by Evelyn Hampton
"Now when you're speaking you might be overcome, so take a moment to swallow. Some chew gum. I am sorry about your loss. Words don't convey, I know, but just look sharp. I won't allow cameras into the viewing. The dead don't photograph well, take my word, they actually deflect light."
The funeral director's back was the size of a blazer larger than the one he wore. One wondered about the stain on his left sleeve: whose fluids? Maybe he was a father who occasionally poured milk on himself. Maybe he was worse. He stood in a corner now but the son knew where he would be after the funeral. He had seen him chatting with his mother after she paid for the casket, brushing off her cheeks, encouraging her to sit with him in a nearby park. The son watched as his mother transformed her misery into wadded tissues she put back in with the clean ones, so the box was globby. He would not have done it that way. He did things with clarity and purpose. He memorized his speech. He did not accept the tissues she passed him. Her grief surpassed his way of dealing.
Now he got by, as far as managing the dull time waiting for the service to begin, folding and refolding the day's order of condolences: first the priest, then the uncle, then him, then, if she could speak, his mother. As usual his sister could not be counted on to arrive, but she had sent something living that splayed beside the casket. One of her flowers touched the dead father's face. The dead father looked up into its cup, its lanky sex hanging out and leaving a yellow powder above his eyebrow. This could be where she would kiss him had she been there, had her lips not been fooling around in some other state.
In a corner the funeral director coughed and dimmed the lights. In dimmer light, people cry more fretfully. The son didn't know where to look. He and the dead father would collect rocks along the railroad tracks and put them in a tumbler. He and the dead father would speed up time's fumbling. They came home filthy. If they came home bloody, the dead father would use the hose to spray him unbloodied. His skin would be chafed and his mother would try to soothe it. He would pull away and save his game before she could press reset. Then he would watch the screen be controlled by the machine's ghost hands while his mother's hands spread the cold cream across his skin, finding a rash where she thought he'd long grown out of being damp. She would say to the dead father, Where are you taking him? Where are you going?
The uncle spoke about being his dead brother's twin. When the uncle was a boy and stuttered, his dead brother beat up the teasing kids. His dead brother sneaked a BB gun into church and shot the chalice that held the communion juice. When his dead brother was punished, he spent the month in his room reading about reflection and refraction. This segued to his dead brother studying optometry. They all—the uncle pointed to the ones with glasses—saw through his dead brother's eyes. On "eyes" the son rose. This was his cue. He walked to the podium. On the way he noticed the stain above the dead father's eye. He pushed away the flower and knocked over its vase. The funeral director rose out of a corner saying, Let me, let me, his constricted arms waving. The son nodded. He could not allow the others to distract him. He knew they counted on him, and had for a while, to say the things they knew but could not say. He had already parted from them, the fleshy family, the way a hand parts from a wave.
All content in SmokeLong Quarterly copyright 2003-2014 by its authors.
Evelyn Hampton's writing has been recently published in Juked, elimae, and BlazeVOX.
Read the interview.
E. B. Goodale is a painter and printmaker living in Boston. She has exhibited work throughout Massachusetts and New York and been published in Oranges and Sardines, Dissolver Magazine and Triple Decker Magazine. See more of her work at ebgoodale.com.
|Issue Twenty-One (June 15, 2008): Paper Mouse by Bob Arter «» The Folk Singer Dreams of Time Machines by Matt Bell «» The Bone Orchard by Randall Brown «» Disease Relics by Blake Butler «» We Decided to Make Porn by Brian Allen Carr «» The Baby Drop-Off by Natascia Casey-Dean «» The Cougar by Dave Clapper «» Anointed by Myfanwy Collins «» Sister Earth by John Colvin «» Soap by Katrina Denza «» The Interpretation of Light by Murray Dunlap «» The Hole by Ashley Farmer «» Repair Man by Kathy Fish «» In the Kitchen She Wakes by Stefanie Freele «» American Gothic by Scott Garson «» Lobster Girl by Alicia Gifford «» Pen and Notebook by Natalie Goldberg «» Memento Mori by Rosanne Griffeth «» BiC by Steven Gullion «» Parting by Evelyn Hampton «» Tuesday by Lindsay Hunter «» Waiting on Lombard Street by W.P. Kinsella «» Johnny by Nance Knauer «» Like Swimming by Jeff Landon «» Feeling Sad by Darby Larson «» Alone With Cooper by Ellen Meister «» The Angel's Visitation by Corey Mesler «» South Dakota by Mary Miller «» California Fruit by Meg Pokrass «» Home Made by Bruce Holland Rogers «» Handful of Dirt by Jim Ruland «» Steam City Girl by Paul Silverman «» Sugar by Claudia Smith «» The 13th Toast by Amy Sparks «» Gathering by Kelly Spitzer «» Tiny Shadows by Maryanne Stahl «» Double-Exposure by Thomas White «» Epistemology by Joseph Young «» Why This Isn't a Good Story to Tell by Shellie Zacharia «» Liquid by Michelle Zellers «» Real Estate by Bonnie ZoBell «» Interviews: Bob Arter «» Matt Bell «» Randall Brown «» Blake Butler «» Brian Allen Carr «» Natascia Casey-Dean «» Dave Clapper «» Myfanwy Collins «» John Colvin «» Katrina Denza «» Murray Dunlap «» Ashley Farmer «» Kathy Fish «» Stefanie Freele «» Scott Garson «» Alicia Gifford «» Rosanne Griffeth «» Steven Gullion «» Evelyn Hampton «» Lindsay Hunter «» Nance Knauer «» Jeff Landon «» Darby Larson «» Ellen Meister «» Corey Mesler «» Mary Miller «» Meg Pokrass «» Bruce Holland Rogers «» Jim Ruland «» Paul Silverman «» Claudia Smith «» Amy Sparks «» Kelly Spitzer «» Maryanne Stahl «» Thomas White «» Joseph Young «» Shellie Zacharia «» Michelle Zellers «» Bonnie ZoBell «» Cover Art "Five Years of SmokeLong" compiled from art by Marty D. Ison, Robert Dornberg, Malina, and Rebecca Gullickson «» Letter From the Editor|