Alfred had long seen her win the school awards, the ribbons, her homework adorned in early childhood with gold star stickers in great clusters like a night sky on basic math and lined paper. He had seen her name the shared winged bee, the buzzing promise, the sure adulthood versions of ribbons and stickers while he was, well, he was Alfred.
He stood over his sister’s grave as the sky grew leaden and the winds ceased ending the gentle dance of leaves and branches. He stood there and suddenly felt every bone and muscle in his body, every ripple of fat, every scab, pimple and hangnail. All at once, a chaos of things, a cacophony of structure, form and presence. Her name was still seemingly freshly carved as though the crowds would still be there, the nest of crows of distant relatives in dark suits and dresses, a human clot.
He felt gravity next feel like fists, the silence a horrid shriek and screech big enough to circle the earth like so much ash. He felt the first cold drops of rain and thankfully a breeze came as they fell earthward to explode on the grass, the hills around, the narrow road and his head. There was a comfort in this somehow.
The rain fell hard and black, a veil earthward. The sky a few moments before puffs of clouds and bits of blue was now a pencil drawing to charcoal smear. The rain grew so heavy he had to run to his car on the small road. The small road grew stream to river all around his aging Honda. He listened to ambient music as loud as it would go as the rain roared on his roof and windshield and patches of flowers and roses drifted by like boats. The open spaces and subtle analog pads were sky as sky was for this time water and downward velocity and flood. The rain lasted a good ten minutes then yielded sun and even a rainbow over the mausoleum, the bleak irony not lost on Alfred. It was like the pot of gold was ashes.
The rains were the ghost now, the mini flood as well. The sun within an hour bled across a full late day blue sky and after bits of steam off the road it was as the storm never was at all. Alfred almost drained the battery on his aging car blasting open sound vistas until the last thick drops had cascaded across his roof, now he was left with the remains of the day, the quiet after the atmospheric drama. It was annoying then a bit scary , that rain, but now it was this odd surplus of near sunset late afternoon, an unwelcome delivery somehow.
Alfred wandered in the wet grass back to her grave. The rain left tiny lakes in the curves and cut spaces of her name. He ran his finger across the waters of her first name, felt it collect across the fleshy fields of his fingertip and fingerprint. He made sure not take too much as to ruin these tiny lakes of her. The unusually thick and deep tombstone had seemed absurd when their father had insisted a few years ago, now it made waters of her after a ghost of rain. Across town a crowd of people were waiting for him with banners, 2 cakes and sandwiches. He was 3 hours late and counting.
Across the city a room was alight with faces and expectation , a glow of sorts.
He stood before her grave and the silence was loud as the sun gauzed into a last thin cloud on the horizon with no connection to that long gone cloudburst and rain. The thing looked like a sad airborne cigar and was so thin the sun shone through it like light through bandages. The grass and hills seemed to quiet in this light, soften lines and edges, a calming of even the harsh lines of road and grave.
Susan. Even gone you are bigger than me. Even in death you are better too.
Alfred got straight c grades for so long his parents joked about nicknaming him C train or Joe median after the thing between the rush of cars on a freeway. He had bad posture but not enough to be noticed really. He had a bad attitude but so kept it inside it was only seen as a long series of shrugs, a smog of apathy if even that. He had haircuts that often looked like nothing in fashion or so far the other way as to earn a smirk or rude remark in his direction. The top of his head often looked like the plastic hair of lego figures, of businessmen lost in crowds, of a swirl above the storm of pimples that sometimes roared on his cheek.
Happy birthday Susan.
Alfred stood in the drying soil as the sun shot dull through a bandage of cloud. He stood where 3 years before he gave that speech for once. Read that poem that actually wasn’t bad. Three years before and month or so he stood there amongst it all and watched her lowered into the soil, so young, the bloom of promise left on a hot sunny day. A line of the poem spoke of music and space and open chords and how it was like how things can sneak ahead or just as easily slip away.
Across the town a crowd waited with presents. His sister was his twin. They had entered the world with it all wide open. His aunt even made him something. She used to promise to do so but never quite got around to it. Too much at work. Kids are just such a handful and all. This was many birthdays for him it seemed, promises and cake, promise in his twin, not him.
Happy birthday twin. The sunset is coming soon.
Susan had never seen the car. Texting they said. She and the other car both were adrift. The other driver was also found to be on drugs and 3 days missing. Susan however was returning from winning that award, it was college now, it was not ribbons. Susan was elated as she had won the award and had been seen grinning as she headed to the parking lot after the ceremony. The cars hit so hard they fused into an absurd sculpture, a metallic dolphin of ruin said one person who saw it happen.
Alfred ran his hand slowly across the tombstone as the sun emerged low on the horizon from that lost adrift cloud. He was 22. Soon enough would come 30, 40 70. She was to forever be 19. He would age in photos. She would be 19. He would possibly never amount to much as the family long suspected. She would be 19.
Across town the party waited. Banners had both birthdays, had both names. There were presents for him and presents for his sister, his twin, they would forever remain unopened, a promise of some glimmering thing, a shiny unknown. He would like the last two years surely open them to job application photocopies, socks, sweaters in anemic colors like bark, dirt or rust.
The last text to you was not from my friend, Joe who you had that huge crush on. I grabbed his phone, wanted to joke around. That last text was from me. You answered it. Started to anyway. I killed you with those 3 words. A simple question. A prank, innocent enough but not at all. You won an award that night. I blew off a test and ate pizza. You had the big birthday wishes, you had that future so big , it burned in me I can’t lie. But now here I am drying from that rain and it lingers on your name here.
Alfred tired and fell asleep for a time in the wet grass by her letters, by the math of her end. Across town eventually the relatives shrugged, packed foods to go , left shaking their heads, but not really surprised. Alfred arrived home to the assumption that he just let them down, ran late, failed again. He took this responsibility for once, this heavy weight and went to bed to sleep to awaken to another day, another dull tick forward.
Susan would still be 19.