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.