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Funerals for Horses(9)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

In the morning he sat us down, said our mother had a sickness that didn’t show. Didn’t show, I thought. You don’t spend much time around here. But I maintained a measured silence.

We were not invited to come along for the ride.

Uncle Manny—big, hearty, unflappable Uncle Manny—came to stay with us while our father flew home to pack and ship his belongings.

While we waited, we bundled and hauled stacks of sports sections to the front yard. If we had cared to, we could have stacked them high enough to obscure the house from the street, but we only made a series of loose mounds, which happy Boy Scouts dragged away.

Simon and I moved into a common room in the attic, because my father felt comfortable in the privacy afforded by owning the entire second floor.

We’d lie in bed at night and wonder aloud about the safety, indeed the purpose, of asking where our mother had been taken, and whether or not visits could be arranged.

DeeDee said we should be smart for a change, and ask no questions at all. In just a matter of weeks, our new way of life sketched itself out in painful detail, leaving no room for confusion. We decided without prearrangement that DeeDee’s opinions were the most solid of the three, and should be accepted as a tiebreaker, or in any situation in which stress or doubt might cloud our limited, living vision.

Our father installed a lock on the outside of the attic door to assure we would not stumble downstairs after lights out.

Night after night we collected auditory data.

The front door opening and closing long after midnight, too many times a night. Voices, always strange, never overlapping. Three, four, five new voices all at once. Sounds—human, we assumed, though some frighteningly close to the border between human and animal, between pleasure and pain. Laughter. Bed springs. Or couch springs. A gentle trying of our door. Because, you see, our father had installed a real deadbolt, not just a hook on the outside of the door, but a lock that we could not open from the inside, and that no one on the outside could open, except our father with his key.

“Well, Ella,” Simon said one night, “you said you wanted everything to change.”

As is so often the case, by the time I realized that my wish had been answered, it was far too late for retraction.

THE EVE OF SETTING OFF

In a dusty corner of a defunct service station, near a wall of treadless tires, I phone Raphael from a phone booth out of sight and earshot of every living thing except me—and the pieces of people I’ve carried along.

“Ella.” His voice clarifies my reasons for calling. “I didn’t think I’d hear from you again.”

“Well, you might not,” I say. “After this.”

I want to tell him that my new earth is dry, the sky too wide. I want to tell him I know what I have to do now, but it’s hard. Because I can’t take any comfort with me, not even my friendly old truck, which is why I need the comfort of his voice on the eve of setting off.

Instead I say, “I’ve decided Simon’s alive.” I don’t know that he is, I’ve simply decided it, and I’m sure Raphael hears that in my voice, although he knows me well enough to guess it. “I’ve decided he walked out of this place on his own feet.”

“Naked?”

“Naked? I don’t know. Maybe. Or in a change of clothes.” Raphael doesn’t ask why my brother would do that, which is a blessing, because there’s no reason I can offer. Still, I’ve decided.

For a moment Raphael asks nothing at all, and I watch the hot wind swirl a weak dust devil in the brown, empty soil of nowhere.

Then he says, “So what will you do?”

“I’ll start walking,” I say, as if it’s so simple I can’t imagine the need to spell it out.

“Good luck,” he says, but I hear what he doesn’t say, too. Still, you can’t judge a man by what he doesn’t say, even if you can hear it.

“I love you, Raphael.”

“I know that. I never doubted that, Ella.”

I touch the phone lightly back to its receiver, as if afraid of a spark at contact.

I climb into the old truck for the last time and head into the dusk. Before I park it one final time, I wish it a good life. I wish for it to be stolen by someone who needs it, and I leave the keys.

I take only the pocketknife that Simon gave me when I was eleven, a sleeping bag with one change of clothes rolled inside, toothbrush, comb, a small picture of Simon, and all the money I own. I also bring Simon, a piece of Sarah, DeeDee, and what’s left of myself, but these things don’t weigh me down.

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