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(A Death in) Stages, Jacob Nantz

Two brothers drowned in Salem today when their car was washed off a water-covered bridge into Brock Creek

-Times Union

May 14, 1970


HOLD ON just a minute sissy

I can feel my face steamin, burnin up as she just sits there in her chair shakin her head no at me. I’m pacin around the room and Elmer ain’t helpin me, just sittin there too and I know he’s on my side in this. It’s the whole reason we came over here. My glass ain’t empty but I pick up the bottle and pour more anyway and sissy finally speaks up, somethin like J stop drinkin, stop it J, you scare me J, it’s rainin J and you two gotta drive home J stop it

but I won’t sit or stop cause I’m fumin, her matted brown carpet at my feet and I’m kickin it like dirt and kickin it just starin at my feet thinkin of how to twist her mind on this, how to make her understand I need this land, how to put it right that daddy bought this land not just to make a livin but to give that livin down to his kids, to give us somethin better and now I need it, I need it sissy

I need a cigarette and pat my chest pocket but don’t have any there or my jeans and Elmer finally moves, finally does somethin, pulls a cigarette from his shirt and holds it to me and I grab it, set down my drink and light it then keep pacin and pacin, the grandfather clock on the wall starin at me, the second hand stuck between the 12 and 1 waggin at me like a finger scoldin me I need this land sissy I can’t wait til he dies I need it now he ain’t doin nothin with it

and she stands up with that same look she used to get when she was a kid and you crossed her, her bottom jaw bitin up and her eyes stopped from blinkin, and I won’t look at her cause I know she’s been sittin there that whole time thinkin and I don’t wanna hear what she has to say but she says it anyway

It ain’t my fault or daddy’s that you’re a 55 year old man with nothing to show for it J and my ears start ringing so I take a drink and the whiskey puts out my cigarette as I drink if he gave you this land now you’d probably squander it just the same J

and my stomach starts to boil, my gut real hot now and I can feel the steam from it crawlin up my chest and curlin through my throat so I pour more liquor down to put it out but it just fuels it, and soon my guts blazin. I’m chokin on my own steam and it’s creepin up to my brain and foggin my eyes, so I’m tryin to fixate on something besides her or Elmer who hasn’t said a damn thing and I find that clock, that grandfather clock and it’s second hand still waggin at me, and I can feel my fists ball up, the one around my glass and before my sight goes I throw my drink at the damn clock and watch it explode against the face as sissy screams

-

THUMP THUMP wakes me from my rage and I’m in my car, no idea how I got here, sittin here in my driver’s seat and Elmer’s fist keeps at it against my window but I can hardly see him cause it’s dark and rains smotherin my windows, swallowin me, wind takin deep breaths and blowin right up against the side of my car rockin me, and I hear Elmer yellin at me through the glass and I feel my anger boil again, stirs in my stomach so I grab my bottle of whiskey and push the door open into the rain and my brother, and this cold rain’s hittin my face like hail and Elmer grabs my shoulders, his voice far off like thunder and finally I hear him and he’s sayin come on now, come on now we gotta go and he shuts my door and I shield my eyes and see now that it’s my house we’re at, water spittin around the foundation carvin out the flowers and mud of my yard and there in all that mess, two feet stay planted there, and I can see a bit clearer now

it’s one of my boys, D probably, God bless him standin in that mud while that water spits into his legs but he won’t go down, hands against the house where I can see the siding peelin off and he’s holdin it in place, tryin to resist all that mess of the floodwaters and hold this house together, and God bless him, my stomach is settlin but the whiskey comes on stronger now like somethin woke it as Elmer grabs my head and pushes me into his back seat still yelling come on J we gotta go

J it’s time to go

-

GODDAMMIT Elmer grunts as he jerks the car with a brake and I wake as the bottle of Ten High rolls outta the seat to the floor. He musta drank more cause it’s near empty, and I’m in the backseat, head hurtin and it’s still rainin somethin bad and our car’s tilted down toward water rushin like a river gone mad. We’re sittin tilted with the rain spittin round and the wipers racin cross the windshield but even with these brights on I can’t see a thing but this river ambushin us.

Where we at I ask but Elmer doesn’t say nothing, and I see from where I’m sittin his cheeks twitchin cause he’s grindin his teeth which means he’s angry or worried or both and I can feel my anger floodin out of me, just wanna go home and tell D to go back inside, one of my boys was outside and the house was floodin up but Elmer’s steamin and only getting madder as I remember this and my eyes shake into place, straightenin out my vision,

and the rain’s slowin now but the river ain’t, so I crack the window just a bit to think clearer cause I’m too damn drunk and I can feel the rain against my face, wakin’ me like a sorta baptism outta whiskey-sin, and I don’t know how long it’s been but we’re rolled to a stop and I tell Elmer to turn back just take me back and he hollers back to me I am dammit whattayou think I’m doin and my eyes start spinnin so I close em and roll my head back against the seat just rollin rollin to try and stop the spins and I keep thinkin of D and the house wonderin if the house is okay and I should go back need to go back home dammit Elmer take me home

-

HOLD ON and before I can grab hold of anything my head hits the floor where my feet just were knockin my eyes drunk again and before my vision stops spinnin and I can get back on my seat our car’s movin sideways like a boat unhooked and the water’s up to my hip

Goddammit Elmer what the hell is you doin

but his head’s danglin like a tree-limb snipped by lightnin and he’s turnin a wheel that’s turnin tires that ain’t on nothin to turn on so by now the water’s at my throat, and my head’s spinnin again and I can’t tell if it’s the whiskey or the car, and goddamn this water’s cold, but I reach for the door handle and holler for Elmer one last time before I can’t cause I’m swallowin river water, tryin to see through that stream rushin in cause I can’t see the handle I’m tryin to grab and I’m reachin and yellin at Elmer but I’m swallowin water until it’s cuttin at my throat like glass, and my chest is ripe with pain and I’m punchin the water tryin to hit the window but hit nothing

and we sink, hit the floor of the river with a thud and as the rapids thump against my ears I think goddamn Elmer where the hell’d you drive me and hope D went inside and got to sleep and hope sissy knows I need that land and now the pain seeps up my chest into my throat and clogs my eyes and right when I think I’m gonna cough my heart out my mouth I see my own blood swimmin in front of me and out the window, and wonder what’ll come of this, where my blood’ll go and how much, and the pressure of the water around my body squeezes at my temples until my eyes go white and I can see myself as a kid, my face still as stone as I bend to this same creek and sip the water, the same water that’s killin me, and the kid in me looks toward the way of the current like he’s wonderin where it’ll run, who else might wade through it, each ripple related to the other and rushin on by all the people I ever knew on the banks, and as the pressure builds my kidface fades to shadow and I can see myself clear as day in the water there in front of me and I’m wasted, my eyes and cheeks and blood just a whole body wasted, my mouth open like the window lettin water rush in and it’s all I see so I yell into it hopin someone hears I’m yellin my words surgin out but curlin right back into my throat and I stay yellin till my eyes go black and my chest swells and the whole world bursts into silence


Jacob Nantz received his MA in poetry from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Harpy Hybrid Review, The Evansville Review, Gigantic Sequins, and elsewhere. Originally from Chicago, he lives and writes near Washington DC.

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