A Long Day at the End of the World

Brent Hendricks

FSG Originals

1
 

I SNAPPED OFF THE CARDBOARD BACK of the wooden triangle and took it out. A slight musty smell rose from my hands, filled as they were with a thing that had been locked up for several years now. Dusty stars clung to my fingers while lines of color tumbled across the floor. Maybe you started with the stripes, I thought, kneeling down inside the four corners. Maybe it was mostly luck—luck and accumulation—like folding a map. Even halfway through I felt lucky, turning a quick corner into three points like a child making paper triangles. But reaching the end, I saw the same old picture again: my last rows twisted and dangling beneath a field of stars.
I wondered if I should try once more. Wasn’t it a matter of simple geometry—easy crease and tuck like the soldiers did on TV? Yet I had failed every time I had tried to fold it. Over and over, I’d felt compelled to correct the improperly shaped thing in its cheap display case, and over and over, my efforts had come to bad ends.
So I stuffed Old Glory back into its container, blue patch of stars jutting out unevenly against crooked stripes. I hoped the neighbors wouldn’t notice the flag case tucked beneath my arm, because I’d have to explain it. I’d have to say I was taking it—my father’s burial flag—on a little trip, that I was going to carry it with me through the back roads of Alabama on a kind of pilgrimage.
And of course I couldn’t stop there—on the loaded word “pilgrimage”—because they’d only want more. I’d have to say I was setting out on a trip through the low hills of northern Alabama, climbing Lookout Mountain, hoping to descend again into the valley: to the Tri-State Crematory in Noble, Georgia.
But my own bewilderment about the excursion itself, and about that flag, would prevent me from giving a practical description of what had happened at Tri-State. Instead, I’d probably head straight to the big trouble: I’d say, yes, astonishing as it may be, my father had died and his bones had been resurrected. And then those same bones, the bones of my father, had been abandoned at the Tri-State Crematory for five years. The man was dead, rose again, and dwelled among the other dead for a time.
Even in the South, such apocalyptic declarations might overwhelm my devout neighbors. But the story required no articles of faith. My father had died and I had gone to his funeral and he was buried in the ground. I saw him lowered into the red dirt. My father was dead and the doors of his grave flew open and he came again upon the earth.
I would have to tell all that to my neighbors because I didn’t know what else to say. I was setting off to unholy ground, to a field with a lake where hundreds of bodies once lay scattered and alone, hoping that something would happen. For a while I’d lived with an image of my father lying lost at the Tri-State Crematory, and I needed to change it. I needed to take a ride to Tri-State and see where he’d lain those long years. I needed to tell him goodbye, or hello and goodbye, or tell him nothing but that I had tried. I had tried to make amends for his troubled bones.
And I had that flag, wrapped up all crooked and wrong, to prove it.

 
Copyright © 2013 by Brent Hendricks