Joseph Blackburn III hopped off his bike and leaned it against the iron fence. He didn’t bother to lock it.
He held his breath as he passed through the gate—some habits you never grow out of—and headed up the path. Hard to believe it had been a year already.
He passed a few trees, climbed a small hill.
A man stood at the grave. Tall, broad-shouldered, looking sharp in a newly-pressed suit. He looked up as Joseph approached, and tapped some ash from the end of a fat cigar.
“Thought you might come.”
Joseph said nothing. He knelt and put his lily in the empty vase. There was a little water in it from the sprinklers.
“Still angry, are you?”
Joseph shrugged. They stood there in silence for a time, staring down at the monument. “Beloved wife and mother.” So few words, to remember a person. Few words, and they said nothing of her. Anyone who didn’t know her would look at the tombstone and see the same hollowed-out words that adorned hundreds of other graves. Meaningless, empty. Not her at all.
The man sucked on his cigar. “Of course you’re angry. You’re a Blackburn. It’s in the genes.”
He still didn’t get it. Joseph was damned if he was going to respond.
“Leo manducat solum quid sibi interficit, Joe. It’s what your mother would have wanted.”
The family motto. Joseph raised an eyebrow.
“Well. In moments of sober reflection, let’s say. Moments where she wasn’t pulled under by the madness of motherhood.” The man chuckled, dry and long, and took another pull on the cigar. “In the mama-bear side of her soul, she’d want you taken care of, protected and warm, swaddled up so nothing could ever hurt you. But you can’t give a man everything in life without taking away what makes him a man.”
A hot surge of anger bubbled up, filling his belly. His left hand clenched itself into a fist. But no. It wasn’t worth it. Not worth the arguing, the shouting, the recriminations. He relaxed his hand, kept his mouth closed.
“Leo manducat solum quid sibi interficit. It was good enough for generations of Blackburns, Joe. This is for the best.” Another chuckle. “Believe me, I felt the same way when I was your age. Why should I have to work for anything when my father was so wealthy? I—what is it they say?—I feel your pain.”
He wasn’t going to look at him. A year now, and the old man still thought Joseph was angry about money. Because it was what he would’ve been angry about.
“You know what grandpa always said. An effortless life is a meaningless life.”
Of course he knew. He had heard it over and over growing up. Over and over until it was just another string of meaningless words, hollowed-out, oversaid and underthought. Worthless alms tossed at him by a man who could give nothing else.
“You come out of this pique, decide your voice works again, you let me know.” The man turned, and his footsteps crunched down the gravel path to the parking lot.
Joseph’s anger cooled to a slow simmer. He looked down at the grave. She wouldn’t have wanted this. Wouldn’t have wanted to see them arguing. Joseph sighed.
Leo manducat solum quid sibi interficit. A lion eats only what he kills.
Had every Blackburn patriarch taken the motto to heart, clawed his way to the top like the summit was the only thing in the world? Had every patriarch put being the lion before all else, before being a father, a husband, a man?
Joseph stared down at the inscription. “Beloved wife and mother.” At least the latter was true.
He turned and walked away.