They Get Angry When They Die
by Dawn West
I believe Lenny went down fighting. It’s one of those clichés; we think the people we loved fought for us, itched and licked their cracked lips for us, addicts for drugs. We can smell the chemicals in the air, that ache. Lenny mined coal, anthracite. He didn’t die from it. It was some unrelated cancer.
When he was younger and drunker and sparkled with this kind of amber heat, sometimes he hurt me. No hitting, just spitting on me and squeezing my neck and pushing me, rough-like. One time he left me just outside Akron and I had a miscarriage on the side of the highway. There were deer everywhere, one of them gut-shot and stumbling. He bought us a house after that. It had a cranberry red door and some space for me to start a garden. I gave up after two harvests, back sore from waitressing and making dinner and doing laundry and all that shit women do everywhere. I felt somehow lonelier complaining about it.
“It’s your own fault you can’t handle it,” he said.
“You know I’m working my goddamn ass off down there.”
I neglected changing or turning him a couple times, I’ll admit. He had so much morphine in him he didn’t notice. The night before he died, I played some records for him and smoked a fat joint while he moaned and wheezed softly, a familiar droning. When I sat up to stamp out the roach in his pussy-shaped ashtray, he reached right up and grabbed my wrist. His eyes like that stone coal.
“Lenny?” I bent down and he gripped tighter. He opened and closed his mouth, little caws bubbling up his throat. “Lenny, I know you can hear me. You’re holding me too tight.”
He stared right at me, looking feral.
“God damn it.” I tried to look away and he jerked my arm down, coughing. I let him pull me close to him. His breath smelled like a wet paper bag. “I can’t understand.”
Then, flat as a pancake, he hissed, “I am mad as hell.”
I was the first one to throw a fistful of dirt on his coffin. Some of it got under my fingernails. When I was having a smoke by his new gravestone, I licked my lips and tasted mud. I left him two years before he got sick. My mama said I was the sick one, for coming back to take care of him. My sister Cindy found her dead, face up in bed the next day. Cindy was bringing over fresh brisket and strawberry cake, sucking up for a five hundred dollar loan. I like to think my mama was mad. I like to think she spit in Death’s face on the way.
After Lenny’s funeral I went back to our old house. I couldn’t accept anyone’s invitation to crash before the long drive home. I sat on his dusty front porch and drank his favorite—a six-pack of tall boys. I swayed to the melody of crickets and whatever else was scurrying between those dense acres of trees. I pretended he was with me, swigging a cold one and talking about the mine, rubbing my bare thigh and sniffling. He was on coke pretty bad when I left. I could almost hear him, there in that humid night with me, going on and on.