Issue 67, Fall 1976
Since few were living on those heights aside from the children, deaths were few as well and funeral arrangements simple. They carried him out on a farm wagon drawn by a work horse. On steep grades the farmer cranked the brake handle tight. The road glaring white. Blinds the eyes. The din of the wheel rims crushing stones. A grey mare leans her neck across a gate dreamily watching the other one pass, her still profile cut out of cardboard. While they walked the children silently played with little broken things found deep in their pockets. Transferred them from one hand to another then into pocket and back to hand again. The smallest ones closed their fists around polished chestnuts. Head raised all the blue of the sky. Dazzling mother of pearl. December sky. Knives of winter behind poised to fall. Even coffins beneath their canopy at night.
The old lady kept a photo in the portfolio with worn down corners under the receipts lists certificates prescriptions mementos. Lift the pages skin by skin, nothing. Then where did I put it. Ah. The click of a clasp and it’s there flattened dog-eared at the right corner, still the white scar of a crease. Between thumb and forefinger. Look, she says, this was two years before. I won’t look, thinks the young woman. In turn the friend of the family respectfully between thumb and forefinger. That’s him exactly, says the friend. Isn’t it, says the old lady. Especially the eyes. Yes the eyes. I won’t look. The expression. Yes the expression. If I look I will lose him instantly. I can see him again, says the friend. Yes you can see him again. If I look I’ll stop seeing him forever. The friend’s glance shuttles back and forth between the flattened picture and the young woman who gazes out the window at the trees, her still profile cut out of cardboard. Crazy how much she resembles him, says the friend. Me. How much she has begun to resemble her father now that. The young woman holds out her hand. A thumb on the picture how much she resembles him. Fixed forever in memory the clear-walled high forehead the snowy locks the over-large eyes that look blind the sinuous mouth half-open not for a smile. Lips stretched across the stern alignment of dentures almost glimpsed above guessed below. What is that, says the young woman and points with her fingernail to the thin crevice between the lips, little oblong black egg. Well that. The hands of the old lady on the photo. Magnifying glass helping the spectacles. Where. What. His mouth I don’t. What is he holding there between his teeth. Nothing. Lips. Like everyone. Half open. What is. Nothing. Nothing at all. The trembling hands of the old lady on the clasp. The little flat square returned to its night. Of night raising the ebony plumes. What was there between his teeth. What they hadn’t noticed that was there.
Played with little broken things found deep in their pockets. How much she resembles him, has begun to resemble him. Crazy. Knives of winter behind poised to fall. They carried him out on a farm wagon because there was no hearse. Because a hearse would have broken down in the long white road, on the grades the farmer cranked the brake handle tight. A hay wagon. The old mare shook her mane to scatter the horseflies with an old patient impatience. They had to lash the coffin with ropes passed around the slats so it wouldn’t pitch on the floor of the wagon. The din of the wheel rims crushing stones.