An excerpt from Homefires
The gravedigger has been at it for at least an hour now. I watch from my car, across the road from the church cemetery where generations of my family rest, separated by six feet of sod from May’s warm sunshine. My father’s foot marker flanks the newest mound. The digger toils as I observe, experiencing a grief no less than when the earth first opened for the far-away casket that will, tomorrow, change its resting place to here. Twenty years have not dulled my loss. The little village church, where I learned about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, overlooks the activity maternally, as she did me when I was a small child.
Melancholy thick and black as old used motor oil floods me and the little girl inside yearns to resurrect. She flounders toward a time when truth was what the preacher said and Mama and Daddy made everything all right. To when the Holy Trinity simply was and Heaven was as real as MawMaw’s Sunday kitchen feasts. To when loving felt so good, it was like getting feather-tickled all inside and bore no risks.
Risks. That comes with the homefires I keep burning. Homefires. Such an innocent word.
The shovel’s ping against rock jolts me. A small gust of warm air flavored with honeysuckle and tiger lilies ruffles my hair and I inhale deeply, my dull gaze following a jagged stone spooned from earth’s gaping hole.
Fact hits me broadside – there is no crawling back into childhood’s shelter. Tears gather to blur and mix earth tones.
Thwump. I blink away moisture. The shovel now lies beside the earthen orifice.
The gravedigger’s shoulders square off with the red-clay horizon. He pauses to loosen a black scarf tied around his head and uses it to wipe his wet brow. Gloved hands grab hold of firm sod and sinewy arms hoist him up, up until his dirty broganed foot swings over the earth’s solid edge and he laboriously climbs out. He turns stiffly to wave at me – a small gesture like the tip of a hat that says, ‘it’s finished.’ For him, it is. Not for me. For me, it just begins.
I hear his pickup’s roar as it fades into the distance. I settle my arms over the warm steering wheel, loosely hugging it.
Another beginning. The thought does not lift me. Rather, grim resignation seeps into me.
I take a deep breath and sit up straighter. Thing is, this time, I know I can do it. The old paralyzing fear now has little power over me. I learned long ago not to say, “I could never live through that.” Seems either Fate or the Devil himself eavesdrops because most of those nevers came to pass. Little by little, over the years and through circumstances, that curious, finely tuned mechanism inside me grew more and more resistant to threats and dangers. I’m not saying I’ll never be afraid again – like I said before, I avoid the word never.
At the same time, I know one thing as well as I know oxygen’s necessity: nobody else can give me peace. I alone am responsible for it. Another truth: a higher power has and will keep me sane and alive through anything that befalls me.
I shove sunglasses over my small, tilted nose, my best facial feature. The genetic thing that sculpted mine small and straight and – to quote my daughters – spared them from the large Romanesque nose dominating their father’s squared off face, softened only by a Kirk Douglas chin cleft.
Kirk Crenshaw: my hero. Kirk calls me a romantic. I suppose I am. Sometimes, he says it like it’s good. Other times, when his words seem edged in cedar, they are more an accusation.
“I’m tired of apologizing for living,” I’ve said to Kirk more than once, because that’s what it is – living. Being. My otherworldliness is both blessing and curse. Lord knows I’ve tried and tried to harness the thing that lopes away with my imagination. Just when I think I’ve got it licked, I find myself, mid-task, drifting off to some faraway time or exotic place and writing scintillating dialogue...until Kirk snaps his beautiful male fingers in my face and mutters, “Earth to Janeece...earth to Janeece. Where are you?”
I usually end up apologizing. Then, I resent it.
Because Kirk doesn’t apologize for living. Ever.
Yet, I refuse to be a scorekeeper.
I’d rather work on me. It’s easier. Safer.
The spiritual me knows I must forgive to be forgiven. Another part of me is on guard against a vulnerability that hovers, has hovered over me, for as long as I’ve breathed.
And today, for some reason, that placelessness lusts for me. I push the button that raises the car windows and then flip the air conditioner on high, suddenly irked with my stupid, excessive introspection. Air’s too heavy as it is.
“You take things too seriously, Janeece,” Kirk loves to say, adding, always, a sharp little tweak to my nose or chin. “Let’s talk about something lighter.” I turn my head quickly to the side, muting some irritated response.
Perhaps I am too serious. Perhaps it’s just Kirk’s way to preserve levity and drive back any need to analyze himself. Kirk loves to soar above troubled waters.
I don’t know.
All I know is that I love my husband. That, too, is unalterable. I should know. I park my car at the cemetery and walk slowly to the open sepulcher.
Inhaling earth’s fecund smell, I blink back tears that blur the chasm. The open grave, the dirt...it’s too real...too, too real. I didn’t think it could ever hurt this much again.
I was wrong.