Thursday, April 05, 2007

Me But Only Part Of the Time

When the undertaker arrives, I'm pouring chicken stock into a saucepan and tossing in rehydrated shitake mushrooms, a bay leaf, dried sage. When I return to the living room, Dad has been dead three hours. Darla hasn't budged from her spot, bedside, where she caresses his right arm. Her parents have assumed protective positions between the undertaker and the front door, which interests me since I assume we should be clearing that path. I say nothing and sit on the bed at Dad's left hand. His skin is cool to the touch but still soft. I am also interested because the undertaker is a young, nervous blond boy in a brand new suit, and he is shaped like a question mark.

Kid: Hi um um um my name is Randy um um um I'm with -
Tata: We spoke on the phone. My name is Domenica.
Kid: Yes um um um I'm very sorry for your um um um loss.
Tata: Thank you. Please sit down. Would you like a glass of water? Would you like to use the bathroom?
Kid: No, thank you. Um um um I have a few um um um questions -
Kid: Yes, um um um we'd like to assure you we'll um um um take care of everything, including um um um getting enough death certificates for your needs. Do you know how many you'd want?

We look at each other.

Tata: How many do people generally ask for, Randy?
Kid: Five or six, and we can always get more.
Tata: We'd like seven. Dad has a minor child who will certainly need copies.
Kid: And we can always get more.
Tata: Excellent.
Kid: Do either of you know your father's parents' names?
Darla: He's my husband!
Tata: ...and my father, and his father's name was Alessandro. A-L-E-S-S-A-N-D-R-O. His mother's name was Edith SicilianName LongItalianLastName. I'll write down his children's names for you.
Kid: Thanks. Um um um about the medical examiner -
Darla: What about him?
Kid: We'll um um um speak to him for you.
Tata: Thank you, since we're not sure what we'd be discussing. Which can be so awkward.
Kid: Oh, I'm sorry I'm wearing a pink shirt.
Darla: What?!
Tata: Dahhhhhhlink, we thought it was just fashion-forward for morticians.
Kid: I went to a breast cancer um um um funeral this morning and um um um -
Darla: Why are you apologizing? Why is he apologizing?
Kid: Anyway, I do apologize -
Tata: Randy, dear, did you come here alone?
Kid: Actually, my associate is waiting in the um um um vehicle. Why do you ask?
Tata: Because otherwise you and I were going to carry Daddy to the hearse.
Darla: I wondered if you were going to throw Dominic over one shoulder.
Tata: I'd do that just for you, sweetie.

Randy slips outside and I duck back in the kitchen to add more chicken stock to the pot, to lay out plates and flatware. Milk and instant potatoes wait for me in measuring cups. Butter softens on a plate. I'd opened a box of expensive frozen burgers, which someone will explain later to be a concession to the sewage taste cancer left in Dad's mouth. Canned vegetables wait in plastic containers to be microwaved. In the living room, the kid and an older man prepare to move the body. I kiss his cheek, say, "Goodbye, Daddy," and march back to the kitchen, where frying pans heat, ingredients simmer and the microwave whirs. The front door slams and what we've all dreaded happens: Darla collapses in her mother's arms and sobs for her lost husband. I sob. Nigel sobs. Nina sobs. We all sob. Years-long minutes pass. Darla hiccoughs.

Darla: What's for dinner?

We dry our tears. We eat burgers with pepper relish because three of us were born in England and it happens to be tasty, and mashed potatoes, creamed corn and cut green beans. Our new motto becomes: You have to laugh or you'll cry, but you still gotta eat, and we ate that kid in a pink shirt for breakfast.


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