The needs of the dead

It’s Mimi’s job to prepare the dead for their wake. As she explains it to me over mouthfuls of cherry cheesecake, when a loved one identifies a victim, they are often exposed to a body that is broken, traumatised. So she tries to make that last viewing better for closing eyes, for what is seen in the dark. She tries to bring her dead back to who they were before.

She wants that to be the memory, the smallest consolation.

I had a talent for doing hair and makeup. And I found a way to use it. I mean, at first it was just curiousity. That lady at the salon told me some crazy shit about her job – and at the time, I was in the mood for crazy. But then, well, it sort of got important. The needs of the dead, and all that.

The needs of the dead. To Mimi, death is its own kind of living. Her bodies are present, aware. Her girls – she uses the term my girls – hover, observe what is happening to them. They tell her things, too, she says. Now that she has learnt how to listen to what they have to say. She pieces her damaged girls back together, and she listens to their stories. They are in turn grateful for her care, for her efforts at returning them to who they used to be.

Before.

Well, that’s how it seems to me, she says, licking cream from her fork.

There isn’t any sense that I’ll find this strange. Mimi assumes I know what she is talking about. And I do, I suppose, in my own way. Jane changed everything. Jane changes everything. She is not past tense, or rather, her past feels like the only thing that informs my present. I feel the constant pull back to that first moment, when I saw the billow of white, the hazy flutter of fabric that led me to her body. I’ve come to think of it as a kind of beckoning. A flag raised for me to stumble toward.

It’s what I wanted to explain tonight, when it was my turn in the circle. This idea that I was meant to find Jane, how it goes against all my reason, but it feels true, just the same. How Jane haunts me, and I can’t let it go, can’t let her go, because I still don’t understand why. Why she chose me. Why it happened. Why anything like this happens, and how I’m not even sure that’s the right question to ask.

I just know everything leads back to her.

I didn’t say any of this, of course. I don’t have Mimi’s ease when it comes to the needs of the dead. I spoke instead of the shock, the sense of safety dislocated.

And how, after finding Jane that afternoon, I can never unknown this: anything can be waiting around the next corner. You’re only ever one turn away from your whole world changing. And from there, you can never get back what you’ve lost.

Riverside Park NYC

Turning Into the After …

The familiar ugly

Maybe that’s this strange shame I’m feeling. An embarrassed disappointment that the shine has come off my new city, that it took so long. And how the real glare, the thing standing out, is me.

I had intended to go for a cocktail, I was ready to venture out to some busy, pretty rooftop on this summer night, but now I just want to get back to my neighbourhood, and I’m relieved when I get to the familiar ugly of my station. Here, no one stands on the sidewalk taking pictures, keeping the cardboard-signed stories of the homeless just out of their frame. Here, there’s no reason to look up, to miss what is right in front of you. Here, there’s not much to see at all.

I walk into the sports bar on the corner of my street. Ask for a scotch on the rocks, and settle at a table where I’m not blocking anyone’s view of the boxing match playing on the row of mounted TVs. The scotch sits on my tongue, it’s smoky and warm and familiar. Reflexively, I reach for my phone, bring up his name. I want to talk to him, I want to share this crappy night, and this foreign place, but it’s Saturday there now, an against the rules day. We don’t message on weekends; I agreed to this moratorium a long time ago. He didn’t even need to ask, or explain.

Fuck.

How did I agree to any of this? How did I end up here? Out of the corner of my eye, I see a punch land. A guy in purple shorts staggers against the ropes, then rights himself, comes back for more. I leave the two men on the TV to their weaving and ducking, and turn back to my scotch. They use such generous pours here; the golden liquid fills a good two thirds of my glass.

I take a solemn sip, and add this fact to my ever-shifting list of reasons to stay in this city.

Scotch on the Rocks

Fact and fiction in New York City …