by Shayleene MacReynolds
Death as we know it is nothing like the war torn, gang ridden streets of Los Angeles, where wearing red in the wrong neighborhood will get you a bullet through the back of your head. Hell, standing in your yard will get you some metal flak from a drive by piercing straight through your spinal cord, severing your life.
It's nothing like the crack houses, where an extra dose of the good stuff leaves you trembling in a fit of seizures on the floor, white foam pouring out the torn corners of your chapped lips and everyone around you is too damn high to work their pay as you go phones and so you die there on a floor littered with garbage, surrounded by tattered walls growing with mold. And no one ever knew your name.
And these people, they tell you about their friends, the ones who died, like it was nothing. Like they were lighting a damned cigarette, one Class A from a pack of 20, 5%, not even a big enough statistic to make the wind shift its course.
But people aren't numbers. People aren't statistics the more we assign them numerical value the more their worth declines haven't we learned anything yet? The moment you subtract a life you’re left with less than you had when you began. Worth isn't about the product it's about the labor that went into it and there's no cost value we can assign to the loving embrace of a mother who sits upon the edge of your bed at night, watching you feign sleep. Tracing the lining of your face and wondering at the small frown lines that, at such a young age, have already begun to form. Thinking and dreaming of all you will do and all you will become and loving you fiercely with the caress of a hand across the tiny little foot protruding from the edge of great-grandmother's quilt.
And then mother sits in the front pew of the church and instead of being shrouded in grandmother's quilt you are bathed in the quilted satin sheen of the casket lined in white silk. And your face is still and your eyes are closed and your arms are crossed over your chest in peace and your feet are shoved into a pair of shoes three sizes too small and the bullet hole is covered by the 1970's three-piece suit bought on senior discount day at the Salvation Army. It's brown, tweed pattern stifling, the wool scratching at your gray flesh but you can't feel its itch. You can't feel anything.
And someone donated some carnations because that's all they could afford and so the lonely vase sits beside a photograph of you smiling at your high school graduation in its gilded frame and it looks cheap and it looks tacky and it looks nothing like you.
And she shakes the hands, one after the next, the wadded up Kleenex tucked into the long sleeve of her left arm. It slips out every now and then, the soft whiteness of the paper triangle like a kerchief in the breast pocket of the vest that you wear. And her eyes are dry and rimmed in red and she's sick and tired of the constant overflowing of apologies that trickle forth like the holy water in the marbled fountain entryway.
She looks into your eyes but she doesn't look into your eyes and you grow nervous from your place within that snaking line and you know that it could have been you and even more so, that it probably should have been you. And so you sneak out of the line and you think that no one's seen but your retreating back is the first thing that her eyes have seen all day.
You pull open the weighty, wooden doors and you step outside into a sky shrouded with the heavy mists of mourning and you lean against the concrete brick walls of the church, the little stones crumbling against your back. You take out the pack of Class A cigarettes and light one up. One of 20. 5%. And you inhale deeply and you take the smoke into your lungs and you think about the bullet hole in the chest and you choke on the cloud of vapor as it winds its way into the back of your throat and you are sick and you are nauseous and you are still alive but not for long. You may be two of 20 you may be number 15 you may be number 18 or even 20 itself but eventually you will be just a number, cemetery plot 452, dotted with red carnations that bleed out upon your grave like crimson blood upon the earth.
Shayleene MacReynolds is a grad student at California State University Northridge, working towards her Master's Degree in Creative Writing. A bartender, writer, editor, and Social Media savant for a local restaurant, Shayleene is concerned with all things human, both enamored and intrigued by the emotional connections forged between us. Her writings explore the capacity for connection that we maintain as human beings, and the vast responsibility we owe to one another to connect better, to love better, and to be better.