There was water boiling over the pot on the stove the night my niece died. She told me she was craving wheat noodles, so I stopped everything I was doing to satisfy her. I heard the water sizzling as it leaked over the scalding edges of the pot, and immediately ran to turn off the flames. “I’m hungry!” she kept yelling. “Please tell me you did not ruin dinner!” “I’m sorry little love.” I chanted as I rushed the noodles to the sink. I let cold water run over them, but it was too late. The noodles had burnt up and were sticking to the steel. I could see the shadow of her bowing in the doorway, her tiny body shuddering with hysterical sobs. I scratched out the charred noodles and handed them to her. “Wipe your tears.” I whispered. I was crying too. She grabbed my leg and cuddled it when she noticed. I leaned against the wall like a ghost watching his loved ones play on without him, expression doleful and hateful at once. I knew she was drying when I felt her grip loosen around my limb. “It’s okay dear. Go ahead, die. I cannot take care of you the way death can.” Her body dropped from me, carefully sprawling across the floor. I stared at her, face white with grief, eyes bulging as if I despised her, and kneeling at her side, I lifted her over my shoulder and carried her upstairs.
Concealed just beneath Pier 63 on the Seattle waterfront, Rob and Lonnie await in the open 16 foot aluminum boat. Between them face down on the boat’s floor is the mock bride, a mannequin wearing a white wedding dress slowly absorbing the moisture of the inch and half puddle it lies in. Lonnie looks at the mock bride, the veil and the blond wig fluttering in a cool breeze. A bouquet of spring flowers, freesias, peonies and daisies, is duct taped to her rigid right hand, the best they could do to make the flowers appear they are being held. She wears a pair of scuffed white leather pumps. Within the fiberglass body of the bride is a six -gallon polypropylene bladder full of Trader Joe’s brand tequila mixed with red dye and corn syrup, based on a recipe Lonnie used twenty-five years earlier for the blood needed for a community theatre production of Sweeny Todd. Three leftover bottles of tequila lie in the puddle beside the bride. Beneath the tequila-filled bladder, in the mannequin’s lower torso is a jumbled pile of twenty-one and a half pounds of turkey kielbasa, also bought at Trader Joe’s, a decent enough imitation of entrails for the Wedding.
The room had always been dark. She noticed it the first day that they moved in. Looking back on it, John had been ill from day one. He felt heavy, as if the flu was working on him. The darkness was unsettling. The other two bedrooms faced the same direction and they were filled with sunlight. Not that room. John became sicker. The heaviness was always there and he said that it felt more and more intense. The doctor found nothing.
Every day Luisa left a new piece of art at the foot of his bed. They were washcloths shaped like animals, a different one each day. She was very talented.
He knew it was Luisa because she signed her work. She left a card that said Your Room Was Cleaned By ____________. It’s my pleasure, and Luisa wrote her name on the line. He suspected she left those cards in all the rooms she cleaned, but maybe she was reaching out. She’d written her name there, by hand, just for him. She dotted the i with a circle.
The delivery guy from Arturo’s Italian Restaurant had a sixth finger. It waved about like a little pink antenna. Horace always gave him a big tip and tried not to stare at it. They would link eyes and smile at each other. There was a tacit agreement not to stare at the unusual little digit —and to tip big…and move on. Every time that Horace ordered from Arturo’s he forgot about the delivery guy. The chicken parmesan was so outstanding that the gross-out factor at the door was but a minor inconvenience.
Within the breath of the hospital door click, he was both alive and dead. A Schrodinger’s situation. He insisted on the glass of water and I had not wanted to go. But I did. He didn’t like me seeing him in that state–which seemed so unlike everyone’s perception of him, he was not the regular vain sort of actor one would think of. Or at least I never saw him that way.
I’m driving west into the setting sun on streets I’ve known for over 50 years in a car I bought brand new seven years ago. I’ve been driving for fifty-eight of my seventy-three years.