21. Pride


So there we were. Syrius and I were scheduled to be sent to the front lines in a week or so. We were down to the wire when the order came stating that I could stay at my post at home. When I questioned my commander, he merely smiled and said that a persuasive old friend was looking out for me. That answer was good enough for me. But Syrius had to go nevertheless.

The day of his departure was horrible. Our little family was being torn apart from the inside. Draven’s absence was difficult to bear. Losing Syrius was hard as well. We stayed together until the very last moment. He was cold when it came to his departure, he kept his chin up and was proud of his duties at all times. We took the kids to say goodbye. They didn’t think much of it, they figured that Uncle Syrius would be right back. We tried to explain, but it was useless.

Syrius got on a plane to fight for freedom. To go and preserve what he believed in. He wasn’t scared to die. He never was. Syrius’ a tough guy, he didn’t want us to worry about him. We were going to worry anyway, but so it goes. He didn’t say goodbye, he never did. Friends never part ways in such a finite sense. He just said that he’d see us all again soon and to take care. There were hugs and kisses all around, and then he was gone. We watched until the plane was far off in the distance, a mere speck of reality. Then it too was gone. Down to two.

We missed him dearly, the kids especially. We wrote a letter for every day of his absence to let him know we cared. He wrote back telling of his boredom and great desire to be home. He told us that the war would soon be over and he’d wasted a trip in going. The enemy was surrendering right and left, as were the Americans. It was another Vietnam. We were going to pull out soon. He was hopeful of being back in a few weeks. His letters continued to curse the political jackasses that got him put there. We were sympathetic to his rambling.

I went back to work sniping. Darius worked at Sketch’s shop when she could, I’d help when I could afford time. Sketch had left it to us in his absence and in the wake of Madison’s death. We hired the new generation to handle matters. We had a number of great kids, they were a separate family on their own. Pike was the manager in charge, we trusted him with everything. Under him were about six artists, his girl included. They were similar to us, a tight-knit family. We were close to them and they were close with us. Our art was passed on through them.

After a while we got news of Sketch’s passing. He went out in peace, quietly slipping between worlds. The store was left to us permanently. The kids only met Sketch once or twice, they weren’t expected to grieve. Yet, they did. He was kept with his children, we went to visit them often. Usually we’d come to find fresh flowers already there. Draven’s existence was fleeting; we knew he was there but never physically saw him come or go. From there, things were calm and routine for awhile, only a short while. The calm before the storm.

The war ended after years of conflict. A truce was called as we tried to pull out. The enemy gave in gradually, some of the more determined troops kept fighting though. Our troops suffered from such spineless surprise attacks. Syrius wrote that he’d be home soon and missed us terribly. The date was circled on the calendar as we counted down. The war was officially over, fires raged overseas as the enemy tried to prolong their dying breath. We read the headlines of our troops helping innocents and being killed in the process. It was tragic. We wrote back to Syrius frantically to make sure he was alright. He always ended his letters with, “take care, I’ll be home soon, don’t wait up too late for me, you’ll burn the light out.”

It was a lousy day when I walked home from the tattoo parlor. A man fell in step behind me, watching curiously. Being paranoid, I quickened my step in an effort to lose him. He merely doubled pace. I shifted in the crowd and grabbed the surprised man who looked shocked to be caught off guard. I demanded a response, he reached for a badge in his pocket. I let him go as he dusted himself off and stammered a response.

“I’m from the State Department,” he muttered, annoyed to be proven weaker. My heart sank as I escorted him home so that we could talk. Our short travel passed in silence; we arrived after ages. I introduced him to Darius and we sat.

“My name is Mrs. Harris, I’d like to express my condolences on behalf of the government. Sorry that it took so long. I couldn’t find . . .,” Darius’ voice cut in. “What are you talking about? Explain.” The man paused and re-established himself.

“I regret to inform you that your . . . friend has sacrificed himself on behalf of our great country. I’m terribly sorry,” the man’s words were short and brief. He handed us an envelope of paperwork that we were told was the necessary pieces. Included was a small bundle in Syrius’ sketchy handwriting. Darius and I took the papers and listened as burial plans were established.

“What happened?”

The main looked up, “What do you mean?”

“How’d he die?”


Darius was frustrated with the political nonsense. She glared at the man and demanded to know the truth. The man was stuttering to find an excuse, but eventually, he bent.

“He was ready to come home, the war was over. A woman came to him, begging for help. The rest of his battalion turned her away, Syrius went. He was ambushed, surrounded in moments, he refused to quit. He fought violently to the end. The woman led soldiers to their deaths to avenge her own losses. Syrius fell prey. He survived the attack, when he got back to base, a shot rang out and he was gone. As he’s taken others, a sniper had taken him.”

The man pointed to the bundle. We opened it and found all types of random writings. Syrius’ mind, preserved in black and white. The man rambled on for a while longer before showing himself out. The funeral would be in a few days, as soon as the body was returned. Darius and I sat in silence. Syrius was dead. Uncle Syrius was gone. We sat in silence, holding one another. The paperwork was scattered on the table, we looked past it. Tears came eventually, nothing uncontrollable. We had another funeral to prepare for. Darius and I would tell the kids together. I called up Pike and asked if he could do us a favor. Him and his girl showed up within ten minutes.

We sat around and talked. Darius put the children to sleep and came back to us. The “kids” knew Syrius, it was comforting to have them there. They stayed with the kids while Darius and I went for a walk. The night was chilly, we stayed close as we moved. We only had each other now. It would have to be enough. We walked on, talking quietly. There was so much to say, and yet, there was nothing. We were down to only us, and the kids. Our future. Syrius had been dead for years. After Faye’s passing, he was never the same. Yet, he still had his humanity. He was like Cicero at times, looking for death. But he was our brother, we accepted him and cushioned the fall as best we could. We understood one another; his absence left a giant void in our hearts. Things started falling through the cracks.

We walked without reason, only necessity. We moved forward because we had to. I remembered a time in our lives when we’d do such foolish things all the time, walking around in the rain out of the joy of it. We were at a loss for words. In a few short months, we’d lost Madison, Syrius, Sketch . . . and Draven. Cicero didn’t count, though he too was a casualty. We were surrounded by death and destruction on all sides, but none of that mattered. We had each other and the kids to take care of. And we had another family, the kids at the tattoo parlor, Pike and his little crew. They were like younger versions of ourselves, we were repeated through them. They were taking care of our children for us while we walked. Kids taking care of kids, what’s the world coming to?

The world was renewed, the war was over. The streets were back to what they once were, milling with people bustling here and there for no good reason. They rushed because they felt they had to. They let life pass them by. Fools. Darius and I savored every moment we had and appreciated it as such. I looked into Darius’ eyes and we both stopped. It had begun to rain ages ago. We stared up at the sky and back at each other. For that single moment, nothing else mattered. Life was throwing us one curve ball after another and we took them blindly. My eyes caught a slight movement seen only by a subtle change in my peripheral vision. A shape that was absolutely still moved and turned away, moving down the street solemnly. Darius turned to look around, but he was already gone. She looked back at me curiously, then let it be. We stood there in the rain for awhile, then moved toward home. I don’t know how much time passed, it was morning almost when we got in.

Pike was sprawled out on the couch. He was a good kid, naturally a freak. He had a story of his own, we all did. His girl’s name was Syn. I don’t know how she got such a name, but it was hers and we didn’t hold it against her. She was sitting in the kids’ room watching light creep in through the window slowly. She was dozing off slightly. Darius and I put a blanket over each of them and let them be. We wouldn’t kick them out or force them home, it wasn’t necessary. I carried Syn out to Pike and put her with him. They were like Darius and myself. We stood and stared down at our mirror image. It truly was miraculous. Nothing short of amazing.

We’d handled a lot in our lives. Recently we’d dealt with everything sevenfold, probably payback for our “carefree” youth. Now we had to pay. But we had one another and that was all that mattered. Everything else was an obstacle to hinder us, to test our boundaries. It was tragic, and horrible and I missed the lost severely, but here we were. We stayed up and watched the kids sleep, both ours and the additional two. They were all ours in a way. We stayed awake and protected them from whatever evils may come to haunt their pleasant slumber. And Darius and I watched the sun rise above the horizon of a world of peace where the innocent could be slaughtered for no reason again. Here’s to prosperity.

Pike and his girl woke up first. Darius and I were sitting in the kitchen keeping to ourselves when we heard footsteps. They were slow and confused, without pattern or thought. They just shifted here and there. We got up to say good morning to the confused pair. They started stammering explanations and apologies here and there. We calmed them and explained that we’d come home and it was alright and we hadn’t wanted to disturb them. They woke up a bit and left after a little while, ready for the new day. Darius and I looked down at the world. There was something calming about Syrius’ death, it wasn’t unsettling like everything else. It brought us together and put something into place that we couldn’t find before. I don’t know what it was. From his destruction came our salvation. I couldn’t explain it if I tried. It just was. And we made the best of it. Again, I don’t know how. I wish I did. If you know, could you enlighten us? Thanks.

We woke the kids up and took care of them as we might on any normal day. Darius and I sat them down and calmly explained that Uncle Syrius had gone away and wasn’t coming back. They took it well. I can’t be sure actually, it’s hard to tell with kids. Pandora was just a baby, you couldn’t tell anything with her. She was a year or so by now, I lost track. Our kids were six or so, they understand basic concepts. They were pretty clever for little kids. Even if they were brain-dead, I’d love them. They didn’t cry or get worked up. They kind of nodded a bit and let it sink in as best as they could. They asked a dozen childish questions, which was expected. We took it in stride and answered as best as we could manage and they were satisfied. We prepared them for a new day. I was off today. I had the day to spend with those I loved.

The funeral had to be arranged of course. The undertaker saw more of me then anybody in his life I’m sure. He was surprised to see me again so soon as everything was set up. Syrius would be buried with his beloved so that he could protect her for all eternity. It was requested in his will. His will wasn’t really official, it was a shard of paper that he’d rambled a few things on here and there. Most of it was crossed out and re-written from when Madison died. Everything was left in the care of the gang and that we should arrange a proper and honorable departure for him. We saw that everything was nothing short of perfect. The undertaker gave me a funny look while I was there.

“Care to make plans ahead of time?”

I looked at him and asked what he was implying. I was confused by his words but didn’t want to appear ignorant. He explained that being as how so many close to me were gone, maybe it was going around and I should prepare myself. The thought crossed my mind, but I let it pass. I knew that Darius would take care of me in this life and the next, I had no worries about it. As much as it’d break my heart to lose her, I’d make sure she got a proper burial first. Anything that happened to me after that isn’t my responsibility.

The funeral was set on a day that started out dark and gloomy, then naturally got lighter and cheerier. It switched between the extremes all day. It reflected our emotions in many ways. Sure, there were tears when he was lowered into the cold earth, but then it stopped and we were fine again. Like I said, I don’t know how much of it the children really understood. The tattoo parlor family came too, we’d closed the store in honor of Madison, Sketch and Syrius. It was only proper. The priest’s words were floating in the air like a faint tune, I blocked most of it out. I don’t even know why we had a priest. We weren’t all that Christian, but there was a comfort in the routine words and the uniformity of it all. I liked that part of burials. Everybody’s equal in birth and death. And only at those two times. Only two occurrences in an entire lifetime. Tragic.

We went home and sat around for a while, the kids from work, Darius and I, our children. We all sat and talked about how things used to be. We sat and laughed and cried and played music and acted as we had as teenagers ourselves. It was bizarre. But it helped. We were in higher spirits. We spent most of the day like that. It was during that little session that I decided to quit the military and go back to the tattoo parlor full time. I’d have more time for my family. And tattooing was easier on my conscience, especially with the war over.

Most of the kids left to go back home. Pike and Syn stayed until night fell and the real kids were asleep. Then they too said their goodbyes and headed for home. They had good hearts and strong minds, both of them. Darius and I sat curled up together. Syrius’ papers were spread all over the table at random. We picked them up and began to read, her and I. Some of it was nonsense, some were letters he never had the chance to write. And then there were entries, like a journal, organized and neat. Those were kept in a little plastic bag with the rest wrapped around it. It was this that she and I read that night until our eyes were dry from crying. The words were his, in his hand, and we realized the reality of life. He was dead. Syrius was just as dead as the rest of them. All we had were his words, whatever he decided to leave us with. We sat and read for hours, for days. We stopped to take care of the children, but went back to reading. We’d read in shifts and explain it to one another. He was truly gone and nothing could bring him back. No amount of denial would be sufficient. We were left with his memories and dreams and aspirations, all faded and destroyed now. Merely ashes caught in the wind. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

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