May 15, 2008

Sketch 2

With his mother’s sharpened sewing scissors, Rat Carter knelt close to the headstone and trimmed each blade of grass around it, where the mower missed. Long black hair stuck out from his head and brushed the stone, engraved with the name “Ralph James Johnson” and a short memorial about his happy life before they left for Vietnam, which Rat had memorized long ago. His swollen fingers barely fit into the holes of the scissors, but he had persistently cut the grass around eight other graves that afternoon. Ralph’s would be the last, as the sun had nearly disappeared from the horizon. Dried sweat glazed over his pale skin. When he finished, he crawled in a circle around the stone and clipped any loose blades.

“Looking good there, Private Johnson. Don’t the rest of you fellows worry, I’ll get to you fellows tomorrow. Now, you know the way it is. I was just going in order, there was no favoritism in the decision.” Rat brushed his forehead with a bare arm then rolled the sleeves of his white t-shirt down to his wrists. He meandered over to the old oak tree and looked out over the entire cemetery.

From his pocket, Rat pulled a half-full silver flask, unscrewed the lid, and clutched the nozzle between his thin yellow teeth. He let go and put both his hands in the back pockets of his jeans. His head jerked back a few times and quick bursts of pure whiskey splashed down his throat.

“Don’t worry, I’m going to share. You just have to hold your horses, that’s all. I promise, I’ve got plenty and we’ve got time,” Rat said, his mouth twisted into a half smile. He took one more slow drink then fumbled over to the nearest grave and turned the flask upside down. A splash of Brandy soaked soil around the headstone and he headed to the next grave. He continued down the row, even when the flask was empty.

“Taste good, don’t it? I knew that’s just what we needed after a day like today. Phil, you know, my new boss wanted me to work a double shift at the gas station today because Tara, thought she was going into labor. I told him I couldn’t so I could visit you guys.”

Rat turned to leave through the gate and felt something move between his legs. He could see a black cat by the white moonlight and cursed.

“You made my guts turn over, you fucking cat, now get out of here. We don’t need any of your goddamn bad luck around here, you understand me? So get the hell out.” The cat sat still, and then pranced further into the cemetery.

“I’m serious, get out or else. I won’t leave here until you do, and all my buddies are waiting for me at the bar. Tonight Crazy Al and R.J. Johnson are going to be there and they don’t like it when I’m late, so get.”

The cat stopped on top of a gravestone and stared at Rat with its green eyes. He watched the cat, which had lifted its hind and spray warm urine against the stone. Rat leapt at the black cat, but before he could catch it, the cat shot into the dark. He dropped to the ground and wiped the liquid from inside the letters “Albert Lee Smith” with the bottom of his shirt while tears slipped around the prickly stubble on his chin.

Laura Miller

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