten foot tall arborvitaes, Stanley climbed atop a stack of firewood and glanced out over the fields of corn on the Reece farm. Far out beyond the fields was his mother's plot. Where she had been buried a mere hour ago, beneath a big oak tree. Stanley's father was there, alone at the grave.

"Thought you might be out here, Muskrat."

Stanley sighed. "How come?"

Gramps sauntered out from inside the tool shed. He still had his black suit on, but he had taken off the tie. Doris, the family dog trotted beside him. "Because you always come out here. When you feel like contemplatin', that is."

Stanley frowned. "What's...contem-play-tin?"

Gramps stopped beside the boy. His left hand was inside the pants pocket, jingling around change and what ever other junk he always seemed to keep in there, like rubber bands and paperclips. With his right hand he traced a circle in the air. "It means thinkin' things through, mullin' ideas around."

"Oh."

The sun had begun to fall from its lofty afternoon perch. It was warm, but there was a nice breeze. Gramps removed his suit jacket and slung it over an old rusted pole protruding from the ground that had once been a clothesline post. "So...whatcha contemplatin'?"

Stanley shrugged. "Just thinking about how Mom wasn't really Mom after she had the...what was is called?"

"Stroke."

The boy nodded. "I remember her just staring at nothing in the hospital before closing her eyes. Before the coma. She was kinda gone long before she..."

"I know, boy. That's what happens sometimes, the body just shuts down." He plopped his hand atop Stanley's head, ran it down his neck and gripped his tiny shoulder. "But don't you worry. The good Lord took her weeks ago, so she didn't have to suffer. She's with Him now."

"And Grandma, right?"

Gramps smiled. "You bet."

"And there's no pain in Heaven, right Gramps?"

"That's right, Muskrat. No pain, only happiness."

Doris walked in a circle and curled into a ball with a sigh. Stanley dropped to the ground from the wood stack. "Do you think I should go and be with my Dad or just leave him be?"

"I think he needs some time. He's out there contemplatin' just like you were."

Stanley leaned in, resting his head against the old man's arm. Gramps's clothes smelled like firewood. He was always burning stuff in his yard – sticks, leaves, his own garbage (which Stanley thought was against the law). "So, if I get to Heaven, I'll see my Mom again, someday?"

Gramps put his arm around his grandson and pulled him close. "You'll see her again, Muskrat. I guarantee it."


*********


When evening came, Stanley fell asleep to the sound of his father and Gramps speaking downstairs in the kitchen. He couldn't hear what they were talking about, but he thought it was probably about his mother and how her death might affect him. He tried to think of other, happier things, but his mind couldn't find any.

The house seemed much emptier now without his mom. But after a while he drifted off, comforted by the muted conversation below, which drifted up through the aged floorboards. 

Stanley dreamed of standing outside near the fields in the dead of night. He saw something twinkle in the distance and became afraid. Rushing back into his house, he closed the door behind him and braced himself against it. On the other side of the door, the darkness pushed back.


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