CEREMONY by Saytchyn Maddux-Creech

Copyright @ Saytchyn Maddux-Creech. “Ceremony” was originally published in Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism (2004). This story may not be reproduced in any form without the author’s express written permission.


by Saytchyn Maddux-Creech

A flattened dragonfly lies on the funeral home step, shaded by a crooked sumac tree. Inches away stands a pair of leather wingtips below trousers made of dark rough wool. They match the jacket and the slow deep voice: “It should be raining.”

This is my father, mourning me.

Farther away are two closed-toed pumps, somber leather over charcoal nylons. My mother lifts a Styrofoam cup. Instead of the sound of hot sipping, I hear her release the tiniest of sobs.

Blue jays cry out and land on the grass below the steps, threatening the sparrows away. The dragonfly lies belly-up, its underside dotted with grains of sand, like armor.

I wonder how it got here, how it got to be flat, whether it was alive when whatever smashed it.

*          *          *

Half of the dragonfly glistens in the sunlight when Cary stands where my father stood. Cary taps his cigarette, and the ashes fall to rest beside his chocolate-colored oxfords. He’s wearing the same brown suit he wore to our graduation.

“Come inside,” my little sister, April, whispers from the doorway. The wind nudges the sumac’s branches.

“I’m smoking,” Ricky answers.

“You don’t smoke,” April says.

“I’m smoking,” he tells her again.

*          *          *

Three little boys in Hushpuppies and rumpled pants come, whispering, out of the funeral home. One of them coughs. His voice is hoarse. “See? There it is.” He bends over and points at the dragonfly.

They gather around it, and the coughing boy turns the dragonfly over with his pale hand. The smallest boy asks in a baby voice, “Is it real?”

I don’t remember these boys, but I assume it is one of their mothers who comes outside in beige stockings and low black boots.

“Inside, now,” she says, “and wash your hands.”

In a dance of chunky heels and polyester pant legs, the boys hurry inside. The young mother’s boot makes a delicate sweep at the dragonfly, flipping it onto the shady wood chips under the sumac.

*          *          *

Shadows crawl across the grass. Ants have found the dragonfly. They gather around its crisp body, explore the tender parts, and then form trails to pack the choicest pieces off to their nest.

The largest pair of Hushpuppies hesitates at the door. The other two appear behind him. “There,” he whispers.

They crunch into the wood chips, and the tallest boy lifts the dragonfly by its tail. I wish I could smell his hot, peppermint-flavored breath as he blows black ants through the cooling air. He places the dragonfly in a small tissue box. Its wings stick out over the edges. With nail-bitten fingers, he folds them close to the body and drapes a peach-colored tissue over it.

“Now,” he says, striding through the wood chips, “follow me.”

*          *          *

I am rising up through the first raindrops as the mourners move down the steps. My mother cries. My father leads her by the arm. April and Cary follow.

The young mother in black boots paces the walkway in front of the building, calling three boys’ names.

I’m above the funeral home now. I can see the boys in the field behind the building, standing around a small mound of earth.

The tallest boy has one hand in the air, and he’s speaking words I can’t hear.

The other two are solemn, their eyes cast down.

Saytchyn Maddux-Creech survived the MFA program at Colorado State University with their love of all things creepy intact. Saytchyn writes horror, fantasy, and mystery with a literary accent. Their short stories have been published in numerous journals under their own name and the name Sandra Maddux-Creech.

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