Inheritance: The Other Side of Loss

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Jeannette

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Justin Niktz kept his dad’s ashes in the glove compartment of the blue Chevy Tahoe he had inherited after the funeral and legal paperwork and whatnot. Old Man Niktz’s cremains—pooling at the bottom of an oversized plastic shopping bag that Justin had triple-knotted—and the beat-up car were the only things he ever got from his father. Which was okay by Justin. It was still more than what his mom had given him. A whole lot of nothing. Justin could never wrap his head around how she just up and ghosted him and his dad like that.

The Chevy was little more than a clunker, but he felt a kinship with the poor old girl that had been left to disintegrate out of sight in the back field for most of his childhood. His dad had run her to the ground. Justin tried to breathe some life back into her for a couple weeks, but it was no surprise when the alternator gave out for good; he was just thankful she decided to do it after he was on his way home from work. He managed to coax the corpse off the highway about three miles from home, into the empty parking lot of SunnySide Truk-StopShop near the sage brush that everyone in this part of town considered landscaping. The wind picked up a good bit. Justin felt rain on its way. It would probably storm before sunset.

SunnySide’s entryway sported a bulletin board pockmarked with business cards tacked over faded flyers for long-passed church services. Justin called the tow company whose card was the least sun-bleached. Then he sat alone in the Truk-StopShop diner, drinking tepid coffee that was particularly oily on top, waiting for Uncle Carl’s Towing.

After an hour, Uncle Carl, or a guy who fit the bill, clomped into the diner; the big guy reached up and encased the little bell over the door with his lumpy, calloused mitts, muffling the happy ding of his arrival.
He strode over to Justin, and with his arms crossed and legs spread, announced, “Car ain’t out there.”

Justin shrugged his shoulders and nodded his head, not looking Carl in the eye. He didn’t know what to say, didn’t know what Carl meant, but Carl seemed the type whose announcements always went uncontested.

Carl sighed. “Just took off, all by herself, I guess.”

“I guess,” Justin said, sipping from a cup that no longer held anything, but still smelled acidic.

“Real head scratcher, that one.”

“Sure is.”

“You’re Rob’s boy.”

Justin kept nodding.

“Ol’ Niktz,” Carl all but growled. “Yep, his girls do that sometimes. Just head on over to the junk yard. Take care of themselves.”

The coffee roiled in Justin’s gut.

Carl gave up on small talk. “It’s forty bucks for services rendered, even if I don’t tow nothing.”

Justin gave Carl some cash from the ATM in the back near the locked, uni-sex bathroom and left a ten-dollar tip for the waitress who had lost herself somewhere in the kitchen. He followed Carl’s thumping gait outside and watched him hoist himself into the tow truck.

No Chevy. The parking lot remained empty except for a small pile of garbage in the spot where the car had given up the ghost. Justin stood still as a tombstone, feeling faint, as Carl peeled out as quickly as his beast of a truck could go. The tires kicked up a spectral cyclone of dirt mixed with exhaust. It lingered long after Carl’s taillights disappeared.

The undulating spiral beckoned Justin near, and he realized that what he thought was garbage was actually the bag of his dad’s ashes; the handles, now somehow untied, flapped spastically in the wind that carried the ashes into the darkening horizon.

Justin picked the bag up without noticing the bottom seam was broken; a grey stream leaked out with the dogged persistence of the sand in an hourglass. He tried to catch it at first, but—didn’t.

The wind calmed for a moment while he just watched, bearing witness as bits of Old Man Niktz sifted through his fingers onto the ancient parking lot. His stomach finally gave way then; he vomited up brackish bile that seeped into the cracks in the pavement. He stayed bent over for a beat, noticing some dribbles of puke on the rubber toe of his sneaker. He rubbed it off in the pile of ash.

He felt a lot better afterward, and started walking home with the empty plastic bag shoved in his back pocket. Storm winds spiraled up a dust devil that seemed to follow at Justin’s heels, like a dog. The rain let loose.

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Image of Karen Merva
Karen Merva · ago
Read... them reread. Deep
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