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Rain trickles on the car's windshield as we pull into the empty parking lot. A country church in the dead of night, the only light a few fingers of pale orange from the street-lamp on the road. We kill the engine, check the satchel in the back seat: half a bottle of cheap malt liquor, black markers, cigarettes, and a disposable camera.
Taking a swig from the bottle, we pile out into the spitting rain. Up to the church doors – great slabs of blond wood. We check the shadows with the fast beat of a guilty heart. There's no light from the church windows, no houses in sight. Just a row of stone slabs planted between the graveyard trees. Nervous chuckles. We pull out the markers and begin to write – dark scrawls on pale wood. Crude like gutter mud.
on the puddle
a ring of gasoline,
two torn leaves
Too late, we hear the soft crunch of gravel. Hands pin our shoulders, spin us into the beam of a headlamp. Behind it the long face of an old man, chin-stubble dripping onto a half-soaked night shirt. He looks from our faces to the church doors. Lets go of our shoulders. Turns without a word and heads back into the open door of a little house beside the church. Its roof is hidden in the boughs of a knotted pine, its front step a matte of shadows.
Mud grows thick around our ankles.
Minutes pass. The man returns. In his right hand he holds a bottle of whiskey, in his left fist a bundle of rags. He unstoppers the bottle; empties it on the rags. Our eyes meet. Hold. I look away; feel the cold water trickle down my spine. Over the sound of swelling rain, I hear the house door close.
Rags in hand, we begin to scrub.
through the clouds
a sliver of moonlight
on the rusted steeple
This haibun first appeared in The Antigonish Review, Iss. 156, Winter 2009.