Janet moved to Coral Gables after 32 years of marriage to a moody
dentist. Before she left, she created and raised three angry
children with him. The moody dentist, my uncle Bill, who lived only
a mile and a half from us, phoned three days ago. Uncle Bill said he
had just received a call from Aunt Janetís condo manager. The
manager said Janet had been found dead on her living room carpet.
The person who first suspected that something was amiss was the
water meter reader--an Iraq vet--who recognized the smell. Uncle
Bill said he was leaving for the airport in an hour, flying down
there to see about the details.
mother and I were having lunch together when Uncle Bill called.
she hung up, my mother sat quietly at the table. When she looked at
me, she did so in an unsurprised fashion. She said, You remember
your Aunt Janet, donít you?
eloped several years earlier with my high school sweetheart, a
swinging dick named Foster Purify. After we got sick of one another,
Foster would simply hump anything in panties and I would fuck every
brave soul who was sober enough to sit up the backseat of my Toyota.
Eventually, I moved back home. I now lived in the basement of my
parentsí house. My parents told everyone I lived at home so that we
all could spend some time together before I headed off for my next
answer my motherís question. Details? I thought. And for a time, my
mother was silent.
mother said, Iíll tell you something you did not know. In 1974,
Janet had this wide open affair with an insurance salesman, Henryk
Kiley was his name. Your father and I went to a football game one
Saturday afternoon with Bill and Janet and, right before halftime,
Bill said he had to leave. Five minutes later, a man walked down the
aisle and took his seat. Your father frowned at him and then Janet
said, Hey, Iíd like you to meet Henryk Kiley. He and I have been
seeing one another for a little while now. Bill knows all about it.
When she looked at me, I nodded, of course. But you should have seen
your father. He couldnít speak. Henryk was nice looking. Neatly
combed hair, white teeth. He looked like someone from a news
broadcast. Your father, he finally had to get up from his seat and
take a walk. Janet knew it would bother him, but me, people know Iím
not quick to judge. Janet said, I think itís better if everythingís
on the table, donít you? To that, I said, Everyone loves you,
sweetheart. I donít know why I said that, it just seemed like the
right thing to say. Janet suddenly looked as if she wanted to cry.
Actually, she hugged me. When she drew back, I looked at her
beautiful face. The sky behind her was very blue. It was like a
western sky. I went out to Las Vegas with the Slater sisters that
one time. Everyone knew they werenít sisters, for heavenís sake. I
will never forget that sky. Henryk was smiling, but he looked
confused. I donít know whatever happened to him . . .
after Uncle Bill called with the news about Aunt Janet, he called
again, this time from her condo in South Florida and when he did I
was home by myself. He wanted to explain some things and then he
said, Whereís your mother? Maybe I ought to talk with her. I said,
Tell me, please. I am a grown woman. He said, The news is pretty
awful. I thought, Worse than non-existence? After a pause, he
explained that some of Janetís teeth were missing. He said, She
asked a dentist, someone Iíve never heard of, to pull them because
Excesses? I said.
said. She also apparently cut her own hair. It looks like she
chopped at it with a butcher knife. It looks like something from an
asylum. She died from a drug overdose. But her body was riddled with
cancer. Did you know she was sick? he said. I said, I didnít. He
said, Did your mother know? After a moment, I said, I canít say for
sure. He said, I didnít know. I had no idea. His voice trailed off.
mother had been at the beauty parlor. When she returned home, her
hair was in that frozen, Iím-headed-to-something-really-dreadful
style, and we sat at the table and I told her that Bill had called
and I told her what he had said. My mother listened and touched at
her curls as I explained. I said, Bill wanted to know if you knew .
. . My mother said, How would I know that? I havenít seen her in
years. She never even thanked me for the Christmas cards I sent down
there. How would I know that?
not say anything to my mother. I would have said, You knew
everything, didnít you? But I did not want to get into it with
my mother because of how she looked right now.
Beauty parlor hair depressed me.
example: My grandmother went to her beauty parlor every Friday.
Eventually, she contracted osteoporosis and was hunched over like a
question mark. She would go to the beauty parlor with an oxygen tank
rolling at her side. She liked to keep her hair the color of a red
velvet cake. After I got my driverís license, she called me once and
asked me to drive her there. I sat in a chair and watched them work
on her. My grandmother, she was a smart cookie, though. Right at the
end of her treatment, the beautician pointed at me with a comb and
said to my grandmother, We gonna do her today?
I was 16
years old with straight brown hair. I never wore make-up and I had
big tits that embarrassed me.
grandmother said, Leave her alone.
looked across the table at my mother. I tried to imagine my own
corpse but what I wound up thinking about was this deceased friend
of mine, Joanie Neltner, who had drowned while swimming in a little
country pond not far from here. This happened when I was a senior in
high school. In her open casket, she wore a strawberry colored
dress. At the visitation, I shouldnít have, but I reached over and
touched her cheek with the tip of my index finger.
viewed by those around me as a display of affection.
said to my mother, When will I be beautiful? I worry that I have
already missed it.
caught my mother by surprise and then she seemed squared away again.
She said, Not for a long while. Do you understand what I am saying
so, I said.
figured that we were all pretty smart. Seriously, we were
astronomers. We were pioneers. We were the dreamers of dreams. Every
cunt who had sat down at our kitchen table knew the score. I said,
The 70s, they must have been something. What my mother said to that
really cracked me up, though neither one of us even smiled when she
said, We had our own interpretation of them, yes.
to picture Janet with this mannequin-handsome befuddled guy sitting
there behind her, the blue sky all clear above. But this was before
I was born and really the only images I vividly recalled were those
at family parties. Janet had a tanning salon color to her skin and
she always had a drink in her hand. What I could imagine clearly
enough was my mother sitting there in the same sunlight on the
afternoon Janet displayed her affair for the world to see. The seat
at the game beyond my motherís was empty and her expression was
curious. She tried to understand all that Janet was telling her.
mother saying everyone loves you because it was something a
frightened child needed to hear.
brought Janet back and cleaned her up at the funeral home. But while
she still had a say in things, she had chopped at her own hair. She
told a dentist to pull her teeth. When she looked in the mirror
every morning, she saw was a primitive mountain woman from the 18th
century. She was hip. After a certain point, time was always and
forever moving in reverse. It never stopped, not even when you had
just told one another everything.
has recently published work in Epoch, Folio,
Sewanee Review, Shenandoah, Tampa
Review, Georgetown Review and The Literary Review.
He has work forthcoming in Cottonwood and The Ledge
Poetry and Fiction Magazine.