I hide all my best treasures in my top drawer. Upon finding my stash, I discover a tiny bottle tucked away. A penny’s encased inside, like a model boat, bigger than the bottle’s mouth. It’s a curious object, and I don’t know why it’s with my valuables. I hold it up to examine its oddity, and it slips out of my grasp. The glass shatters, and the penny’s released. I watch it spin, spiral, then stop. Silence falls over the room, and I remember.
Four years ago, I held Momma’s hand as we walked down the center aisle. My black dress was itchy, and my shoes squeaked with each step I took toward the front of the auditorium. I had a strange feeling that I should remember this day. November 1997. I was nine years old. It was strange to be at church on Saturday. But there we were. The same teal carpet, white walls, pink accents. There were lots of pretty flowers at the front, but they actually smelled kind of bad. They were too strong. Too musty. Like my Sunday school teacher’s perfume. We passed by the door where that classroom was. It was right next to the pew where Dee-Daddy would hold me during services. His arms felt so big, and he never minded when I would tug on the hair on them, watching his tanned, leathery skin rise like little mountains. He smelled like his cabin—like the smell of firewood, flannel blankets, and rust—like pennies. His quiet tenor voice was smoky and kind when he sang. Today, soft church music played, but there was no singing. It was quiet, except for sobs. Momma was crying too. Why was everyone crying? Yes, Dee-Daddy was dead. But what did that actually mean?
“You must be Taffy,” a voice said from a curly-haired woman I’d never seen before. She put her hands on her knees and wiped her eyes before saying, “I’m Mr. James’s daughter, and I just want to say …” Her voice began to quiver. “He loved you so much. You were like a grandchild to him … when he didn’t often get to see his own grandchildren. Thank you for being so special to him.” She put her arms out for a hug, and even though I didn’t know her, I hugged her.
Momma asked me if I wanted to see him, and I nodded, of course. I always wanted to see Dee-Daddy! But when we came to that big black box, I peered over the edge and didn’t know what to think. Momma clutched my hand tighter, sure I would cry. But it wasn’t him. It didn’t look like him. He wasn’t smiling. He didn’t have his arms open for a big hug. He was pale. He looked like someone had melted makeup all over his face, neck, and hands. I’d never seen him wear a suit. He didn’t smell like firewood, flannel, or pennies. He, too, smelled like my Sunday school teacher’s perfume and a little bit like a swimming pool. I hid behind Momma and silently cried like everyone else, not because I was sad. I was confused. I was scared. Who was that? Where was Dee-Daddy? Yes, I knew he fell off a ladder and hit his head, but what really happened to him?
As I hold shards of glass in my hands, I remember. You gave this to me. It has no significance other than the fact you entrusted it to me. I pick up the penny. For some reason, I lift it to my nose, and I remember your smell. Firewood, flannel, and pennies. Then I finally realize: it was you. Four years after your death, I finally understand it wasn’t someone else. You were in the coffin. You are in the coffin. I will never see you on Earth again. When you fell off that ladder, you hit your head on a rock, and your blood spilled on the ground. The dirt became red with life inside you.
I become conscious of the blood coursing through me—the blood you no longer have—and I feel weak. I sink to the floor, and my chest starts to heave. I wail, clutching the penny in my hand, clutching the memories of you I’ve let go.
TAFFETA CHIME especially enjoys writing fiction and poetry. She is the author of two self-published novels, Stoodie and The Last and short stories and poems published across a myriad of literary journals, including The Renew Network, Leaping Clear, and The Laurel Review. She lives in Tennessee with her husband Shane, four-year-old daughter Beili, and two cats.