Day is Done: Ten for Today

Death is a symbol. People stand in for other people, incarnation after incarnation.
 
My father comes in my room late one night earlier this week. “Al died.” His face is pale; he collapses to sitting on my bed, head bowed as he cries into his hands. Only he raises harrowed eyes to warn me, popping out through fear’s door where the pain gripped his voice,
 
“Be prepared. I’m next. And mom. I haven’t been feeling too good. I didn’t tell you but…”
 
And he sinks back into despair.
I try to hug him but his body and mine are too long-limbed, his back too rounded, mine too straight, and we clash. I never fasten my arms firmly to his shoulders. Maybe he resisted. The torment had him.
 
At the funeral, he told jokes, said inappropriate things that suggested the man he knew nearly all his life–his only sister’s husband–was not the best friend he appeared to be. There were hurt feelings, slights in the last ten years. And he learned early to protect his sister.
 
“I’m here for my sister.”
 
We drove five hours there in morning traffic after dropping our younger off at the airport to begin her college visit. Her flight left at 6 a.m. for Boston, Newark first. We had to get her there by 4:30, and then took to the road, sailing in to the Veterans Cemetery by 9:30 and thirty minutes to spare. This honored last rite in exchange for a leg he left in Korea.
 
And I cried. For the man, for his children and wife, for my father and mother, for my daughters, all the endings and beginnings swirling inside the belled mouth of a trumpet, steady-sweet, singing taps to signal day is done. As if we didn’t know it with our guts sunk into the intoning rabbi’s throaty prayers.
 

You Want Fruit?

  
“You want fruit? I’ve got all kinds of fruit. I’ve got apples, pears, watermelon, grapes and bananas.”

It’s the same every day. R and I smirk at each other and silently mouth the words as they are spoken with our eyes rolled up. 

R says quietly to me, “It will be his epitaph.”

The old man talks banana, fish, ice cream, Snickers bars, BK hamburgers, pizza and spaghetti and meatballs, the gustatory language of care: communing in eating words.

On any given day, each member of the family undergoes the same interrogation upon first notice or first entering the house:

“You hungry? I’ll get you something to eat. What do you want?

“No thanks, I just ate.”

“No, really, it’s no problem. It won’t take me long. I can go right now. What do you want?”

“No thanks, I just ate.”

“Are you sure? You’ll be hungry later. You want me to get you something for later?”

“No thanks.”

“You’re going to be hungry later, you know.”

“No thanks.”

Like a song on repeat, he echoes an unstoppable refrain, worse than an ear worm. The first words of the litany dull my brain and my mood instantly. Even if I am hungry, I reactively reject the offer out of sheer negation, the will to make it stop, and discourage the behavior.

But I breathe, blink and behave: he only knows this way. He means well, and even if he doesn’t, he just does this, utters these syllables like a tic, an eye twitch or knee jerk when the rubber mallet hits the reflexive sweet spot. 

Because we will laugh at his eulogy reciting a thousand and one inanities, even as we cry the quiet of the house into our eyes, awaiting the ticking off the names of fallen fruit.