She Has A Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be - J.D. Barker
“Think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”
—Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
August 8, 1984
Eight Years Old
Subject “D” within expected parameters.
—Charter Observation Team – 309
“Hush, you little runt. I’m talking to my sister.”
I watched as Auntie Jo plucked another cigarette, a Marlboro Red 100, from the pack sitting atop her checkered cloth bag and put it in her mouth, lighting it with a silver Zippo and sending a puff of gray smoke to the heavens.
“You said one hour. That was at five o’clock. It’s six o’clock now. Time is up,” I told her. She had no sense of time. Given the chance, she’d spend the entire day sitting here in the cemetery talking to the stones. Well, talking to Momma’s stone. She didn’t talk to Daddy. She didn’t much like Daddy.
“Knight Rider is on in two hours.”
“You won’t miss Knight Rider.”
“Last time I missed Knight Rider,” I reminded her. “We left here at six-thirty, got home at seven, ate dinner, you made me take a bath, and by the time I sat down to watch, it was half over. You can’t watch a show like Knight Rider from the middle. You gotta start from the beginning.”
Auntie Jo puffed at her cigarette. “You have an uncanny memory for an eight-year-old, you know that?”
“Can we go?”
I sighed and reached for the radio.
Auntie Jo had spread out a blanket over my parents’ graves so we wouldn’t have to sit on the wet grass. Rain fell most of the morning, and the sun in Pittsburgh, even in August, did little to dry things up. The ground was still all squishy.
“Four years, Katy,” Auntie Jo said to Momma’s stone. “Four years since that wretch of a man of yours took you from us—from me and your little baby boy, Jack.”
“Daddy didn’t kill Momma.”
“He was driving, wasn’t he?”
“It was an accident.”
“He was drunk.”
“Momma had two glasses of wine, and Daddy was drinking Coke. That’s what the waiter said. It’s in the police report.”
Auntie Jo straightened the flowers in Momma’s vase. Her fingernails were stained yellow. The flowers were daisies. I picked them out myself at Giant Eagle on the way here. There were no flowers in Daddy’s vase. It was filled with stagnant rainwater and weeds. Auntie Jo wouldn’t let me clean it out.
“He was drunk before he left.”
I shook my head. “He was drinking iced tea at home before they dropped me off at your apartment. Momma, too.”
“You can’t know that.”
“I have a canny memory, you said so.”
“You were four.”
“I was drinking chocolate milk. Momma put it in my sippy cup so I could take it with me. We watched Magnum, P.I. on your couch, then you put me to bed right after. I did not have to take a bath that night.”
“The radio is broken.” I had twisted the dial from one end to the other and got nothing but static.
“It’s not broken, it’s just hard to get a signal here.”
“Then why did you bring it?”
“Because sometimes we do get a signal, and your mother liked music.”
Bob FM was at 96.9. I turned the dial a little left of the mark for ninety-seven. Huey Lewis said something about a new drug, then faded back to static.
I dropped the radio back on the blanket near Auntie Jo’s bag. “Maybe I’ll skip the bath.”
“You’re not skipping your bath.”
“If I skip my bath tonight, then we can stay until seven and I still won’t miss Knight Rider,” I explained.
Auntie Jo snuffed out her cigarette on the side of Daddy’s stone, then placed it in a small tin she kept in the apron pocket of her faded pink waitress uniform. Normally she would toss the butt off into the grass somewhere, but not here, not at the cemetery, certainly not near Momma’s grave. She found another, lit it up, and sucked in another puff. “Okay, no bath tonight, but you’re getting one for sure tomorrow. Deal?”
“One more hour, then,” she said. “What does this here say, Jack? Can you read it?”
“You know I can.”
“Then what does it say?”
“You make me read it every year.”
““What does it say, Jack?” She knocked at the side of Momma’s gravestone with the hand holding the lighter. “Read.”
I rolled my eyes. “Kaitlyn Gargery Thatch. February 16, 1958 to August 8, 1980. Loving wife, mother, and sister.”
“My sweet baby sister. It should also say, ‘killed by an evil