Termination DustBy: Alana Terry
“All your children will be taught by the LORD, and great will be their peace.”
Kimmie should have never mentioned the funeral home to her stepfather. What had she been thinking?
Maybe it was defiance. Or maybe the grief was keeping her from acting rationally.
“You think I’m made out of money?” Chuck bellowed. “You’re just like your mother. That woman was always nagging me, every day of my life. More, more, more. It’s all she could say.”
His voice rose in a mocking falsetto. Kimmie’s mother was lying in the morgue, but Chuck continued to mock her heartlessly. “Honey, we need more grocery money. Honey, we’re late on the car payment. Do you know how much I hated her whining?” He blew his nose then dropped the used paper towel onto the floor.
He and Kimmie both stared at it, a familiar battle of wills as he silently demanded she clean up after him.
She glowered at him.
Things were going to be different now. They had to be. Her mother — God rest her soul — had wanted to escape. For years, Mom fed Kimmie dreams of freedom in hushed whispers. “We can go move to your sister’s in Anchorage. Meg will take us in.”
But Kimmie had learned years earlier not to get her hopes up. Mom wasn’t going anywhere. And in her darkest moments, she hated her weakness. Maybe it was Kimmie’s fault. If she’d only been more supportive or more courageous, she could have forced Mom to leave. Her sister only lived a four-hour drive away. Mom could have gotten help. She could have been safe.
But Mom refused to run away. She decided to remain trapped here in this trailer, stuck in a life with no other purpose than picking up Chuck’s snot-ridden paper towels, heating up his canned chili, opening his bottles of beer. Mom and Kimmie had both stayed, a silent agreement, a vow they never spoke but both understood. Kimmie would never leave her mother. Not here, not with Chuck.
So Mom had taken the only escape she could.
Now Kimmie was free to go. She could walk out that door, show the spunk and self-respect and courage Mom could never manage to conjure up.
That’s what she should do. That’s what any outside observer would expect her to do, like that kind trooper who responded to Kimmie’s call the day Mom died. Even now, Taylor’s soft eyes and soothing voice gave her confidence.
You didn’t deserve any of this. She could almost hear the trooper whispering the words to her. He was new to the force, not one of the regulars who used to come and do well-child checks when Kimmie was still a minor, back when she was expected to lie away every single bruise and cut on her body.
When Taylor came to her trailer, Kimmie was struck by how young he looked. She was a confused mess after finding her Mom’s body in the garage, but he listened to her patiently, even offering to make her tea to help her calm down. The suggestion made her feel like an entirely different person, the kind of person who kept her kitchen stocked with nice things like tea bags and sugar cubes and pretty, matching mugs.
Instead, they settled on lukewarm Cokes.
Kimmie and Taylor had sat at the folding table in the kitchen and talked. Even though the questions were all pointed toward explaining her mother’s suicide, she felt like he understood her. Only at one point, Kimmie got flustered when Taylor asked why she stayed at home when nearly everyone else in Glennallen left rural Alaska after high school.
“My mom’s not very healthy,” she stammered, fumbling over her words. It was difficult to know which tense she was supposed to use as the EMTs were at that same moment preparing to transport her mom’s body after cutting her down from the garage rafters. “I’ve been watching over her.”
The real answer, as Kimmie knew, was far more complicated. She thought she recognized in Taylor’s eyes an expression of compassion. Understanding.
Did he know what her life was really like? Could he guess?
Maybe it was because he was the only man even close to her age who had spoken to her kindly in years. Or maybe because as a trooper he signified everything Kimmie had been longing for — bravery, confidence, the ability to protect others — that she hadn’t stopped thinking about him since that first meeting three days ago.
And now it was Taylor’s voice she heard in her head, the same man who sat with her the day her mom died, drinking Coke because as far as Kimmie knew Chuck had never owned a single tea bag in his life. You didn’t deserve any of this.
Taylor didn’t understand. Even if Kimmie wanted a happier life, freeing herself from Chuck wasn’t nearly as simple or straight-forward as opening that door and walking down the driveway toward the Glenn Highway, hitching a ride to Anchorage where her older sister would be ready to take her.
Her stepfather cleared his throat — a wet, phlegmy noise that made Kimmie feel nauseated. Or maybe that was the hunger. When was the last time she’d eaten? Chuck had skipped breakfast and lunch, perhaps dealing with the loss of his wife in his own way. But when Chuck didn’t eat, that meant the family didn’t eat. Kimmie was older. She was used to hunger pains.
It was harder for Pip.
She’d put her half brother down for his afternoon nap about an hour earlier, sitting on their bed with his head in her lap. Like most days they spent at home instead of at the daycare where she worked, she smoothed Pip’s forehead and sang him to sleep. The ditties were the ones her mother taught her, the ones she and Pip both loved, Bible verses set to music. Chuck would throw a fit if he heard them, but some football game was blaring on the TV, drowning out Kimmie’s clandestine melody.
And we know that in all things … all things … all things … And we know that in all things God does what’s best for those who love him.
It had been one of Kimmie’s favorites when she was Pip’s age, a time before Chuck, before this drafty trailer, this squalor. A time when Mom looked young and happy, always waiting with open arms for cuddles and hugs, always ready to make up a new song.
And we know that in all things … all things … all things …
With drooping eyelids and cheeks stained with tears, Pip had looked up at her and in his own invented sign language made a flame. The fire song was his favorite, and Kimmie felt her own soul encouraged as she sang him the words.
When you walk through the river, you know I’m with you.
When you pass through the water, I’m right there by your side.
When you walk through the fire, you’ll never be burned.
Those flames, they won’t set you ablaze.
Maybe Mom’s little tune is what gave Kimmie the courage to confront Chuck after Pip was finally asleep. Then again, confront was far too strong a word to describe the way she tip-toed into the living room, her heart thudding in her chest, her hands clammy with sweat.
“I think we should have a funeral.” She’d been shocked that her voiced didn’t squeak.
Chuck crushed his beer can and tossed it onto the carpet, hocking a wad of spit in the direction where it fell. “Don’t got the money.”
Kimmie knew that was a lie. Mom had died the day before her deposit from welfare cleared the bank. Factoring in Chuck’s disability payments, Kimmie knew there was money to be had. It usually took Chuck at least ten days into each month to drink through their funds. Besides, her sister could cover any actual expense, but now wasn’t the time to rub her stepfather’s nose in Meg’s success.
“I’m not asking for anything fancy,” she persisted, “but you were married for ten years. The least you could do is give her a proper burial.”
This time, the loogie Chuck spat landed on the carpet near Kimmie’s bare feet. “The witch killed herself. No Christian pastor’s gonna bury her, and funeral homes aren’t nothing but a rip-off.”
“I already called Glennallen Bible.” Kimmie had anticipated and was ready for her stepfather’s arguments. “The pastor there said he’d be willing to …”
Chuck pointed the remote at the TV screen and turned up the game until the sound of wildly cheering fans made Kimmie feel as though her teeth were rattling in place. She folded her hands across her chest. “I think it’s at least worth considering.”
Chuck glowered at her. “You telling me how to take care of my own business?”
She shook her head, but it was too late. Chuck was out of his seat. Kimmie only had time to flinch before he swung out his arm and slapped her hard across the face.
“You talking back to me?”
She set her jaw so he couldn’t see her pained expression.
“You’re no better than that witch of a mom of yours.” He spat in her face, and Kimmie was relieved at the smell of stale beer. When Chuck was drunk, he never bothered to waste too much energy beating her.
He pushed her aside, and she stayed down, praying and hoping he’d be too tired to persist in his fight. Praying and hoping Pip would sleep through his father’s rage or at least have the good sense to stay in his room.
Chuck gave Kimmie’s back a half-hearted kick then stomped back over to his recliner, flinging several dirty napkins and half a bag of spilled sunflower seeds onto the floor by his feet.
Kimmie didn’t mention the idea of a funeral again.
Later that night, Kimmie stared out the window in the bedroom she shared with Pip and listened to her brother’s gentle snoring. A full harvest moon rose through her window, providing enough light that she could still see the white tips of the mountains behind the trailer. As a child, Kimmie always loved that first sprinkling of snow on the mountain peaks — the termination dust that signaled the end of summer, the start of a new school year.