Joy J. Henry  is writing a series of connected short stories to accompany songs by The Mountain Goats. Have a listen:

The Mountain Goats- Store

the vigil I was keeping After my son Brad died, going to the Food Ranch became my favorite pastime. Inside the store, time had stopped a long while ago, before Brad’s nineteen-year life began. There were huge wooden signs in ‘70s burnt orange and poop brown, demarking the produce, the meat, the frozen foods sections. Brad had ran his truck into a tree at 70 miles per hour, with this girl, Jenny, in the passenger seat.

If I needed nothing else from the Food Ranch, I could always pick up a card. The sentiments were all boring and tasteful—no sexy women tantalizing old men on their birthdays, no animals making fart jokes. I grabbed one from the thank you section with dancing peanuts on the front. I would go nuts without your help, the inside insisted. I put it in the cart.

When I got home I would make it out to Jenny’s grandmother. The wrinkled, hunched woman had been Jenny’s guardian, her only real family. A few days ago, she’d pulled up next to me at the gas station, and I had a moment of terror where I could imagine her looking over at me and slowly mouthing, “Your son killed Jenny.”

But she just held her hand over her chest and looked at me through my windshield, devoid of hate. She had long grey hair and skin like crumpled up paper, openly eschewing old lady haircuts and cold cream. She wheeled her oxygen tank inside the Texaco, bought a carton of Kools, and drove away.

The human resources man at work had told me I needed to express my feelings, as he’d stared down into my cleavage. He might be a pervert, but he had a point. I began filling up greeting cards, inspired by whatever phrasing happened to be on the front. Then I fed them into the garbage disposal.

I picked up a card out of the congratulations section, one telling a young child that Jesus made them special on their baptism day. On the front, a few children stood around expectantly while a long-haired, virile son of God fed some sheep.

It looked just like the only memorial cards the funeral home had for a young person’s death. Jesus leading a little kid to heaven. I hadn’t wanted the cards passed out at the funeral, but I’d told the director yes anyway. Brad’s sister Cynthia had been with me, and she’d plainly hated them.

“Maybe you have something more teenager-y, more extreme?” Cynthia asked the funeral director. “Perhaps Jesus jumping out of a plane, or ollying his skateboard.”

I knelt down on one knee, leaned my head against the twelve-pack of toilet paper underneath the cart. I saw the pattern on Brad’s dress socks, inside my slip-on loafers.

My eyes focused through the metal bars of the cart, a close-up view of the vigil I was keeping—packs of Top Ramen noodles, the peanut card, some bananas, $6 bottles of wine. In other countries women wore black for years when their loved ones died, they paraded the body through the streets, assembled shrines of powerful mementos. I knelt there for minutes or hours, until a bag boy came and gently touched my shoulder with the tips of his fingers.

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