Halfway to Hades on a Black Night by A. A. Fenton
I sat in the pews. Rows upon rows of us mourners in black attire. All the carrion crows to feast off grief. I thought of my old friend who had been walking on the edge of that black asphalt. The reason we were all there.
Months later, we sat in a cold courtroom, presided over by a black-robed Judge. Some expert witness in black trouser pants noted a photograph in a black evidence binder. It was one of many photos of the black truck which had hit my old friend.
Another witness testified that one of the streetlamps had been out that night; making for a shadowy patch of blackness by the bridge where my old friend had been struck and killed. In his black clothes. In a black ditch. Where black skid marks were left tattooed on the pavement as his booted leg had been dragged along the black road.
By accident, one of the witnesses opened the binder in such a way that all of us, sitting at the back of the courtroom, could see a grisly, close up photo of my old friend's face. It wasn't his face anymore though. The face belonged to a corpse now, a trickle of black blood running from one nostril.
The man in the black truck had sped off with a black deed on his conscience.
Despite the work of the police officers in their black uniforms and the prosecutors with their black briefcases, the man in the black truck was never held accountable by the blindly-black 'justice' of the legal system.
I didn't know how any of that was going to play out though, as I sat through the funeral, wearing my black skirt-suit.
Eventually, in the chapel, they played some Johnny Cash (aka The Man in Black) as a farewell song. Instead of leaving immediately, a small group of us went to the front of the chapel, using black humour to keep us from crying. There was the urn that now held the ashes of my old friend. Ashes that resided in the complete blackness of that sealed urn. Ashes that would forever be interred under the black dirt of his grandfather's already existing cemetery plot. For now though, a stuffed black cat sat alongside my old friend's urn, much like his real cat would have kept him company in life.
Some of us stragglers crowded outside the chapel afterwards, under a covered entranceway. A flock of black sheep shepherded by sorrow; sharing stories, awkward embraces, tears and the cigarette smoke-filled air. I remember leaving the crowd to retrieve my friends' black jackets from their car. I slowly walked through the deluge of rain on my errand, somehow savouring the way it accosted me and the many black motorcycles I passed on my way. It felt appropriate letting the downpour engulf me; black wet cloth clinging to my skin, black mascara running down my cheeks.
Later that night there was an informal wake. I was begged to go and so I did. Before I left though, I did something impulsive and very out of character; I asked a friend if I could take a hoot of his weed. He obliged and I watched the marijuana sizzle and spark inside the dip of the pipe's blackened bowl. Was that how my old friend had burned up inside the crematorium?
Once I had left with my group, I took a green pill for my anxiety and a blue pill that would usually induce sleep (because they seemed more effective for my nerves) and then we went to buy some alcohol which came in a can and looked pale pink. The pretty colours they were didn't actually matter; they were all just being swallowed, all turning black.
I know I took more pills through the night as I tried to find inconspicuous corners to lurk in; I didn't really know many people there. They merely accepted my presence because at one time my old friend - their friend - had loved me. Been in love with me? But that had turned black too.
At some point in the night, a mutual acquaintance brought me to pick up coffee and revealed to me one mighty big joint. Apparently it had been all that was left of my old friend's 'stash'.
When we returned, a small group of us snuck away down the dark sidewalk and shared that joint in honour of our old friend. All at once, the sadness, the shock and every foreign substance converged upon me in a black miasma. I must have inhaled the very blackness of the night; its ghosts and ill spirits clinging to my blackening lungs and rushing to find the black crevices and recesses of my mind.
I needed help walking back to the wake and once I was there I asked a friend if I could lay down in the quiet of her car. Her and my other friend gave me black glances, annoyed that I had partaken in this ritual without them. Regardless, they told me it wasn't safe in the car on the street so someone led me to a black-framed hammock chair where I promptly closed my eyes.
I couldn't sleep. I couldn't dream. I wasn't truly coherent nor was I quite unconscious. All I could feel were pulsating waves washing up my legs and then rushing back down again. Black. I was lying partially in the surf, being tugged at by the current. Black! A black shore with black waves threatening to overtake me!
When we finally left I was grateful for the blackness of the street, for it concealed -if only a little - the sickness I brought up into the black gutter.
When we all got back to our mutual friend's home, I believe I took a shower; wet-black locks of my hair strewn around my face. Then I remember getting into a cot in the living room and eventually, mercifully falling asleep.
The next morning I miraculously felt almost physically fine, barring a good six to eight inch black bruise on my hip. How it got there remains a mystery.
Days afterward, our mutual acquaintance gave me my old friend's black sweatshirt. He had loved music and this particular shirt (which he had offered to give me once in our bright, white youth) had Black Sabbath written on it. I treasured it.
More than a year later, I heard that they watched the man responsible for my old friend's death, set free. They said they watched that man with the black truck and the black soul drive away from the courthouse, smiling.
For all of us who were involved - in small ways or large ways - I think one part of each of us remains blackened by all that transpired. Some people literally blackened parts of their skin, immortalizing the name of my old friend on their tattooed flesh; some of us hold a black mark within us that only we can see.
Throughout all of this, everyone who had been at that wake liked to joke around about the way I had gotten sick and 'Greened Out'. I never minded the laughter. We all needed any smile we could get then. However, I know that's not what really happened. Not all of it at least. If anything, I had 'Blacked Out' but even then, not in the same way we usually associate that term.
With all the colourful, confection-like array of poisons I had within my body that night, one part of me didn't care about living or dying, because none of it seemed to make sense anyway. I had already lost too many loved ones on the continuous roulette wheel of existence; black, white, black, white… Spinning forever until your proverbial number was up. Maybe I just wanted to peer around the veil to that side for a quick glance. Or perhaps a part of me wanted to gamble, making spiteful bets. If that was the case then I must have been carrying Obols instead of poker chips, because, on that black night, I swear I got halfway to Hades. But it wasn't my fate or my time. I must have won whatever wager I had with Kharon.
In that black-framed hammock, at a backyard wake, filled with elements that could scourge my psyche and my physical body, I somehow waded waist deep into the black waters of the River Styx. Despite my return to this realm, I think the stains of those waters still linger in my being. A solemn reminder of the primordial blackness that always lurks beyond the veil. Always awaiting our arrival, with a foreboding and longing embrace.