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Thorns

by Mia Schoenbeck

Henry looked at the ceiling of the church as his mother cried next to him. He counted the

deep chestnut rafters, and tapped his finger against his thigh. Still sixteen rafters. He clenched

and unclenched, pounded his hand against his thigh. His fingertips were red. He had forgotten

gloves, and sticking his hands in his suit jacket was probably frowned on, or something. The

church didnt have good heating, and in the winter and spring, Henry usually just stayed at home,

going with his mom and dad for only Christmas and Easter. His dad had always told him to stick

it out though, and Henry was glad nobody could see his hands or his shivering. Benefits of the

first row: nobody was next to him except his mom, and she wouldnt care. She was fixed on the

podium the pastor was speaking at, not paying attention to him.

He stared at the coffin that was going to go into the ground in moments. Lilies were piled

on top of whatever the coffin was made out of. It wasnt a pine box. It actually looked kind of

comfortable, big fluffy pillows, warm looking coverings. Like a bed from a fancy hotelif you

ignored the dead body lying in it. It should be comfortable, since it had cost all the money his

aunt had complained about. Henry hadnt paid attention to the planning, but it was impossible to

filter out Auntie Carol. A gust of cold air from the open window sent a whiff of lilies towards

Henry. The sun filtered in through the stained glass windows. Jesus was smiling down on the

bowed heads of his dads friends and family.

The pastor was saying prayers. He watched his mother bow her head, and Henry did too.

He didnt want to look out of place or anything. Or disrespect his old man. At least they didnt

have to stand up. His foot was asleep, and he mightve fallen over if he stood up right now. He
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pounded his foot on the floor quietly until the pins and needles subsided, his mouth moving

along with the words of the Lords prayer.

Our father who art in heaven. Henry didnt know if his father was in heaven or not.

Hallowed be thy name. John. There was a gospel with his fathers name on it. Henry guessed that

that meant that name was hallowed. Our kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in

heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Henry zoned out after that line, words about temptation

and evil readily coming to his lips.

And with the end of the prayer, the people who wanted to speak about his father went to

the podium where the pastor was. John was a father, a husband, blah, blah, blah. He will be

missed. The same words read out loud by different people for the same audience. His mother

got up from besides him, and went to speak. For a second, her long brown hair hung in front of

her face, but she straightened and stood tall behind the podium, her eyes rimmed with red. She

gripped tight to the sides of the podium, but after a second she hid her hands. John was, before

anything else, a man of his word, even at the end. He never broke a promise, even when I might

have wanted him to. He was stubborn and unwilling to compromise, because he knew what was

best for him and for the people he loved. Henry looked at his mother, remembering the shouts

he heard from the kitchen when they thought he went to bed, arguments about anything, but

mostly about him. What they should do about his dropping grades, about his no-good friends

about him not applying himself. His mom thought that Henrys Bs were fine, that his friends

were perfectly nice, and that Henry tried the best he could. John didnt even see him in the Les

Miserables, Henry was a fantastic Jean Valjean.


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So if it wasnt his time, we wouldve been made very clear about it. I swear, the man

could pick an argument with death and come out winning, said his mom. A few chuckles. John

was more than my husband. He was the father of my son, he was my best friend. He was my

rock, too. He kept me grounded. Whenever I would start flying away, he would keep me safe and

dry. Hed always tell me, Jackie, you gotta keep your head on whenever I started floating away

and She stopped, and bowed her head. Her voice was thick. Im sorry. I just. Im sorry.

Goodbye John. I love you, and I dont think Ill ever stop loving you, not even for a second. She

rushed down from the podium, hiding her face. Pastor Matt looked expectantly at Henry.

Henry nodded at him. Yes. Ill go. I have to, dont I. I dont have a lot to say that hasnt

been said already. My father, he was a kind, loving man. He always had time to help me with my

homework, to play catch with me. He was a friend to everyone. And Ill miss him. Time for the

grand finale, stick the landing. Like at the end of Les Mis. Henry walked to the coffin, and laid

his hand on it. Dad, I dont know how were going to live without you. Ill try my best to take

care of mom. I love you. Rest in peace, dad. His drama teacher would give him a standing

ovation, Henry knew it.

When Henry got back to his plastic chair, his mother was sobbing. He hugged her, and

she clutched him in her arms. The service was over. Pastor Matt gave him a pair of white gloves,

and Henry almost ripped them shoving them onto his hands. The crowd went outside, and Henry

thought that it was a shame that it wasnt snowing. Instead, it was muddy, and Henrys shoes

sunk into the grass as the heavy box weighed on his shoulder. The coffin was lowered into the

ground. More flowers were placed on top of it. They were pretty, and smelled good, and Henry
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almost wished they wouldnt get buried. His uncle squeezed his shoulder, the pastor patted him

gently on the back. His aunt pulled him into a tight hug and left a lipstick stain on his cheek.

So brave, you were so brave. That was a beautiful speech. Thank you for sharing that.

Youre father was a great man. Im sorry for your loss. Henry nodded, and took the praise of the

bereaved with kindness. Of course. Yes. He will certainly be missed.

His mother dragged him to the car, and Henry gladly let himself be pulled away. He sat

in the passenger seat, where his father used to sit. His mother always drove. She got into the car.

Is your seatbelt buckled? she asked him.

Yeah. Of course. Henry nodded and held on to the door. If he held on enough, maybe

he could avoid getting jostled around. His mother never braked softly enough, and it would be

worse today.

She turned the radio down, silencing the pop station she favored over the classic rock

station her father was partial to. Thank you for speaking, Henry. I think your father would be

proud. Youre such a talented public speaker. Youve always been able to project. She tapped

the wheel, and chewed the side of her cheek. You know, if you need to talk

Im fine, mom.

Youve just been so quiet since he passed, and Im afraid youre not handling it well.

You and your father both have always been so...bottled. When I married him, I thought he would

get better, she said. But he just passed it down to you. She side-eyed him, and reached over to

pat him on the shoulder.


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Mom, seriously. Henry ducked his mothers hands. Im doing just fine. You would

know if I wasnt. He held back a groan when he saw his mother cry again. She had cried too

much. He was sick. You said it, it was his time to go, I guess.

I just want you to know that you can always come to me. For anything. I promise Ill

listen.

Henry nodded at her. Yeah mom. I know. I will, if I need to. His mom nodded, and fell

quiet as they pulled up into the driveway. Henry walked into the house, picking up the something

casserole that had been laid on the step by one of their well to do neighbors. Wormy green beans

sat drying out on top of oil that had congealed into a white chocolate consistency.

Henry unlocked the door and walked into the house. It was dark, and the shades were still

drawn. His mother bustled in behind him and started opening them. Henry walked into the

kitchen, clicked the oven on, and set the glass pan inside of it. He guessed that the two of them

would eat it for dinner. Ill be in my room for a little bit, he called to his mother. He mimicked

her high pitched voice when she didnt answer him. Okay, sweetie. Ill be down here.

Henry walked up the stairs to his room. His action figures looked at him from the shelves

he and his father had built when he was six. They were powder blue and had little white

polka-dots, and his dad had pointed this out, but Henry said he didnt care. That he liked them.

His dad had given him a look, a look, curled his nose up, and shrugged, picking up the box and

sliding it into cart. Its your room.

Henry and his mother had spent hours arranging his toys on them, giving the action

figures voices and backstories. The two of them were rolling on the ground laughing, and Henry

had called his dad in, asking him to play too, like his mom was. Another look, and Henrys
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insides curdled. He stopped laughing, and set the G.I Joe figure gently on the floor. His mother

had knelt down and swooped it up, shaking it around and speaking in a voice four times deeper,

but Henry wasnt into the game anymore. He took the toy back, and laid it gently on its side.

Help me put them away, mommy? He had asked her quietly, like he didnt want to

wake up the now sleeping G.I Joe. Her face fell, but she quickly switched it to an exaggerated

pout.

I guess it is their bedtime, she had said. And I know another little boy who also should

be going to bed. She rearranged the toys so they were standing in straight lines. Get into your

pjs, and Daddy will be up soon to say goodnight. She left the room, gently shutting his door.

Henry remembered the hallway light still being on, peeking in from underneath the door.

His dad still hadnt come up to say goodnight, so Henry had slipped out of bed and snuck down

the hallway to the top of the stairs. He heard his parents having one of their conversations.

Hes a little boy, John. He deserves to play like one! Hes five years old.

Jackie, you cant carry on like this. Whats he going to do when he gets older?

Hes going to do exactly what he wants! This isnt a big deal, and I dont know why

youre making it one.

Think with your head, darling. All he wants to do is sit around and play with dolls with

his mother. What kind of father allows his son to do that?

All fathers! Jesus Christ, its not getting through to you. She laughed, and it didnt

sound like her usual bells. It was harsh, flat. All you do is dismiss him. I know youre scared,

sweetheart.

Im not scared.
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Youre terrified of being like your father. But you wont be. Unless you keep distancing

your son, who just wants to play action figures with you. His mother walked into the kitchen,

wanting the argument to end.

Didnt you hear me? Im not scared. Im never scared. I want him to grow up. I want

him to learn that the world is not like action figures, that people can hurt you. But you cant let

them get to you. If he doesnt learn that now, when is he going to learn it? After his father had

finished, Henry went back to his room, shut his door quietly, and climbed back into bed. He

closed his eyes. He went to sleep. His dad didnt come say goodnight.

Henry bit the skin on his fingers. He strippped off his suit jacket and tie, and threw off his

dress shirt and pants, changing into a pair of sweats and an old t-shirt that had his hockey logo

printed on it. He was pretty good, or at least, thats what his mother had said. Henry didnt really

care all that much, hockey was never really his thing. His father would stay silent. He would

always stay so quiet. Henry wondered if thats what his Grandpa was like. He wouldnt know, he

had never met him. All he knew was just what his mother had told him. That Grandpa had cut

Henrys dad off when John left home to marry the whore of a woman who John had knocked up,

and that he had no intention of ever meeting Henry. His mom always got tight, pursed lips at the

mention of Johns father. Only his dads siblings still spoke to them. And in return, his dad didnt

speak to the rest of his family. Wouldnt even mention them. They were gone to him, they didnt

matter.

Henry sat on his bed, and ran a hand through his hair. Copper, like his father's before he

had gone bald. He tugged on the strands, and it hurt. His eyes, he had his green eyes too, burned.

Disappointed. The same disappointed eyes always looked back at him. He picked up a tennis ball
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lying on the floor next to his bed. It was from one of Henrys weaker attempts to impress his dad.

Henry was garbage at tennis, he couldnt run fast enough. He threw it at his wall. It knocked one

of his posters down. One of Jonathan Toews, from the Blackhawks. A gift from his dad. Henry

didnt even like the Blackhawks, and his mom had to nail it to his wall herself. When he got up,

he would replace it with a showbill, or a superhero poster, or anything but stupid Jonathan

Toews.

He threw the ball again, harder, knocking his trophies off the shelf. They clattered to the

floor, gross shiny plastic. His hand stung when he caught it again. He threw the ball. It flung

against his door, rebounded, and broke his baseball lamp. Chunks of ceramic went flying. Henry

just stood still, quiet. Like his father. Henrys mom appeared in his doorway. Henry, what are

you doing?

Henry clenched his fists, squeezing the tennis ball in one hand and clawing crescents into

his other palm. I cant do it, Mom. I cant make him happy. He flung the tennis ball down,

curled his head into his hands, and sunk to the floor. His mom, mousy brown hair, brown eyes,

soft voiced, slid down next to him. Slowly, she reached out and collected him into her arms. He

leaned into her. She whispered calm things into the top of his head, small placating things. He

was good enough, he was important, he was loved. She stroked his hair until he slowly lowered

his hands and hugged her. He coughed, and she rubbed his back.

There we go. Breathe, she said. He pressed his face into her shoulder, breathing

heavily. She was still wearing her black dress from the service. It was velvet, soft. The dress was

a hand-me down from her mother, and Jackie took meticulous care of it. Henry let out a sob.

Now he was getting snot and other garbage on it. Breathe, honey.
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Why wasnt I good enough? he said finally. Why couldnt he be proud of me?

She shook her head gently, stroking his hair again. Henry, youre more than good

enough. Youre perfect just being you.

Not to him.

His mom lifted his head and held him gently. To me. To your friends. To your teachers.

He shook his head. It doesnt matter.

She smiled, then tucked him under her chin. It does matter. Everyone loves you.

He didnt. Why didnt he?

He did, honey. He just...liked to keep his distance. Be what he thought a perfect father

was.

But he wasnt.

He wasnt, said his mom. The two of them sat on the floor. She stared at his ceiling,

gently rubbing his back. He wasnt.

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