R.I.P. Alexandra Braund

by Shaun Terry

I stood over a pumpkin pie, holding a can of whipped cream.

Christi looked up at me from the table, half-distracted by the laptop in front of her.

She averted her eyes, saying, “You didn’t get the not-nice news, huh?”

“Uhh…”

“Oh, you didn’t.”

Twenty seconds later, my jaw clenched, I asked if she wanted a piece of pie. I walked to the sink, back to the island, back to the fridge. I held the knife and slumped over the island, like a hanging carcass.

I thought about our friend: Maybe she’s tricking us. Maybe this is a joke.

I left the room and found Luke’s number in my phone.

“No, I’m in bed already, but thanks for asking.”

“Did you hear about Alex?”

“What do you mean?”

“She passed away.”

“Are you serious?”

His voice came at random pitches in half-formed words. He needed a few minutes to decide if he wanted to hang out. I told him he only had to call or text me.

A few minutes turned to an hour. I told him that I’d be there in ten or fifteen minutes, and I got in the car. We decided to get liquor instead of beer. He had scotch, I had rye whiskey. Mine was eleven dollars. Oh, well.

I felt guilty, I told him. I’d thought about her sometimes, but hadn’t really reached out.

Seemingly random, he explained, “It makes sense.”

“What do you mean? What makes sense?”

“She stopped responding to my texts this weekend.”

“Shit, man.”

We each grabbed our glasses and brought them to our mouths. The air was crisp and clear. In this air, you might see someone in a way you hadn’t before. If the context had been different, it might’ve been invigorating. Instead, it provided strange contrast to the staleness.

He said, “Do you think she’s somewhere else? Like, is there something after.”

“You know, I don’t ever think about Heaven. I don’t imagine it for myself. It’s only when I lose someone close to me that I want there to be a Heaven.”

“I know what you mean. She was so young. Maybe that’s cliche to say, but…”

His voice faded. We started speaking in well-worn platitudes. There wasn’t really anything to say. Our eyes turned to pink marbles and our voices like those of nervous middle school boys. I grabbed his shoulder, and he returned the gesture, but quickly pulled back in the way that he does. It shouldn’t be comforting, but somehow his lack of assuredness is a reminder of the big man’s fragility.

Light rain fell every few minutes. From the table next to us, “Nah, bruh! Nah, bruh!” It sounded so contrived. From inside, rapid jangles and long, tinny chords formed a soft, punctuated aural static. Luke’s face bent into a crescent, and I knew it was because he thought it was funny that they were playing bluegrass inside, since I don’t like bluegrass. Outside, smatterings of students eagerly moved between bars.

A couple women at a table near us were having a conversation.

“Where were you when 9/11 happened?”

“I was at school. I was young and stupid when that happened.”

“I remember where I was. Everything changed then. I was in third grade and the Principal got on the intercom and told us that that terrorists had hit the World Trade Center and that we were going to be dismissed from school, and I just kept wondering why tourists would attack us.”

“That’s funny,” the other one said, but she didn’t really smile. “You know, I’ve never told anyone this. I’ve felt guilty ever since it happened. I was excited. Everything was different. It was a time when you knew that nothing would be the same again. It was important. The thing that everyone seemed to be afraid of, then, was that maybe this wasn’t the end of it. Maybe there’d be more. Maybe there’d be chaos in the streets and we would fail to be what we’d been. And everything really has been different ever since.”

When Luke went to the restroom, I texted a friend to see if she was out. I guess I was lonely. She responded with a question mark, and I said that I was commiserating with a friend but wanted to hang out soon. She didn’t respond.

Luke and I talked about when we’d all hung out together, how curious Alex had been, how she’d been having a hard time, but that she was talented and clever. Maybe if she’d just found an exciting idea, she could’ve gotten a PhD or something. But she’d really been enjoying Utah. She’d found the perfect job. She was really emotionally intelligent, and she got to utilize that there.

The glass in my fist came down hard on the table.

Luke said, “What?!”

He was startled by my sudden explosion, but I didn’t care. “This just sucks, man. It makes me angry. Maybe that’s a weird response, but that’s how I get when people close to me die. It’s weird. We’re talking about how she was, in past tense.”

“I know. I’ve never had someone so close to me die.”

His eyes were red, again, and I realized that mine were, too.

“Let’s go somewhere else.”

“Okay.”

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