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Archive for November, 2007

You know how people always say the dead look like they’re sleeping? I even remember thinking that myself about Grandmother Joss, who died when I was nine, and whose hard cheek they made me kiss in her coffin. But Daddy? They’d put too much makeup on him, I thought; too much blush, and it looked a little like he was wearing eyeshadow, and pink lipstick. He just looked dead. Like a painted husk I could blow away with one good breath. They put his glasses on him, and the tie clip from his father, who’d been a Mason. Daddy had tried to join the Masons once, but they blackballed him. Just as well; Benedict Arnold was a Mason, and look where it got him. A rule of thumb: never put anything shiny on the chest of a corpse. It has a way of catching the light, so that when you walk past, it looks as though the person were still breathing. Even though you know they can’t be alive, waxy makeup-faced and stiff, a caricature of the person you knew and loved, cheap navy suit and sideburns all funny, even then, when that Masonic tie clasp catches the soft overheads in the funeral home, it looks for all the world like he’s still breathing. Much as I love my father, much as I miss him already, the thought that he could be lying in this polyester satin-lined box and still be breathing scares the living hell out of me. Dead folks need to stay that way. 

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I lie in bed.  The ceiling fan stirs the wisps of hair around my face, whirring like the whisper of a companion.  I’ve gotten so I can’t sleep without it, even on the coolest nights.  The toilet flushes,  a brief glimmer of light – door open, light switch flipped – and my husband slips into bed beside me.  He stretches, shifts his weight, yawns hugely and settles in. His body touches mine for only an instant – it’s an accident, and he pulls away quickly.  I wait.  I hear him clear his throat and shuffle under the quilt and think, maybe, but he goes still again. I lie very still, faking sleep; I know it doesn’t matter if I am sleeping or awake, but it makes me feel better to pretend.  When he raises his body suddenly, I am sure he intends to kiss me goodnight, but he reaches for the clock glowing on the night stand, and I see he’s forgotten to set his alarm.  He finishes with the clock and again furrows beneath the covers; within minutes his light snore competes with the fan overhead for my attention, and I, too, roll over, shifting and settling my body for sleep.   A year and a half, I think, and surprised by this I begin to do my count.  The last time we made love was the middle of March, last year, in a hotel room in Paris . . . it is now the fifth of November of the following year, and we have, indeed, passed the eighteen-month mark. Nom myoho renge kyo, I chant silently.

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