An Unwanted Shade of Grey by Rebecca Milton

Have you ever found yourself standing in the aisle at the local market looking at a woman in her eighties, hunched, grey, not just her hair but her flesh, her life? She shuffles along with some invisible weight tied to her insides, pulling her, wrestling her day in and day out, toward the grave.
An Unwanted Shade of Grey
An Unwanted Shade of Grey by Rebecca Milton
Yet, she fights. Not because she has family or friends. Not because she has work on this earth left to do. Not because of love. You can tell she is alone, miserable, hating each breath she takes. She fights the grave so she can go home, sit in her chair, drink her cocktail, smoke her cigarettes and call the people on the news rubes and freaks. She fights because the fight is all she has left. It’s all that keeps her on this earth. She lives to fight and fights to live. You can see her entire life as she halts by you, grabs a can of tuna and wheezes, wishing she could just have someone do this for her so she could be outside smoking right now. But there is no one. No one for her, with her, near her. No one thinking about her. Waiting for her. Hoping for her. So, she shuffles down the aisle, gets the bare minimum she needs and off to the checkout. There she will hassle the poor young girl about what the flyer in the mail said the price of tuna was or that her coupon has not expired. The girl will call her manager, and the manager will not want to deal with this old woman so he lets her have two cents off the tuna. Why? Because he sees she has nothing, has no one, and so why not let her have this little victory? She wants more of a fight. Wants more of that life juice she thrives on. She will shuffle to her car, lighting up, mumbling suckers because she bilked the store manager out of that two cents. Have you ever found yourself in that situation and suddenly a voice deep, deep in your mind says, “That’s you. Look at your future, because that’s you in...” however many years away you think that woman’s life is from yours? The reality being, her life and your life are happening at the same instant. And if you don’t change something fast, you may as well just leave the shopping cart full of juice and veggies, yogurt and salad, grab a carton of smokes, a few cans of tuna and get to living it right now. Ever been in that spot? No? Well, I have and let me tell you, it sucks. It makes you do the strangest things. It makes you shop faster. As if moving at a heightened rate will wash away the image, keep the possibility of that nightmare from actually catching up with you. Keep it from stepping into your clothes, filling your life with the rank air of stale cigarettes, canned fish, regret and hate. Keep away the notion that even God isn’t that interested in you so he lets you continue on day after day wishing it would stop, knowing it won’t. Keep away that faint stench of death, like a musty room, closed for years, inhabited by only rodents and by a sorrow that clings to your clothes, your hair, your skin. Keep death away. It makes you examine every tiny moment in your life up to that moment. The moment the grey-fleshed dirt-angel crossed your path and jarred you out of the blissful ignorance that you were fine, that you were doing great, that your life was just as it should be. Tough spot to be in. If you're not strong enough. If the doubts and fears that you believed you had buried deep and locked tight away are actually just under the surface, closer to the air than the fine, soft hairs on your skin. If you have been fooling yourself for years and years, turning corners quickly when you catch the sight of reality in a hallway, or reflected in a window, or in your eyes looking back at you in the mirror of the medicine cabinet when you shake off the morning’s hangover. If it’s all there, waiting, crouched, coiled, listening carefully for its cue. Then this chance encounter with the shuffling grey stink that hangs in the form of a woman in the market will send you spiraling out of control and into something that you would never do. Something that, a month ago felt like a death sentence. But now, from market to car, car to the door, door to the kitchen table, you have decided is the only way, the only thing that can save you. Never stopping long enough to ask that most important of all questions: “Save me from what?” *** “You said yes?!” Sarah shouted. “Please tell me you’re joking.” We were sitting at a back table in Cosmo’s, late afternoon, lunching, chatting, sharing news, no place to be for the rest of the day drinks, that kind of a thing. “Inside voice, Sarah,” Eve said, taking control of the situation before it got out of hand. “It’s a lovely ring, Lanie, just lovely,” she told me through semi-clenched teeth as she held my hand and looked at the ring. “Um, Eve,” I said, “you’re kind of crushing my hand.” She released me and regained herself. “Sorry, doll,” she said. “I guess I’m just... caught up in the excitement. So much to do, so many wonderful things ahead...” She trailed off. I looked back and forth between her and Sarah, neither one was showing any true signs of happiness. “Thanks, Eve,” I said and finished my margarita. We were all quiet for a very long time. “Are you happy,” Eve asked. “I mean, with your decision, are you... sure?” She was the one who asked the tough questions, the reality sheriff I called her. She was the one who would pull me into the bathroom and tell me that the guy I was making out with at the bar did not look like Hugh Jackman, and perhaps I was just reacting to having another guy dump me. Again. She was the one who said let’s get food in your stomach instead of another kamikaze. She was the one that asked me if my choice to marry Aaron Temple was making me happy. “Sure,” I said convincing no one, not even myself. “I’m... I think it’s a good idea.” That rang so hollow, so sad, that I didn’t even try to cover. “More drinks,” Sarah said. “Now that's a good idea. Drugging you, putting you in the trunk of my car and driving to the Bahamas? That’s a good idea. Marrying Aaron Temple? “That’s not a good idea.” “Okay,” Eve said, “let's just... No one’s getting drugged, and you cannot drive to the Bahamas, Sarah. They’re islands.” “I know,” Sarah defended herself, “but there’s a ferry. Right?” We all laughed, and that felt good. At least I knew I could still feel good. That was a plus, something to hang onto. Feeling good. *** “That was good,” Aaron said into my ear, his chest hair creeping slowly like a coming storm over my elbow and forearm. We had just... What, what had we just done? Made love? Had sex? I have no idea how to describe the cacophony of grunts and bleats, the intense discomfort and the utterly unsatisfying charade that had just been perpetrated on my body. Good was not in the list of adjectives I intended to employ but, why not? “Yes,” I said, “that was... good.” He chuckled, nuzzled me and sighed. “In three weeks,” he said, “we can do this legally.” It struck me as odd. “Is it illegal now,” I asked, seriously not understanding what he meant. “Should I worry about the cops kicking down my door and cuffing me?” He laughed and rolled away from me, his chest and shoulder hair remaining on me for a few seconds after he had parted, like a cloud, or fog, or... a shitload of body hair. “Oh, my silly girl, I didn’t mean like that. I meant in the eyes of... you know.” He gestured to the ceiling. “This is my house, Aaron. No one lives upstairs. And, even if they did, I am sure they wouldn’t care if you and I were having sex.” He laughed again, a milky, high-pitched laugh that I wondered when I would get used to, when I would find charming. Because that’s what happened, right? Couples learn to accept and embrace their partners’... quirks and see them as little drops of absolute sunshine. That happens, right? “First of all,” he said, “making love. Now that we’re going to be married, we make love.” He rolled over and kissed me. “Second, I was talking about the in the eyes of God.” “Ah,” I said, “right, right... in the eyes of God.” There were many things that I knew I would have to compromise when I agreed to marry Aaron. I would have to be married in a church, one that I held no real belief in. I had to accept that God now watched over me like some kind of bipolar Santa Clause, who saw me when I was sleeping, knew when I was awake and drinking with my friends. Then dealing out either wrath or blessings like hot dogs from a street corner cart. I had to let go the idea of ever having an orgasm again. Well, having one with Aaron, at least. “But, in three weeks, you will be Mrs. Aaron Temple,” he reminded me. “And we can do this to our heart’s content with God smiling down on us each and every time.” “Doesn’t it trouble you that God watches us do this,” I asked. “Seriously, doesn’t God get cable.” I chuckled; he didn’t. I had crossed the line. Again. “Lanie,” he said with a sigh, like a school teacher going over a lesson yet again, “what have I said?” “I don’t know, Aaron,” I said, knowing full well what was coming. “What have you said?” “I have said, and I know you have heard me,” he scolded me, “that I do not appreciate those kinds of jokes.” “God doesn’t have a sense of humor,” I asked. ‘Of course he does,” he assured me. “I mean, he created the platypus, didn’t he?” He loved that joke. “What he doesn’t have is patience for those who mock him.” I didn’t feel like fighting. I felt like showering the whole thing off my body and moving on. “You’re right, I’m sorry, honey, that was thoughtless.” He smiled broadly. “Thank you,” he said and kissed me. “I forgive you and you know he will always forgive you.” “That’s a relief,” I said and got out of bed, wrapping the sheet around my body. “Don’t do that,” he said in a whiney voice that I knew I would never get used to. “Do what,” I asked. “Don’t...” he pulled the sheet, trying to get it away from me. I fought to hold on. “Don’t cover up like that when you get out of bed. I want to see you, to look at you.” I let the sheet go, and he grabbed it up, pulling it away so that I couldn’t reach for it again. He stared at me, his eyes misted over, and he got this soft, weepy look. “I... I cannot believe how lucky I am,” he said after a moment. “You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.” He looked me over and sighed. He meant it; I could tell by his look, by his voice. He loved me. I knew he did and that made me feel safe. Made the woman from the market retreat far away. The way he looked at me made me feel beautiful. Made me feel worshipped. I knew he was not my ideal, that he was not Prince Charming, but no one is. Prince Charming is a cartoon and probably doesn’t even have genitals. Aaron was... decent. He was caring, he was honest, and he loved me. He would take care of me and, I would not be alone, shuffling around with a basket full of canned tuna and menthol lights. Life is compromise, and this compromise seemed... do-able. *** I waited for the young couple to leave. For the husband to pick his wife up off the ground, wrap his arm around her hunched shoulders and pull her away. I watched as they stumbled together up the path and towards their car. They became one as they moved further away. One, sad, crumpled person. The day was clear and bright, the air was warm, but for them it would always be the depths of winter when they came here. I heard the car doors slam, the engine start and the car pull away. I wandered over to the grave they had just abandoned and read the stone. Jeremy, Beloved Son, Always in our Hearts From the dates, I saw that Jeremy, beloved son, was only four when he shuffled off this mortal coil and had done so less than three months ago. My heart thumped against the walls of my chest. Sorrow. The word didn’t begin to encompass what I had watched, what I couldn’t even imagine the young couple felt. “So sorry, Jeremy,” I said, not sure why. “Do I know you,” a voice asked behind me. I turned and saw the young father standing behind me, holding a baseball. I stepped back, feeling suddenly as if I had been caught in some terrible act. I shook my head. He shrugged and stepped to the grave, knelt down and placed the ball in the soft dirt his mother had just upturned and planted flowers in. He stood and looked down at the grave for a moment. “I have no idea,” he said quietly to himself. “Perhaps he would have liked baseball. Maybe he would have... I don’t know, wanted ballet classes... Did plays in school. I don’t know.” He took a deep breath and looked around the cemetery. His gaze was farther than eyes that don’t know his kind of sorrow can see. “She’s not doing well,” he said to me, “his mother, she’s...” He faded off. Again he looked down at the grave. “Who are you here to visit?” he asked. “My father,” I said, and pointed over two rows to where my father was buried. “I have news to tell him.” He nodded. I put my hand under his arm and took him to my father’s grave. “Come with me,” I said, “say hello.” He didn’t resist, and we walked the few paces to my father’s grave and stood silently for a moment. “What’s your name,” I asked him. “David, my name’s David Marren.” I smiled at him, and he seemed to relax. “Daddy,” I said to my father’s grave, “this is David Marren, and he and his wife were here visiting their son Jeremy. David, this is Graham Russel, my father.” He didn’t miss a beat. “Hello, Mr. Russel,” he said and I appreciated him. “Daddy,” I said, “I wanted you to know that I’m getting married.” I pulled the bottle of scotch from my bag and opened it. “So, here’s to me,” I said and took a sip. I handed the bottle to David and again, he didn’t pause, didn’t question, just took the bottle and brought it to his lips, then pulled it away and spoke. “Congratulations,” he said to me. “Mr. Russel, you should be very proud, because your daughter is lovely and I am sure she is marrying a wonderful man.” He drank and then handed the bottle back to me. I poured some on the grave and David laughed. “I’ve... I’ve only seen that in movies,” he said. “I didn’t know people really did that... You know... In real life.” “They do,” I said and took another drink, “all the time.” I handed the bottle back to him, and he drank. I said good-bye to my father and started to walk away, but David, he stood there, bottle in hand. I stopped and watched him. “Mr. Russel,” he said, “I know we’ve just... met, just now, but I am going to ask you a favor. My son, Jeremy... he’s... over there,” David pointed to his son’s grave. “He is so, so very young, sir, so very young. He was a little shy when we had him so, I was wondering, if you’re not too busy, if it’s not too difficult, could you check on him? Make sure he’s... I don’t know... Make sure he has friends. Make sure he’s getting along all right. I would appreciate that, sir, I really would.” He took another drink, raised the bottle and then poured some more on the grave. We sat on a stone bench on the crest of a hill looking out over the human lawn, passing the bottle back and forth. We were quiet but safe in the silence, neither of us feeling the pressure to speak. “You know,” I said, breaking the silence, “I can’t do this with Aaron.” “Drink in cemeteries on Sunday afternoons,” David asked, handing me the bottle. “No,” I said. “Sit in silence like this. Not worrying about having to fill it with words or... noise. Farts or something.” He laughed. “Does that make sense?” “It does. Jeannie and I, that’s my wife, she and I... As long as we were in the same room, we were fine. The silence was never a problem. I would work, and she would read. We could sit for hours on end and not feel the need to say anything to each other.” He took the bottle and drank. “It was comfortable and... right.” “See,” I said, “that must be nice.” He drank again. “It was, it really was.” He took that long, hard earned look across the world again, then came back and handed me the bottle. “Not the same any longer. Now, the silence... The silences, they kill me. It’s no longer that she doesn’t need to speak, it’s that... now she has nothing to say.” “Her heart’s broken,” I said, “but she’ll heal, she’ll be better.” I handed the bottle back to him. He shook his head slowly, ripped a corner off the label of the bottle. “No,” he said with a heavy authority in his voice, “she won’t. She... From now on, she will be the mother of a dead child. I will be the one who planted the seed, set the wheels in motion, made her a mother only to have it ripped away.” “But, David, you didn’t...” I started to say but then had no idea how to finish. He didn’t what? Know? Plan it? Of course not, but did that make it any less horrible? Did that make his wife any less sad? Did that make him any less... right? He looked at me. “Thank you,” he said and we were silent again. The day rolled by us slowly, and we had come to the end of the bottle. Neither of us was excessively drunk, and we were both relaxed. “Is he afraid of the silence?” he said after a while. “Yes, he’s afraid that I’ll... vanish if he doesn’t keep me there with words or... with touches.” He thought about this for a moment. “Would you?” “Would I what?” He looked at me again, his eyes solemn. “Would you vanish?” The question threw me. I thought about it for a minute. “Yes,” I said at last, “I believe I would.” “Because ..., ” he asked, just one word, and it hung between us on the rays of the retreating sun. “Because,” I thought. “Because I don’t know if I want to be there in the first place.” He nodded, he understood. I expected him to protest the marriage, to advise me away. “Good,” he said, “that’s good, then. Don’t allow the silences to happen. Keep them out now so that you don’t have to deal with the pain, the confusion and the stomach-churning horror when they change. Keep the words coming. Fill all the empty air with words and words and words. That way, you’ll never vanish, he’ll feel safe, and you will have... a marriage.” *** I sat on Aaron’s couch drinking a glass of wine as he cleaned up the dinner dishes. He was a good cook, and we had just had a fine meal. I played the conversation I'd had with David over in my head. A marriage, he had said, like it was a thing to carry around. Like it was... “That weight tied to the grey woman’s insides, dragging her to the grave,” I said out loud. Aaron walked into the room. “What grey woman,” he asked. “What are you talking about?” I drank off the wine. “Oh, nothing,” I said as casually as I could, “just a waking nightmare I had at the market a while back. Just a terrifying image that has drilled its way into my brain and won’t allow me a moment's peace.” He tilted his head like a dog listening to Mozart. “Oh, well,” he said and then rubbed his hands together like a cartoon crook ready for a caper, “shall we...” He tipped his head toward the stairs, “upstairs?” I nodded and stood. He walked ahead of me, eager, and was halfway up the stairs when I stopped him. “Let’s not,” I said, refilling my wine glass instead. He came down a few steps but still held the high ground. “I’ve been thinking about what you said. Maybe we shouldn’t... until, you know, until we’re married.” He came down one more step. “I mean, if it’s truly illegal in the eyes of God, maybe we should take this time before the wedding, abstain and... and go into the marriage purified.” He sat down on the step. He looked up the stairs and then back at me. I felt terrible. I could see the confusion on his face, the struggle he was dealing with internally, but frankly, I just wasn’t in the mood for his stuttering, clumsy attempts at sex. “What do you think?” I asked. He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and his body sank into itself slightly. “I think, that I really want to bend you over my desk, you know.” He shrugged. “All right,” I said, not having much fight in me. I downed my wine and headed for the stairs. “But,” he said, standing and coming down to meet me, “you’re right. You are right. We should take this time, think, examine our hearts and then, when we stand before him at the altar... we will be pure and ready.” He hugged me. “Thank you for being so wonderful.” I hugged him back. “Oh Aaron, I’m not that wonderful, believe me.” *** I went to the cemetery three days in a row and stood by my father’s grave. I was hoping to see David. On the third day, I did. He was alone. “Where’s Jeannie,” I said as I approached him. He didn’t look up from his son’s grave. “Denver. She’s with her sister. She went to... figure things out.” After a moment, he finally looked up at me. “How’s your father?” “Um... still dead,” I said, and he shrugged. “Right, right, sorry, my mind is...” He made a twirling gesture around his head and let it soar away into the sky. “You didn’t happen to bring a bottle of scotch with you, did you?” I showed him my empty hands. “No, course not.” “We could go somewhere,” I said, “maybe get a drink.” “Have a proper date,” he said in a strange English accent then, he shook his head, trying to make it go away. “Sorry... sorry... I’m just... Yes, let’s go somewhere and… drink something.” *** We sat at the bar in the Side Door, a bar I liked that was not too far from the cemetery. After his second drink, he started to loosen up and talk. “I’m not sad that she’s gone,” he said. “I mean, I know she will probably want a divorce. I know that’s what she’s gone off to figure out but... I’m not sorry.” He sipped his third drink and played with the swizzle stick, not looking at me. “That makes me a horrible person, doesn’t it?” “No, it certainly does not.” Maybe it did, but I didn’t think he was horrible. I thought he was gutted and lost. Anything he felt – anything that wasn’t the will to just lay down and die – seemed just fine to me. “I don’t know,” he said and sipped. “How’s things with your upcoming marriage?” he asked after a moment. “Good. We stopped having sex.” “Oh, good. So did we. Right after Jeremy died we just... stopped.” He was silent for a moment. “It’s good you stopped now, because that way it won’t seem awkward when you just don’t have sex any longer.” He sipped. I knew he was joking, and in a dark and painful way dealing with his own issues, but it was hard to hear for some reason. “That’s a little close to home,” I said. “I wasn’t expecting that.” He turned to me, and I could see the surprise and the shame in his eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m not thinking today. I’m just letting everything come out. I’m sorry.” “It’s okay,” I said, accepting my small absolution. “It’s just that... I’ve tried and done and worked and listened and fought and...” He rubbed his clenched fist over the top of the bar like he was trying to erase the past four months as if they were written on the wood in front of him. “I didn’t kill him. I didn’t do it, you know. I mean, I miss him too. I miss... I hurt, but I don’t blame her. I don’t... turn away from her. I don’t,” he said, and he continued to erase. Then, the tears came. I watched as they flooded his eyes and ran down his cheeks. “I don’t,” he continued to mumble, bubbles forming at the corners of his mouth, tears dripping on the bar. I put my arms around him, pulled his face to my chest and held him. At first, his hand stayed on the bar, his fist still erasing, slowly, purposefully, rubbing out the time passed, the pain, the images. Then, his arms were around me, clinging to me as if I was life itself. His tears subsided, and I put my hand under his chin, then raised his face to look in his eyes. Then, I kissed him. In the living room of my apartment, I slowly unbuttoned his shirt and kissed his smooth, bare chest. I moved around his body, kissing his shoulders, his back, the base of his neck. He stood, still, allowing me. When I kissed around his naked torso, I returned to his chest and touched it lightly. I looked up at him, and he leaned down and kissed my lips. It was a tentative, gentle kiss. “I haven’t ever kissed another woman,” he began to say but stopped himself. He took my face in his hands, and he kissed me deeply, strongly. He took my shirt off of me over my head and touched me. His fingers were like a school boy’s, exploring ground he never had seen before. It was sad and sweet and made us both cry. We kissed through the salt of tears and the need to move past them. I took his hand and brought him upstairs. We undressed each other and lay naked on the bed. I liked touching his body. I liked the way he looked into my eyes. After some time of just touching, kissing and being together, he eased me onto my back. “It’s okay, we don’t have to,” I assured him. He shook his head. “I want to. I need to.” I understood and guided him and wrapped my legs around him. Slowly he lowered his body onto mine. It was grace and sorrow. It was life fighting hard to ignore, to expel death. It was the sweetest feeling I had ever experienced. I could feel myself coming close, and I bit my lip. I didn’t want to cry out. I didn’t want to make sound. The moment seemed sacred and beautiful, and I didn’t want to spoil it. The feeling was beautifully long and drawn out and so very, very good. He kissed me and kept moving slowly and gently. At last, he found his own release. He shook, his muscles tensing, but he too stayed quiet. Then he sank his weight on me, and it felt good. I held him, and he made no attempt to rise or leave his position. Entwined together, we fell asleep. *** When I awoke, I was in the bed alone. David sat in a chair across the room. He was dressed, his face calm, his eyes bright. I sat up and looked at him. I didn’t cover my body because I didn’t feel the need or the desire to. “Hi,” he said. “Hi.” “I didn’t want to wake you. Actually, I enjoyed watching you sleep, I hope you don’t mind.” “No, not at all. I’m just glad you’re still here.” He smiled and then came to the bed and sat down on the edge. He touched my face, and I felt a warmth flood through me. A calm came over me. It was all very clear to me. “You’re not going to stay, are you?” “No,” he said, still touching my face. “I have to go.” I nodded, understanding. Then he looked at me softly. “May I ask you a question?” “Because you seemed sad,” I said, answering the question that he hadn’t asked, “and you looked lost, alone and... sexy. I wanted to. I needed to. That’s why.” He smiled and stopped touching my face. “Well, thank you, I appreciate that. Of course, that wasn’t the question I was going to ask, but it’s good to know.” “Oh. Well then, what was the question?” “Why are you getting married?” I lay back on the pillows and looked at him. I thought for a moment and then I said, “Have you ever found yourself standing in the aisle at the local market looking at a woman in her eighties, hunched, grey, not just her hair but her flesh, her life? She shuffles along with some invisible weight tied to her insides, pulling her, wrestling her day in and day out, toward the grave...” When I finished the story, when I confessed my fear of being that woman, I took his hand in mine and kissed it, thankful that I was finally able to get it all out. “I don’t want to be that lonely old, grey woman,” I said. He touched my face again and smiled. “How do you know that woman isn’t going home to a husband she never really loved? Maybe she’s so angry, so grey, because she wasted all her bright colors on someone who didn’t deserve them, appreciate them? Maybe he saw the world in black and white and she, well, she gave up on finding someone who would appreciate the colors and she just... quit. Maybe she’s angry with herself.” He leaned down and kissed me so gently, so sweetly. “Are you really ready to just give up?” *** I called Aaron after David had left, after we had said goodbye, and I knew, somehow, I would most likely never see him again. I pulled on a pair of panties and a sweatshirt and was sitting in the kitchen drinking a glass of wine when Aaron came in. “Hey,” he said, “how come you’re not dressed?” He came around the table to kiss me, and I turned my head. “Lanie,” he said, “what’s wrong?” “Nothing. Actually, everything is kind of right. Sit down Aaron.” He did, and I poured him a glass of wine. “Aaron, I just made love with another man. I will never do it again. I will never see him again. I met him at the cemetery when I went to tell my father I was getting married. He’s a good man. He and his wife just lost their only child. He’s... Well, he’s a little lost, too. Anyway... He needed me. I needed him. I’m so sorry I did it. I am sorry if it hurts you but...” I stopped. He was staring at me. He said nothing for a long time. “Aaron,” I said finally, breaking the silence. “What are you thinking?” “You said... that you made love,” he said quietly and only then did I realize that I had. “I did.” He was quiet again. He reached out and took up his wine glass, tilted it back and drank it all off. I motioned toward the bottle, and he waved me off. “Do you want to marry me,” he asked. “No.” “Oh,” he said. Silent again. “Do you love me?” “No.” “OK,” he said and stood up, dazed, shaky and started to leave. He turned to me before he left. “Why did you say yes?” “I said yes, because I don’t want to be grey.” “I don’t understand.” “I know, and that’s okay.” *** I told my father that I wasn’t getting married. He didn’t seem to mind. As I walked out of the cemetery, I saw David walking down the hill toward the grave. I smiled at him, and he nodded. He had a small cowboy hat in his hand. He stopped and looked up the hill. I followed his gaze and saw his wife sitting in the front seat of their car. “That’s a handsome hat,” I said to him and he stopped. He turned to me and fingered the brim of the hat. He looked down the hill to the grave and then back up to the car. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’m just... I’m trying.” I nodded and walked up the hill to my car. As I passed his car, I looked inside and his wife, hunched and weeping in the front seat, looked out at me through distant, dead eyes. Her skin was grey.

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