The U.S. of After Chapter 50

Kelly

The river sent us along, and we just went along with it.  Amy and Clayton sat near each other but they didn’t really speak much.  I suppose she was still pretty upset about all the people she had lost, mainly Ralph.

“Hey, Amy,” I said, plopping down next to her.  “I’m Kelly.”

“Hey,” she said, trying on a smile.

“Anya’s really taken with you,” I told her, touching Anya’s soft hair.  “You should consider yourself pretty lucky.  You’re really the first person she’s been close to.”

“Yeah,” she laughed, genuinely, her eyes watering.  “It’s a lot of responsibility, really.  Who knew?”

We sat there for a while, the water passing by the boat, listening to the banter of the others next to us as we puttered along.  I guess she couldn’t stand the silence.

“Remember Chic-fil-a?” she said.

“Oh man,” I said, turning to look at her.  “They must have put an addictive chemical in their chicken because it was so good.”

“That stuff was crack,” Clayton said, butting in.  “Oh man!  Remember Five Guys?”

“Oh,” said Amy, her face getting stern.  “It’s a competition then.  I’ve got two words for you: Pei… Wei…”

“That place never had enough seating,” I said, laughing.  “We always had to sit outside during lunch hour.”

“I know what you mean!” shouted Amy a little too loud, catching herself and laughing.

From behind us, out of nowhere:

“Marble.  Slab.  Creamery,” said Mr. Jackson’s deep voice, smoothing his son’s soft black hair as the dark eyed boy sat between his feet.  We all laughed again as the rest of the boat started shouting out their favorite indulgence back before the war and the world going sour.

“Starbucks!” said Gideon.  “And Bass Pro!  A Starbucks in a Bass Pro!”

Someone at the front of the boat started singing: “I got two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun!” This started a round of jingles sung by everyone in the group, and people could probably hear our laughter for miles off.

Mr. McKinley, steering the boat along, told us about missing his favorite movie Ghostbusters, and started quoting lines from it at random.  It turned out he could quote the entire movie from beginning to end, and we listened as he recited it for us.  We all lost it when he did his best impression of Bill Murray saying that the apocalypse would consist of “dogs and cats…living together…mass hysteria!”  You just never know what some people have in them, even if it’s weird stuff.

As the people were laughing and discussing more things they missed about the world gone by, I looked at Amy and she had grown quiet.  Clayton sat next to her and held her hand as they looked out at the water and the shoreline rolling slowly on.  They missed Ralph.  We all missed the people we had lost.

“I miss my husband,” I said, my voice cracking.  “I miss his voice.”

Amy looked at me, her eyes closing, squeezing out tears.  She took my hand and we just sat there on the edge of the boat crying.  Clayton put his arm around Amy and reached out to touch my shoulder, and I could hear him mumbling something to himself, almost a whisper.

Somehow — and I’m not sure how — I felt better after that.  I still missed my husband, but I felt ok with it.  I felt as if I could move on.  Amy, however, was just beginning her journey of grief.  I decided I’d do what I could to help her travel it.

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