“No one wants to be alone, kid. This is something I have to do. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense. Wouldn’t you go? If you didn’t know?”
Tim nodded knowing Jason was right. He would have to go. While Jason extracted slivers of wood from Tim’s body, he couldn’t help but feel envious of Jason. Even if a large part of Jason believed his mother was dead, still, he wasn’t one hundred percent sure. In that small percentage lay hope. Fragile, tethered to an unlikely belief, it nestled and it was all anyone really needed. A little hope.
The room swam in his eyes from the shots of rum. His family was dead. Most of them rotting in the family car in the garage, bodies swelling with gas and skin rippling with bugs. He had no hope left for him and soon he would have no on to be with in this world of death. He swallowed a sob. Jason noticed, the tweezers hovering over a wound, watching Tim. Once Tim steadied himself, Jason plucked in silence. After Tim was cleaned up, body free from slivers, they retired for the night, Tim only speaking to tell Jason where he could sleep. The basement still stunk of smoke, so for the first time since all of this happened, Tim slept in his room. Zipped up in a sleeping bag, his father’s rifle close by and a chair jammed under the knob, Tim slept.
In the morning, they spoke to each other in monosyllables, strained smiles as delicate as glass on their faces. Today was the funeral for Tim’s family. Tim’s stomach roiled at the thought of what he might find when opening the car door. Would their skin fall off of them, almost liquified, when they tried to move them? Would bugs explode from their stomachs, pushing the skin open like a blooming flower to spill the multitude into the car? A light sheen of sweat coated Tim’s body.
Jason, drinking instant coffee, grimacing after each biting sip, said to Tim, “We’re going to do a division of labor here. How about I’ll get them prepared, wrapped up and you dig the graves? We don’t need them to be very deep. I’d suggest digging up the garden back there. The ground would be softer.”
Tim, chin on his chest, wanted to protest. Who knew what state his family would be in? What images would chase Tim around for the rest of his life if he did help remove them? Jason was offering a great kindness. Torn between fear and duty to his family, Tim didn’t answer or even acknowledge he’d heard Jason.
Jason said, “I’ll take good care of them, Tim.” He put a hand on Tim’s knee, “I didn’t know your family at all. I can tell they meant a great deal to you. I know your mother and your brother wouldn’t want you to see them like that. They just wouldn’t. You know it’s true, cause I know you wouldn’t want them to see you if that was you in there instead of them.”
Shivering, Tim nodded, knowing Jason was right. He stood, not looking at Jason and said, “I’m gonna get started then. It might take me awhile. Uh, can you get me some gloves and the shovel? They’re in the garage. I don’t feel like going in there today.”
Jason went to the garage, sweat already dotting the shirt on his back. Tim back swiped his hand across his forehead. It was going to be a hot day.
Outside, Tim stood watching the skies with a shovel in one hand and a rifle in the other. The work gloves were his father’s and his hands swam in them, fingers sliding out of the holes his father’s fingers had stretched. The sun, almost white, dotted the sky. Swirling torrents of bugs danced on the air in the distance. So many of them. Who knew there were that many insects around? Tim noticed they hung suspended over certain houses, darting down en masse and then breaking away. Trying to get in, find an entry point to the people inside. Tim coughed, his throat dry and tight. The bugs didn’t approach him or his house. He couldn’t understand why that was. His family had never been the religious sort. They rarely mentioned, let alone discussed, God and Jesus. Tim’s parents wanted their children to make up their own minds about such things because they believed spirituality to be extremely personal. In this apocalypse or whatever the hell it was, seemed orchestrated. The hand of God at work. The idea of it terrified him.
He propped the rifle against a tree, loaded, but with the safety on, and trudged through the soft grass to the garden. Dandelions sprouted yellow heads and Tim thought how mad his Dad would be when he saw them. He was gut punched with the remembrance that his Dad lay dead at work. His dad didn’t care about dandelions anymore.The dead don’t care about anything.
Tim attacked the soil. Rage driving him on, cutting through the tulips his mother had planted, hating how pretty they were, how much his mother had loved them, how pointless it was to love anything because, in the end, everything dies. The soil flew, brown particles peppering the air. Arms flailing, Tim’s rage inspired energy diminished, leaving him weak and winded, down on his knees in the dirt, the bandages on his body sliding off him from the sweat. The sting of the sweat entering his wounds sent pings of pain intermittently all over his body. He took pleasure in the pain, feeling he deserved it and earned it for having the nerve to survive when his family did not. His chest heaved and spit bubbles collected at the sides of his mouth. Tim looked a the hole he started. It wasn’t near big enough. The long day stretched out before him and he looked forward to it. He beleived he should be punished. When he was done, he dug a hole for himself. The rifle called to him.