I TOLD PARKER I CAN'T DIE ’cause I was born dead and he didn’t believe me. He said people can’t be born dead but I was born dead ’cause that’s what momma said ’cause when she was at the hospital alone giving birth to me I came out gray and the doctor had to press my chest with his fingers and put a mask over my face to give me air and after ten minutes of being dead I wasn’t anymore and so now I can’t die ’cause I’ve already died before.
But Parker didn’t believe me ’cause he said that’s the kind of stuff that only happens in movies and when he told me this I threw the blackberries we’d been picking at his face and he said Rae you’re stupid and I ran away. The next day I fell on the playground and scraped my knee wide open and when all the kids came around to see he told me that was proof I could die ’cause if I couldn’t die I wouldn’t get hurt and I said it was proof I couldn’t die ’cause I got hurt and didn’t die and he called me stupid and I spit in his face and we huffed at each other for the rest of the day until the teacher told us to make up and then we biked home together like we always do ’cause we’re best friends and that’s all there is to it.
Me and Parker have been friends forever ’cause his house is right next to mine and we share a yard so we grew up like brother and sister playing together and our mommas are friends so a lot of the time we’d just eat together and be together all the time since the day he was born alive and I was born dead and every day since then.
But now we’re fifth graders so the yard isn’t as big as it used to be so we bike around and go to the cemetery every day after school ’cause the only park in our neighborhood isn’t a good park it’s a park where people sell drugs or that’s what everyone says but we believed it ’cause once we did go there by ourselves and a man in a big black coat jumped out from behind a tree and pointed a gun at us and told us to run on home before we saw something we shouldn’t see or else he’d have to kill us and we believed him ’cause people in our neighborhood die all the time.
So we go to the cemetery ’cause it’s big and open and anyone from the road can see you and there are houses across the street so even if some man in a black coat is trying to kill you over drugs everyone would see him and save you or at least be able to tell your momma who killed you if help didn’t come fast enough. So we go and climb the pile of dirt that they fill graves with until sundown when our mommas yell for dinner and nothing much happened until the day in September when we met the gray man.
Me and Parker got off the bus and got on our bikes and went to the cemetery but there were people and one of those big cars the coffin goes in so we knew we couldn’t go there ’cause our mommas said they’d beat us blind if they knew we were biking around during a funeral so we waited ’cause we weren’t sure what else to do.
Then the gray man came out ’cause we were standing by his front lawn and at first we thought he was gonna yell at us but he said You’re always playing ’round the cemetery and Parker tried acting tough so he said Yeah so and the man said Nothing of it I’ve just seen you and then he asked if we wanted lemonade and I said we weren’t gonna go in his house ’cause he could be a murderer that’s what our mommas and the news said about strangers and he said I’m just going to bring it out here while you wait and Parker said Better not ’cause you might put something funny in it and the man looked all surprised and said Why on Earth would I do that and he seemed to really mean it so we just shrugged. So he went inside and got the lemonade and we stood on the road in front of his house drinking lemonade with him and it tasted too sour like it was made from real lemons but we drank it to be nice and he asked questions about our school and grades and we didn’t answer too much ’cause he was a gray man and he had tiny black eyes.
We finished our lemonades and the funeral left and we said Okay thank you and the man told us to come back any time for lemonade and we left without saying anything else and when we got to the park we hid behind the dirt pile and Parker asked me if he thought that man looked awfully gray like a dead person and I said Yes and he asked me again what I looked like when I was born dead and I said Gray and he said Maybe this man is dead and alive at the same time like a vampire so we believed the man was a vampire and it didn’t scare us as much as before even though we were still scared a little.
We didn’t want to tell our mommas about the gray man ’cause even though we thought drinking lemonade wasn’t so bad we knew that our mommas wouldn’t like it so we decided to keep it a secret but Parker opened his big mouth and said something anyway and we were surprised ’cause our mommas said that didn’t really sound so bad so long as we weren’t going in places with him and so long as people could see us and we felt safe for the most part and that’s all that was said. Then me and Parker ate pizza rolls and chicken nuggets and watched an R-rated movie with the sound down so our mommas couldn’t hear what we were watching and Parker had the clicker so when they came in the room we’d just change the channel and pretend we were watching cartoons the whole time and they believed us.
A few weeks later Parker’s brother Mason got out of jail and Parker’s momma was happy and sad at the same time ’cause she missed her son but also ’cause Mason wasn’t a good person and had stolen a lot of money to do drugs and he probably knew the man in the black coat who almost killed us at the park. Mason was in jail ’cause he had a meth lab up at his girlfriend’s trailer in the woods and the lab blew up and his girlfriend died. That was six years ago when Parker was four ’cause Mason is much older than him and they don’t have the same daddies but Parker’s momma said Parker should think of Mason like a whole brother anyway ’cause they’re family and their daddies being different doesn’t really matter.
When Mason came home they all stopped by to see me and momma. He was skinny and bald and had tattoos on his arms that we thought were pen drawings like the ones we’d draw on ourselves when we were bored in class but his were real and they were ugly things like skulls and knives and cuss words and they looked real bad but we didn’t say that to his face. He had a Bible in his right hand and he was standing waving the Bible around and telling our mommas how he found God and that jail was the best thing for him after all the bad things he’d done in life. He said he was God-fearing and I asked why he feared God ’cause that didn’t make sense ’cause you’re supposed to love God and his face turned red and he told me I need to always know God is watching and do good things ’cause if God watches me do bad things he’ll be ashamed and I’ll burn in hell and that’s why I should fear God ’cause God will send me to hell. I wanted to tell him I was born dead so I couldn’t die but I didn’t tell him ’cause I feared Mason more than God ’cause he was crazy and blew up his girlfriend.
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