Death Swallowed up in Victory
Death Swallowed up in Victory
Abernathy Greene sat in the back pew of the main hall at Mediatrix of all Graces. She was waiting for the cops to come for her.
It was dark outside, but the real candlelight mixed with flickering fake-candlelight and gave the cathedral hall a warm glow. It was almost warm enough to untangle the knot in her stomach, but not quite.
Her son had died just two weeks before. Death on impact, she reminded herself. He’d gone from happy thoughts to nothing in an instant. She wanted to know what he’d been thinking about. Jonny Quest, maybe, he’d fallen in love with the reruns, or maybe he was imagining what they’d be studying in school the next day. But he’d died on Friday night, so maybe he was dreaming of Saturday-morning-cartoons.
Abi tried to imagine herself looking up at Christ on the cross. She could have just looked up from her newspaper at the statue on the alter, but she wanted to imagine being there, looking up at her son dying.
Tommy, her son, hadn’t been tortured to death. He hadn’t been persecuted. She hoped he’d had a happy life.
Jesus had earned the Romans’ hatred. Political dissidents die, or live long enough to become complete assholes. But Tommy hadn’t done anything to anyone.
He’d really wanted a puppy. They should have gotten him one. She remembered the conversation she’d had with Thomas, the father. It hadn’t been a long conversation. Thomas had told her how he’d shot a dog when he was a kid. The lying fuck had never even held a gun.
Thinking of Thomas standing in their apartment’s little kitchen, the bravado-veneer on his face, she remembered a much more recent conversation, and the fury crumpled the newspaper in her hands.
The day after he’d killed their son, he was home. Someone had lost the slip of paper where they’d jotted down his blood-alcohol, they hadn’t remembered to piss-test him at the station, and no one at the scene of the crash had asked him to walk a straight line.
Thomas had seemed happy. He hadn’t smiled, maybe he’d had that much taste, but she’d seen the muscles under his face fighting to curl his lips.
She’d been staring out the small window over the sink, watching a pigeon dancing on a clothesline, and taking measured sips from a tall glass of Jim Beam.
He’d sat down across from her and watched while she slowly finished the bottle. As she’d taken the last sip she’d known with a kind of crystal certainty she would never buy another.
“If you’d been the one to pick him up-” Thomas had said. Half way through his words, she’d had the neck of the bottle in her hand and he’d bitten his tongue as the bottle had shattered against his temple.
She’d picked up a claw hammer that had lived next to a pair of unhung cupboard doors for most of a year, and had only stopped hitting Thomas with it when he’d stopped moving.
Thomas wasn’t dead, but she’d still expected the police to come knocking. Maybe they cared just as much about a crippled black man as they had about his dead son.
Meditating on Mary at the crucifixion didn’t seem to be helping. She returned to her paper. Reading about the terrible things that happened to other people put her own pain in context.
A mother of three died in a car crash. Her kids were okay, and her husband, depicted in a swarm of gray dots, looked protestant and well-off. He’d find them a new mother.
There was a new story about the Masked Killer, a weird fuck the papers couldn’t stop talking about. He’d broken into a pawn shop in the middle of the night and had killed the manager when he’d shown up to check the alarm. The story went on to describe the house the manager had shared with his mother and the dungeon the cops had found in the basement.
Tommy Sinclair had died eight days ago. And it wasn’t just that he shared a name with her dead son, he was also black and only six years old; Her Tommy had been four.
The cannibalistic news coverage was starting to grate on her, but Abi had been both dreading and hoping for more.
Eight days ago, Tommy Sinclair had been tagging along with his mother as they waited in line at the bank.
Huell Utley had been the security guard on duty. Something had spooked him and he’d gone for the pistol on his hip. Huell had dropped his pistol, having just taken a fifth-of-bourbon lunch, and a nine-millimeter round had punched a big hole in little Tommy Sinclair’s chest.
Abi wasn’t sure what she wanted his punishment to be; it seemed, at times like these, prison didn’t make much sense, and cutting off his hands might be excess, but stripped naked and horse-whipped might do it.
Those had been her thoughts, but now she came to today’s entry in the Tommy Sinclair epic. The title read, Insufficient Evidence to Charge in the Little Tommy Sinclair Case. There was a photo of the fat pasty fuck smiling at the cameras as he walked out of jail arm-in-arm with his lawyer. Apparently somebody lost the results from the piss-test.
“You mother-fuckers,” Abi said as the newspaper ripped in her hands and an old woman wrapped in shawls turned back to glare at her.
Abi bolted up and started for the door. Her eyes met for a moment with the forgiving stare of Mary in the stained glass overhead. Her gentle smile was wrong, Abi thought, no matter how much she’d been risen up into heaven, no mother can lose their kid and smile again.
She climbed into her black Continental and took the short trip home ignoring the stoplights.
Halloween was still a week off, but Tommy had been bubbling about it for the month before he’d died. He’d wanted to be Spider-man, after she’d explained to him as gently as possible that a Jonny Quest costume would be unrecognizable.
Having climbed three floors of stairs and left the apartment door swinging, she was in front of the mirror in her bathroom, painting sharp lines of black on her face. She started to fill in the angular spaces with dark red, green and blue.
It was the first time she’d noticed herself in a mirror since he’d died. Maybe it was the makeup, but she didn’t look like herself. This is what Mary would’ve looked like, Abi thought. And they must have tied her to a post, because there’s no way she would’ve just stood by.
She picked up the claw hammer from the blood smeared tile-floor where she’d left it and was back out the door.
There’d been a special on the evening news a few days before. They’d gone to talk to Huell Utley’s wife. She’d been really broken up about what they were doing to her husband, paying lip-service to the kid he’d killed in a drunken stupor.
The news crew had paid special attention to Utley’s perfect front lawn, taking the angle that a dead black kid is an unfortunate thing that can happen to anybody.
Abi had recognized the street. At the time it had hit her with a sense of reality, that Tommy Sinclair had been a real person, a real little boy who was dead, just like her Tommy. But now she needed to remember where she’d been and what she’d been doing when she’d driven through that quiet neighborhood.
Six hours and a fill-up later, and walking across Utley’s manicured lawn, she remembered another life where she’d tried unsuccessfully to sell magazine subscriptions; Utley might have even slammed the door on her.
The gold creeping into the sky was dawn not dusk, but she knocked anyway. She waited for a while, staring at the frosted glass and listening to crickets, but then she knocked again, this time on the frame and with her claw-hammer.
“I’m coming,” a voice said from behind the door. “Yeah,” a man said as the door creaked.
“Huell Utley?” she asked. Even if he looked vaguely like what she’d seen in the papers and on TV, he looked thinner in person, and there were deep hollows under blue eyes she’d never noticed.
“…Yeah?” he said squinting at her face and rubbing his eyes.
“Huell Utley,” she said, biting out the words as the hammer in her hand swung at the bridge of his nose. “I trample snakes!”