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White Lilies


ISSUE:  Autumn 1991

Wen Drew Schultz was 15, he went to a bluegrass oncert near Warrenton, out by Lake Whippoorrill. The lake was really just a big pond, flat as a silver dish and studded round the edges with Dutch iris. Drew could hear the music from way off, even before he got there. He was with his guitar teacher, Mr. Hixon, and Mr. Hixon’s wife. Drew had always called him “Mr. Hixon,” but today, as they drove over from Manassas in Mr. Hixon’s red Pinto with the Statler Brothers on the radio, Mr. Hixon said to call him “Nate,” and he introduced his wife as “Lemon.” In the hour since then, Drew had twice got up the courage to call Mr. Hixon “Nate,” but he could only call Lemon “you.”

And now here they were at the biggest bluegrass festival ever held in Virginia, and the whole world was here with them—grannies in rocking chairs, little kids in cowboy hats, long-haired men and women in tiny wire-rimmed glasses, the men’s hands delicate, the women’s hands like men’s, and up on a big wooden platform, semicircular around the lake, were the musicians. Mr. Hixon said that Johnny Cash’s mother-in-law was there, and Drew laughed. It struck him as funny that somebody like Johnny Cash would have a mother-in-law.

Nate Hixon said, in a hushed voice, “Look, that’s Earl Scruggs!”

“Where?” Drew craned his neck.

“Waving his guitar.” Mr. Hixon pronounced it “GIT-tar.” So that was how you said it at a bluegrass festival.

They sat on a scratchy red plaid afghan that Lemon spread on the ground, but because of the crowd it was hard to see anything if you were sitting down, so Drew kept standing up and looking around and then sitting down again. He felt he’d been moving toward this day all his life. Lemon sat cross-legged, drinking from a thermos. Suddenly she reached up and tugged on the fringed shawl of a woman standing close by and cried, “Maureen!”

The woman whirled around: “Lemon!” and sank down beside Drew. The fringe of her shawl brushed his arm. The two women embraced. Drew smelled Maureen’s perfume: cinnamon?

“How ARE you?” Lemon asked, blowing cigarette smoke out of the far-right corner of her mouth.

“Looking for a place to live, as usual,” came the answer. “I talk to myself, and it tends to unnerve roommates. God knows what I actually SAY. I have people in my head all the time, and I do talk with them, or imitate them, in barks and whispers, that kind of thing. And who is this?” She turned to Drew, and he found himself staring at her eyebrows, which were sharply peaked like the hands of a clock saying 8:20. It was the first time he’d ever really thought about somebody’s eyebrows. Beneath them, the woman’s eyes were blue pinwheels. Her skin was so freckled it gave the impression of being many different colors.

Lemon said, “Drew Schultz, Maureen Mallory. He’s one of Nate’s students, Maureen.”

“Can you play “On Top of Old Smokey”?” Maureen asked him. “That’s the first piece Nate taught me to play. Never got much beyond it.”

“I can play that and some other stuff, too.”

“My boyfriend is supposed to meet me here,” Maureen said, turning to Lemon, “but how will he ever find me? What does it mean when you arrange to meet someone in a crowd of thousands? That you don’t care if he finds you or not?”

Drew hunched closer, enthralled. He watched as she lifted something from her big, shapeless pocketbook: a packet of little white wrappers and a sack of pot. As she rolled herself a joint, she said, “Drew, don’t ever become a psychotherapist. You’ll find that all your patients are just spoiled brats whose families are sick of giving them sympathy, but still give them enough money to dump on a hired ear.” She offered him the joint. It was stronger than anything he’d smoked before, and soon he felt better than ever.

He and Maureen lay back on the afghan while the Hixons danced nearby, sometimes stumbling onto Drew and Maureen and then smiling, “Sorry, you two.” Maureen told Drew that her boyfriend was actually one of her patients, and that the illicit quality of the relationship made sex more exciting. She said she made no pretenses about using sex to help him get well. His problem didn’t have anything to do with sex or with being loved, because he was spoiled beyond belief. She really didn’t like him much, she said.

“Gosh,” said Drew.

“You didn’t know?” Maureen laughed, showing lovely teeth. “Adults can be spoiled, too. That’s when it shows the most.” She sat up. “I want a hot dog, could you get me one? I saw a guy selling them over there who looks like he just escaped from jail, and they’re probably soybean dogs anyway, but what the hey.” She dug in her purse for money, but Drew said proudly, “I’ll buy it for you.”

In a trance, he moved toward the hot dog booth, which was squeezed in between all the people on the other side of the lake. He was noticing everything: people’s eyes, the bow in a little girl’s hair, a tattoo on a man’s arm that said Hooray. I’m happy, he thought, really truly happy. He breathed deeply. The air smelled like what it was: the scent of several thousand humans. For the first time all spring he could forget, however briefly, that his father was dying.

It took him ages to reach the hot dog booth, and then he had to wait in a long line. When it was finally his turn, the man said, “Sorry, son, ain’t no more. I done sold the last ‘un.”

“Anywhere else I can get one?” He hated the way his voice scaled upward.

“Shoulda brung your lunch, I guess.” The man snapped down the aluminum shutter of the booth and Drew turned and looked for his group. The music was very loud now, and the twangy beat rubberized his kneecaps and made him smack the heel of his hand against his thigh. It was chilly for May. He buttoned his baseball jacket. It took him almost ten minutes to get back through the crowd.

There was Lemon, arms akimbo, glaring. He felt a start of fear: was she mad that he’d gone away for a little while? What had he done wrong? He’d been a little afraid of her ever since they were introduced that morning. She resembled a lemon, in a way, with her short round body and pointed blonde head.

But she wasn’t looking at him. She was staring at the lumpy form of the plaid afghan, which jerked and rolled on the ground. She lifted her sneakered foot and kicked it, then grabbed one corner and pulled it away, revealing Nate Hixon and Maureen Mallory lying propped on their elbows, laughing and laughing. Maureen tossed a strand of straight black hair out of her face, Nate rolled his eyes.

“Lemon, have a heart,” he said.

“We were only kissing,” said Maureen.

Lemon said, “It’s time to go. Drew, you carry the afghan and thermos to the car. We’ll meet you there.”

“I want to stay longer!” Drew cried, horrified that he sounded like a child pleading with its mother.

“No,” said Lemon. “No, no, no, no, NO!”

A week later, when he went for his guitar lesson, there was Maureen in the kitchen with Lemon, drinking coffee. He didn’t know which one he was more surprised to see. In the six months he’d been taking lessons, he’d never seen Lemon at her own house, had never met her until the day of the festival. Mr. Hixon had said she worked every Saturday at a bakery. Now what?

Maureen swiveled around on her barstool, a mug steaming in her hands. “Hi, stranger. Which should it be, the red or the blue?” Lemon held fabric samples out toward him.

He shifted the guitar case on his shoulder.

“For curtains,” said Maureen, and she and Lemon giggled.

“Maureen’s moving in upstairs,” Lemon explained. “We’re decorating, Drew. You have to do these things right.”

He feigned nonchalance. “The red’s okay.” It was a gingham print with little birds in white squares, and solid red squares all around them.

“What about the bakery?” he asked Lemon, his courage failing him as soon as her eyes met his.

“I quit the bakery, OK? Maybe I just want to stay home and be entertained by my husband’s wonderful students.”

“Oh.”

“Drew, come on back.” Mr. Hixon summoned him into the den. Something white and furry scurried away as he entered, and he jumped.

“That’s just Maureen’s ferret,” said Mr. Hixon. “Now let’s see what you remember from last week.”

Usually, the plain brown den, with its knotty pine panelling and orange-crate coffee table, was the perfect place to learn, but not today. Drew tried to concentrate, but every time he plucked the guitar strings, he imagined the women in the kitchen mocking and deriding him: “No talent at all, dumb kid, mouth hanging open and zits on his face and all he can think about is his dick!”

“Drew, get with it! Last time you did great with this exercise. Think in terms of chords, of progressions. HEAR it.”

His fingers felt as thick and square as the fish sticks his mother often served. Mr. Hixon’s voice seemed for away, like water trickling through a radiator pipe. The whole hour, his lesson went badly, and Mr. Hixon shook his head. Drew was ashamed. In his mind, ever since the concert, he’d been playing “Way Downtown,” just like the famous musicians at Lake Whippoorwill. Yet here he was, bungling the simplest things. It wasn’t a git-tar in this hands, just a guitar.

He fumbled through the last exercise and was startled to hear applause behind him: Lemon and Maureen had come into the room. He felt a rush of gladness. It was exciting to be part of this grown-up world, exciting and kind of scary. Mr. Hixon was a renegade at school, wearing his hair long and his sideburns full, and it was natural that he’d be married to somebody like Lemon and have a friend like Maureen. Being with them was like drugs, scary and yet you wanted more.

He reached down to gather his guitar things, and suddenly the room was dark. Dark, and he was fighting against something—a heavy blanket over him.

“Hey!” he cried.

The women were laughing. He felt their hands on his shoulders, through the cloth. Yet his impulse was to fight. He could hardly breathe, the wool rubbed his skin. He was much bigger than they were but they held him tight until he was still.

Mr. Hixon said, “What the hell are y’all doing to him?”

“Come with us, Drew,” Maureen said, and blindly he followed as she led him—where? Back to the kitchen: he smelled coffee. They made him climb up on a stool and rest his elbows on the counter.

He said, “This better be good.” His palms were slick.

“Easy now,” said Lemon. They raised the blanket so that his body was free, but kept it over his eyes and the top of his head. “Now, Maureen.”

He felt an icy pressure on one ear. One of the women held both his hands—Maureen? The cold numbed his skin, and then there was a sharp sting.

“Ow!”

“Hold still, hon,” said Maureen. “Okay, Lemon, take off the blindfold.”

He blinked. His face, in the mirror Maureen held up to him, was somebody else’s. There was a tiny gold ring in his right ear. He touched it.

“Now you’re cool,” said Lemon. She swept the ice pack into the sink and brandished the needle in front of him.

“I like it,” he said.

Maureen leaned over and kissed him on the mouth. Mr. Hixon put Tommy James and the Shondells on the stereo as loud as it would go, and Lemon got out the pot and the wrappers and started rolling.

“Crystal blue persuasion,” Drew grinned. “Love it.”

Several hours later, Nate Hixon flipped him the keys to the Pinto. “Go to McDonald’s, Drew, and bring us some burgers.”

He had only his learner s permit. Driving by himself he was scared. But he got there and got the food and brought it back, and then he felt proud.

As they ate it, they smoked regular cigarettes. Cavalierly he answered the questions they put to him. Did he have a girlfriend, Lemon wanted to know. Yeah, he said, secretly reckoning that he’d had enough conversations with girls and had been present at enough mixed gatherings, to constitute having a girlfriend. And, of course, there was that swift episode in the poolhouse last summer, with the girl that all the other guys had done it with, though he’d been so nervous and it had happened so fast that he hadn’t enjoyed it much.

“So you DO have a girlfriend?” Maureen pressed. “You’re getting all red. We don’t want to embarrass you, honey. It’s just that our lives are so boring, we need youth and mirth.”

“I bet you’re a virgin,” said Lemon. Her eyes challenged him. She raised her arms and pressed her long thin hair into a knot on her head. Her nipples stuck out against her black T-shirt.

The others waited, leaning toward him over the kitchen table. He picked up his hamburger and chewed it deliberately, while his mind groped. Should he pull a stunt, like go to the phone and pretend to call a girl and say all sorts of dirty stuff into the receiver that would make them laugh? Should he lean over and french-kiss Lemon? He was very high, he realized. He was keyed in to what they liked. He couldn’t decide. He kept on chewing his hamburger. “You’re very rude, Lemon,” he said so calmly that it fit. It floored them.

“Mr. Cool!” said Maureen. “Give me some of your fries.” He held one in front of her face. When she reached up to take it he caught her hand and brought the french fry to her lips. She touched it with her tongue, her eyes on his.

Mr. Hixon laughed. “Good grief. Look, Drew, want to go skeet shooting with us?”

He wanted to go, but he was afraid that any minute they would tire of him and drop him.

Mr. Hixon put on an exaggerated Southern accent. He reached out and squeezed the back of Lemon’s neck. “My wife here’s from a ole Virginia fam’ly and they do things like skeet shootin’ on a Sa’rday afternoon.”

Lemon stood up and gathered the trash from their meal. Drew finished his Coke. “That’s okay,” he said. “I gotta go.”

“Is that a yes or a no?” asked Lemon. She slam-dunked a ball of paper napkins into the trashcan.

“I’m not going either,” Maureen said. “I’m tired.”

“Women are always tired,” said Mr. Hixon. Looking at his profile, Drew suddenly saw that Mr. Hixon was once a teenager. That is, if he’d turned around in study hall and saw that profile, he wouldn’t be surprised. Love beads peeked out of Mr. Hixon’s collar. “Let’s go,” he commanded Lemon. She put on a cowboy hat and a suede jacket.

“Bye,” said Mr. Hixon, waving his arm to Maureen and Drew. Lemon said nothing as she went out the door.

“Bye,” said Drew and Maureen. When the Hixons were gone, Drew and Maureen looked at each other and started to laugh. Drew felt lighthearted and carefree and completely at ease. He realized that with a woman you just had to have laughter.

He was ready. He took Maureen’s hand. “What does the upstairs of this place look like?” he asked her. “Where’re you gonna hang those curtains?”

“Tell me a secret about yourself,” said Maureen. They lay warmly beneath her pink and brown quilt in the guest room. Unpacked boxes made shadowy shapes around the bed and gave off a cardboardy smell. He wanted to check his watch but he felt too numb and lazy to reach for it on the nightstand.

“A secret? You know some of ‘em now.” He laughed and tumbled her over on her back, but her face stopped him.

“I mean a real secret.”

“Okay.” He took a deep breath, thinking. “I remember everything that happens to me.”

“So do I. In times of stress, things sear in.”

“But I mean EVERYthing! It doesn’t matter how much happens in between or how much time goes by. Nothing ever gets—” he used a word he’d never spoken before—”vague. Like the bluegrass concert, I remember exactly what the people looked like who were sitting next to us, and what the hot dog guy said to me, and I’ll remember those things for a long time. I can remember exactly where everybody sat in my second-grade class. I just don’t forget”

“Then why can’t you play the guitar better?”

“I don’t know.”

“And do you get all A’s? Schoolwork’s mostly memory, isn’t it?”

“I don’t get many A’s.” He moved away from her a little. She seemed suddenly like a teacher. “What’s your secret?”

She laughed. “I know how I’m going to die.”

“How? Are you sick?”

“No. But I know how my life will end.”

“You can’t know that.”

“It happens over and over in a dream. I’m riding in the back of a truck, and there’s a dog with me, like I’ve just gone somewhere, with somebody, to help them pick out a hunting dog. I don’t know who’s driving. It’s dark and it’s fall, and the air smells great, and then it’s like I can see this happen from way up above the road: the truck drives under this overpass, which is real low, so low that because I’m tall and I’m standing up, my head smashes right into it, and I die. Blood shoots out like berries.”

“Then don’t ever ride in the back of a truck! Don’t ever get in a truck with a dog! For God’s sake!” He sat up, curling a pillow into his stomach, his hands on her shoulders. She raised her pointed eyebrows at him.

“It’s my insurance. If things ever get too bad, I’ll set it up and everybody’ll think it’s an accident.” She got out of bed, went to the window, lit a cigarette, and blew smoke through the screen. She was naked; her white skin glowed in the late sunshine. “But you’ll know.”

“It’s just a dream,” Drew said.

“And dreams are my science.”

He thought of the roads around Manassas, the old ones in the woods near the battlefield, with their bridges and cutoffs, and wondered if she had one in mind. “My dad says heaven’s like the battlefield park.”

Her pursed lips, blowing smoke, whistled like a train. “That’s sweet.”

“My dad’s real sick, Maureen.” He never talked about it with anybody, but suddenly he wanted to talk about it with her. He opened his mouth to go on, but she interrupted.

“Sick? I’ll tell you about sick. My husband was sick in the head.” Her face went suddenly ugly, her upper lip curled out of shape. She came back to the bed and lay down stiffly, as if her muscles hurt. “He used to beat me up. He was crazy. He set a church on fire and then a school. I moved across three states to get away from him!”

He was almost angry at her. He felt she had slighted the news of his father’s illness. She hadn’t seemed to take it in at all. But her face was so troubled that he prompted, “What happened to him?”

“He’s dead. I didn’t hear from him for a long time, and then the police called me and said they’d found these bones underneath a tree with a rope on it. It was him. He’d hanged himself and hung there so long he’d rotted. And nobody ever found him till all that was left of him was bones.” Her voice was harsh. She sucked on the cigarette so hard he thought she would eat it.

The overpass story had made him respond, but that was a dream and this was real. He didn’t know what to say. He reached out and stroked her hair; there were a few grays in it. She was old: 27?

They heard the front door open. The Hixons were home.

“Oh, no!” cried Drew, leaping out of bed and scrambling for his jeans. Maureen laughed, relaxing again, pushing the quilt back with long white legs.

“They don’t care,” she said.

“Lemon doesn’t like me,” said Drew.

Maureen stood up and shimmied into a shiny blue slip. “They’re not part of this anymore. Now it’s just us.”

At supper, his father pointed to the earring. “What’s this?”

“All the guys are gettin’ ‘em,” Drew mumbled.

“Did it hurt?”

“No.”

“I got somethin’ new today, too,” said his father. He pulled himself around in his chair and held up his legs, encased in high, shiny leather boots. Drew stared. His father never bought anything that expensive.

“Aren’t they nice?” his mother said. “They look just like cavalry boots.”

“They’ll last me on my march into the next world,” said his father.

His mother laid her fork down into her macaroni and pressed her fingertips to her temples. She said softly, “Don’t you think it could just be cat scratch fever? Doctors can be wrong. Please don’t sound so—ready.”

“They wouldn’t be wrong this long,” his father said. “It’s not any cat fever. It’s leukemia. Everybody’s got to go sometime.”

“I talked with the preacher again today,” his mother said. “He told me God’s testing me for some reason.”

“All preachers say that, no matter what the problem is,” his father said matter of factly. “It’s supposed to make you feel mysterious and important all at once, and the preacher gets the credit. I hate preachers! Their view of life is so dern dark.”

“Well, I can TRY to feel better, can’t I?” said his mother. She pushed her plate away. “Don’t give me any more of that crap about everybody’s got to go, or your number coming up, or the odds of me getting hit by a truck being as bad as you getting sick. It’s bad enough knowing I’ll never be happy again.”

Drew rearranged the meatloaf on his plate. “What did we used to talk about?” he asked. “Just this afternoon I told somebody I could remember everything, but I can’t.”

They started at him. His father said, “Like before I got sick?”

“Yeah. Like what did we used to talk about?”

“Come on, let’s go for a walk,” his father said.

On the battlefield—where during the day his father was a park ranger—a few tourists pitted their cameras against the ebbing daylight. Drew and his father walked around the edge of the woods and went down to Bull Run. The little bridge arched above them. They could hear a few children shouting behind the trees and the traffic whispering far off on Route 66 but other than that it was quiet. The creek made a steady meditating sound like thinking out loud. A bullfrog sprang into it.

Drew’s father leaned down and plucked an aluminum can from between the rocks.

Drew said, “Except for litter and stuff, whenever I’m out here I don’t think about now. I can almost forget there’s school and the mall and movies and TV.”

His father caught him by the shoulders so they stood face to face. His features looked small and angry and pushed together. “What about pot? Do you forget about that too?” He hit Drew hard across the face. “I smelled it on your clothes. Damn it, Drew, I’da thought you’d be smart enough not to fool with that stuff. And here you go smokin’ pot and puttin’ an earring in your ear. Where’s your guitar, anyway?”

“My guitar?”

“You didn’t bring it home with you from your lesson. Did you go to that guitar lesson or what?”

“Yeah, I went. I must’ve left it at the Hixons’.” He’d forgotten the guitar completely. His cheek hurt. Yet he didn’t resent the slap. He realized, with complete clarity, that he welcomed it. For so many months his father had been jolly and even-tempered about dying, it was a relief to see him mad again, to make him react. Maybe if he got mad enough he wouldn’t die.

“I’ve smoked lots of pot,” Drew said. “You just never caught me before.”

For an instant there was combat in his father’s brown eyes but then the affability came back. “You’ve got to be reliable, Drew. By nature, I ain’t the reliable type, but I learned how to be. As you grow up you’ll start to have more and more of a private life, but there always has to be something for your mother to rely on.”

“I don’t know what to say to Mom when she’s upset.”

“And you won’t know what to say to her when I’m dead, either. All we can do is be brave.”

They climbed up the short bank to the bridge, their feet stirring the thick red dust. “Brave, this was brave,” his father said. “Or practical, at least: the Yanks at Cold Harbor. That morning in June, they knew it’d be big, knew we’d beat ‘em bad. So they pinned pieces of paper to their uniforms with their names and addresses on ‘em. Made identification easier. I admire that: if you absolutely can’t change something, just get ready for it.”

Drew had grown up with the Civil War: he remembered the centennial reenactment of the battle of Manassas, when his father had donned a gray uniform and borrowed a big chestnut gelding and ridden off to war. Drew was about five. He and his mother worked their way through the crowd of spectators to see the clashing lines of soldiers. The men were firing blanks but still the fumes were harsh and acrid and Drew tasted the smoke on his tongue. His ears drummed from the yells and cannonfire. It sounded like real guns and artillery. The horses, their forelegs cycling in the air, certainly believed it was war. His mother had kept pointing to the melee and saying, “There’s your father! No, I guess not.” Drew had been surprised, that day in 1961, that the grass was green, the sky blue, instead of the foreboding half-tones of the old photographs, where even summer landscapes looked always pocked with fine snow.

Now he said, “I don’t want to talk about people getting blown up and shot.”

His father brushed this off. “You don’t just learn stories, you inherit ‘em. When I’m in a battle reenactment, I know things I got no way on earth of knowing, and all I can figure is they’re memories in my genes. I was bom old. It’s been a fine life.”

Drew wanted to cry, Can’t you get well, Dad? Can’t you fight it, can’t you try? His father was slipping away from him even as they stood there.

His father took a Jew’s harp from his pocket and held it to his lips, twanging out a tune. When he was finished, he jabbed the heel of a new boot into the dust on the bridge. “I hope my patch of heaven is half this pretty.”

Drew blurted, “I met a woman who knows how she’s going to die. Her head’s gonna smash against an overpass.” He was horrified that he had revealed this. His tongue was a tripwire. But he knew why he’d said it: he was still trying to provoke his father into giving death a big black eye.

His father looked tired, but he laughed. “She was just trying to impress you. Girls do that same as guys.”

As they headed home, Drew’s thoughts stayed on Maureen. The thing was, he believed her. She did know how she was going to die. And that story about her husband: that was her history, her battle.

Her cinnamon cologne came back to him, her skin and her touch. He realized that he didn’t want to see her again. It wasn’t her fault about her husband or her death dream, he told himself. But he couldn’t stand it. A rope, she’d said, a rope with bones beneath it. He was fascinated, but it made him sick.

He heard the children playing in the woods behind the battlefield, their cries growing fainter, and he longed to join them. He didn’t want to take lessons with Nate Hixon anymore. He dreaded going back for his guitar.

It was dusk when they got home. His mother was in the kitchen eating the supper that she had been too upset to eat earlier. She wiped her mouth on a paper napkin and said, “There were two surprises. Two visitors.”

“Who?” Drew asked.

“The preacher came by,” she said, trying to look upbeat. “He brought all the Easter lilies that were left over from last month. We put them on the back porch. They’re so pretty. He was trying to cheer me up. Wasn’t that nice?”

All three of them went to the back porch and she opened the door and waved a hand over the lilies. There were a dozen, tall, creamy, and wilted in their pink foil-covered pots. They gave off a powerful perfume. Grouped together on the porch, they made a presence: instinctively Drew recoiled. Behind him his father stiffened.

“Funeral flowers!” his father whispered. His eyes were round and his mustache pulled back to show all his teeth.

“No, honey, just flowers,” cried his mother.

“I ain’t dead yet!” It was a scream. His father’s face contorted as if he saw a terrible vision. “I know that’s how it’ll BE, but I ain’t dead yet!”

“They’re nothing, they’re just flowers,” his mother wept. “They don’t mean anything.”

“Get ‘em out of here,” his father said. His mother bent awkwardly to obey, but the pots were too heavy and they resisted when she tried to lift them.

“I’ll do it,” Drew said. Behind him he heard his father start to cry. It was horrible, a beaten ferocious groan, tearing Drew’s heart out. Yet he knew a wild and urgent hope—his father was fighting death, death might surrender. His father’s new boots hit the floor hard as he plunged out of the room and up the stairs.

Drew turned back to the plants. Their scent swept into his eyes, his hair. Distractedly his mother touched his shoulder. Her wet eyes wavered over his. Her bare hand, on his bare arm, was damp from the tears she had brushed off her cheeks. “Here, Drew, Mr. Hixon brought this by for you.”

His guitar. He took it from her. She hurried after his father, her sobs muffled as she climbed the stairs. After awhile the house was quiet.

He stood holding the guitar in his hands. He couldn’t remember how to play anything on it, not one song. He laid it in a closet that wasn’t used very much and closed the door softly and firmly as if shutting off an insistent voice. There was relief in putting it away. Death surrounded him as close and personal as the blanket that the two women had thrown over his head. He would fight it. If he got sick, he would shriek until the sickness went away. . .if he were a cornered Yankee at Cold Harbor he wouldn’t have put a nametag on himself, he’d’ve lived, he’d’ve come out of the gunfire whole and strong. . . .

That night when he lay down on his bed and closed his eyes, the new earring pressed into his skin, keeping sleep at bay, keeping him awake, until he pulled it out and cast it into the darkness.

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