The Find

It was the perfect find, the trick clock, to get payback on his roommate Tommaso for always making a fool out of him. He put it under his own bed to test it, and at exactly one a.m., the clock announced in a disciplinarian’s voice, “It’s one o’clock.” At two o’clock, the clock spoke, “It’s two o’clock.” It reminded him of somebody he couldn’t place. He laughed so hard the bed shook.

He programmed it to go off at two, three and four a.m, and he put it under Tommaso’s bed. The next morning, while Tommaso was in the shower, he retrieved the clock in case Tommaso looked under the bed.

At breakfast he scanned Tommaso’s face to gauge the effects. He saw something in Tommaso’s eyes, a wariness, or simply heightened awareness. He suspected Tommaso might already have discovered the trick and by not mentioning it was scheming retribution.

There was only one way to find out. In the evening he slipped the clock back under Tommaso’s bed, this time set to go off at three and four a.m. when Tommaso would be in a deep sleep.

In the morning he retrieved the clock as before. Seeing how lethargic Tommaso was all day, his usual spark snuffed out, he felt a tinge of guilt.

He stopped hiding the clock, ready for the trick to be over and for the ensuing laughter when the trickster realizes he’s been tricked. Two more nights passed.

The next day a day-of-the-dead altar materialized on Tommaso’s desk, a forest of candles surrounding pictures of his deceased grandmother, and inscrutable squiggles on post-its stuck to the bookshelves.

The shrine soon took over the room. Tommaso’s computer and printer, and his music cds were put under his bed. Surely Tommaso had discovered the clock when he put them there. Still Tommaso said not a word. Who would break first? He checked; the clock was still in place, the numbers ticking onward. But he couldn’t be sure it was still sounding off, so he took it to his room and put it under his bed. This would also serve to find out what it was like to be wakened from a deep slumber like that.

He gave himself permission to sleep but it didn’t help. One o’clock came, two o’clock. His eyes stayed wide open. At the worst time, just before three, he fell into the clutches of Morpheus, only to be yanked out. “It’s three o’clock,” said Mrs. Rampersad, his sixth-grade teacher.

Against all odds, he fell back asleep and again was awakened by an angrier Mrs. Rampersad: “It’s four o’clock.” Before dawn, or what he thought was dawn, he had what he thought was a dream about many candles ablaze, the house catching fire, and alarms going off.

Promise Me

In the car on the way home from the party my husband said, “Promise me we’ll never get like that, droning about our ailments.”

I had been looking forward to a happy party, the christening of a grand-nephew on a fine spring day. However, every conversation seemed to entail descriptions of bodily degeneration. Ears, eyes, hands, kidneys. The males, thankfully, talked among themselves about their prostates.

Of course not,” I said.

A bigger irritation was my husband. At parties he follows me around and butts into every conversation, eventually taking them over with his insights into homeopathy and stem cell research and Gurdjieff. I flee to the toilet to escape him and sneak out to a hidden corner where I can talk to someone until he seeks me out, like a needy pet.

At home, he hardly talks. Yesterday I penned a long letter to my son. His grandmother Dorothy has been complaining. She is paying for his expensive liberal arts college. Could he not send a card, a call, even a text, a wee thank-you? He should stop being such an entitled little prick. (I didn’t say that, but that was the tone.)

I showed the letter to my husband who promptly said, “Don’t send it.” I tossed it but I felt a little better having written it. Will my husband talk to our son about being an entitled prick? Don’t make me laugh. He wonders why I should care about what Dorothy thinks or wants.

He has a point. Consider Dorothy, my mother-in-law: Exhibit A for how my husband became the man he is. She lives in a retirement highrise that costs more per year than our mortgage. She is an heiress, she likes to tell you. She is on the board of the opera, tracks her mentions in the Nob Hill Gazette. Her money will outlast the retirement home pincers even if she lives to be one hundred.

The same money in the form of a trust keeps us in clover, it pains me to admit, although I don’t know why it should. There was a time my husband made a stab at earning a living as a cabinet maker. His mahogany cabinets were museum pieces. Sadly he was always years behind schedule, beyond budget, not returning calls. Those years were pure chaos, but the cushion of the trust precluded real worry.

From the start his nonchalance about money attracted me, the daughter of Kentucky depressives. I drank at the well. We traveled to Sicily, to Cambodia, to Alaska. We bought the house. We sent the kids to private schools. I ignored the termites of doubt.

Those termites eventually got me out of the house, to take night classes at city college. I passed the bar. I work in an office across the street from the Hall of Justice. We pride ourselves on being a selective firm. It’s no secret my ambition stalled the moment I made junior partner. I scoop up minor cases, tenants against landlords, police harassment, workplace discrimination: a marination in misery but I love it.

I have been faithful to my husband. Why? There is no defensible answer. A promise? I have had occasions, temptations. One is still on the front burner. Hearty Michael. He works in the Hall of Justice across the street as a public defender. We joke about adultery and each joke makes it less likely. He would eagerly engage if I said yes and think nothing of it. That’s why I won’t. At parties his wife Lisa and I catch up on each other’s children. Lisa is a new grandparent. She is very fit. I try not to look at her facelift in way that might seem critical.

At lunch two Fridays ago Michael asked what was bothering me. I wish I had kept my mouth shut. I assured him I had a doctor’s appointment three weeks away. Why so long? It was the first I could get. In public defender mode, he insisted I demand something sooner. It was an endearing sentiment rousted by the thought, clear as a klaxon: this man will not be there if it falls apart. When it does. I said I was pretty sure the lump was a cyst.

I probably ruined it.  He hasn’t talked to me since.

I did not reschedule.

Three weeks make a long wait. At night in the upstairs bathroom, before I go to bed, I let my fingers probe the lump like one of the worry beads on the tasseled rosary my husband made with scraps of leftover mahogany, which I lost on a train in Canada.

I slide into bed beside him. He is, as usual, propped up reading. A book about commerce in the Middle Ages. He will fall asleep like that. When I hear the first snorts I reach over and turn off the lamp and lie back. The initiation of darkness is a refreshment. Awareness emerges tree-like out of the dark pool and channels into breathing, each breath vivid, unique.

My Near Brush with Nirvana

I’m having an endless birthday. One of my friends gave me a gift pass for a float at Reboot Spa on Valencia Street. Such a cute name. On Thursday I took advantage. A float consists of climbing into a pod with about ten inches of warm water supersaturated with Epsom salts and lying there in the darkness (if you choose) and silence (if you choose) for about 50 minutes.

You sign in, give them information you don’t want them to have, and sign the waiver. The spa interior is like something out of 90’s sci-fi film, pink light illuminating the hall, and most extra-terrestrially, the podalicous pod in your private room, appropriately egg- shaped, with a light in its interior that goes from yellow to pink to green to blue.

Completely let go of pain, stress and even gravity. The womb of the pod will put you in a zen-like state.” That is from the website.

You put plugs in your ears to keep the salt out, shower, and embark for Cythera. I don’t pull the lid down, figuring complete darkness is dark enough. Was I ready for my zen-like state? They should have put a sign at the front: leave your mind here with your shoes.

It became instantly obvious, I had a mind and I had a body, two entirely different entities, although the body was giving the mind a list of complaints. Niggly stuff; my arms had tiny abrasions from recent tree pruning and the salt irritated them. My head seemed to be on crooked. Maybe it was the neck float. Maybe I was not using the neck float correctly. Maybe there would be an earthquake and I wouldn’t be able to shower and wash off the salt crusted on my exposed belly. Exposed not in a visual way but undeniably real in the darkness. Egg-like. My shoulders were not nearly as real, and I had to move them to check they were still on board, still responsive. It was all pleasant. Wasn’t it? Would fifty minutes be enough to get my mind to log out, time to reboot? Speaking of log, that’s what my body felt like, suspended this way. Tap the right side of the pod and seven seconds later the left side of the body kissed the left side of pod. The glide through the lubricious lubricant was interesting for a while until the mind, hungry as ever, wanted something else to chew on. Did they change the water after each float? Such a lot of salt. What do they do with it afterward? Who was Epson anyway? Or is it Epsom?

There used to be women’s bathhouse across the street in a funky old Victorian, back in the hippie and post-hippie days. Osento. Women I know who went there loved it. It was communal, a far cry from this absolute isolation. What a loss, the old bathhouses with their ethnic resonances. You remember Finilla’s. Nobody who went there forgot it.

Reboot.  Return to the present. I hope there isn’t an earthquake. How long has it been? Forty minutes, I’m guessing. Do some stretches, familiar stretches for an unstretchy body. They feel somewhat novel but not particularly revelatory. I still feel crooked, as if the right half of my body is denser. Which it probably is, since I’m right-handed. Does a a Zen-like state arise when you’re inexpressibly tired of your thoughts? If so I’m almost there. Unfortunately the music comes back on; time is up.

$25.95 Plus Tax

The clock ticked so loudly you could hear it from the next room, a metallic irritant. How Mom could sleep with that thing in her bedroom was a mystery. Maybe she found it reassuring, in her last years especially. First there was the aneurysm, then edema, then cancer. What did her in was her heart, but it took four months in hospice before what Mom called her “ticker” ticked its last.

I was not present much during these various illnesses. My husband and I lived in Boston, a five-hour drive from her place in Maine. I still live in Boston. My husband and I are divorced now. We share custody of the kids, Brian Junior, Elaine and Max.

Two Thanksgivings ago I took the kids up to Maine. Brian Senior stayed at home to take care of the dog and his lab assistant, blond and nineteen. While the kids and I were in Maine, Heather, our border collie got sick from a parasite. I still take a reasonable satisfaction in the timing, how the hooky-nooky weekend went down the toilet.

Our Thanksgiving wasn’t all that great either. Mom, maternally instinct-challenged, overcompensated, draping herself over the kids at every inappropriate opportunity. It got so bad that Max started screaming whenever she got near him. “What is the matter with that boy?” she wondered. We would have left Friday morning but it snowed sixteen inches. That turned out to be a blessing. The white extravagance thrilled the kids for a few days and I was spared a return to our condo to find dog vomit all over. The cleaners came on Monday.

Hospice did a good job with Mom. I got reports from my sister Betty. Betty and Mom were close. Mom thought of Betty as someone whose radiance was going to shine into her own dim life, even though Betty never got further than the reference desk at the Bangor Public Library where she happily sits on her voluminous ass.

Betty is happy in general. I am grateful to her. She didn’t resent my lack of involvement; she probably relished it, having Mom to herself. Also, my kids were an affliction to her nerves.

When Betty told me the end was in view, I packed a few things, and drove up to Maine. Two, maybe three days, the doctor said. Mom was in a hospital bed in the big parlor where normally nobody went. Her bedroom upstairs had been unused since her move downstairs. I thought about taking over her bed, but I couldn’t do it. I slept on couch in the living room, when I slept at all.

The parlor at first seemed funereal but I got to like it. Actually what I liked was looking out its windows, six, a generous number for a room on the north side. The central two framed the garden, at the center a bronze beech, its leaves turning yellower by the day, clocking winter’s advance. I stared at the faint water stain in the corner of the ceiling. I ran my eyes over a cracked pane. The only furniture in the room was a chest of drawers and the chair I sat in, restless.

Time, in moments, stopped, like a vertical float in a warm sea. Those healing moments were forever abbreviated by the ticking clock. Somebody, Betty probably, had brought it downstairs and established it on the chest of drawers. It was a device out of Edgar Allen Poe, tracking the empty promises life shells out.

Just when I was sure Mom was in the no-return phase of this ordeal, some grandnieces came to visit and her eyes popped open and she greeted them with a burst of animation and clarity. How she loved those abashed young girls, she who, she had made known, never wanted kids of her own.

After they left she sank back into oblivion and the long wait resumed. It was she whom I looked at, hours at a time, between sporadic check-ins from the hospice nurse. It was either her or the beech tree, barer, more ruined each day. Nobody needed a metaphor. Each day she became less human, more mannerist sculpture. She didn’t seem to be suffering. She was a stranger. That’s the way it had always been, fundamentally. I was okay with that. I wanted to help her make her exit, though I wasn’t sure I’d be capable of finding the right words, to thread that particular needle.

There was nothing to say. One day she was suffering so the nurse attached a morphine drip and turned it up. The clock ticked a little more diligently from its perch as her breathing slowed to a crawl, then stopped. The moment. Did I hear or imagine hearing a wrenching sound? I thought I did.

For two days Betty and I sat in the kitchen, drinking coffee and working crossword puzzles between talking on the phone, then we got dressed and went to the funeral in the Methodist church. And the grave afterwards. Betty handled it all. I was like a visitor, almost like a distant relative. My kids stayed at home with Brian Senior.

Afterwards, there was no avoiding the dismantling of the house. It would take months, that was clear, but we made a start before I had to return to Boston. Betty took the office, I took Mom’s upstairs bedroom.

In the first drawer’s first box there were scraps of paper, receipts for things she bought, tucked in envelopes organized year to year to the present. Some months were skipped. My mother was frugal. I found the receipt for the clock in the July 1981 envelope, brittle with age. It came from Dick’s Hardware. I showed it to Betty, and she said, with a name like that it’s amazing they went out of business. The clock cost $25.95, tax $1.96. It was all handwritten.

In another box there were notecards clipped together or solitary, all labeled. CLOCK consisted of two cards listing every time she changed the battery. Every three months for nineteen years. Like clockwork, you might say,. The battery would run down at a steady, a presumably predictable pace. I checked the last entry, the last replacement: seven months ago. Yet the clock went on…or…? I went down to the parlor and sure enough, the clock had stopped. What would you make of that, Edgar Allen Poe?

One box held the medical history of other household appliances. Smoke Detector, Carbon Monoxide Detector, Vacuum, Garage Door, Blender; when the warranties ran out, when they needed to be replaced. I wondered whether I’d find boxes tracking Betty and me in the same way: first tooth, first time on potty, the vaccines, the report cards.

The Bedsheets cards featured not only the dates when the sheets were purchased but when they were changed and what was put on. Yellow cotton floral. June 14. Since 1987. That broke me apart. I avoided looking in the mirror at myself blubbering.

I found batteries in a battery drawer, painstakingly organized by voltage. Closing the drawer I sent the triple A’s scrambling around. I hadn’t meant to disorder anything. That was the furthest thing from my intention. I replaced the exhausted veteran with a shiny new sergeant. Ticktock. Back on duty. I was shocked. I really expected it to be as dead as Mom.

The clock is the only thing I took from the house. I removed the live battery. The hands rest at 2:17, AM or PM, depending on your mood.

The first thing…

…I did this morning, while the coffee was dripping, was read a New York Times article about Trump’s rally in Minneapolis, and a cornucupia of disgust was one again brought into the granaries. I’ve unsubscribed to the Times for this reason: I was reading too many damn articles on the fellow.  That is what I chose for my one free article per day.

Moments later, sitting, meditating, counting my breaths, trying to bulk up the muscle of awareness, where I hit the black ice and landed in the ditch was when the mind went there, to that rally in Minneapolis.

The man is in our limbic system. The Times cannot not print his capers, the pundits respond in a hundred voice chorus of disapproval, disdain, or half-ass apologies. Each one knows exactly what’s wrong and is eager to share the insight.

I’m surprised I only learned this last month: British slang for “ fart” is “trump”. Isn’t that poetic? These rallies are smelly farts. You don’t have to put your nose in other people’s farts. Your own? That’s for you to decide.

The Perils of Siracha

Though it was not an international competition, Clare’s husband Walt won for being the Most Boring Man in the world. Clare, Stan’s cousin, declared him the winner before she married him and still went ahead with it.

Stanley, what good fortune to catch you at home. How are you, my man?”

Walt’s baritone was the most boring thing about him, baneful as an undertaker’s. “We in the hinterlands are impressed. Buying a house in San Francisco. On a hill, no less.”

Stan could tell him about his leaking roof and crumbling foundation.  About his mortgage, how he was underwater. He didn’t say anything, and in sluggish time there came the reason for the call. “I need a favor. Clare and I have decided that we should separate, temporarily, for the benefit of our relationship.”

“I’ve been telling her to kick you out for years.”

Very amusing. I’m adjourning to the Bay Area for the nonce. I miss San Francisco. I never wanted to leave, you know that. Clare wanted to be closer to her family. Cincinnati has its charms but is not San Francisco.” Walt cleared his throat to unobstruct its ooze. “May I claim a spot on your floor for a week or two?”

A flock of nos were chased off by one winged yes: Stan was going to Hawaii for two weeks and needed a house-sitter in case it rained and the buckets in the closet needed to be orchestrated to catch the leaks. Walt saying “a spot on your floor” was him signalling payback was due. Twenty-two years ago when Stan crawled out of south Ohio, he crashed for a few days on the floor at Walt and Clare’s cottage near Ocean Beach.

Walt promised to vacate the premises by the time Stan got back from Hawaii, or at the latest, the day afterward which was Tuesday, the eleventh.

Stan put clean sheets on the bed. Walt arrived two hours before Stan left for the airport. He asked him especially to monitor the buckets in the closet. “It rains in all our lives,” Walt said in a tone of voice Stan didn’t bother to interpret.

It rained for ten of the twelve days in Maui. On the Monday afternoon flight home, Stan’s dread coalesced into something palpable.

The buckets were gone from the closet. The floors and walls of the closet were dry so Stan didn’t question their whereabouts. He was focused on moving Walt out of his bed, out of his house. One extra day seemed intolerable. He already loathed Walt’s square-toed brown leather shoes, his cheesy chuckle, and the Voice expounding the meaning of “redundant” in three ways, adorned by gestures.

Tuesday passed, Wednesday and Thursday. The prostate medication remained eye level in the refrigerator.

Stan called Clare, hoping she was ready to take him back. Clare laughed.

Stan filled Walt’s suitcase as Walt watched from the bed. Tomorrow morning. understand?

Before dawn Stan gleaned all the Walt detritus. A bus transfer. A sock clinging to the nap of the couch. A stray toothbrush. He spritzed air freshener.  He dusted and vacuumed. The whine of the vacuum woke Walt, all the better.

To Stan’s great relief right after two eggs and six slices of toast Walt lugged his suitcase down the steps, his chin pointed to Polaris, beaming as much disdain and faux-disappointment as his battery would allow.  It was not much. Instead of guilt Stan felt the joy of liberation.

Two weeks later Stan discovered a bottle of siracha in the door of his refrigerator, and the memories came back, Walt dolloping siracha on eggs, wonton, spaghetti. The bottle was two thirds full.

He started using it a little, then more. In a week’s time he had bloomed into an addict and it horrified him. Even more disturbing, he started mimicking Walt’s baritone when he vocalized his self-contempt, orotund, majestical, finding both suited him, the voice and the self-contempt.

A pearl of mystery was in this oyster. The five red plastic buckets from Home Depot were nowhere to be found, which became painfully apparent when a “pineapple express” roared in, three days and nights of wind and wetness lashing the windows. Every ten minutes Stan popped out of bed to check for leaks. A baking pan and three pots were on the kitchen counter for emergencies but there was no leakage the first night, nor the second. The third night he slept, worn down into not caring if his house washed away.

Daylight brought the welcome restoration of the sun. There were no eggs in the refrigerator for breakfast but there was oatmeal in the cupboard. Stan had slept, but he hadn’t slept enough. Maybe that was why, when the oatmeal was steaming in the bowl he spritzed siracha over it. Red and clotted, it looked something like blood. That woke him up, and suddenly he knew: the crawlspace.

But the buckets were not in the crawlspace.  He looked again in the garage where he had looked twice before.

He still hopes to solve the mystery of the buckets without asking Walt directly.  And he is still using siracha, though it too has gotten boring.

What Did We Ever Talk About

The funeral spread over three days; the first night the vigil, the next day the Mass, the third day the burial in Lawrence. My brother John and I drove in from Denver to attend.

Cousin Jim and I were the same age. As children he was my companion and ally, harassed as we were by our older brothers John and Tom, but we also shared a sensibility. On summer nights we would lie curled up inside the huge tractor tire tube that doubled as a trampoline by day and speculate on the stars, of which there were gazillions to see thanks to the dry air of western Kansas and the distance from light pollution. We were stargazers and earth lovers. We would have not used those words.

Other than express wonder and unease at the vastness of the cosmos, I don’t know what we talked about those hours. We were budding mystics, not astronomers, and silence brought more to bear than knowledge.

About the time we reached the precipices of teen-dom, his family, Uncle Joe and Aunt Helen’s, moved from the farm to Olathe to be near the School for the Deaf. Patty, the second child, was born deaf, as were Gary and Jodi, the fourth and fifth children. It was too traumatic for all involved to drive them the five hours to Olathe and abandon them there, which is how it must have seemed. Jim and Tom quickly became fluent in sign language, whereas none of my siblings nor I ever did.

My family seldom made the long drive to visit, so my closeness to Jimmy dimmed considerably. It probably would have in any case. Neither of us was someone who shared much of our internal lives, both (I am projecting) beset by the confusing currents of adolescence. By college he was a font of religious pieties and I was going full hippie.

From then on the news I got was about him, not from him. He married a good Kansas girl, had a kid, then another and another. He worked for the Wichita Chamber of Commerce, a job I could not imagine myself having, ever. After a long run they sacked him, for a reason I never discovered because I didn’t ask. My opinion of him went up, or at least had more depth. When I did see him at occasions, weddings, funerals, the like, we talked about…gardening. Once he told me earnestly about a men’s group he was helping start, a brotherhood of the faith, and gave me a card. My pretense of being interested was transparent. He never brought it up again, though that was probably because it died on the vine.

During a long period the dispatches I received were about his son Paul. Paul was shot by a hunting buddy, his body riddled with pellets that couldn’t be removed. The stupid accident in its agonizing aftermath had the depths of tragedy. To this day Paul suffers the effects.

Though you would not know. There he was at the podium the night of the vigil, along with two of his three brothers, reading the eulogies he and his siblings had written to honor their father. Three poised, handsome thirty-some men, whose words of tribute were composed and eloquent. There were no tears from the three. In their place I would have been an Artesian well. A brother and a sister remained seated, perhaps too emotional to read their contributions themselves.

The locale of the vigil was half auditorium and half makeshift church, tucked inside the new parochial school complex. A real church is in the planning stage. On either side of the altar were two screens flashing photos. Jimmy bundled up in a snowdrift outside the farmhouse on the Plains, Jimmy in a homemade go-cart with a cardboard cab. Jim on the deck of a cruise ship in Alaska, his modest smile, so familiar it could have been a mask. By far the most resonant photos were the grainy old black-and-white ones from farm days. I could not tell you what moved me about them, except that it was not nostalgia.

The images flashed by four seconds each, thirty or so and the sequence repeated. The priest said some blessedly brief words and we said a rosary. I watched the vigorous sign interpreter repeat the same gestures again and again. Fifty times to be exact. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. She was getting a workout. Now I know the sign for womb, if I ever need it.

A year ago July, John and I made the same drive from Denver to Olathe for a few days. John stayed with Tom, to whom he has remained close, and I stayed with Jim’s youngest sibling Jodi, with whom I do have actual conversations despite my rudimentary signing skills. I never once thought to contact and visit Jim and Kathy who had moved to Olathe to take care of Uncle Joe in his last years. Jodi told me about Jim’s diagnosis, though she had been asked to keep it secret.

The last night of that visit to Olathe, Jim and Kathy drove over to Tom’s where we cousins had supper together. I never mentioned Jim’s diagnosis, and neither did he. He told us that he intended to drive combine for our still-farming cousin during the milo harvest in the fall and I blurted out, “Are you sick?” Driving combine is not guaranteed fun—it can be pretty miserable—and it was meant as a joke. He flinched. I didn’t mean to hurt him.

We played cards. It was a very Schwarzenberger evening. Pleasantly unmemorable, except for my stupid faux-pas.

In the faux-church the rosary was winding down with a Hail Holy Queen. The vigil over, we transported ourselves over to Austin’s, a nearby sports bar in a mini-mall, where Tabby, Jim’s niece, is manager. Tabby has charm to burn—she arrived at the banquet table bearing a pan of roasted and seasoned sweet potatoes and announced, “This is for the vegetarians,” just as I was making my choices, of which there were plenty. Remarkable. There was even good wine. We weren’t in Kansas anymore. It felt like a party. I walked around asking, you’re whose son?

That night it rained a mini-hurricane, waves lashing the motel window for hours on the outskirts of Olathe where John and I were staying. Earlier I had tried to open the window, irritated that it was screwed shut. There were cicadas outside. There was still some wild nature to be experienced.

Cicadas. Maybe curled inside the inner-tube Jimmy and I talked about the cicadas. In August at twilight they drilled holes into your head, echoes lasting into the night. I can still feel the vibration.

I lay unsleeping in bed. Five shrill beeps pierced the silence between rumbles of thunder. A tornado alert? I rolled over which was as much as I cared to do in response. My left toe was killing me, swollen, inflamed. Gout, a devilish joke played on a devout vegetarian. (The beeps, we found out the next day, were an AMBER ALERT, a child gone missing in Raytown Missouri, fifty miles away. We were profoundly grateful, I assure you, for being alerted.)

My angry toe. Before bed John mentioned he had some Oxycodone he keeps with him in case he ever again has a kidney stone, and asked if I wanted one. Oxycodone! Speak of the devil. I said no. At three a.m. I said maybe, and three-oh-one I said yes certainly, and at three-thirty I said maybe one more. At four I slept.

At breakfast the food tasted like styrofoam and was served on styrofoam. I am ashamed to say I ate breakfast in the motel and added my contribution to the trash barrel.

For the funeral Mass in the morning the partition in the church was moved back, and the space felt more like a typical boring suburban church. The chairs (not pews) were full. The priest eulogized Jim as a good man and a good father. He didn’t overdo it. The evidence was in attendance, his children, his wife, and his fellow parishioners who cooked and served the lunch afterward, like the Altar Society did back home, back in the day.

John remarked later the funeral would have been well-attended if only their side of the family was present. Kids, grandkids, greatgrandkids out of the woodwork. By contrast our side of the family, what with two nuns and the gay number, has not even come up with replacement population: 8 siblings, 7 nieces and nephews, no other issue. You could congratulate us.

My only tears of the weekend were shed that night when Quinta, Tom’s wife, told me how she ran off a lobbyist at the capitol in Washington who was trying to get their union to accept a bad deal in their struggle to regain the pensions stolen through corporate malfeasance. Mild, sweet Quinta yelling for the third time at the lobbyist doing his best to ignore her, “Did you hear me? I said you have to leave.” How when the bill they introduced passed the House of Representatives, the representatives in favor, Democrats all, applauded them in the gallery. How Nancy Pelosi applauded them. That was moving.

In the course of the conversation Tom revealed that Jim and Kathy were Trump supporters. Now here was a conversation I wish I could have with Jim, to discover what about the philanderer, liar, and despoiler of nature he found palatable. Even if I had had the opportunity, I might not have asked.

Saturday morning we drove through the green hills to Lawrence for the burial. Why was Jim being buried in Lawrence, where he and Kathy never lived? Because Lawrence has the only “natural cemetery” in Kansas. A natural burial means no embalming. No metal. No plastic. Something, I’m sure, Trump would mock given the opportunity.

We gathered at the edge of the traditional cemetery with its lawn and granite gravestones. Kevin, the eldest son, announced that his father’s gravesite was a short walk into the wild, wooded area adjacent. Kathy spoke, thanking us for coming and thanking “God for giving us such a beautiful day.” Nonetheless, nature was keeping its own agenda which included mosquitoes, so Off was offered and mostly declined. This wasn’t a swamp in Carolina.

It was indeed a spectacularly beautiful morning. The grass, an electric green, was wet from the rains. Soft, leftover clouds floated overhead. The walnut casket, glimpsed at the funeral, was a deep soft brown, impeccably constructed by Trappist monks in Iowa. Fitting, in all senses. Walnut was the wood Uncle Joe and my father used more than any other to make their clocks. The casket was placed on the trailer.

 Not far into the woods there was a rectangular hole and a mound of clay nearby. A wild rose snatched at my clothes and skin. I put my hand against the foliage of a nearby tree trunk before deciding it was poison ivy. But it wasn’t poison ivy. I saw one mosquito. And no ticks, though later we were warned about them. Ah nature. You’re only safe underground.

Young men, cousins, lowered the casket with ropes into the hole, and dropped the ropes .

The priest said a few words about how we will one day be reunited with Jim. In heaven, presumably. Kathy and her children shoveled the first loads of dirt from the mound into the hole, the wet clods thudding on the casket lid. It’s hard work, Paul remarked after a stint. I took a turn. It felt good to do it, a way of expressing what I felt, as if I was finally keeping faith with my cousin, fellow stargazer and man of the earth. Humus, humility. Relatives relayed each other using the six shovels. In twenty minutes the mound covered the grave. Over time it will level with the neighborhood.

My two brothers and I drove back to Olathe. Both Lawrence and Olathe are spreading out like a cancer, subdivision after subdivision with names like Greenwood Estates. The hillsides that remain un-estated are rapidly being overtaken by scruffy junipers. The junipers march westward at an astonishing rate, already extending beyond Salina. At this rate in fifty years the eastern half of Kansas will be suburbia in juniper. The wood is sometimes used for “cedar” chests, places to store stuff away from the moth that corrupteth. I have two such chests my father and I made.

My brothers and I decided on a return trip to Austin’s for lunch. This time we were seated in the main area. Thirty-eight televisions, we counted them, lined the walls, indoors and out. All showed football games. No wonder people go crazy in America, especially young men.

Driving back to Denver after it was all over, I said to John, “Listening to those relatives of ours, it’s as if they really believe in an afterlife. I wish I could. Do you?”

I don’t know one way or the other,” he said, and we didn’t talk about it any more.