Monday, February 23, 2009

What Remains


How many friend's partners/spouses had you buried by the time you were 40? This is my first.

Her Irish sisters had composed a vignette of her on the hospital bed in the living room, where she died in Marks arms before sunrise. The one who let me in scurried back to the clutch of the others in the kitchen, where they huddled like birds in a stiff and bitter wind. Tiny photos and prayer books were placed in an arc above Patty's face, around which they'd closely laid some of the loose handwoven shawls and throws she favored, masking it off as though for spray painting. It could use the painting too, I guess; all waxy translucent and taught. A mask not like Patty at all. I touched it. It was cool and not at all resilient, all the color faded away. In only a few hours! I wanted to press my thumbs into the cheeks to see if it would leave a mark, but I knew better. Her father sat in the chair where he'd sat since dawn; perpendicular to the mattress, head down over fingers knotted into a beseeching fist, just as still, and just as silent as his daughter. He didn't look up.

The Yankee Protestant dead are covered immediately, and vanish into the backs of black Cadillac or Lincoln hearses as soon as stunned/exhausted/relieved spouses or children can marshal shaking fingers into pressing the right sequence of digits into the phone. Three or four days later facsimiles of the departed appear - after spray painting - in mahogany or bronze shadow boxes lined in pale ruched silk, determined by propriety, taste and budget.

I worried myself up the stairs, running through all the platitudes and cliches recalled from all the funerals I've attended. Are they as hollow to hear as they are to say? I went with saying nothing, just holding him and stroking his head while we cried. Later, from halfway down the stairs, the scene below hadn't changed; the green and gold shawls and sad grey man in a red leather chair; a guttered out candle visage. Cold.

Nope. What remains is not Patty at all - so the half open, dull eyes weren't creepy,
just curious.

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