Mark Budman ~ In Memoriam

(A short sto­ry suite)

  1. Except for Love

When I WhatsApped my moth­er ear­li­er today, she did some­thing she hadn’t done for years, ever since the onset of her demen­tia. She was try­ing to recite a poem. This poem was old­er than even her nine­ty-three hard years. She began to strug­gle after the first line. I helped her when she seemed to give up. I recit­ed the first stan­za in my best artis­tic voice until I dis­cov­ered that I didn’t remem­ber any­thing fur­ther. So, I invent­ed the sec­ond stanza.


Everything fades.

Even peo­ple,

Even moun­tains,

Even sun­shine.

Except for love…

I strug­gled to con­tin­ue, but she mer­ci­ful­ly stopped me, ask­ing about my grandkids.

When I hung up, I googled the poem and re-read it aloud sev­er­al times. The real sec­ond stan­za was bet­ter than my invention.

What are you doing?” my wife asked.

Getting ready for my 90th birthday.”

It’s twen­ty years away,” she said. “You bet­ter help me with the grandkids.”

You used to like poet­ry,” I said.

I’ll have time to enjoy it when I’m less busy.”

Less busy is nev­er, but I didn’t say that.

I read a fairy­tale to the grand­kids. It was about a lit­tle girl car­ry­ing a bas­ket with pies to her grand­moth­er through the for­est. I knew this sto­ry by heart. The whole thing. So far.

It seemed strange to me that she walked alone. Her par­ents should’ve walked with her. I will re-write this sto­ry one day when I’m less busy. I love to write. In the long run, noth­ing remains of you except for love.

  1. To My Timeless Lover

I’m turn­ing five hun­dred today, or maybe a year from now. You are ten years younger. Or maybe twen­ty years old­er. Time is no longer the sand in an hour­glass as it used to be back when we first met.  It’s not even light on the smart­phone in my pock­et. Time is the ash­es of the yet-unborn stars.

You sit in our bed­room, in a chair like a throne, look­ing out the win­dow. You get up only once a year. Or maybe once in a cen­tu­ry. You are not in a hur­ry. Ravens the size of eagles, with wings of cold flame caw out­side. Our gar­den is their home. Unlike us, they will live here until the Sun turns dark. We have only half of that time.  Or maybe one-tenth. I mean, you have. My time is more limited.

I cough. You don’t turn. I call your name. You don’t turn. You used to turn when­ev­er I called you when I was the prince of the world. Now, I’m only the king. Do you remem­ber that? You don’t answer. The last time you answered was a year ago. Or a millennium.

I know I’m deceiv­ing myself and you, my love, hop­ing that long after my death I will still live in the mar­ble mau­soleum of your van­ish­ing memory.

  1. What is Real

The wife sits in a chair next to her husband’s bed. His eyes are closed. How old is he, real­ly? His papers say 90. But he looks 120.

The nurse comes over. “We’ll take his tubes out soon.”

What’s next?” the wife asked.

We’ll take him down­stairs to the morgue. The funer­al home will get in touch with you.”

Later that night, at home, the wife is in her own bed. She’s used to sleep­ing alone. Her husband’s con­ju­gal vis­its have become increas­ing­ly rare over the years. It was the usu­al lad­der descend­ing (or ascend­ing) to the next world: a cane, walk­er, wheel­chair, and wheel­chair with oxygen.

She doesn’t cry. She falls asleep. Her hus­band comes over in her dream. He wears his wed­ding suit. He looks about 25.

Are you real?” she asks.

He grins. “Of course. If I were sur­re­al, I’d wear a white angel­ic robe.”

Another dad­dy joke. Will you ever stop?”

I’m a dad­dy, grand-dad­dy, and great-grandad­dy. You can’t take that away from me.”

She agrees. She always agrees in the end. This chain of agree­ments start­ed with his wed­ding proposal.

She won­ders how old she looks. She’s about to ask him when a phone call wakes her up. It must be the funer­al home. Or maybe she doesn’t wake up. She dreams again. Or maybe not. In this dream, they walk hand-in-hand over the clouds, wear­ing white robes. She knows it’s real this time. But she has been mis­tak­en before.


Mark Budman is a refugee from Moldova who learned English as an adult. Counterpoint Press pub­lished his nov­el My Life at First Try. His work fea­tures in pub­li­ca­tions such as Catapult and The Mississippi Review. One anthol­o­gy he coedit­ed was the 2022 Foreword Indies win­ner. Kirkus Reviews award­ed his lat­est short sto­ry col­lec­tion a starred review and named it one of the best books of 2023.