He is four, he announces to all gathered at the extended family table that he will be five soon, in January. It is important that we know this just as it is important that he sit next to his cousin, for boys like he should always sit next to cute girls and sisters don’t count, everyone knows that. Four people in his class have birthdays in January And he tells us their names, we hoping there will be no quiz. As I call him to get his food from the buffet he turns to his father, and says, “Josh, save my seat,” and smiles broadly. He repeats this ensuring we have all heard. When I ask him why he says Josh, not daddy, he laughs and says, “Because it’s his name, silly, like your name is Papa Lou, and anyway he always calls me Charlie, not son.”
What do you say on the loss of a child? We sat in the lounge drinking a vile potion from a hollowed pineapple giggling insanely for no reason. We wandered the tunnels faces painted, clowns in bedlam. We lay together on a mattress on the floor and listened to Aqualung my arms around you both, but sleep came slowly and we talked until night ran from the encroaching sun. I can feel her soft blond hair and see her smile as we walked hand in hand in hand along the abandoned railbed, dreaming of what might be. As I struggle with sleep and with a new day I can hear the tape end snapping at the end of the ever spinning reel wanting only to hold your hand and stroke your hair.
First appeared in RE:AL The Journal of Liberal Arts Vol. 23, Issue 2, 1998
When I die, my friend Larry said one morning in the third inning of a double header of stoop ball, I want to be burned, not that I intend it to happen any time soon, but when it does. They burned my grandfather I think it was Dachau, but unlike him, I want to kick some ass before it happens. Just let them call me Jew boy I’d like to hear the sound of their balls imploding up into their bladder. They burned my grandmother too, years later, until all that was left was the cancer eating her stomach, but I want to be burned in an oven set up properly for the job, my ashes cast into the wind or maybe in the infield of Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium if Luke Easter is still playing first base for the Bisons. It was only two days later that Larry tripped on the curb outside the variety store on the way home from school and later that day they took his kidney and laid it, all bloody within, on the steel tray. When he came home his mother said he had to be careful when you have only one kidney you can’t fool around and you certainly want to avoid the strain that comes from kicking any ass.
First Appeared in Afterthoughts (Canada), Vol. 2, No. 4, Autumn, 1995.
He is four today. He’s been practicing being four, so it is somewhat second nature. But he made a decision. Next year he will be five. He was going to be 27 next year, but decided that can wait another year. I asked him why he was delaying, he said, “You get better presents when you are four or five.” I confess his logic, but wonder what I should do with the tie and cardigan I bought for his next birthday?
The money wasn’t really real then, it came in a box with a board, dice and property deeds, and it was in colors, one for each denomination, (kind of like and Canada and other countries). It was fun having a lot of it until the first time I snuck some out of the house and went off to the variety store, I’d had my eye the magic kit they had tucked in the front window, forgotten, now clearly the only one of its kind. I asked the shopkeeper how much, he said it’s been here so long I can’t remember, so it’s yours for a buck. I gave him a 10, pale yellow he laughed, said that’s foreign so it will be 990 for the magic kit and I can’t make change but I’ll throw in a Mars bar if that’s okay. It was the one and only time that trick worked.
We are obligated to carry memories, and as we get older, the burden grows ever heavier, we bend under its weight, knowing we dare not lose even one for once cast off, the weight is carried off like the smallest feather on a storming wind. Soon enough it is we who Will become the burden that others must carry and we hope they will willingly shoulder the load lest we become the excised dust of a forgotten stone grown over with weeds.