Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


premature fiction

William’s Knot

He had returned to Brenlee, almost a year ago, to an ambulance and police car in front of his parent’s house. On the porch, a young neighbor woman saw him and said, “Oh, she was so excited about you coming this week,” burst into tears, and ran home. Inside, paramedics quickly and competently ripped open packages, drew meds, and inserted tubes and needles into his mother’s body where it lay, awkwardly stretched out on the living room floor between the television and the coffee table. He looked back at his rental car parked in the street and felt guilty that he had stopped at that roadside fruit stand on his way from the airport. His mother could not see him there and probably could not hear him either.

William only recognized Tamra, one of the emergency workers on the scene, when she saw him and said, “Billy?” She had been holding his mother’s hand and trying to stay out of the way of the paramedics. “Come here.”

He went to her and she pulled his hand down to his mother’s. A moment later one of the paramedics threw something on the floor in defeat. The two men looked at each other, disappointed and, finally noticing Billy, a bit embarrassed. Tamra looked at Billy and swallowed, he knew that she had suddenly become aware of the thin brass cross hanging on the wall behind him, the Bible on the end table near his mother’s favorite chair, and all the other church paraphenalia laying about the house. He felt bad for her. She wouldn’t know what to say. She would say something regrettable. She did.

“She’s making her way to heaven, Billy.”

Heaven? He wanted to smile, pat her little light brown head and tell her heaven’s a fairytale. The one you think you know, anyway. At best, the only bit of us that makes it to eternity is some non-conscious form of energy that is subsumed in the universal whole, only to truly enter the heavens of space upon the total destruction of this planet during the nova or supernova that will be the death of our sun.

He said none of this. First, because he knew she would think he had gone crazy, and second, because he could only think of the weekend during highschool that he had spent making out with Tamra, trying and failing to get her top off. He hoped that later his therapist would tell him that this was one of many natural and perfectly understandable trauma avoidance techniques. Meanwhile, he felt like a jerk.

“Thanks, Tamra.”

She started crying as the paramedics covered his mother in a sheet. She had very nice dark brown eyes, so he looked into them. He didn’t want to see his mother’s pained face again, or her limp body.

“You’re crying, Billy.”

He hadn’t noticed. “This sucks,” he whispered.

Tamra took his hand from his mother’s and tried to wrap both of her small hands around it. “I’m so sorry, Billy.” Forty-five minutes later she hugged him goodbye on the porch. The paramedics had driven away in their small fire truck. Hernandez, the policeman on the scene, had asked a few questions, scratched some things down on a form, and left. “You gonna be okay?” she asked.

He shrugged. “No. Yes. Maybe. I guess.”

“Maybe I’ll look in on you, when I get off work?”


She wiped another tear from under his eye and said “Okay.” She joined her partner in the ambulance and they drove away with his mother’s body in the back. He was left as alone as he felt.

A year later, everywhere he looked in the house he still saw his mother and father. He had rearranged and un-decorated the living room, but still, there was the dining room untouched, the kitchen unchanged, the bathroom unaltered. His bedroom, formerly their master bedroom looked unrecognizable from the one they left when they died – new bed, ordered from some place with cheap Danish furniture; a new coat of paint; a used antique-ish dresser from a place up in the gold country; and even a couple of new light fixtures. His old room he had converted into an office – two computer monitors, decent computer speakers, a Mexican wrestling match poster, and a bulletin board covered in postcards from friends traveling to interesting places. His brother’s room served as storage for all of the God and church paraphenalia and the furniture his wife said she wanted. Despite all of the changes, the house still revealed images of his parents moving through their daily lives, his father sleeping in front of the television with an open book on his stomach, his mother rushing around the house before church, and both of them in the kitchen cooking something elaborate and impossible to find in Brenlee.

Seeing his parents in the house each day only made him feel worse and worse about himself. Maybe because it reminded him of the thing they most often told him, before, during, and after his aborted careers, lost savings, and failed marriage. “We love you no matter what” as if there was a ‘what’ in the world that might have called their love into question in the first place.

Of course, he knew the ‘what’: God. Not just God, but religion too, though for them it was merely God. If he didn’t believe in their God and their religion, how could he know God and if he couldn’t know God, how could he get to heaven and if he couldn’t get to heaven, hadn’t they failed him? That was their self-punishing and, for William, guilt-inducing logic. Absurd as it may sound to the uninitiated, he couldn’t forgive himself for making them feel like failed parents. Some days he wondered if there were no uninitiated. Maybe God and religion for his parents is ethnic identity for another, football or baseball for another, or even science and reason for another? No, while all these parental pressures share some qualities in common, each is its own tangled knot of curses and benefits. Lately, he was running short on benefits, he had only his knot of curses.