In the Valley


I find out about my grandmother’s death in the newspaper. At the funeral home, I can’t bring myself to go in, so I sit in my car playing Yahtzee on my phone until it is almost over. Growing younger by the minute. Until I’m nothing more than a weak kid again without a voice. Without principle.

I’m just about to leave when my mother sees me from the front door, walks a few steps closer to my car, points, and pulls back her hand to smother a fake cry. “Ezekiel! Your grandmother—oh—this would have meant the world to her.”

Standing next to the casket, it suddenly doesn’t matter that I’m a faggot. My mother holds my hand like I am her baby again. At funerals, the abominations of both the living and the dead are buried. At least for a few hours.

“I’m retired now, Ezekiel. Can you believe your mama’s retired?” my mother says. She rubs my hand like she is rubbing away the last eight years. “Everyone round here’s real old,” she says.

In the casket, my grandmother’s body lies still, primped and placed like an uptight leather doll. Her hands still clutch her small, red Bible. A dried finger pressed somewhere inside Leviticus.

Next to us, my mother’s sister inhales an e-cigarette, then exhales a plume of vapor over the body. I move closer to see if it moistens my grandmother’s skin.

“I did her makeup and hair, Zeke,” my aunt says.

“Ain’t there rules against that in Michigan?” someone asks.

“Perks of living in a small town, I guess. Doesn’t she look good?” She asks me, inhaling the nicotine again. She doesn’t look good.

“She looks lovely,” I say.

“Did I tell you I retired, honey? Can you believe your mama’s retired?” my mother says again, says two more times in the thirty minutes I am here.

“Well, I should get going now, mom. I have a long drive back.”

“Yeah. You take care of yourself, ok?”

The next time I come, it will be for her funeral. And then it will be too late to say what I feel.

I pause before I leave. To look for my dad. He’s sitting on a chair in the corner where he’s been the whole time, playing Yahtzee on the small electronic handheld game that my brother and I stuffed in his stocking some fifteen years ago. I know it’s Yahtzee because the sound is turned up all the way. And every time he presses the button to roll the dice, it rattles through the whole funeral home like dried bones.

About the Author

Jeremy Schnotala has an MFA in creative writing from Western Michigan University. He lives with his husband in Michigan where he teaches English, creative writing, and directs theater in the public schools. He was the 2018 winner of both the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival fiction contest and The Tishman Review’s Tillie Olsen short story award. Check out his website at for more information and other recent publications.


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