He tilted his face to the sun and dragged deeply on the fat cigar he’d bought with the bills they’d handed him on his way out the Haven of Rest New Perspectives Center in Bakersfield, CA. Here’s three hundred bucks, asshole; try not to go mental. No one really said this, but they didn’t need to. He knew. The smoke burned like fury all the way to the bottom of his lungs, making him wince.
The sky, a stunning cobalt, stood in stark contrast against the white steeple and the dark green of the ponderosa pines marching their way up and down the mountains surrounding him. Why they’d built a church way up here he’d never known, but he was glad of it. Better to say goodbye someplace nice than back down in that valley, The Valley of the Shadow of Death. He ground the cigar onto the sole of his boot, picked a bit of tobacco from the tip of his tongue, and strode across the graveled lot towards the back shed.
The shed had been built by his father back in ’84, back when Jimmy and Bobbi had first started seeing one another. Daddy had just put up the siding, and it struck Jimmy as a good place to take a girl. He brought her there to drink beer and tell stories, which they did, after which he stripped her down to her white flesh and took her in the sawdust.
Right from the beginning she had the smell of fire on her—inside her, really, because she even smelled that way after they’d been swimming all afternoon—and the scent still aroused him. Ever since she’d gone he’d been looking for a women with that scent. While he was inside, the closest he’d got was the man with the clipboard and the thick fingers, but that didn’t count.
The inside of the shed was cool and dark and smelled of gasoline and regret, and of his father. There was a shovel with a split handle in the back, covered with cobwebs and dirt. It felt dangerous in his hands as he went looking for the old man. The lady at the store said he was behind the church in the back of the cemetery near the scrub oak, and that his gravestone already needed righting, for some reason. He saw it from across the cemetery: a slender tombstone tilting forward towards the others as if in apology, bowing and genuflecting even in death. He gritted his teeth and walked toward it, swinging the shovel in his hands. He energetically attacked the soil, the sharp edges of the split handle cutting into his hands. He dug a deep trench around the stone, pushed rocks into it, and then spaded dirt on top of all of it. He stepped back to survey his work and that’s when he noticed the inscription:
Rev. Robert Bergstrom
November 10, 1939 – February 2, 2016.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favour fire.
“Jesus,” he said aloud, his voice startling him. He wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of one hand, and with the fingers of the other rubbed the tombstone, feeling its roughness and its smoothness as he tried to place the author of those words. Down below Daddy smiled up at him, his face half rotted off, his teeth grinning through the dark and the stench.
They’d often fuck in this cemetery, the corpses beneath them thrashing and groaning in their envy as she lifted her knees and opened her legs to him and he thrust in and out. They were so alive, and the dead could not bear it. They could not bear it even now.
He washed up at the sink in the church kitchen and lay on a pew, looking up at the sun shining through the stained glass windows, lighting up the dust motes as they rose and fell and danced the afternoon away. They’d gotten married here on a sunny day like today, his daddy officiating.
“James, do you love this woman?”
“Do you promise to hold her and keep her and honor her all of your days ‘till death do you part?”
“Roberta,” do you love this man?
“Do you promise to honor and obey him?”
“I do not.”
“Well …. Do you promise to hold him and keep him and honor him all of your days ‘till death do you part?”
This had caused something of a scandal in the tiny church community. The preacher’s son had gone and got himself married to a girl who gave no shits for the teachings of St. Paul. “Honor and obey” was not her bag. But the “all of your days” part, she got that alright.
When the service was over they had donuts and coffee and red punch in the social hall, and then the two of them slipped out to head off for their camping trip up in the high country. He had just put his car into reverse when Daddy appeared at his window. “Take your medicine, Jimmy,” he whispered, as he reached into the car and cupped his son’s face in both hands. “For her.” He paused. “And for me.”
Jimmie had one memory of that trip that stood out from all the others, and he’d kept it safe in a little place deep inside so he could take it out on his bad days. Today wasn’t that bad, but he opened it anyway.
“Jimmy,” she said in the dark of the tent as she glided up and down on him, her white luminous breasts swaying in the moonlight. “I love you.” He knew that she did. And although he knew that he possessed her for some reason he told himself to remember that moment and keep it forever. Her high cheekbones framed by blonde hair. Her breasts. The moonlight. Her cool fingers reaching back and grasping his balls. Her slick pussy gripping and releasing him, gripping and releasing him, until he was about to shout and give up the moment forever.
“Hey,” he said, grabbing her hips and slowing her. “Hey.” He pulled her down and rolled on top of her, and they slowly rocked into each other for a long time, his nose buried deep in the nape of her neck breathing her in, until they both finally exploded into orgasm.
Having her and then not having her was too big for him. Now they both were gone and all he had was a bit of cash and the smell of fire in his nostrils.