• The Death of Cliff Huxtable / Chapter 2: Denise

    PREVIOUS:  Chapter 1: Theo                                                                  NEXT: Chapter 3: Rudy 

    Vanessa, Denise and Sondra linger by the gravesite as the crowd move towards the cars. They do not speak as two men move towards the grave site and begin removing the flowers and place them into the hole with the lowered casket.

    In the distance, they hear the sounds of car doors opening and closing, ignitions being switched. The sun is setting over Brooklyn, on this early fall afternoon. There is a slight crisp in the air, so the sound of a car warming brings Sondra out of her quiet,
         "I think we should go on to the house. The cars are waiting."
    Vanessa agrees and begins to walk off with her eldest sister. Denise remains,
         "You go ahead. I'll get home in a little bit. Take Olivia with you, if you don't mind."
         "No, not at all. Just don't be too long," mothers Sondra.
         "Are you sure, Denise? I mean, I can stay with you if you'd like," offers Vanessa.
         "No. It's ok, Vanessa."
         "I mean...are you sure? You don't have a car..."
         "Vanessa...I'm sure. This wouldn't be the first time I figured out my way back home on my own," snaps Denise. Resuming, a bit apologetically and reassuringly, "It's ok. I'll be fine. Go."

    Vanessa and Sondra walk off, in a hurried stride to catch the caravan back to the Huxtable residence. Denise watches to make sure they get in the car and the cars leave. She turns to the men, who are resting the assortment of flowers into the grave,
         "Please...would you mind giving me a moment?"
         "Sure. No problem."

    The men lay the bouquets they have in their hands in the hole and walk away from the gravesite. Denise stands quietly, holding on to her large stylish leather shoulder bag. She towers over the open hole, not certain of what to say...where to begin. She looks up to the crowd of sparrows flying overhead, towards the south.
         "To hitch a ride on the wings of a sparrow...wouldn't that be nice? To go where the wind takes you and to be free to let the open sky guide you nowhere."
    Denise takes in the birds and smiles a half smile at the kindred creatures,
         "You never got that about me. You never..."
    She stops. She takes in a deep breath to collect her heart. This was no time to blame...or was it?
         "You were my guy. Do you know that? Did...you know that? You were the model for them all. You were the measuring stick for them...all. You...were my guy. And I think I was suppose to find him so I could find you...so I could love you...so I could feel close to you. I did that. That's what I wanted. I would find the man, and you would be happy. You would be happy for me. I wanted to make you happy...because you were my guy. My life felt like a series of disappointments to you. I'd go away, hoping when I came back we could...I don't know...I don't..."

    Denise stops to look at the two men waiting nearby, leaning on someone's mother's grave or someone's father's tomb. She watches as they light cigarettes and talk about the Giants or the Jets and which team had a stronger secondary and which team needed a new quarterback and which...,
         "Do you hear those guys, Dad? They are talking football. I can't tell if they're Giants or Jets guys, not that I care that much about it, but this moment is simply a 'wait and let's talk about football' moment for them. Nothing too deep. Nothing too special. Just a 'wait and fill this emptiness' type of moment for them. This isn't heartbreaking for everyone.

    Fathers love their daughters. Fathers do love their daughters. I know you loved us all. I know you did. And I loved you...but we stopped liking each other a long time ago. I missed MY guy. I missed the man who thought I was charming and lovely and sweet. I became a woman who challenged your idea of 'lady' and you loved me but you did not like me. You didn't like who I became. You didn't like the cut up shirts, my spiked hair or my style in high school. You didn't like the college dropout or the wife of the divorce father or my locs. You didn't like that I didn't like you picking me apart. I didn't like it! And I think you knew that. I use to think you enjoyed shaming my every picked apart piece. Did you? Was I your shame?

    My piles of disappointment left you questioning 'what is wrong with THIS one? Why can't she be like her sisters with the good grades or the good husband or the kids of her own or the steady job? And I knew that. I knew it.

         Excuse me! Excuse me...yes...can I get one of those?"
    Denise hollers to the nearby men and bums a cigarette. One of the grave diggers, a young handsome man in his late 20's, gives her one and pulls out his lighter. Denise slips the cigarette expertly between her lips while getting a good look at the bright eyed grave digger. With both of her soft, warm hands around the grave digger's surprisingly soft hands to shield the flame, she brings his hands and flame closer to her lips to light her cigarette. With a few quick drags, Denise is lit and is satisfied.
         "Thank you," she says sweetly to the young grave digger.
         "No problem. I'm ahh...I'm sorry for your loss."

    Denise takes a long look at the young grave digger. She slightly cocks her head to the side, assessing his condolence and his beautifully long eye lashes hovering over his light brown eyes. And with a buried, jaded half smile and whisper,
         "Thank you. And thank you for the cigarette...again. I appreciate it very much."

    The young grave digger begins to back peddle his way away from Denise and to the head stone seat he occupied with his buddy. Denise continues with her father,
         "There were times I challenged YOU for sport. It gave me a slight rise to fluster the great Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable. But that's all it was...folly for my amusement. I loved you...but I don't think I liked you much, either."

    Denise looks up at the singing birds,
         "I'd say I'm jealous of those birds flying off but I have always been one of them. Flying off to seek a better branch...a flock to embrace me. Feather of my kind who would never judge me...me as I am. Who would never hold me to the standard of Sondra or..." taking a long drag off her cigarette.

    Denise look up to find the young grave digger looking at her. She chuckles,
         "You'd just die if I brought home a grave digger."
    Denise quickly chokes back a deeper laugh,
         "Oh, that was SO poorly timed. I suspect you would have found a speck of humor in that ill timed joke. But that's what we do. We joke. We kid. We tease. We ridicule. We...shame. And we act as if it's a part of some act, the Huxtable family hour, starring the most perfect dad you will ever know, with the most perfect wife and their gang of imperfect kids. I kept finding my way back to you and I kept NEEDING to leave. This life suffocated me! This perfect Huxtable life was not living! I have lived! I have lived MY life. I am living MY life. My life is the version of my life I want to live...not yours."

    Denise looks up from the gravesite beneath the quickly setting sun. She takes a final drag off her cigarette, tosses it on the mound of dirt to be placed over her father's grave and mashes it into the soil with her boot. She nods to the two men to signal that she's done and is about to leave. The young grave digger flashes Denise as modest smile as not to disrespect her in her time of grief but to reflect his interest. Denise acknowledged his smile with a soft smirk in return. She waves for him to meet her at the open grave. He hurries over, excited to be summoned by the beautiful woman with the long locs running down her back. She reaches into her handbag and pulls out a pewter frame with a black and white photo of herself from 1987. She hands the framed photo to the young man,
         "Put this in there, please."

    The young man takes the framed photo and looks at it.
         "Are you sure?" he asks. "This is a pretty great photo."
         "I am sure. It was one of his favorites."

    She raises her head to listen to the singing sparrows and the flutter of their collective wings as they continue on their journey in the purple and orange New York sky and with a chilled quiet whisper,
         "This is not heartbreaking for everyone."

    Denise walks away from the open grave, leaving behind a pile of dirt and a photo.

    NEXT: CHAPTER 3 - Rudy 

    Note from TDV: This is a work of fan fiction, in a non-fiction world. (Originally published July 21, 2015)


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