In the last 20 years, nearly that many feet of snow had fallen and melted over the grave of William McIlroy. Not one footstep had ever patted it down; not one flower had ever given color to the gray snow in winter or the patchy dirt in summer.
Twenty-one years ago, the bones that lay there now had heated his kettle, steeped his tea, and turned newspaper pages on the back porch every afternoon at almost exactly 5:30. They did, for a few more months. Those afternoons, William remarked on the highlights of his reading to the dove nestled in the joint of the crossbeams, or to the fireflies that floated by. They didn’t say much in reply, though he wished they would. He had reached an age when old friends were long gone, and new ones were hard to make. So, he sat on his porch, accepting this with weary resolve, and solved the weekly crossword. At the end of May, he went with a whisper, and that November the first 5 inches of snow fell.
Jim Hoss had a red pickup truck and not much else to speak of. He was a journeyman and had been since he finished trade school. He felt it suited him alright, but wished it didn’t. Going to trade school was the last bit of advice his father had given him. Jim felt it was his duty, so he went.
When Pop died, there was no money to bury him. Jim and his younger brother split a case of Pop’s favorite, Busch Light. They drank it on the bank of the pond where the three of them used to go fishing, and said goodbye to their father.
It was October, and Jim found himself putting up lines in west Illinois. When his work was finished one Friday, he stopped by a convenience store, then drove, looking for a church. He found one at dusk. No stone bore the name William Hoss in that graveyard, nor at any other he had visited every October for the last 12 years. Any William would have to do. He finally stumbled across one: William McIlroy. But tonight, he’d be William Hoss.
Leaning against the headstone, Busch Light in hand, Jim recounted the happenings of the last year to his father. And with a bouquet of dandelions over his grave, William McIlroy received his first visitor.
Andrew Weinert is a new writer, working in a kitchen full time and writing as much as time allows. This is his first published piece.
Header photograph by Deborah Hughes
Header artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson
3 thoughts on “The First Visit”
Wonderful, lonely story. How lovely that Jim was able to visit this grave and use his grief to recount his year.
Lots to love here. Very clever turns throughout this piece: 20 years becomes 20 feet of snow; add one year for the transition; etc. The opening sets an expectation (Why is this grave important?), then deviates and weaves to an emotionally satisfying resolution of the initial question (The grave is where Jim will commune with his father). So much story is packed into such a tightly crafted space, with visible scenes rendered by the tidiest of phrases. Subtle mirroring (“he wished they would”/”wished they didn’t”) foreshadows the connection between William McIlroy and Jim. I could go on.
Keep writing, Andrew, I look forward to reading more of your work.