Someone delivered the news and we stood up without questions or any sound at all that was of our choosing. There were no shoes, either, just the dirty linoleum steps and then the pavement, still hot but soaked with the evening. We had become one thing, and we did not need to look at each other to know how we were supposed to move.
We turned towards the light by the side of the bench, where she was crouched making some noise that we didn’t know but that we had to attend to, had to pick up and carry for her because that was who we had become in the dark. When we made a semicircle around her our shadows bit into the light and she looked up, gulping and dirty with crying. The counselor was waiting for us, not quite touching the bench because it was hers and tonight nothing that was hers was to be touched by anyone else. The counselor saw what had happened to us, that we were ready, and she whispered something about the hospital, the parking lot. She was gold under the light like that was the color of the shadow of the grief circling her, trying to find a place to land.
The counselor asked if she was ready to go, and she hobbled up. As we walked she tried to fix it, walk like there wasn’t some horrible secret that she couldn’t destroy even if she looked like a hero on the way to the car. There was only so far she could push her shoulders out and even as they became metal in the streetlight the thing still flew, waiting to see if it could nest inside of her. She were laced with a grandness that was now hers even if it had been forced upon her by the thing she didn’t know, by us around her. We were only ceremonial, and there was nothing for us to do but to protect her crouching under her new skin of armor.
When we got to the end of the path she drifted to the curb. She were not quite in the parking lot but she was thinking about it, away from us and not exalted. There wasn’t time for her to become someone whose job is to hold their uncertainty, the fear that’s ready to snap into grief if touched, regally around them like a cape or a name we would whisper afterward. But there was something there in the street behind the lot, a tiny beacon, and it wasn’t for any of us standing. We were there to wait and not shock the waiting alive. But as we stood, all of us, I thought that I saw it breaking, that maybe it would happen anyway. And then I opened my mouth and shivered, because there I was and I had no other eyes.
The step forward happened like a trip over a curb, or a fence, and then she turned and I had nothing to do but wait as she stood still. I had come from nowhere and I had taken my helmet off, and I was not supposed to touch her. We spent a moment either deciding or being afraid, but then she fell into me and collapsed as the fear came out, both of ours, wet and sobbing, into our shoulders.
(note to self: edited 4/17)