CNF: Aftermath

by Bob Thurber

It was bad how she died: bullet to the brain, a swift and painless execution delivered by a sheriff’s deputy after a short car chase. She had slipped a note to the bank teller, and her partner, a brainless thug, had foolishly revealed his weapon, a BB gun pistol tucked into his belt. The report of a weapon was all the deputies needed to open fire on the vehicle, killing my daughter in a heartbeat. The aftermath was brutal. Mother of two fatally shot after bank heist. Reporters kept calling. We had to avoid TV. The robbery wasn’t their first. There had been numerous banks throughout the country, as far away as Oregon. The newscast narrative compared them to Bonnie and Clyde.

I read all the newspaper reports. I studied the photos of the scene: crashed car riddled with bullet holes, my daughter’s body covered by a sheet. I wrote about it: random notes, straightforward facts, unpleasantly honest phrases. I couldn’t make sense of it. There was no logic beyond ‘one thing always leads to another,’ and “So it goes.”

I can’t honestly say I knew what I was doing, but I may have been instinctively trying to work though it by working, to encompass some part of my grief, some portion of all our anguish, in containers with secure lids that wouldn’t seep when shaken. All our hearts were wrecked. Shattered beyond repair. God, we were hurting. So I wrote. It was a fool’s game. A grieving father’s pastime. I persuaded myself that it remained my duty to record the influence of this event, that my primary responsibility is always to the reader, that stranger I’ll never meet.

This went on and on like a bad dream.

One morning, like a persistent reporter, I asked my wife how she had slept.

“Same,” she said.

I inquired about her dreams and she said she’d stopped having them.

“Everybody dreams,” I said.

She shook her head. “Not in months.”

“You must,” I said.

“I don’t,” she insisted. “I hold on until morning, then the real darkness comes.”

I didn’t mention my own nightmares, or grumble how her kisses had turned cold, how she had stopped touching me except with her eyes. She was taking an antidepressant, but it wasn’t helping.

“You’ve got to move past this,” I said.

She looked at me like I was asking her to jump out a window, so I said it again.

I reminded her that life is for the living, that calamities touch us all, that gumption and endurance are essential qualities. I went on and on.

“Stop,” she said, “I can’t accept this. There’s no getting past it.”

I gave her a sour look, a long hard nasty stare, because I felt her declaration included me. Her lips tightened. I expected her to start weeping again. Instead, she peeled away her shirt and ripped open her chest. Sure enough, her beautiful heart was gone, displaced by an emptiness I knew all too well. A permanent vacancy nothing and no one could ever fill.

So I wrote about that, as though it were the consequence of some unfortunate event that had happened to other people: the story of two inconsolable strangers, routinely recorded by someone else.

Bob Thurber is the author of “Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel” and a number of other titles. Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel is being re-released and will soon be available in a number of digital formats, by Shanti Arts Books. Release date is ‘before’ May 1st, 2016. Over the years his stories have received a long list of awards and honors, appeared in Esquire and other notable publications, appeared on hundreds of websites, and been utilized as teaching tools in schools and universities, and selected for over 40 anthologies. “Nothing But Trouble” a story collection accompanied by photographic images, was released in April 2014 from Shanti Arts Publishing. Bob resides in Massachusetts. For more info, visit: BobThurber.net

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Aftermath”?

The death of a child is considered the most painful to except, and the most unnatural to a parent. I know the loss of our daughter knocked us off the planet. The circumstances of the incident were surreal and shocking. It was the most bizarre, most traumatic event that my family had ever experienced.

Then came the aftermath.

Grief zaps one’s energy, drains strength, unbalances, invades every aspect of one’s life. It inhibits one’s ability to think and communicate clearly. You can’t shake it. There’s no going back, no returning to what you once knew, what you once were. And suddenly you have no clear vision of the world, or what’s ahead. For my wife and I, the loss of our daughter, was the obliteration of a way of living, a reality that we had known and could no longer have. When we regained our footing, we discovered not only had the world changed, but our hearts and minds had been forever altered. This brief composition is one of many I wrote, or tried to write, during that unbearable time. It’s merely a snapshot of where my wife and I found ourselves at one point — in anguish, in agony, in isolation, hanging on by our fingertips.


Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.

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Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now closed. The reading period for standard submissions opens again March 15, 2023. Submit here.


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