If We’re Lucky, We Get to Say Goodbye

Fingertips scrabbled at rock on the inside of the crater. My fingernails were bloody and my toes ached, struggling to support weight on a ledge just wide enough for the balls of my feet. Putting the pain of the effort aside, I dug my fingers in, feeling new fissures open in the skin, dug my toes in, and heaved myself over the side.

I was breathing heavily, hands to the side of my head, leaving bloody streaks as if I wore a crown of thorns. The ground up here was no more forgiving than the walls had been; I could feel my ass bleeding along with the rest of me as I scooched farther from the edge. I had dropped into that void once and had no desire to plunge like a stone into its nothingness again.

Memories zipped through my brain like darting minnows of shiny destruction. Headlights flashing; hydroplaning across a wet road; over-correcting the steering wheel; Nick screaming as the car flips; Nick scarily silent as the car cuts a swathe of destruction through trees, plunging off the freeway, spinning in circles on it’s roof. Me, oddly silent, as we teeter to a stop nose first in a shallow creek bed. The odd silence continuing, even after I shake off enough of the daze to call Nick’s name, or try to. Turning my head, terrifyingly slow, towards the back of the car…

My head snapped up so quickly that it felt like a giant rubber band being twanged. “No! No, you motherfuckers!” I didn’t know where I was, why or how I was, I didn’t know what in the hell was going on, but I knew that Nick wasn’t here, couldn’t be here. I had seen his staring eyes, and the strange cant of his little head, flopping from his neck.

I cried then, big fat tears that burned like sulfur. Nicky was gone and I was here, bloody and broken, on the ground. I felt detached, had no burning desire for answers. I sat, and bled, and cried. So disconnected I heard nothing, had no warning, before a skeletal hand descended to my shoulder. Not skeletal as a descriptor, skinny and crone-like, but skeletal as in fleshless distal phalanges curled into my collarbone.

With a sense of deja vu, I turned my head slowly and looked behind me, up and up, tracking from pelvic bone to spine to skull. A distant part of my brain whispered, with an almost religious hush, ‘My god, it’s beautiful.’

It was beautiful; in my disassociated state, I could appreciate the whorls of color that decorated its leg bones, the flowers painted on its ribs, the jewel like studs that surrounded empty eye sockets. No fear as it released me, hand clacking as it made a universal gesture for ‘follow me’. It cupped my elbow and helped me up, slid down my arm until our fingers linked, pulled me forward.

As I picked out footing on the uneven ground, trying to keep pace with the long strides of my guide, lightness imbued its steps and it skipped towards our mysterious destination. I ran to keep up, clinging to its arm now, steps turning into a dance that spun us towards the incongruous sound of music which reached out and swirled around my mind, so that I was almost laughing as we turned a corner that I had not seen until we were upon it.

In a clearing that opened to a cavernous ceiling, sunlight streamed down upon the altar that sat in the middle of a group of giggling children good-naturedly shoving each other as they grabbed for the most outrageously decorated coffins and skulls from the piles that littered stone shelves.

‘Mom!’ A brown headed bullet launched itself from the candy fray and tore towards me across grass so green it was almost iridescent. Nick hit my middle with a force that squeezed an ‘oof’ out of me, and wrapped his arms around my waist. He grinned up at me, eyes dancing, and tightened his grip til I had to protest. ‘Wait, you’re not dead, I saw you! I was leaving, but you were there still, you were crying, you were alive, I saw you!’

He started to pull away, to scrutinize me from a distance, but I grabbed onto him and pulled him back to me. ‘No, Nicky, no, I’m not dead.’ I stroked his fine hair off his forehead. ‘We’re just being given a chance to say good-bye.’


I remember being a kid, maybe 10, and reading Stephen King’s ‘Pet Semetary’. I thought then that one of the things that I would have to learn to do to be a great writer (at that age, King was the pinnacle of authors to me) would be learning to delve into the things that are the most painful, and not be afraid to compromise my own emotions to get to the truth and honesty of the matter. In this case, to imagine the death of a child, especially when you have your own, seemed like one of the hardest things you’d ever try to write. This is proving very true for me, as I almost feel like I’m jinxing myself, which fits in with the superstitious but still somehow Dia de los Muertos. I’ve always been kind of fascinated with this particular celebration, as evidenced by the necklace I just happen to be wearing right now…

Bull dog

This was written for the 4th prompt from Grammar Ghoul Press: we were given a word prompt, void, and a really cool short film as our visual/media prompt. Click the adorable little badge at the top of this post to visit their site, read some truly fantastic writing, join in, vote, what have you. Go here to watch the award winning short film by Whoo Kazoo, Dia de los Muertos – it’s really an awesome little piece of work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCQnUuq-TEE#action=share

Categories: Fiction | Tags: , , , | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “If We’re Lucky, We Get to Say Goodbye

  1. Well, you hit me right in the solar plexus when I realized Nick was her son. Pretty much my worst nightmare. And I know exactly what you mean about feeling like you’re jinxing yourself – some subjects are like that.

    I love the descriptions in this is, especially at the beginning. I could feel all her scrapes and how raw she was.

    • Right?! It’s so hard to write something like that, because as soon as I start to try to delve into the emotion of it, I just feel like gross sobbing and hugging my kid til he yells at me for being a weirdo and to please get off him 😉 Well, good, I’m really glad that it came across. The rawness I mean, because I figure it has to mirror the rawness of her insides before the reality hits her.

  2. Very well written hooked me right away and kept me on the edge of my seat all the way to the end. I came away from this with a sense of hope. Glad that they were given a chance to say goodbye. The story is heart wrenching but the compassion it exposes gives me hope.
    Great story!

    • I’m so happy to hear that you heard the hope I wanted to show at the end. I don’t think there’s anyone who has ever lost someone that didn’t want just that one more moment, so even in fiction, it made me feel, um, calmer I guess, to give them an uptick at the end. So glad that you enjoyed it!

  3. Very well written. I can’t imagine writing about the death of a child. I have two daughters. I have seen so many parents lose their children to car wrecks, overdoses, and so on, from family members, to friends.
    This had to be difficult to say the least. This holiday has intrigued me as well. I actually didn’t know about it until this challenge, but I love learning new traditions. A chance to say goodbye is a miracle.

    • Thank you very much, I’m glad that you enjoyed it. My son lost two friends about a year apart to hit and run accidents, and that knocked me for such a loop – I had to explain to him that he was going to have to put up with extra worry on my end for awhile, and he was just going to have to accept it and check in more often than he was used to. I’m still trying to practice writing about hard things without letting my emotions get the best of me, and I do alright. Until I get to kids…

  4. E.W. Storch

    Dammit, Potts! It’s too early in the morning for crying! *blubber*

  5. “Memories zipped through my brain like darting minnows of shiny destruction.” I liked that line. But, oh dear, that is sad. It’s been a tragic morning for me; I listened a particularly sad chapter in Les Miserables earlier, and now you. Darnit.

    • Ha, I pulled that line directly from a description I tried to give someone while trying to explain why I’m occasionally plagued with insomnia, so it’s awesome that you enjoyed it. Damn intrusive thoughts…Les Mis?!?! Dude, I listen to that ALL THE TIME, like since I was in high school, and it can still make me tear up.

      • I will admit, I teared up when *spoiler* Eponine died. Her last line, “And then, you see, Monsieur Marius, I think I was a little bit in love with you…” 😦

  6. Oh my gosh – you are far braver than I, my dear. Nicely done, heart-wrenching story. My favorite line is the same as Michael’s; love the darting minnows of shining destruction.

  7. I wish I could take that compliment, but I veered away from the ending I was originally going for because my fingers went NOPE, not going there (mostly because I started to tear up and couldn’t see the screen). But thank you for it, nonetheless, and thank you as always for reading and letting me know what you thought. I’m so glad that you dug that line as well.

  8. I was glad they did get to say goodbye, this was a very moving story. The flashback descriptions were my favourite. ‘the car cuts a swathe of destruction’ Well done.

    • I always love hearing about what resonates with different readers – it’s a good way to keep an eye on where you need improvement and where you’re on the right track, plus it’s a good reminder that you can’t try to write for everyone. Thank you very much, for taking the time to read what I write and to let me know what you think of it. It’s always appreciated, truly.

  9. I liked how you kept shifting the tone of the story, not letting the reader get settled and secure about what was coming next. In this context, I particularly enjoyed the strangely joyous danse macabre with the skeleton – it almost seemed to suggest a “happy” ending…

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