My Mum didn’t die a peaceful death. She got bitten on her toe by a rattlesnake whilst walking through the big park at night in her flip flops. She didn’t have the cell phone with her because my Dad had it that night. The poison got into her veins and stopped her heart. The next time when we saw her, she was all stiff and puffy. But her face was angry, most likely about the cell phone, I think. My Dad says she comes back in the form of a hurricane every few years or so and it’s our goddammed duty to weather the storm. He says they can call ‘em whatever they want – Irma, Katrina, Harvey, but they all Hurricane Josephine to him.
I’m on my third slow loop through a nearly-empty parking lot, passing by darkened stores as the last workers depart on a Sunday night. The land on which the mall sits was once part of the Everglades – I helped survey it as a summer job years ago. I’d wade into the forest with a machete and mark the trees developers would be saving – the slash pines were going, but the live oaks would stay to be stranded in asphalt.
Three days ago, Tristan, my cousin’s boyfriend, was waiting at a stop sign on his motorcycle when an inattentive driver plowed into him. If I delay my arrival any longer, I’d miss his viewing completely, so I finally drive across the street to the funeral home.
I could picture what it would be like if we met again all these years later. It might go down like this: After 670 miles of a pretty cross country haul, I’d see the meeting-place pub we’d picked sitting brown and ugly like a hovel at the side of the road, a meeting place for the century, out there in some square, hard country setting. And I’d brace myself for comrades, the long stretch between get-togethers, wondering what the hard stuff would do to me this time. Undoubtedly it would leave tracks again.
I closed my eyes, wondering all over again. I hoped Balbo would be in there and Diaz. I hoped Archie’d be in there, red in the face, after his fifth visit, his third wife, his second hospital stay, counting his visits, keeping the tab at his elbow, paying it with no fanfare at all, sometimes embarrassed by his own quick acceptance of it, owing somebody, always owing somebody in this crazy life.
“Seven o’clock, Martin, time to get up,” said Siri from the bedside table.
“Alarm off,” he said.
“Today is Estella’s birthday, would you like to send her a greeting?” asked the cheery voice.
“I’d love to send her a greeting but she died a week ago so it seems a little pointless.”
I don’t understand why the boy wears two watches. Plus, they look really expensive. I just don’t get it. I myself can’t hold onto watches. I buy them and forget to take them off, which means when I shower or swim- both of which I do quite often- they get destroyed. I had a watch for two days once before I looked down in the middle of a breast stroke and saw the inner face fog up. I cursed under water and bubbles of regret rose to the surface. I’ve never been good with watches and now this child, as he is only about twelve years old, comes into my pottery studio with two watches on his wrist. One, I’m quite sure, is a Rolex.
Even the sky grieved. Gray and bleak, the wind cried out in lamentation, sending leftover pockets of old snow onto stark marble gravestones. Mourners passed by, eyes forward, each lost in their own world of respectful sadness. They walked along in silent groups, no one engaging in small talk or forced levity. Their task was much too grave for such normal pleasantries.
I sit up in bed when I see the headlights of a car arc at the end of the driveway, pause for a second over the mailbox, and then stop in front of my house. I reach across the bed to wake Susan before I remember she’s not there. Mine is the last house on a rural cul-de-sac in upstate New York. Sometimes in the summer, late at night, I get kids making out or drinking beer at the end of the road and if they make too much racket I walk up with a flashlight and ask them to move along. But it’s early morning, the week before Christmas, the kind of dry cold air that pinches your nose shut in the time it takes to check the mailbox. No one is drinking a 40-ouncer this morning. The newspaper guy used to drive by at this time of morning and slide a paper into the box, but I cut that off six months ago, when Dylan deployed. Some things you don’t want to know about. The headlights extinguish, and I can see the glint of the car chrome in the early morning moonlight. I slip my feet over the side of the bed, find my LL Bean moccasins, wrestle into a flannel robe, and turn on the light to go downstairs.