DANCING IN THE GRAVEYARD
Momma had told me Daddy was not coming home. I could not understand that. When he left for Afghanistan just before Christmas last year, he said he would be home. He said he would take me dancing when he came back to our house in Canyon, and it did not make sense he was not coming home. Momma said he was in heaven, but I saw that as no excuse.
I had studied hard and was now in the third grade. School had started in August, and I was overjoyed to see my friends again. It was just four days ago when Momma broke the news to me. She came to get me at school. In the middle of the day! I thought it was strange, and all the kids in my class were staring at me as I gathered my things and walked out of our classroom. The attention made me feel special, yet I was confused about where I was going.
At home, in the kitchen, Momma told me about Daddy. She said the bad guys had hurt him and he was hurt badly and had to go to heaven.
“He did not want to leave us, honey,” she assured me.
“Momma, I practiced my dancing all summer. Remember? My ballet class? I’m sure he’ll be here in time for Christmas,” I told her.
“Baby, I don’t think so.” She was sad. There were tears on her cheeks, but I could see she was trying not to cry. “There will be a ceremony, to honor him and we must cherish our memories of Daddy. We will need to pack for a trip. To the cemetery in Amarillo, and to see Grandma.”
A trip. That seemed strange without Daddy. Fall was upon us and the darkness came early now. Because Mamma said we were going on a trip, I found my pink and brown suitcase in the back of my closet. I tossed my ragdoll into the case, but she looked lonely, so I added my stuffed mouse Gertie.
The suitcase sat there on my floor for two days. Then Momma said we needed to pack for our trip.
“You and I will leave early in the morning. Okay, babe?” I hugged her. “I laid your clothes on your bed. You go and put those in your suitcase. I saw it laying on your floor, with your friends Gertie and Betsy all ready to go with you.” She smiled and I walked slowly to my room. The house was way too quiet and a chill had filled the rooms.
After I went to bed and Momma had tucked me in, I could not go to sleep, anticipating the trip. I could see the bright moon high in the sky out of my window, and I tossed for a bit before I heard a scratching at the glass pane. What was that? I snuggled into my covers, , finding sleep, but then I heard it again. I crept toward the glow from the window only to find a huge bramble blown against the cold glass. It was a brambleweed. No, no, a tumbleweed! I remember. Daddy had told me what they were during a storm last year. And there he was! Daddy. He was standing by the fence with a suitcase in his hand. He stood there in the wind, his jacket billowing, as if he were waiting for me. Another tumbleweed hit my window, startling me for a moment.
I waved my hand at Daddy and, putting on my slippers and grabbing my suitcase, I went out the front door, closing it quietly behind me. My suitcase was light and I ran toward Daddy, grabbing him around the waist and hugging him as tight as I could. It almost seemed like he was not there, but I saw him. I was so excited. The trip was with Daddy! Momma had been wrong all along.
The wind was strong and blew the weeds all around us as we walked across the field. Daddy walked right through the barbed wire fence, as if it were not even there; then he lifted me up and over the wire. In spite of the wind and a couple white clouds, the sky was full of moonlight and sparkling stars.
“Daddy, this is the trip I wanted to go on. I was packed and ready when you came.”
“I know, pumpkin. I have missed you.”
“Daddy, what about Momma? Is she coming?” I asked.
“I believe Momma will join us. But first, I have promised you a dance; and what better place for a dance than right here under these stars.”
Daddy set down his suitcase by a tombstone in the St. Paul Cemetery, which was across the fields from our home. The wind abruptly stopped; it was still, hushed, and even the moon seemed to twinkle. Daddy took me in his arms and we spun and danced and spun and giggled together, our shadows playing on the white stones; it was just as I had imagined it would be.
It was noon the next morning when the sheriff arrived at the white clapboard house on Texas 217 at the outskirts of Canyon. He had received a safety check call when family could not reach Mrs. Dawson, who was due in Amarillo. The bodies of Mrs. Dawson and her young daughter were found, in their beds, in the small farmhouse. The wind swept clouds across the sky as if God were swinging his broom toward the horizon. Tumbleweeds had piled high on the north wall of the house, and it appeared the heater had been turned on. There was no smell of gas, but carbon monoxide was suspected. As they stood on the porch, awaiting the medical examiner, the sheriff turned to his deputy.
“Well, it’s mighty sad the whole family is gone, and the Sergeant’s wife and little girl didn’t even make it to the military funeral in Amarillo. Mighty sad.”
The wind suddenly kicked up from a northeast direction and the weeds lurched and tumbled over each other toward the barbed wire; it was at that moment the officers heard a sound like laughter, sweet and joyful laughter, swirling across the field.
© 2016 Sandra Fox Murphy. All rights reserved.