Donny stared vacantly at his estranged uncle Lorenzo.
He noticed how makeup had tried to mask his uncle’s dark-skinned goateed face. It looked made of candle wax.
Donny was in this same position last week, peering down at his uncle, but not in a funeral home. It was in the backyard of his childhood home on Bluegrass, where Lorenzo had once downed brisket and beer at barbecues.
In the vision, Donny’s uncle had sat upright, clear fluids dripping from his wide nose. He Medusa-stared directly at young Donny, horrified.
“C’mere and shake your uncle’s hand, hijto,” Lorenzo had said. “Be a good boy, respect your ol’ uncle in all his shining glory.”
Donny walked away from the body, toward the exit. Before he left, he turned around to face him one last time. The man who was away so long, discussed behind closed doors so much he’d plunged himself into their minds like a sharpened stake.
Donny’s heart pounded furiously. He felt as if the beats in his throat came from a bongo. But there wasn’t music. He jammed the nails of his pointer fingers into the fleshy bottoms of his thumbs, half expecting something to happen.
Later, after Donny had swallowed an Ambien and was under the covers, he was certain he’d seen his fingers wriggle. Eyelids flicker. Adam’s apple bob. Alive.
He understood from experience that these convictions would soon pass, two days’ time. They were tropical storms, these foolish delusions—unruly, spiraling, then gone before he knew it. It was the stuff between cyclones, the supremely real center, that kept him unsure if the plane that carried his weight had existed on its own accord, or perhaps on the agenda of something so ancient and foreign that to dwell on it was to beg for its slow crawl, arrival, destruction of naïve order.
A terrible burden for anyone to carry before bed.
Close your eyes, Donny. Sleep tight. Let the waves wash over you, this time of healing. The dead remain silent. Tomorrow the world will be merciless. You’ll remember its pain. It’s the living who wail when they’re awake.
A flash fiction story by Alex Z. Salinas