The Weight of Words

So Super Dead cover, remix 02.3, gallerySince well before the birth of “So Super Dead”, I’ve passed some quick but quality time with its narrating protagonist, Nicky – starting in the flash fic where I first heard himmer’s voice, “Superpower Outage”; again in a second flash fic, which I would eventually rework into the novel’s first chapter; and then there’s the story below. It’s from my Blue Period (late 2016 – hopefully not beyond 2019), characterized by artistic ennui, life fatigue, and general despair. Fortunately, although Nicky may not have been born of such times, s/he is very much made for them. Enjoy…

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Dennis sat dejected on the bench at the edge of a grave – the latest in a small cemetery laid out beside a smaller funeral home, where a too-small funeral and subsequent burial had taken place in a long blink of an afternoon. Everyone involved had been gone for a while, excepting Dennis. He had nowhere else to be.

He didn’t cry, but managed to look quite woebegone nonetheless. Head hung low between hunched shoulders. Elbows sunk down onto lap, wrists dangling loose over knees. Dry eyes hooded and haunted and fixed on the freshly turned dirt. A body lay beneath it, and the moon just kept on spinning in the sky.

Senses dulled by melancholy, he was slow to notice that someone had lowered to a seat on the bench with him. Maybe in Dennis’s early twenties, maybe younger; on the short side, and softly slender. They wore skinny pants, a three-quarter sleeve jacket, and summer fedora, all in a dressy-casual black, rounded off with saddle shoes and a slim gray tie. Only warm copper skin and chocolate-brown eyes kept them from reading like a black-and-white photograph.

“Hey,” they greeted – and the voice did as little as their appearance to push Dennis’s impression from they into a more binary he or she. “How are you doing?”

Dennis didn’t bother to suppress a groan. “I can’t believe people are still asking me crap like that. Why waste the breath? It’s not like you care.”

The someone blinked. “Of course I care.”

“Well, too late,” Dennis snapped, and looked pointedly away, back to the grave.

The someone was quiet for a moment. Then, “Sorry I missed the funeral,” they said. “I didn’t hear about it ‘til an hour ahead of time, and by then I’d committed to a dentist appointment. And wouldn’t you know Dr. Jaybeck was running late? I got over here soon as I could, though.”

Dennis looked up again, belatedly curious. “How did you hear about the funeral? Are you one of my cousins’ friends, or…?” Not that most of his cousins had bothered to come.

“Oh. No,” they said. “Got a notification on my phone. If you don’t mind my asking, what was the cause of death?”

Dennis stared at them flatly. “Suicide.”

“Aw, man.” Their face scrunched up in what was probably sympathy. “Why?”

“Does it matter?”

“I figure it’s got to.”

“You figure wrong.” Dennis turned away – from the someone, from the grave, from everything. “Turns out nothing matters. Not a person’s life. Not a person’s death. I thought…” His voice choked off. Not tears. Just that ache he’d been dragging around inside him for what felt like a little longer than forever. The ache that even now, unfairly, weighed his spirit down. “You’d think that people too busy to care about anything else you had to say would listen to a statement as intense as a shock gun to the head. You’d think that would get their attention.”

They said softly, “So it was for attention.”

Dennis couldn’t hold back a snort that was almost a laugh. “Pretty pathetic, huh, when you say it that way.”

“Pathetic,” the someone echoed. “From Greek. Pathos. To experience. To suffer.” They sighed. “Words mean more when they’re used right.” Another pause, then: “Maybe they’d mean more if they were used on time, too.”

Dennis glanced over his shoulder. “What do you mean?”

“There’s this thing I do,” they said, one knee jiggling up and down. “I talk to people. Help them move past their problems. But the thing is, it’s always like this. Like now. When they’re already dead.”

Dennis watched their eyes trace his name on the grave marker.

“You’re wrong to call it too late. But I admit, it could be earlier. It’s just, my phone doesn’t tell me until after you’ve died. Until you call me, or your number shows up in my contacts.”

“Or you get a notification about the funeral,” said Dennis.

“Yeah,” they agreed.

“That’s… weird.”

They shrugged. “It’s part of my superpower. Talking’s the other part. And listening.” Their gaze searched Dennis’s face. “What is it that you wanted heard?”

“I dunno.” Reflexively, Dennis sniffled. “Anything.”

“Well,” said the someone, settling more comfortably on the bench, “I’m all clear on dental appointments for another six months. You’ve got me for as long as you need. Lay it all on me.”

“Thanks…”

“Nicky.”

“…Nicky,” Dennis said, and talked until the aching weight of unheard words was gone.

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For more Nicky and himmer’s rapport with the deceased, check out my second-most-recent novel, “So Super Dead”!

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