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Funerals for Horses
Catherine Ryan Hyde

THE GOD OF GROWING UP

My brother Simon was forty-two years old. I pray he still is. I shame and cajole his family into believing with me, but their wicks have burned down, their flames left to flicker, like the light they pretend to leave on in the window for Simon, like their own dwindling lives.

He has been gone two months and four days.

I pray that somehow, somewhere, in presence or absence of pain and fear, he will turn forty-three tomorrow. But it’s hard to reconcile myself to prayer.

As a young girl I decided, in light of prevailing evidence, that a child does not fall under god’s jurisdiction until age eighteen. No one taught me this theory. It was my own carefully researched conclusion. After all, one can’t vote, or fight a war, until that age, and to assume god washes his hands of our affairs until then settled a number of otherwise troubling questions.

In need of a sort of interim god, I adopted Simon, and forgot or similarly refused to switch over, until long past eighteen, until age thirty-six, until the calls came. First from Sarah, his wife, asking if I’d seen him, as he does tend to take off on short notice to visit me. Then the call three days later. They’d found his clothes, all of them. His suit, complete with checkbook, vest, shoes, tie, the whole nine yards. All strewn around a wooded area just below a freight line track in Central California. His jockey shorts and wallet were never found.

Until then I held my life together carefully, if not seamlessly, maintaining a greater degree of sanity than seems my birthright. This is my brother Simon’s doing, and none of my own.

Now, who knows?

Now even Raphael seems concerned about me, and, as Raphael is preparing to die of AIDS, as are all my lovers, his concern troubles me.

If not for other reasons, the deal is that I am to be concerned about him—them—and I dislike role reversals even more than other types of change. It forms a basis of excuse for me to shut Raphael out of my life, if a bit gradually, though we all knew I would when the sickness set in. I never promise them otherwise. I never pretend.

I stay awake until midnight. Now it is Simon’s birthday. Now I have held still too long.

I write a note to my employer, who refused me a leave of absence, though not in so many words. He recited a speech suggesting that a hallmark of maturity is the strength to function in crisis.

I had listened carefully, then continued as if I hadn’t heard, a purposeful validation of his assumptions about me. I am not as unstable as people tend to think, but I allow them their margin for error because it allows me mine.

Now I write seven notes, one to each of my lovers, to use a loosely applicable term. I have never had what one what might call a run-of-the-mill sexual encounter with any one of them, due to their exposure to the virus. But sex is what you make it, and we have always made do. To assume sex must take place within touching distance seems, to me, limited thinking.

I slip the notes into envelopes and label each with a name. Raphael. David. Mark. Carey. Ed. Jonathan. Jamey.

Raphael will find them first, I’ve no doubt, and he might be surprised. Each knows he is not the only one, but perhaps not that he is one of seven. Not that it matters now. This is not promiscuity on my part, not at its roots; more that so few women will make concessions to the HIV-positive male that I am forced to do far more than my share.

Raphael will come by in the morning, I think, and I will be gone. Now that he wears blotches on his forearms, and the rasp clings from his last bout with PCC pneumonia, he diligently insinuates himself into my life. It is a breach of agreement, albeit a silent agreement, and I suppose he feels he must force me to draw his line. He will not bow out with grace as others have done in the past. He will continue to knock, wearing his splotches offset against black jeans and shirt, dark circles, dark haze of beard, dark hair falling into his eyes. Even debilitated, Raphael maintains a Bohemian grace, an odd handsomeness.

His visits will continue until I refuse him or until I am gone, which is to say, there will be one more visit, to no avail. No, I am not hardhearted. I will miss Raphael. More than any of them.

Reverently, I dismantle the shrine-like arrangement of my brother Simon’s photos, a forty-year-old blond child in a business suit.

I picture Raphael watching over my shoulder. If he were here, he’d say, a healthy move, Ella.

I would not tell him I only disturbed the photos because I’ll need them with me on the road, both for solace and as exhibit A.

As I pack, he would say, you’ll never find him.

I would scream at him for that. I would forbid him to ever say I cannot find Simon. I hear the screaming in my head. It sounds like my sister DeeDee, telling me I must never again suggest that Andy is not a real horse. Her hands locked around my throat when she screamed this in real life. I still miss DeeDee.

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