CNF: This Is What We Will Do With All Our Grief

by April Bradley

The first time I saw a swastika, it was carved into the forehead of beautiful women who were smiling, leaning into one another as they sat on a sidewalk. They had no hair, and—I have a word for it now—they were vainglorious. I saw them through the curved glass of a small black and white television screen. It looked like someone had scored the jagged shape into their skin with a pocketknife, and I did not understand why they had allowed it. I wanted to know more about these terrifying women who also seemed like girls who reminded me of my mother. They looked up and looked at me as if to say, “Aren’t we majestic?”

I cooked my grandfather’s last meal. It was a thrown together thing, right after I arrived. If I’d known it was the last one, I’d have asked him what he was craving instead of serving what was on hand. He had been waiting for me to come home, waiting weeks, if not months. So I left my suitcase by the kitchen door and cooked because he said he was hungry. I called out toward his hospital bed, “Hey Pepaw, do you want some gravy with your cubed steak?” That man never said no to my cooking.

Every time I see a penny on heads, an eyelash on my lenses, I make a wish that my son is happy, healthy, long-lived, and I know that it is possible that if this happens, I may not be a part of his life.

I attended a prom as the last-minute blind date for the bashful friend of a friend. His parents wanted to take photographs of us out back where I expected a lawn with trees, perhaps lilac or hydrangeas. We posed in the middle of a concrete jungle, surrounded by chain-link fencing. Panthers wove in between us, brushed up against my wrist corsage and around the skirts of my gown. I focused on the camera, wondering if the beasts could hear my shallow breathing, my stuttering heartbeat.

When I met my future ex-husband, I knew immediately we’d marry. I wondered how it would come about—how would we end up burning and shining for one another at an altar. I thought I’d never marry. Twenty years later, when my grandfather lay delirious from morphine, he asked me, “Do you love me more than Peter?” I paused for a moment before I answered, “Of course.” I wasn’t weighing my love. I was shocked to realize there was precious little left to measure.

I fell asleep in a bass drum where my dad held band practice in the front room of our farmhouse. Music woke me up. I peeked around and saw my parents dancing to Thunder Road. They moved as if they were waltzing. This is the place my mother always tried to get back to—a moment.

I pick up pennies. I blow away eyelashes.

My sister and I have always felt motherless and now we struggle with the loss of a mother we never really had. When my sister has a child, she wants me to be there for the birth. I can see it: her damp hair curling around her face, that instant when her control shatters, and she cries out that she can’t do it, her voice shrill with panic. We’ve been in similar places, though, many times. I will echo her, echoing me, “You can do this. Almost there, hold on to me. I love you. You are not alone.”

Then, we will hear a child cry.

April Bradley is from Goodlettsville, Tennessee and lives with her family on the Connecticut shoreline near New Haven, Connecticut. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Smokelong Quarterly’s “Why Flash Fiction” Series, Boston Literary Magazine, Flash Fiction Chronicles, Flash Frontier, Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Magazine, Narratively, and Thrice Fiction, among others. She is the Associate Editor for Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine and Press. Find her at aprilbradley.net.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “This Is What We Will Do With All Our Grief”?

    This flash CNF came out of a workshop with the extraordinary Kathy Fish and features memories from ages five to the present. The one of the prom was unexpected. It is one of those moments I seldom dwell on and the recollection always shocks. The piece reflects how I have been coping with my mother’s and grandfather’s recent deaths. Part of my overwhelming grief is terror. The title is from a line in an earlier version, and I added the last line in haste, just before I sent it off for submission; notable, perhaps, as the only typical expression of mourning in the narrative. The structure also allowed me to experiment more fluidly with time.
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