Vallie Lynn Watson

That Long Walk

We moved the line closer to you, in growing concentrations. We grabbed forearms of long unseen classmates who were headed to the back of the line, and pulled them into surprised half-hugs. The line thickened, swollen with us secondary mourners, we who mostly did not know her, the deceased, we who came only for you. Those who were strangers to us stood single-file or in groups of their own.

When we were about thirty feet away from you, your best friend made a quiet joke about what happened, that summer I was home from college. I challenged him, and he shrugged, and I knew then that he was correct, that you had lied to me.

When we were about twenty feet away, your brother walked by, towards you. I had not seen him in person since he was a teenager. I had not talked to him since a few years after that, the time he phoned me, uttered a short sentence that ended with toxic, and slammed the phone. He stopped and looked at us, and said hello. Then hi, followed by my name.

We did not reach you. When we were about ten feet away, an officiant approached us with a guest book, asked us to sign quickly and move to the chapel, then I saw you move past us, surrounded by what must be your in-laws. You did not see us.

I did not sign, and I broke from my group. I wanted to sit by myself, and leave immediately after. It was okay, better, even, that you would not see me.

But they found me, and nudged me to the end of the pew, next to the aisle, and we sat, all together again. I was glad. There was a forgotten, unspoken light among us that was physically intoxicating. My limbs felt like honey, warm and liquid, a glowing, languid thickness, and for a moment I was home.

When the preacher admonished us to bow your heads, and began prayer, I looked around to my right. I saw, on the other side of the church, the bowed bleached blonde of our valedictorian next to the bowed baldnesses of the Brooks twins. I turned to my immediate left and saw that your best friend was smiling at me. Godless heathen, he whispered.

I watched you approach the pulpit, but as you turned, I saw the silver at your temple, and I closed my eyes.

I must have started to slump forward as you spoke, because I felt your best friend lean against me, and sort of sit me back upright with his shoulder. I did not open my eyes until the preacher closed the service.

Then, a movement of what many had expected of us a literal lifetime ago, but in reverse: you walked down the aisle to me. You saw me, and I winked, and you walked past.

Vallie Lynn Watson’s debut novel, A River So Long, was published by Luminis Books in 2012. Her Pushcart-nominated work appears in PANK, Frigg, decomP magazinE, and other magazines. Watson received a PhD in fiction writing from the Center for Writers/USM, and teaches at UNC Wilmington.