He was close
– by D A Shorr
Gabe lived next door in a yellow house crowded in on all sides by sycamores. Our mamas collected their buttonballs in wicker baskets each year, insisting we’d craft with them. Once, maybe, we pressed spiky spheres into green paint then rolled them on paper, leaving prints like itch-envy stars – the buttonballs otherwise left to rot. Gabe pushed me to use them in potions when we played witches, running around the house cackling, squawking in high-pitched voices until Papa or my brother told us to play outside.
Years ago, Gabe often explained, our two properties were the same estate. Gabe’s yard had the mansion, carriage house, and gardens; mine was the graveyard. The spirits who lived in my yard, Dusty and Ghost, were bound to haunt the grass around their bodies’ beds. We could only ever coax them a quarter-way across the yard in any direction – kept us mostly to hopscotch and cards – or else had to tow them by hand, straining farther as their tethers pulled taut. Once Gabe found an old map of the property in his crawlspace. The four of us spent the day searching for treasure – turned out to be buried in my brother Marc’s room. We never found the gold, too distracted hoisting Marc’s underwear up the flagpole, climbing to untangle when it caught on sycamore fingers.
When we were eight or nine, Gabe admitted to making the estate up – the map was soaked in tea and burned at the edges – but I have a distinct memory: six years old, alone one evening in the digging-pit, uncovering first green fabric – a sweater – then a shoulder, an arm, old and stiff. I’m not sure how long I sat pouring sand lightly on the shoulder, watching it flow off the side, trying to count the few grains that slid instead through the gaps between the threads. It was a funny feeling to think just beneath was a body – a corpse, Gabe called them in death – and I think this made me cry because I didn’t notice Dusty and Ghost until they put their arms around me and hummed.
. . .
Over the 2014 Halloween weekend, we shared D A Shorr’s He was close and Nick Marland’s October 31 in their entirety. Keep an eye out for more free pieces online as their date approaches.
D A Shorr lives in New York City, teaching maths to high school students. He graduated with a degree in mathematics, creative writing, and education, which has prepared him thoroughly for feeling helpless under all the problematic tensions that teaching high school entails.