Ronnie was all over the street, in bits and pieces. He’d skipped school again for the zillionth time, but never in an ice storm, never feeling so low.
Ronnie was an angry boy, mostly, can’t say that I blamed him. He’d arrive at school with duce shiners and unwanted cigarette burns, black piano keys, up and down his arms, each crater out of tune. Rarely did we see him eat the free food in the cafeteria? Too, we never observed him remove a smashed jam sandwich from a crumpled paper bag out of his book pack.
They all said it was an accident, all the lookie-loos. I wasn’t convinced. After all, I’d read about the Overtoun Bridge over there in Dumbarton, Scotland. Since the crazy ’60s, hundreds of dogs had taken the plunge. The local’s guessed the granite arched crossing had some doggie death wish built into its gothic architecture.
Some roadways are like that too, complex in direction. Though most go somewhere, and insist on taking us places, others are dead ends.
Ronnie showed up again, in his teens, at a funeral, one of those too common high school burials in late December. Bobby had been a mutual friend. He was an unbuckled passenger in a drunk driver car accident that skids off the road into a Paul Bunyan sized ponderosa pine tree. Paul didn’t budge.
Near the grave hole, Ronnie cuffed the back of my collar, shoved me forward as if he wanted me in. He and the wind had conspired. The casket had been suspended on a lowering mechanism, just like the one they use at the yearly circus to cut a man in half. Ronnie must have been furious that day. How could I not remember him too?
The years folded, one over the other. I’d gotten older, turned twenty one. I was graduating from college. Jesus there was Ronnie in the back row of folding chairs. I was readying myself to walk up and get my Master’s diploma. Ronnie had barely moved, as far as I’d noticed, out there almost out of view. As I stood up and smiled he grimaced. He watched dressed in two black eyes and a broken nose. After I’d wrestled the scroll from the vice-grip hands of the anal-retentive Dean of Education, I headed down the stage steps. I scanned the celebratory crowd again and noticed Ronnie had gone. I can’t say that I missed him much that day.
A week later, he telephoned. I know damned well it was him. There, on the other end hiding behind all that black silence. He revealed himself as an unknown caller number. He pulsed and flickered the hand held’s digital numbers. I know his sarcasm. He’d said, “So what’s the big deal egg-head?”
I had some relief over the years. But, he always showed up when he sensed my insecurities, any time I was in doubt about something. The next time he spoke to me was in the late hours of my honeymoon. “You got yourself good and drunk, my man, suck it up. Get it up, buttercup. She’s expecting wood,” He’d said. She was disappointed. How could I blame it on a damned ghost?
My firstborn was an earthquake. Anxiety fumed out of cracks. Fatherhood wasn’t a word I was ready to try on for size. Hell, I was struggling with being human, how to forgive others and myself.
Close friends hammered me, “Dude, you’ve gone and done it now. Now you’ve got one of those eighteen-year jail sentences on your hands.” Of course, they meant it to be funny and didn’t say it to be mean. After all, a few of them had children of their own. I’d observed their shared kindness and love. I certainly didn’t consider having a child as a burden. It was more about testing my metal. But as usual, Ronnie chimed in, “Actually Jack, freedom is the one thing you will never enjoy again. Join the club, silly boy.”
Ronnie wasn’t there that dark day in court when the judge finalized our divorce. I wasn’t in the mood for any of his bullshit for one thing. He’d never supported me once, anyway.
I was concerned, he’d typically shown up when things went off the rails, and they had gone way off the rails this time. I guess everyone needs time off now and again? I wondered, almost out loud, if Ronnie somehow sensed that I was growing a spine, finding some sort of emotional footing? That night, I cried and howled so deep, I blew snot bubbles out of my nose. Sleep calved icebergs in front of Titanic’s.
On the way to work the next day in near darkness, Ronnie spoke from the blind spot in the back seat. “Blew your marriage, too, great job my man.”
“Fuck you, Ronnie,” I’d said, but only in my head.
Ronnie pushed his luck again that night after I’d finished work and run in the park. I’d come an eyelash away from answering him, giving in. His voice was full of knives and poison. I thought of telling him I’d grown tired of hearing from the S.O.B., all the gnawing away at my humanity. What had I done? I still felt sorry for Ronnie though.
I was twelve on the day of the accident. I watched all the blurry, wet commotion from the family room picture window. We lived in a small mill town, so one fire truck and an ambulance were all the excitement the city could afford. The police, the yellow crime tape, existed out there in the storm, in my icy, super widescreen reality T.V. I heard wolves whaling or a woman at the end of a long funnel of the pavement, just out of view. It was an ungodly and unworldly sound, one that sent chills up my spine. The Tragedy Channels free programming lasted about two hours, commercial-free though, unless you count the cleanup crew’s advertising on the side of the utility van.
I couldn’t sleep all night, the not knowing why. The next day, my older sister and I found parts of Ronnie the hazmat crew had missed, the tip of an ear, de-gloved skin of a hand, brain matter that didn’t matter anymore. I know it sounds gross, but it’s all true. There was barely enough left of Ronnie to feel sorry for him, even with all the iced-over blood in the gravel. It was a cold horror show I couldn’t help but watch.
Torn pages out of a schoolbook, road rash homework flapped, and flagged sticky under a frozen rock, where someone who had children placed it. Most of Ronnie’s cranial senses were there, including his shattered glasses. Careless fodder overlooked by the next town over’s hazmat team. I felt guilty for something way the hell out of my control.
I don’t want to bore you, but Ronnie was there when my shed caught fire. The fire had attempted to walk across the redwood awning that connected the house. Kind neighbors helped me battle the blaze with a few garden hoses, at least until the fire department arrived. Ronnie had said something about how it was my fault, which it wasn’t. He chuckled at my loss.
How can I forget, about one year later, I drove up north to say my final goodbye’s to my father. I took my grown son. I explained to my son how my father’s time had arrived. That’s an evening I will never forget. He was staring up at Elvis on the ceiling and dying. Ronnie showed up.
In my imaginary heaven, Elvis had learned how to croon from the ceiling somehow. Dad must have caught a wormhole. He gently swayed his head side to side. I imagined him looping Elvis’s, “a hunk, a hunk of burning love,” from somewhere above.
Much later, I watched as the Death Doula tapped the digital time on her Apple Watch. She kept a terse rhythm. The watch was purple as I recall. I recalled how she smiled when it vibrated against her boney wrist, and after, how she’d straightened her shoulders up against the high back chair. How in a voice fit for an ice-queen, she instructed us all, “Once he’s delivered, the funeral director will assist you in bathing and grooming the nearly deceased.”
She’d already forgotten his name before he’d gone.
After a few minutes of silence, she stood as stiff as a statue, clacked her lacquered boots, and left us in silence. She made it clear she was in complete control. After she’d left, time grew death as fast as dandelions.
After the bedroom was fat with quiet, I got up and slammed the laced window shut. Not only had it turned icy cold in the room, but also father’s melody had stilled the curtains, had left us all. His invisible music staff had buckled, his spirit, unable to hold the remaining hyaline notes of his song. Ronnie practically shouted,” I never liked the old bastard myself.”
Jim Morrison’s song, Winter Time Love, blew cold thoughts into my mind. The icy fog had come all the way from his graveyard in France. Somehow my newly earned silence had become my very own. I felt grounded. I was an orphan. Outside in the building darkness, fits and gusts of wind insisted on turning maple leaves into scrappy crepe paper feathers and palm-sized leaf guiro’s. For some odd reason, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of peace and serenity. It had been given to me as a mystical gift.
From now on, I thought, I was going to be my own father, my own man, fears, and all.
In yellow galoshes and wearing a yellow raincoat, Ronnie was playing hooky from school, the day the bus slid around the corner. The road was an ice sled over sheets of rain. He was struck and dragged the length of a football field under the yellow school buses monolithic weight. The horrible accident was no one’s fault, except for maybe his parents.
They have been dead for years, now.
Father had said it was an accident. After all, a government man with a long title––Accident Reconstruction Specialist, had written it so. A dead child was jay-walking, and that’s not a crime.
In the future, I committed to letting Ronnie free. We’d come to an unspoken agreement, or so it felt, because we didn’t need each other anymore. “Shit happens, I would have said if he were real, my imaginary friend. I’m so sorry I would have said, but I’m a good person. Pathos doesn’t have to be an anchor over my shoulder the balance of my life.
Goodbye, Ronnie, love you, I would have said.
Tomorrow, my thinking will be less cloudy, tight as a shadow in a midnight glove, not a guilt charade for the living. I’ll command Ronnie into all his Mardi Gras tomorrows, where he can hide behind all those Fat Tuesday plague masks.
About the Author
Dan Cardoza’s poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared, or soon will appear in Apple in the Dark, Aphelion, BlazeVOX, Bull, Cleaver, Coffin Bell, Door=Jar, Entropy, Dark City Magazine, Gravel, O: JA&L/Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, Lowestoft Chronicles, Mystery Tribune, New Flash Fiction Review, Poetry Northwest, Spelk, Your Impossible Voice. Coffin Bell has nominated Dan for the Best of the Net Anthology, 2020. To view more of his work click below.