by Janice D. Soderling
In the cheap coffin, nestled in white satin, his body retained none of the enormous presence that had filled much larger rooms with respect, that made men step off the pavement when they saw Big Swede coming. I saw his massive hands, folded lightly one over the other, and the old fear seized me. They had slapped, pushed, beat my brothers and myself throughout our brief childhood. “I’ll teach you to be mean,” he said each time we misbehaved. And he did.
He called them “the do-gooders”, those sweet-smelling ladies who left the charity box while he was out looking for work. We ate the fruit, the candy before he came home. He emptied the rest on the church steps. The stray dogs got turkey for Christmas. We got beans. For a few days Willie had a bowlegged plastic cowboy in his pocket.
To be fair, something he never was, those hands had also kept a roof over our heads, food on the table, as he so often reminded us. But we all left that roof, that table as soon as possible with no thanks for his labor—digging ditches in rocky ground, forcing a log jam in icy water—menial jobs that fell to the illiterate immigrant before machines put him out of work.
He had been a boxer too, for a brief time during his youth. Later, our mother was his only sparring partner, staggering back into the two-room ring of our home until she went down for the final count leaving four pinch-faced boys to take her place.
Besides the Lutheran pastor–who had never known him — I was the only one at the brief chapel ceremony. I was the only one to see him lowered into foreign soil, and I had only come to wish him good riddance. I was there to exorcise him forever from my nightmares.
Janice D. Soderling’s fiction and flash fiction can be read at New Walk, Horizon Review, MsLexia (UK); Ear Hustler, Turtle Quarterly, Twelve Stories (USA), The Chimaera (Australia), Montreal Review (Canada) and other venues. Glimmer Train Stories awarded her a first prize and two honorable mentions. Her collection of short fiction was a semifinalist in the 2011 Leapfrog Press competition. She is Assistant Fiction Editor at Able Muse.