Never Look Back
by Emily Spahn
Description: Fifteen years before the events of Pierside, Maddy West says goodbye to her parents.
It was 'bout a week after Ma and Pop died, and Harry looked 'bout ten years older. He saw me come downstairs in my jeans and flannel shit, my red hair barely brushed.
“I suppose it's too much to ask ya' to put on a dress? This is Ma's funeral, Maddy,” he said without much heart. I knew he wasn't gonna fight me on it. Harry was the biggest man I knew of, but since our folks died his shoulders had been hunched like someone dropped a mountain on 'em.
Walt came in just then, wipin' his eyes. He was fifteen, two years older than me, and he hadn't stopped cryin' since they died. I did my share of cryin', I ain't gonna lie, but sometime you gotta see that ain't bringin' them back.
“Harry, I can't do that readin'. I just can't do it,” he said, tryin' to keep it together.
Mary Ellen, Harry's wife, set down plates of food for the both of us. Harry just nodded to Walt. “Don't worry 'bout that. Ma'd be proud either way.”
I took a bite of my eggs and thought a minute. “Yeah, but Pop would tell ya' to man the fuck up.”
Walt started to cryin' again, and Harry glared at me. “Madlyn West!”
“Well it's his funeral too, ain't it?”
“You get on upstairs and get ready,” Harry ordered.
“I ain't goin',” I said, finishin' off my eggs real quick.
“What the hell do you mean, you ain't goin'?” Harry said.
“This whole thing's dumb. They ain't here. The Follower's took 'em hundreds of miles away, we don't even got bodies to bury.”
Harry opened and closed his mouth a few times like he didn't quite know what to say. Then he said, kinda soft, “That may be, but it's the only goodbye we're gonna get, baby sister.”
I stood up and headed towards the hall. Then I said, loud enough for him and Walt to hear, “Well fuck that. I ain't goin'.”
Harry stood up to come after me, but I hurried out the house and took off runnin' down the long driveway. I was most'a the way to the river path before Harry got to the door. I knew he wouldn't have time to chase me, bein' as folks were gonna be showin' up for the funeral.
It was a cool fall day, and even colder once I got in the woods. I shoulda grabbed a jacket, but I wasn’t turnin’ back. I just wouldn’t let myself shiver as I followed the trail.
The river path led to town, and I made my way across both the streets to the railroad tracks on the other side. Mrs. Jay saw me from the porch of the clinic and looked at me funny, since I was supposed to be back up at the farm. But I'm used to gettin' looked at funny, with wearin' pants and haulin' my fishin' pole or BB gun with me. They could look as funny as they wanted, I was doin' things my way from here on, and there was no one left alive who was gonna stop me.
I figured I oughta say my goodbyes to Ma and Pop. Now, there wasn't no use doin' that up at the farm, with all the folks from town there makin' a fuss. Like I told Harry, Ma and Pop weren't there, they didn't die there, and we didn't even have no bodies.
I couldn't get out to Smith Lake, where they died, ‘cause if I could'a the Saint of Death would'a been dead already. But I knew a way my goodbye could get there. I picked some flowers, the last of what was growin' that year, and I set out along the railroad tracks.
I crossed the railroad bridge and walked another half an hour towards Hilton. When I figured it'd been far enough, I went and laid the flowers on the track. I knew the train wouldn't take 'em all the way out to Smith Lake, but maybe they'd get closer then just layin' 'em by the gravestone Harry'd put on the family plot.
A ways away, I sat where I could still see the tracks. Then I said, “I miss y'all a whole lot. And I guess I'm sorry for everythin' I done that disappointed ya'. And I guess you're sorry for dyin', so that makes us even.”
I felt tears in my eyes, and I didn't want 'em. I didn't wanna cry no more. I didn't want 'em to be gone. But they were gone, and the tears came anyhow. I cried good for a while, then I got real mad, which felt better than cryin'. It didn't hurt as much.
I started talkin' again, “We're even. So I ain't gonna blame you for nothin', not me droppin' outta school, or what folks say 'bout me, that's all me. But y'all don't get a say no more, either. I do what I want, I take care'a myself. Now that's clear, I guess that's it.”
I tried to stay mad, but I couldn't. I just looked at those flowers on the tracks. I couldn't even think how I really felt. Angry at 'em for leavin' me, and scared 'cause the same folks could come and get Harry, or me, and guilty 'cause Lee and Harry kept me from tryin' to save 'em. And so sad I didn't know what to do with myself.
After a while I sighed, and said, “I'm always gonna love you folks. And I'm always gonna miss ya'. And I'm always gonna be your girl. Bye, Ma. Bye, Pop.”
It wasn't long after that the train came roarin' by, headed towards Hilton, then Pierside, then Smith Lake. When it was gone again, there wasn't a petal of them flowers left on the tracks. I dried my eyes and looked at the spot for a minute, then headed back towards town.