Essay: “The Mourning After” by Diane Payne

CW: sexual assault

Hungover with sadness, shame, booze, and fatigue, I walked with the dogs to the park. This time of year, when it’s cold and the ground is wet, no one is at the park. But there he was: the man with the bike charging his phone at the picnic table pavilion.

After exchanging morning greetings, I continued to a park bench and noticed he was trying to have a conversation with me, not with someone on his phone. He walked over to graciously offer me his last honey bun, the one he had just purchased at the gas station down the road. He seemed to think I may be hungry, impoverished like himself. Once the dogs saw that unopened honey bun, they never left my side while he provided me with the details of his past twelve hours of drama: A cousin and his lover were sleeping on his new bed in his trailer, his trailer they trashed with four feet of their shit, so much shit his landlady of nine years told him they had to leave.

He rambled names of dead and alive relatives, thinking surely, I knew them since our town was small, and then more names of the landlord’s dead relatives were uttered, and how they had obituaries, and some police records, and I kept saying that I didn’t read the local paper.

“It ain’t right when the government screws shit up, and now I can’t get my prescription refilled,” he said. I nodded in agreement, and he added, what was becoming his mantra after he shared each grievance, “But the good lord is watching over me.”

I wondered if he knew what was happening in the world beyond his life, the world that just witnessed seventeen people murdered at a high school. Maybe I looked hungry and disheveled because I spent the night listening to music, drinking, dreading seeing the faces of all those dead kids and their teachers that would emerge on every station, every newsfeed. Every face would break my heart.

Returning to his soon-to-be-evicted cousin, he told how his cousin came to his trailer with a gun last night. “He ain’t supposed to have a gun, you know?” I said nothing. “But he’s all messed up with drugs and wanted to kill himself. But get this, he changed his mind and wanted to kill me instead. That’s why I called the cops. I ain’t helping him no more.”

“At least you’ll have your space back tonight,” I mumbled.

“My other cousin’s kid got raped last night.” Then he rattled off more names and pointed to a direction beyond the park where they live. Trying to engage me in the conversation, he asked: “Guess how old she was?”

“Twelve.”

“You know her?”

“No.”

“Guess who raped her.”

“Her dad.”

“You know him?”

“No.”

“He’s locked up downtown now.”

I returned his honey bun assuring him he would have a long day of waiting and he would be getting hungry. I left the park, thinking about that twelve-year-old girl, and how, on the same day she learned that so many teenagers were murdered, the man she calls her father raped her.

Not enough booze or music for this grief.

 

 

***

Diane Payne’s most recent publications include: Obra/Artiface, Map Literary Review, Watershed Review, Tishman Review, Whiskey Island, Kudzu House Quarterly, Superstition Review, Blue Lyra Press, Fourth River, Cheat River ReviewThe Offing, Elke: A Little Journal, Souvenir Literary Journal, Madcap Review and Outpost 19. Diane is the author of Burning Tulips (Red Hen Press) and co-author of the Delphi Series Vol. 5 chapbook.

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