I DIED AS I IMAGINED
I would die, before the bomb sailed through a window of the clinic. From the moment years before that I bent over my first patient, I sensed I would die there. I burned for five minutes, survived five more, writhing and rolling as my flesh crisped like a pig’s. And then, the pain was gone. There remained nothing but an awareness of my daughter, my youngest, twelve years old, thrusts of her, Lena, Lena, Lena, the clutches at my vitals as fearsome as the final pushes of her birth had been—Lena Lena Lena as life failed Lena LenaLena Lenalenalenalenale—
PICKING THE BONES
Nucca was shopping in town the morning the sea came in. There was no eldest son to arrange her funeral rites, no daughter to moisten her lips for The Water of the Last Moment. The chauffeur undertook the ceremony. Next, the maid stuffed Nucca’s every orifice with cotton. The maid and chauffeur were the only ones to pass the night with the body. The following morning, after the cremation, they fulfilled the family’s role in Picking the Bones. The funeral director oversaw the ritual. He gave them special, long chopsticks. In prescribed language, he informed them that in order to place Nucca’s remains in her jar, they would pick out the intact bones from the tray of her ashes.
They started with the bones of her feet. No one loved Nucca, but no one wanted her to have to be on her head for all eternity.
The director pointed to a strangely shaped and charred chunk among the ashes. “This is the talus. It is one of the four bones of the ankle.” He described the connection of the ankle to the bones of the lower leg, the tibia and fibula, and the articulations of the ankle with the navicular, in front, and the calcaneus, below. The connections enabled a person to transmit his entire weight through the foot. “Or, as in this case, her entire weight. Now, this!”
The director pounced. He had a heart-shaped face with a scientist’s floppy hair, and quicksilver smile. “Please look here. Some remains of the tibia. Ah ah, ah!” He stopped the maid from reaching. “If you could, first please pick up the talus and place it in the jar.”
They continued, bone by remaining bone. The last remnant to be placed was large, the hyoid, or lingual, bone. “The tongue bone,” said the funeral director, eager for either maid or chauffeur to ask, “How can the tongue have a bone?”
Unfortunately for him, they were life-long servants in small-town society. To ask a question out of curiosity! Selfish!
And so Picking the Bones ended. The funeral director passed Nucca’s jar to the chauffeur. The jar was a beautiful example of pottery from the Old Kilns region. Of course, Nucca could have afforded the gold glaze. She chose instead a smooth, clammy pink etched with winter flowers. She bought it when she was twenty-eight years old, imagining it after she died resting as comfortably as she did at home among her fireplaces and stools made of elephants’ feet.
The maid and chauffeur returned with the urn the color of a pig’s ass to her house on the cliff above the malevolent sea. They waited with it amidst the elephants’ feet until they could care for another person they did not love.
By this time, Nucca had tunneled almost directly through the earth. She popped out in California, halfway between San Francisco and Sacramento, off I-80 and Highway 12. The Jelly-Belly Factory. She took the factory tour. She enjoyed every single free sample except the Green Apple flavor. It was a mite sweet.