“Lifeway Christian Store was exactly what we expected it to be — white and too-well lit, as if the only purpose of its brightness was to expose flaws and sins.” A work of flash fiction that acts as an ode to grief, and to queerness..
by: Lauren Saxon
To be honest, neither one of us should have been driving. Drunk, not from alcohol, but from grief. We wore it like goggles. Dark sunglasses, warping reality and clouding our thoughts. We should not have been driving. But because She was dead and we refused to let Her be forgotten, refused to talk about Her in the past tense, we planned a vigil.
Jo’s car is named Stella. It’s an old Ford Taurus, maroon red, littered with dents and scratches. So old that the aux cord can only be played through the cassette opening in the dashboard. On the way there, Jo drove. We played country music, not because either one of us liked it, but because She did. Does. Jo and I had both spent too many hours tortured by Her off-key singing. Too many hours groaning as She cranked the latest Keith Urban and Kelly Clarkson, windows down. The windows were always down. With Her arm dangling out of the car, drumming away. So that’s what we did. On the way to pick up our candle order. Hundreds of candles. The real ones, long and slender. The fake ones, short and circular.
Jo pulled into the parking lot. We instinctively held hands, then thought better of it. After all, we were walking into Lifeway Christian Store. It was located just outside of Nashville. Far enough to be considered The South and dangerous for girls who kiss one another.
Lifeway Christian Store was exactly what we expected it to be — white and too-well lit, as if the only purpose of its brightness was to expose flaws and sins. The bookshelves were stocked full of the word of God. Bibles. Kid’s Bibles. Self-help novels: Trusting God’s Path, How to Find Him. The soft music playing in the background was, of course, Christian music. Jo & I explored, incredulously, as the staff got our candles together. We felt entirely unsafe. Judged even by the walls. We giggled at the kid’s section of the store, where a small monitor played a children’s TV show— Bibleman. It depicted Jesus or Adam or David as a superhero, saving cities & helping little, old ladies cross the street. And there we stood.
Two, queer women. Grieving the suicide of their queer friend. But this is where the candles were. At one point, Jo left me alone to use the bathroom. She was so frazzled after washing her hands that she carried out the soap. This may always be my favorite portrayal of grief. Jo, small and shaking, her face, a deer in headlights. A teardrop shaped bottle of soap, being death-gripped in her right palm. The subtle scent of lavender. I just laughed. Hugged her too tightly for Lifeway Christian Store’s liking and mumbled what we were both thinking. We’ve got to get out of here.
On our way to the checkout counter, we picked up a wooden cross. It was a last-minute decision. Waist high, it read ‘In Loving Memory’ in slanted cursive. We figured Her parents might like it. The two of us coughed up hundreds of dollars and made a run for the car. Once inside, we laughed for minutes at a time. After we both finished laughing, Jo started sobbing, so I drove home. I needed a break from country music and plugged my phone into the cassette aux. SZA’s “20 Something” forced itself through Stella’s speakers.
Stuck in these 20 somethings
Hopin’ my 20 somethings won’t end
Hopin’ to keep the rest of my friends
Prayin’ the 20 somethings don’t kill me, kill me
I pulled Stella over to the side of the highway. Because we were all 20 something. Because unlike Jo and I, She would always be stuck in Her 20 somethings. The candles. The cross. Jo.
I pulled all of us over.
Lauren Saxon is a queer, Black poet and engineer living in Portland, ME. She loves her cats, her Subaru, and spends way too much time on twitter (@Lsax_235). Lauren’s work is featured in Flypaper Magazine, Empty Mirror, Homology Lit, Nimrod International Journal and more. Her debut chapbook, “You’re My Favorite” is out now with Thirty West Publishing.