Where do we go when we die? A short story about imaginary friends, growing up, and letting go.
By the time August arrives, I can feel summer starting to wane. A couple Augusts ago, I wrote the following story, which was first published on my Substack newsletter. At the time, I was tired of writing out of personal experience and wanted to push boundaries and get inside the life of someone else, in this case a child’s eye point of view. The first draft of “August Goodbye” was written on an Olympia typewriter in a reverie, looking out the third floor window at the curbside Zelkova tree and the neighborhood rooftops and warm summer sky. I hope you enjoy the read. Let me know what you think in the comments.
Jake’s parents didn’t want him going to the funeral. You’re too young, they said.
“I’m almost 10. How am I going to say goodbye to Sandy?”
Dad cinched his necktie and sighed. “There won’t be any kids, except immediate family. You wouldn’t see her anyway. It’s a closed casket. Everyone will be crying. It’s going to be a sad affair.”
Mom was standing at the mirror fixing her hair. “Remember what we talked about last night, sweetie? About keeping the good memories of Sandy inside?” she said.
Sandy was his first cousin. She had always been kind to him. When they would visit Aunt Wendy and Uncle Al’s home, Jake would follow Sandy and her older brothers through the cavernous rooms he thought would never end. They would include him in games of ultimate frisbee and wiffle ball. Jake thought it must be nice to have siblings.
“Why did she have to die? I thought she could swim,” Jake said.
Dad pulled him to aside. “There was a very bad riptide. It dragged her out to sea. She wasn’t strong enough to swim back…and…”
Dad closed his lips, pressed to frown.
Jake remembered the last time he saw Sandy, at her beach house over 4th of July weekend. They collected seashells and waded into the water, letting the waves lift them, the undertow tugging persistently around their feet. A few times, the waves bowled him over, and he had known the power of salt water blasting his eyes and nostrils. But to take so much water into the lungs that you couldn’t breathe — that boggled him.