Up on the hills where the smoke from the mills fills the clouds and the hawks circle, crowding the treetops, as if the last animal to ever die just did. Crickets and katydids are all that are heard throughout the night. The mountains and blinding greenness fill the backdrop against the stark horizon. Nuclear veins branch outwardly across the sky as the rain blurs the silhouettes and flashing of images through the glass of the unwashed window. Children grimace and aimlessly meander on rusted, creaking bikes, throwing rocks at faces that appear to be watching.
The water, it seeps like sap down the hill of mud and buried black tires. She used to play in them once. Rolling down inside at undeniably dangerous speeds. Her devilish grin upturned toward the warm sun, popping kernel-tinted freckles on her cheeks, arms reaching, fists clenched upward above her head, as if to say, I’ve conquered this.
Every dog barks when you walk down these streets because they're not used to people. The people are not used to people either. There's no reason to be dressed up unless it's Sunday, so we're all a bunch of weirdos headed into a Denny’s in suits and dresses on a Saturday, sitting around a sticky table drinking black coffee.
“Your grandmother was known as ‘Queen of the Hill’ around these parts, you know.”
“She was all that and a bag of chips.”
“She never took no for an answer, and she had a sass to her that not many could handle.”
“Strong-willed, quick, and a serious eye for fashion...there wa'n't much for ‘er here. She wanted more than jus’ the simple stuff.”
“Her daddy was beggin’ her to come back after she moved up there to New York, but it's prolly better she di'n't.”
“Heck yeah! They both woulda drank themselves to death... By golly, him and that moonshine…”
The steam from the mugs rippled off the surface of each cup — eyes closed, lips pursed, heads tipped backward, as throats swallowed with discretion.
When Christmas was near, she practiced her wrapping; folding neat, tight corners in perfect edged triangular patterns, ribbon curling, bouncing, tearing, and placing the perfect amount of tape, just enough to be barely visible. She put the bows in her hair and decorated the tree in white angels with paper skirts and tinsel halos.
Even as the years stole the golden brown color from her hair, she made gingerbread men with different-colored icing suits. One unique cookie for each unique grandchild. The smell wafting from the kitchen could send a pack of howling children into a rabid frenzy. Pasty flesh was kept pink and warm even when the heat didn't come on. She radiated joy, which was fitting, as that was her middle name.
And all these men around here sure have some character to them, even after this funeral. Maybe it just runs in the family — the wisdom of a man who's lived with the spirit of a boy, expecting so much more time to play from the world and the gifts it has to offer.
That's what we all need. Just a little bit more of that.