Was a couple used to live here in PA name’a Bud n’ Lorraine Gillis, maybe you know ‘em or heard tell of ‘em. He was a machinist n’ coached football n’ she worked at th’Oyster Café n’ run the bowlin’ league. They had two sons: th’oldest one was killed in a car crash, n’ th’youngest, Tod, shot himself three weeks later.
Tod was a short-order cook in th’same place Lorraine work at. No one saw him react after th’phone call about his brother, but his breaks started getting’ longer n’ longer, which no one blamed him for. We’d see him go outside th’restaurant even during th’busiest times at th’dinner rush, n’ he’d light up a cigarette n’ stare out at th’big cargo ships, all lit up like cities, passin’ through the strait, like he wanted to a hitch a ride on one of ‘em outta here. Or he’d watch th’rain come in, n’ he’d just stand there, smokin’ in the rain. Then one night, after hours, he went into th’walk-in freezer n’ fired a bullet up into th’roof offa his mouth with a Colt from World War Two th’boys had gotten from their grandfather. Tod wasn’t found until the next morning, by the breakfast shift. When th’phone rang in th’Gillis household to tell ‘em, Bud said to Lorraine, “Well, here we go again,” before he even picked up th’phone.
People say you can pretend to survive th’loss of one child, but you can’t pretend to survive th’loss of two. Bud n’ Lorraine stopped leaving th’house much. Lorraine kept workin’ but Bud quit, n’ took to walkin’ around the yard, or the football field, smokin’. Sometimes you’d see him runnin’ plays, by himself, on the fifty-yard line. Or sometimes one, or th’other, of ‘em would go for a long drive, would take 101 all the way down th’west end a th’Olympic Peninsula, then come back up on th’inside along Hood Canal, before headin’ back west out here to PA; or sometimes they’d go visit the boys’ gravestones, side-by-side, th’way th’boys’ twin beds had been in their bedroom. But mostly Bud n’ Lorraine sat in their house n’ drank. If you went by, they’d offer you shots a vodka in a paper cup, n’ a card game. And sometimes they’d shut off th’kitchen light n’ through the window they’d show you two stars above th’telephone wires n’ they’d talk about how those were the boys lookin’ down on ‘em, n’ you’d sit there in th’dark kitchen, n’ you’d drink the straight vodka in the paper cup, n’ you’d look through the window, up at the stars.
Of course, those two stars weren’t really the boys, and all this happened years ago, anyway. But to this day, whenever I see two stars together in th’night sky or see two lonely headlights on a rainy winter road, or hear the wind screaming, n’ screaming, n’ screaming in the trees, I think of Bud n’ Lorraine, n’ I wonder how they’re doing.
Jordan Hartt is an Olympia-based writer, although this particular story is set up in PA. Previous work has appeared in about forty magazines.