On the night Darla died, Wayne was sitting at the kitchen table, washing down a couple of her Percocets with a cold Budweiser, when it he slapped him like a strip of leather across his bearded cheek. He knew. That’s how he describes it to his son D.J., just out of Y.D.C., who is sitting across from him at the same table, one year later. Of course, Dwayne points out, he didn’t know she would die ten minutes from that moment—as it would happen—but he knew it would be soon, before the sun came up.
He tells D.J. how the hospice nurse, an older woman named Linda with hardened skin and lips as thin as paper cuts, appeared in the kitchen doorway, and Wayne points to the kitchen doorway. Other than Darla and himself, Linda was only other person in the house that night and her voice seemed amplified, like it was passing through a loud speaker, when, in fact, she whispered, “Mr. Briggs, I think it’s time.”
Wayne nodded, keeping his chin pressed to his chest, his thick graying beard sprawled like a bib on his t‑shirt. He hoisted his near seven-feet of bulk from the chair and followed Linda out of the room.
Darla was reclined on the bed a hospital had moved into the house, her eyes closed and bald head wrapped in a pink bandana. She lay in what was her daughter’s bedroom, before Jenny disappeared, before all of that nonsense that landed D.J. in the joint.
Wayne looked at Darla with a shock of familiarity. Despite having seen her like that everyday for the past six months— her cheekbones jutting through stretched yellow skin at sharp angles, her eye sockets like manholes with dull blue stones at the bottom—he could never get used to the idea that this bed of bones contained his second wife. He sat down on the edge of the mattress, placing his large hand lightly above her eyes.
“Baby, it’s me,” he said.
Her eyes flickered. Her jaw opened and closed like a mouth moving underwater.
“My sweet girl.”
“Where’s Jenny?” Her voice was barely a breath, a wisp of air tangled in words.
Slowly, his hand fell from her forehead to her sunken cheek, framing her face. “She’s here, baby. The kids are in the living room. We’re all here.”
“Jenny came back?”
“Of course,” Dwayne said. He paused and kissed the pink banana. “Do you remember the motel in Bar Harbor, The Cadillac Inn? I was thinking about that place the other day, and thinking about how we sat on that porch with a cooler full of cold ones and I was playing my harmonica. Then the next day we drove up Cadillac Mountain. You remember that? Seeing the ocean from one direction and Canada from the other? When you feel better, I think we should go back there. Just you and me, baby. What do you say?”
Darla’s breathing became labored. Maybe it was a struggle, that last taste of life passing through her lips, but a look came over her face and changed the shape of her mouth, twisting her colorless lips upward.
Dwayne tells his son that that look was a smile. The hospital bed is now long gone, and Darla’s clothes have been folded and placed in a hope chest in Jenny’s old closet, but he still remembers that look. That smile. And when D.J. asks his father—when Wayne is quite a few beers into the night—what I was like to watch Darla die, Wayne tells him, again, that she smiled. She opened her eyes and smiled. Easy. Just like that.
Nathan Graziano lives in Manchester, New Hampshire with his wife and two children. He is the author of Teaching Metaphors (sunnyoutside, 2007), Not So Profound (Green Bean Press, 2004), Frostbite (GBP, 2002) and seven chapbooks of poetry and fiction. His work has appeared in Rattle, Night Train, Freight Stories, The Coe Review, The Owen Wister Review, and others. His third book of poetry, After the Honeymoon, will be published in Fall 2009 by sunnyoutside press. For more information, visit his website: www.nathangraziano.com