by Meg Sefton
When they come to capture Father, they do so with ropes and sticks and feed him bear containing a tranquilizing substance. We watch as he devours the flesh, its blood resting in the fur I use to kiss. He had been starving and in mourning for my mother, who had been captured, tagged, and taken away to higher regions. My brother and sister and I do not make it obvious to him we could see his defeat. We eat our grains and cream in silence in cupboard spaces and we do not crowd him or come near.
The men hoist him onto a stretcher, their pipes set in their teeth, the smoke from the bowls drifting down over our father's limp frame, as if he were powerless, as if he were lazy and never chased deer and wild game, as if he had not laughed at our games in sunshined fields and watched for danger along the shadowed edges.
I touch his paw as his body moves past and it seems as dead and yet it has steadied me while I took my first steps. With it, he has lifted me onto his back where I would ride holding onto his fur, the nape of his neck smelling of burnt wood and leaves.
My brother and sister are calling out for my father, my brother and sister are crying. It is the new people who do not understand, I say, though I know my brother and sister, being young, do not know my meaning. I have no words of comfort for them while the presence of the men lingers heavily in the air. Drink your milk I say and they drink the heavy milk at the bottom of the bowl, the last of the milk my father stole from the farmer further down in the valley.
I am not ready to speak for my mother and father both. I am not ready to guide.
I take them out to play where they can run among the stones of the people who have died. They should not have to watch as their father's body jars as if lifeless on the open-bed truck while men's ash falls on his fur.
I tell them these are the stones commemorating all who have returned, though I know they will not believe this in the literal sense I wished it to be understood. And yet it comforts them, children of tombstones and loss, that in some sense, this is true, and that even men with stiff lipped bearded faces have no say in what cannot be contained, or shot, or beaten.
And when the sun is high we take a picnic on the stones and when it rests over the mountain range we lie among the memorials to people who were and wait for the chorus of animals that contains the voice of our mother penetrating the mists of the dreaming dead.
Meg Sefton's work has recently appeared in Apocrypha and Abstractions, Beakful, Serving House Journal, Danse Macabre, Connotation Press, and other journals. She received her MFA in fiction from Seattle Pacific University and lives in central Florida with her son and their little white dog Annie.