(originally published February 1, 2010)

First, the story. Then, the grave.

She loved him, she loved him not. She killed him, she didnít. Before we killed her, she spoke or she didnít speak. She and her words are whittled by the storyteller who sits invisible in the tree we gather beneath today as rain slips into her coffin like every coffin, no matter what the salesman whispers in the parlorís showroom.

We are gathered to celebrate a momentous moment. The first hanging of a woman in the state. The first woman in such a state. A first and only woman. A woman who lived and died over a hundred years ago. A woman who wore white thrice. A wedding veil, a mourning veil, a veil of mold. The third only seen by what eats her, like applause.

According to time and town, she rode her casket between crowds who came to cheer and be cheered by the one who cheers on the left and the right. So many tourists the townís four blinded horses paraded her to the larger town with a taller ladder and tree where her legs thrashed, fluttering her skirt and baring her ankles like evidence of guilt. Where there is guilt, there is crime or love.

No matter.

Before her heart stopped, her lungs and her father's knees collapsed like the bleachers after burial. We inhaled her last breath, hoisting our screams and her body to the branch.On the tree across from hers, wide-eyed children perched. Unfortunately, their branch broke a breath before her neck, so many turned, never to say later that they applauded only their imagining of her death. Those who saw never described, how, before the rope saved her from the town and the town from each other, it looked like she would fall into our hands, so we tried to catch her, but our palms caught only themselves, clapping in and out of prayer, all our hands exploding so that death had a sound we could stop.

Now to her grave and then to the annual downtown festival: free popcorn, a tribute band, Main-Street coffin races where we take pictures of ourselves pushing children in pine boxes toward the finish line.

Tomorrow, the parade and play. Tonight, a hayride then bonfire.

# # #

Palestine, IL by Erin Pringle
originally published February 1, 2010

 

 


Erin Pringle lives and writes in San Marcos, Texas. Her work has been published in over two dozen magazines, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, named a Best American Notable Non-Required Reading, and shortlisted for the 2007 Charles Pick Fellowship. Her short story collection, The Floating Order, was published by Two Ravens Press. Visit Erin onine at www.erinpringle.com.

Big Pulp credits:
Every Good Girl Does Fine
Palestine, IL

 

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