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After We Buried The Hatchet

Floris M. Kleijne (floriskleijne.com) writes stories--some of them award-winning--in the interstices between his family, his career in finance, and his insatiable craving for Netflix binges. His stories have appeared in the Writers of the Future anthologies, Galaxy's Edge, Factor Four, Little Blue Marble, and many other publications. Kleijne's first novel is expected to appear this Fall. This is his eighth appearance in Daily Science Fiction; you can search the DSF site for his other stories, about Siri on steroids, a sentient painting, telepathic corporate espionage, a trans dragon, a mother's loss, revenge on the Riders of the Apocalypse, and the science of torture.

Months after Mom died, Matt and I finally buried the hatchet. I said we should dump it in the Bay, take Dad's old Boston Whaler out of San Francisco Marina and just toss it over the side. Matt argued that it wouldn't be burying that way, now would it? Our last full-blown argument, so of course Matt got his way.
We ended up out on Sweeney Ridge on a scorching August afternoon, with two bottles of water between us, a spade on Matt's back, and the family hatchet in a hideous tie-die tote bag Gran had given me for my eighteenth. Good riddance to that. Some final bickering about the exact spot, a bout of furious digging by Matt--it's a man's job, he said, and I punched him in the kidneys--and the hatchet lay in a bed of soil.
It had fallen to us to bury the hatchet in the first place, because it was us Mom had asked. This had been when she hardly got out of bed anymore, but her grip on our wrists had carried the memory of her old strength.
"Promise me you'll bury it," she'd whispered. "It's got to end."
We knew exactly what she meant.
"Kim? Wanna say something?" Matt asked, pulling me back into the present.
Don't be stupid, I didn't say, it's not a funeral. But already I felt it wasn't worth quibbling over. And it did kinda feel like one. So I put my feet at the head of the hatchet's grave.
"Well Mom, it's in the ground, like you wanted. You can rest in peace now."
I looked sideways at Matt. He'd never let a chance pass to contradict, or mock, anything I said. But he just smiled and said, "Amen,", grabbed a handful of soil, and tossed it into the hole. I followed suit, and then we took turns with the spade filling the grave. Hiking back to the car, Matt said we should check in with our sister. We both of us hadn't talked to her in five years, but it suddenly made total sense.
Laurine wasn't even surprised to hear from us.
"It doesn't feel real, does it, Kim?"
It didn't. I didn't have to see the bemused wonder on Laurine's face, lit by the stars and her cigarette, to know what she meant. I felt the same expression relax my own face. Before August, before Matt and I buried the hatchet, I'd never have believed Laurine and I'd be this... sisterly at Thanksgiving. The taste of blueberry pie in my mouth used to be the taste of tears, of aunt Meade stomping off in a huff, cousin Stefan slamming doors.
Of Laurine screaming at me, if I didn't scream at her first.
Tonight though, Matt had carved turkey; uncle Roger had regaled us with his thickest, most implausible tales of life as a salesman; Gran had pinched cheeks and expressed love and pride at unpredictable intervals; and even the little'uns had behaved, if not with decorum, then at least with harmony and joy.
"It's real," I said, only half-believing it, gesturing to the porch behind us, to the sprawling ranch house where I'd grown up, and where the rest of our extended family were enjoying their post-prandial cocktails. "This is what blueberry pie tastes like."
My sister threw me an uncomprehending look. I shrugged.
"Never mind. What I mean is..."
Laurine wrapped her arm around my waist.
"Me too, sis. Glad to have you back." She tossed her head backwards, making her auburn ponytail jump. "Glad to have everyone back."
As one, we turned back towards the house, and walked arm in arm to where the laughter of our relatives danced from the French windows.
"Anyway, gotta run, I'm way behind on my Christmas shopping. Great to see you two again!"
Stefan drained his latte, kissed my cheek, gave Matt a one-armed hug, and walked out of Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe. Matt raised his decaf macchiato in salute. I twirled my ristretto cup on its saucer. And twirled.
And twirled.
"Spoon's more effective for stirring," Matt said, with a chuckle in his voice. I huffed pro-forma laughter through my nose.
"Kim, what is it?"
I shrugged and sighed.
"Something's... off. It was great to see him and all, but...."
"But what?"
I explained to my ristretto instead of him.
"There's this... tension I can't shake, and it's rising. Every time I see one of us, I'm genuinely glad to see them. But after we say goodbye... my shoulders ache, and more and more I just want to scream."
"Even with me."
"Even with you." My eyes widened when I realized what I'd just admitted. He raised a hand and shook his head.
"I know. Me too. Even with you."
I should have felt relief, I guess, but all I felt was,
"And you know what?" Matt gestured at the window with his spoon. "We spent what, an hour with cuz Stefan? And I still have no idea what's going on inside of him."
With a jerk, I sat up straight.
"That's exactly it, Matt! The endless fighting is gone, but it's like we've turned into the Stepford Relatives. And this tension..." I waved my arm at where it seemed to originate.
"Shit, Kim!" Matt was staring in the direction of my arm. "That's where I feel it too. But how... Why would it come from any direction at all?"
I barely listened, because I was imagining the map in my head. What I was thinking was ridiculous, but inescapable.
"Matt, do you realize what lies in that direction?"
His eyes glazed over as he went through the same mental geography.
We stared at each other.
"Sweeney Ridge!" we shouted, as the rumbling started.
In the end, it wasn't even a large quake, just a minor shudder. And anyway, we weren't really saying our hatchet caused it. Were we? It must have been a coincidence that the epicenter lay right where we buried it, mustn't it? I mean, even if the hatchet had accumulated all the pent-up tension of our unfought fights--and that was a big If... how would that cause a quake?
But the tension we felt was gone, and as soon as the ruckus following the quake had died down, we made our way back up the trail, and dug it up--leaving the tote bag in the hole. We got into a quarrel over who should carry it, and it almost turned into a shouting match, before we fell silent at the same instant, and started laughing instead.
And now it's back on its hooks over the mantelpiece at the ranch, and family gatherings are only complete if at least one of us stomps off in a rage. Mom may have hated the endless fighting in our family, but I hated the Stepford peace more.
Maybe what Mom didn't get is that the fighting means that we care.
I screamed at Laurine on New Year's Eve.
But on January first, we made up.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, May 8th, 2020

Author Comments

With the passing of time, family relationships tend to petrify into familiar patterns; grandmothers, cousins, nephews, and aunts perform ever more repetitive instances of the same roles in each successive family gathering. Challenging the status-quo can be rewarding and terrifying at the same time. An actual, physical hatchet to bury may be a tad too literal a metaphor, but I did find it interesting to explore the value there may be in maintaining the established patterns. How does your family handle their hatchets?

- Floris M. Kleijne
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