The first inkling Frank had of the change that would overtake him came on the drive down. He was in the back seat, his hip aching from hours on the Interstate, listening to a radio show about snow geese migrating from the Arctic, big flocks miles high but always along the same route: migration corridors they called them. And all of a sudden Frank was up there flying among them, mile after airy mile in unison. Who knows how long it lasted before Kathy turned and spoke to him, words he didn’t catch but that startled him back down, into his body? He shook his head, a horse throwing off a fly; he was a practical man, not given to daydreaming. ‘How long till lunch?’ he asked Kathy who asked Tom who wanted to get another hundred miles at least.
Everyone has played watching games. I’d taken it a step further. I played dead games. I visited cemeteries and I gave five of the dead my thoughts on their life.
I don’t know when my game changed. I wasn’t making up the stories anymore. I’m not exactly sure when the visions changed from imagination.
…They had no input from me.
My older sister Nancy and I love funerals. We go at random every weekend, ingratiating ourselves into the crowds, the friends, the family. We pretend to weep with the mourners, while we absorb things with the coldness of detectives, me in an oversized suit, borrowed from Dad. Nancy in one of Mother’s nice black gowns. We love the darkness, the garb, the somberness. The people gathered together, mothers and children, cousins, nephews, people with connections we cannot fathom. Being so close to darkness, a kind of whirl, excitement. We don’t know dead people, the wildness of loss. Mother and Dad are divorced, but that’s different. They wear fedoras and lavender and false civility. Even our grandparents still live, regaling us with tales of meeting Teddy Roosevelt and other trivialities.
Barry sat on the bed as he read the letter.
“Well that’s old Jim away.”
She sat down and put her arm around him.
“Are you okay?”
“I suppose so.”
Why do Southerners romanticize dreck? They positively gush over everything in sight, including the weeds covering the telephone poles along the highway. Kudzu, an invasive weed, is treated like gorse. Southerners are proud of it, like everything else. Kudzu is nothing to be proud of, but Peter Taylor is. Light in August is something to get excited about. Tennessee Williams knew a thing or two, but is he invited to the Liberty Bowl? What of Eudora Welty?
I hate that eleventh step. It’s the darkest one. It always has been. I remember noticing it when I was around twelve years old but I couldn’t say anything, not to my parents.
I blamed them. I thought when they died it would leave me alone. It didn’t.
I’ve suffered that step for forty years now. But I don’t think I’ll need to for much longer.
I kept my older sister’s cat-eye glasses in a drawer after she was struck down by a train. Nancy’s Chevy Bel-Air was stalled, like a truly cliché song on the radio. She was only eighteen and it was 1961. Nancy said they made her look like a freak. A nerd. She was embarrassed that she needed glasses to read and see the world’s problems highlighted. She’d get rid of these glasses, go with contacts if she just had the money. A scarlet letter, a reminder of what Nancy didn’t have. There was so much my sister and I didn’t have. We lacked parents like Ward and June Cleaver, the opportunity simply to relax and watch the world move past. Vast objects that were all our own, the finest frocks and suits.
The only light in the room came from the green numbers displayed on the digital clock by the bedside table. The numbers 3:47 were barely enough to cast a pallid blanket over the nose and forehead of the man sleeping on the bed. The only sound came from his breathing, which accompanied by the slow rising and falling of his chest under the blanket, also provided the only movement in the room. The girl lying next to him was silent and still; her thick black strands of hair spread across the pillow, stretching out towards him. Heavy curtains not only blocked out the orange glow of the city outside, but kept the room undisturbed from the sharp gliding sounds of taxis and the occasional drunken black car against the wet asphalt. The numbers on the digital clock clicked to 3:48. The man slowly sat up, as if he had responded to the ever so slight change in the room. He had been staring at the ceiling, and no longer finding it of any interest, now found himself searching the dark square outlines of the furniture scattered around. Soundlessly, he got up and moved towards the window where he pulled the curtains back to let in the glow of the streetlamp. He should have gone back to the ceiling, but instead turned the handle and stepped out of the cold air-conditioned room, on to the balcony. It wasn’t very high up, but he could see a fair amount of the city. The monstrous skyscrapers loomed over him in the pathetic menace of their palely lit and empty offices, and the great condominium buildings in the distance faded sadly in the background – their inhabitants had long since switched off the lights. He felt his naked body drenched in the humid air, and was suddenly aware of the thousands of windows, the bright and blind eyes taking in the sight of him. But the street was empty below, and the man seemed to exist only in the blind spot of life, and of all that was still awake at this time of night. He lit a cigarette, meaning to savor the quiet and watch the way the purple sky swelled up with each passing minute. He only took a few drags though, before deciding it was too hot, and going back inside.
Daniel planed the final piece of timber. A few more shavings and he knew that it would fit. He wasn’t happy with one section so he spent another minute sanding it.
He admired his work.
The other two stood on plinths. He never considered himself arrogant. They were beautiful and in perfect proportion.
A witness mark is a groove, a dent, left by people gone before. Sometimes they’re deep, gouged, gone over so many times by people, living and reliving moments on moments. Sometimes they’re just a scratch, easily sanded away.
It was Catia’s first time waking up in a coffin. It would not be her last.