(scroll below for links to other stories in this series)
Rallie’s death left a pall over the town that lingered for decades. Death was no stranger; old age, cancer, heart attacks, farming or construction accidents, a memorable shooting a century ago. Children died at birth sometimes, or from mysterious illnesses as babies. But Rallie’s was the first drowning in anyone’s memory.
People clucked and tsk-tsked. Shook their heads. The creek was too shallow, barely four feet at the center. But poor Rallie had fallen from a tree, from that branch hanging over the water that all the adults remembered using to monkey swing on hot summer days. But Rallie hadn’t meant to swim that day – he’d been dragged out of the water fully clothed, wearing even shoes. He’d fallen, banged his head against a rock, and passed out face down in two feet of water. Freak accident.
They cut down the tree, though.
Ironically, no one regretted Rallie’s death more than Randall. Perhaps he’d acted too soon. Who would he take his cues from now? Who to look to for unraveling the secrets of behavior, of wrong and right? For the first week after Rallie’s accident, his lack of emotion was put down to shock – no one expected dead-pan (okay, introvert if you were feeling kind) Randy to suddenly wear his heart on his sleeve. But that tolerance wouldn’t last forever. Sooner or later, he’d be expected to show his grief. Somehow. Shed a tear.
Randall didn’t know how to cry. He wedged his hand in a door the day after the funeral, broke three fingers and discovered he could cry, after all. Still, he couldn’t count on doors being available every time society demanded tears.
His parents were – understandably, Randall supposed – devastated. His father’s weathered features hardened into lines of desolated bewilderment. His mother’s face looked the same, but even Randall, with his handicapped emotions, could tell it was just a shell. Inside there was nothing recognizable. Nothing but the loss. She lost a third of her body weight in a matter of days. She lost the ability to smile, and to sleep. She stayed up all night in front of the TV with the sound off, eyes fixed on the moving images, unseeing.
And Randall often joined her.
The first time, after a minute of staring at the silent figures of an old movie, he turned up the volume. Mom didn’t turn, didn’t take her eyes off the TV, just said in a voice as dry as crumbled glass, “Please turn it down.”
He did, and the crackly silence enveloped the living room again. He considered going to bed – it was after midnight already – but he wasn’t sleepy. And he was curious. What, exactly, was Mom doing?
Not much, apparently. She sat, she watched, unengaged, expressionless, as Bogart or Cagney or Wayne flickered, as one role became another, as night turned to dawn.
The black-and-white images worked their magic on Randall, too. He’d discovered a new source to supplant Rallie.
published 21 January 2013
click below for more stories in this series:
• Years of Study (#2)
• The Bogie Comeback (#4)