The God of the Lost comes to everyone, at some point or another. For Jamie Doran, it was a few days after he’d been told his mother died of pneumonia, and that if he wanted, the Sheriff would take him back to the house, for the night, to stay with his aunt, who had just made the drive from Bergstrom.
He said that would be fine, but he’d like a little time alone with his mother – he wouldn’t call her a body – until the doctors had the paperwork in order. When the Sheriff left, Jamie moved to slip his hand into his mother’s, his calloused child-hand sliding along the dry, papery skin of her mother-fingertips. He moved to press his palm to hers, but instead, turned her hand at the wrist, and leaned down to kiss the center of it, as she once did for him, when he was very little.
“Here,” she would say, as he was headed off to camp, or to Grandma’s, or to school, or a sleepover. “Here’s a kiss to hold on to. Close your hand around it, and keep it until you miss me most, then you can have it with you, and I won’t be far away.”
He brought his lips close to her skin, but before he could give her a kiss to take with her, wherever she was going, he noticed the words written there. At first, he’d thought it was a birthmark, or a bruise, or maybe some betadine, but when he blinked, he realized it was really words, really written there, in the brownish purple ink of a surgical pen.
I’M ALWAYS WITH YOU
I LOVE YOU, JAMIE
PS HE’S NOT HERE BUT HE WILL COME SOON.
The PS made it seem absurd – not that what she wrote was absurd (though it kind of was, he thought) but that there was a PS at all – and he giggled out loud, but the giggles turned into tears as he laid his head down on the hospital bed, and cried the tears that marked him as well and truly alone.
His aunt was waiting for him, but she was the divorced aunt from his mother’s brother, who’d been well estranged from the family, and the rest of his mother’s side of the family was spare, and scattered. His father was gone long before he was born, and his mother never talked about him, not even to say his name, only to wave away the mention of him and mutter, “He’s not here, is he?” His aunt was waiting for him, but his mother was gone – completely gone, and that left Jamie very much alone.
The ride home was a quiet one; the radio in his aunt’s car had been permanently set to some country and western station – it wasn’t that Jamie didn’t like the twang of it, but to be honest, songs about broken hearts and wrecked cars and dead dogs were going to fall on already-traumatized ears, and so the minute he looked like he was paying attention to the radio, his dark eyes focusing, his aunt flicked it off sharply and said, “She’s in a better place.”
Far from being an atheist, Jamie often talked to God, especially in the small hours, but at the moment, all he could think of was how his mother was lying in a hospital bed in a dark, cold room, wires shoved under her skin, a breathing tube down her throat, and either a catheter shoved between her legs, or a puddle of pee gone cold under her, and he said, “No. No, she’s not, Aunt Kathy. Ma’s dead, and that’s a really shitty place.”
“James Andrew Doran!” Kathy gasped, her fists white knuckling on the steering wheel as she drove through the rain, tailgating the car in front of her. “Watch your language. Your mother taught you better than—”
“Ma taught me to say my feelings, and if my feelings were swears that I’d better be sure I was in the company of someone who’d understand, or someone I didn’t care if they didn’t,” he said dully, turning his head to stare back out the window at the blurry, grey-black landscape swiftly slipping by.
“Well, I’m not sure as I understand,” Kathy said, somewhat irritably.
“Don’t care if you do,” Jamie quipped in return, and it was the truth; Aunt Kathy never liked his mother much, and Jamie wasn’t particularly looking forward to try and deal with her at all.