the dead by yurtgc548


									                the dead

                    ...all afternoon they have been moving the woodpile from one
                side of the yard to the other, so the winter-wet slabs can cure on
                dry ground in the warm June air,
                    ...the blood sun begins to set behind the shed; old Danny
                appears in the yard, pulls up a round spruce block to sit on and
                lights a pipe; the boy, fatigued now, sits next to the old Irishman,
                stares at the place where the woodpile used to be, sees on the
                ground a lingering patch of snowy ice, the hidden memory of
                winter; how long would this have survived if the woodpile had
                not been disturbed?
                    ...Danny looks at the horizon and calls to Grandfather, Sailor’s
                    Storm coming tonight, pronounces Grandfather,
                    Send the boy in. It’s bedtime now, shouts Grandmother from
                the kitchen window, her voice shrill and her mood jagged since
                she got word of the death,
                    ...Grandfather ignores her, goes into the shed, puts away the
                cant hooks,
                    ...the boy’s arms dangle, too heavy to lift, wouldn’t even feel
                part of his body if it weren’t for the wood slivers in his forearms;
                bright shards of pain that must be hidden from Grandmother...or
                she will dig them out with a sewing needle,
                    ...Danny turns to the boy, I’ll grant the old Jesuitical Bastard

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                this, he wrote a few fine ones. And none finer than The Dead.
                     ...but how can that be? how can anyone write the dead? weren’t
                the dead something other than story? didn’t they, by the very act
                of dying, remove themselves from the known world and all in it?
                     When you write your novel, make it something as fine as The
                Dead. Promise me that my boy, says Danny,
                     ...but don’t stories have to be inside you, before they can be
                written down? how can he write something as fine as the dead
                unless the dead are inside him?
                     Promise me now! insists Danny,
                     ...yes, he will write the dead, because the dead can be inside
                you; he’s heard Grandmother speaking to them: at night, when
                she pulls the chain to the overhead bulb; she tells the boy it’s high
                time he were asleep; so he pretends and watches through the
                narrow slits of his eyes the red glow of the hot shag pipe tobacco
                flickering against the sloped bedroom ceiling; between draws on
                her pipe the old woman listens to the boy’s breathing, and when
                she’s convinced he is gone to dream she begins talking to the
                     ...she talks to the distant dead—her father, the lost man, and
                her Angus—and to the recent dead, such as the Ejit; she tells him
                he should have suspected those three devils would one day return
                for him,
                     ...the boy listens to these one-sided conversations, tries to
                hear what the dead tell the old woman, but their words are hidden
                from him and will continue to be hidden until he is dead too,
                     Joe. I told you to send him in. Don’t make me go out there!
                shouts the old woman through the kitchen screen,
                     ...Grandfather ignores her, mutters to Danny, It’s in the air. A
                storm for sure.
                     ...Danny’s voice nervous now, speaking to the boy, She’s in a

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                funk. Go inside. Quickly now. Or there’ll be hell to pay.
                     ...hell to pay: but who pays?
                     ...on his way to the house the boy sees in memory the image
                of the Ejit, standing mutely at the door each Wednesday, a grown
                man, as old as his mother, but with a face of a boy, placid and
                unrevealing; never speaking a word, not even when Grandmother
                hands him a still-warm loaf wrapped in a tea towel,
                     ...last night in bed, the first night after his death, Grandmother
                told the dead Ejit, See them all smug. They think I don’t know.
                Divils in hell.
                     ...tonight she tells the dead Ejit the story of how he led her
                through the bush that day—when the witch’s middle daughter,
                Petite Fleurette, lay bloated and panting on a bed of boughs; this
                girl Grandmother had once taken into her house when she was
                running from the devil, Asmodeus; she cared for her while she
                raved and was wracked by visions; and for what: so she might
                return to health and drive Angus away?
                     ...and what was the woman to do when she saw this girl in the
                Ejit’s shack, caught in the breach, panting like a wounded deer?
                leave her to die?
                     ...the boy listens to this story and can see the beautiful girl
                running barefoot across the snow, falling beneath it and rising like
                pure spirit; but this pure white suddenly fills the bedroom; what:
                end of the world? will the dead now begin to return? bloated from
                drowning or burnt like the Ejit?
                     ...the brilliance vanishes and the room goes dark,
           , another flash of white; in the window frame a whole
                tree of lightning; no, not the end of the world, just the storm
                predicted by Grandfather; the boy counts until he hears the low
                rumbling lament, the danger five miles from here,
                     ...the room repeatedly lights and then falls back into darkness;

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                but where does lightning retreat to? Elijah Ray says there was
                once a jar so filled with liquid light that it burst and all the light
                poured out across the world; is that all lightning is, just shards of
                the lost light trying to find its way back?
            the next stab of light the boy begins to count again, the
                way Elijah Ray taught, measuring the distance between the living
                and the dead,
                     ...once when they were all sitting in the kitchen looking out
                the window at a lightning storm, Francis pronounced, Lightning
                hits you, you’re finished.
                     ...Elijah Ray said, I been hit before.
                     Then how come you aren’t dead? asked Bernadette,
                      Shit, I was dead for two days that time.
                     ...Bernadette unbelieving, How can you be dead then not-dead?
                     Depends what kind of dead you are, said Elijah Ray,
                     Oh, said Francis pretending to know exactly what Elijah Ray
                     ...Bernadette announced, When I’m dead I’m staying dead. I
                ain’t coming back to this for no one.
                     Who says you ain’t been dead already? asked Elijah Ray,
                     I’d of known.
                     Some kinds of dead you forget. Like those dreams you never
                knew you had.
                     ...lightning cracked again, and the lights flickered, Grandfather
                stumbled into the room and to the cupboard where the holy water
                was kept, We’ll all be killed! he wailed as he sprinkled the door
                     ...the lights extinguished for a brief moment then returned,
                     Lizzy, the old man shouted, It’s the end! The reign of the beast.
                     What’s the commotion? said the old woman as she limped
                down the stairs,

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                    We’re done for! Grandfather called to her as he sprinkled
                more of the water,
                    Quit your yammering, said Grandmother,
                    ...when the lights went out again, Grandfather exclaimed,
                Heavenly Father preserve us.
                    ...Monica gasped and Francis began to stumble across the room
                toward the matches, but Elijah Ray just sat undisturbed,
                    ...Francis lit a match and the room was briefly illuminated,
                the boy could see a perfect picture of everyone,
                    ...Grandmother inched her way to the cupboard where the
                holy candles were kept,
                    ...Francis kept lighting matches for her, Grandmother found
                the candles and chided the old man, You should have got the
                candles out instead of the holy water.
                    These are church candles!
                    It’s about time they served some purpose.
                    ...Grandmother placed the candles around the room, then
                she took one with her and led the frightened old man upstairs,
                    ...the foster children sat around the table and stared at the flames,
                    How did you make yourself come back? Francis asked Elijah Ray,
                    ...Elijah Ray swept his hand through one of the candles and
                the flame disappeared,
                    ...the boy reached toward a lit candle but Monica caught his
                wrist, telling him he would be burned; he looked at her fire-scarred
                hand and withdrew from the flame,
                    ...then Elijah Ray swept his hand above the extinguished
                candle and the flame miraculously returned to its wick, explaining
                everything about how the dead can return,
                    What did it feel like when you were dead? Francis whispered
                in awe,
                    No different than what you feel now, said Elijah Ray,

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                     ...thunder rumbles through the room now; Grandmother is
                awake, calls to the boy from her bed, Are you frightened?
                     I’m not ascared, he replies but when lightning flashes again
                he continues to count beneath his breath, so that he will know
                just how far away death is,
                     Good then, try to get some rest. Tomorrow we have a funeral.
                     ...the Ejit burned to death in his shack; when the boy asked if
                it was hit by lighting Edmund said, Must of been. How would it
                just all of a sudden burn?
            his bed the boy tries to imagine the charcoaled body of
                the Ejit; he asks the old woman, Do I have to go too?
                     ...Grandmother mutters, We must all care for the dead.
                     ...but how do you take care of the dead?
                     ...the morning of the funeral, the storm is over and the air is
                heavy with the scent of wet grass; the boy looks out of the bedroom
                window and sees that it is snowing; when he runs downstairs he
                meets Francis and announces the miracle, but Francis tells him,
                Fluff is all. Poplars spilling their seed on the ground.
                     ...the boy rides to the funeral parlour in a taxi with
                Grandmother and Edmund and Francis and Monica and Elijah
                Ray; Uncle Caleb is at work and Bernadette stays back to tend
                Grandfather who has not risen from his bed and claims to have
                been struck by lightning in the night,
            the car Francis tells Edmund he isn’t scared to look at
                the dead man and Grandmother tells him to shush and to show
                more respect for the dead,
                     ...respect for the dead,
                     ...Guenette’s Funeral Home is dark inside; the boy is stung by
                the smell of chemicals and perfume; his eyes begin to water and
                his stomach feels hollow; the thickly carpeted hallway mutes his
                steps; a corridor with a series of rooms with nameplates dangling

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                outside their door; Edmund reads the sign over the empty room,
            the door to this parlour Grandmother is met by a thin
                man with a hawk-like nose; he wears a shiny black suit and draws
                her to the side of the room, whispering,
                     Yes, yes, she says impatiently, I’ll make sure it is all arranged.
                     ...they enter the Ejit’s room; the boy wonders if the burnt
                body in the coffin will return to life the way Elijah Ray did; Francis
                holds the boy’s hand tightly and says, Don’t be scared.
                     ...the boy remembers the soft face of the tall man who sat
                with the bread on his lap, his dark eyes blank, never uttering a
                word; what would that gentle face look like after death by fire?
                would the lips be burned away? would the eyes bulge? the cheeks
                all charred and blackened?
                     ...when the boy reaches the front of the parlour, he sees the
                coffin is closed,
                     Burnt too bad, says Francis,
                     ...there are tall candles next to the head and the foot of the
                coffin, behind the candles are small bouquets provided by the
                funeral home,
                     ...the boy stares at the top of the box and imagines nothing but
                a charred wick inside; is that how the Ejit will return on judgement
                day? will God allow them all to parade about as monsters?
                     ...Grandmother is beside him now and urges him to kneel
                with her and pray,
                     How come I got to pray?
                     Because we must care for the dead.
                     Because they continue to pray for us. And have cared for us
                while they were alive. Which of us would not have been born if it
                were not for the dead?

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                     ...the man in black with the long thin nose interrupts with his
                presence, stands beside them; Grandmother looks at him
                impatiently and says, I told you. I’ll make sure there are enough.
                     ...the boy walks to the back of the room; Francis says, I need
                a cigarette.
                     ...the boy stands in the sunlight, leaning against the side of
                the yellow brick building with Francis and Elijah Ray; Grandmother
                comes out like a gust of wind, barks at Francis, Come here.
                     ...the boy thinks she is about to give Francis a tongue lashing
                but she does not, she speaks quietly, issuing directions and Francis
                runs off; the boy watches him cross the street and enter a distant
                beer parlour,
                     ...the boy accompanies the old woman back into the dark,
                empty room; he sits close to her now, feels her living warmth next
                to him, watches her lips move in self-told stories he can not hear;
                she shakes her head angrily at someone inside the story,
                     ...when Francis returns he is sweating and goes directly to
                Grandmother, he leans next to her ear and whispers something;
                she nods as if she understands perfectly, then a wide, determined
                frown spreads across her face and she lifts her bulk to her feet; she
                limps to the funeral director and points a finger at him as she
                speaks, the boy hears her say, There’ll be six.
                     ...then the old woman walks to the back and leaves, the boy
                follows her; the light outside is so bright the boy has to squint as
                he watches the limping woman in the distance; begins to trail
                her; Francis at his side warns, You better not. You’re going to get
                us both in shit.
                     ...the woman enters the Alouette Tavern, the boy slips along
                the side of the building, peeks in, sees her march across a man-
                filled room; someone calls out to her that she shouldn’t be there
                but she doesn’t answer and walks to a table where three redheaded

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                men sit; one of them warns, This ain’t a place for women,
                     ...Grandmother strides quickly to him, knocks him from his chair,
                     ...the man in the next chair starts to stand, but the old woman
                punches him in the face and he falls stunned to the floor; now
                there is just one man left, Grandmother grabs the edge of the
                table and overturns it; the amber glasses of draught slide off and
                spill on him as he falls backwards and lands beneath the glasses
                and the table; when he tries to stand Grandmother knocks him
                     Christ, Lizzy! he shouts from a pool of beer,
                     What we ever done to you? shouts a second man, trembling
                in his voice and a terrified look in his eye, as if he were staring
                straight into the muzzle of the black dog itself,
                     Get up, you hounds of hell!
                     Jesus Lizzy, we were just sitting here minding our own business.
                     Get up you divils!
                     ...the old woman tosses the table aside and the man raises his
                arms to protect his face,
                     ...Francis, beside the boy at the back door, whispers, Christ, is
                she in a bad one! We gotta get out of here before she sees us.
                     ...the boy runs back to the funeral home with Francis, when
                they get there Father Callaghan is leading the recitation of the
                Rosary, May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed...
                     ...Father Callaghan stops because of the commotion at the
                back; everyone turns to see Grandmother enter: the shoulder strap
                of her dark dress askew and her hat cock-eyed, her knuckles skinned
                and bleeding, she limps into the room with dignity, takes her rightful
                place at the front of the small gathering, and completes the prayer
                for the dead: Through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
                     ...there’s a shuffling at the back of the room as three new
                mourners enter,

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                      ...the priest concludes the prayers; the funeral director looks
                at Grandmother and nods,
                      ...she makes a sign for Edmund and Francis and Elijah Ray to
                come forward; they look uncomfortable in their white shirts as
                they take their place along one side the casket, the funeral director
                stares at Grandmother as if to say, Where’s the rest?
                      ...she waves the three at the back door to come forward; they
                approach cautiously,
                      ...the three men look like schoolboys: their shirts buttoned to
                the collar, their hair smeared down with water, their eyes lowered;
                but their faces are bruised and their wet clothes stink of beer, and
                one of them has to brush away a trickle of blood issuing from his
                lip; they take their place on the other side of the pauper’s casket;
                then, in unison, as if all six have practised this for a lifetime, they
                lift the dead man,
                      ...and march slowly from the dim, sweet-smelling room, into
                the blinding day, to the waiting hearse at the curb,
                      ...Monica begins to weep as if for all the dead, and the small
                gathering leaves the room,
                      ...but the boy lingers at the back of the funeral parlour, alone now,
                      ...he moves close to one of the two candles that was until just
                a few moments ago at the head of the coffin; he sweeps his hand
                above it and is stunned to see the flame vanish,
                      ...he wants to look inside his palm but dares not open it,
                      ...Monica comes back for him, bewildered to see him standing
                with his fist clenched, What?
                      ...he shrugs, feels the burden of what he’s just done,
             they exit into the harsh light Monica looks at his hand
                and asks, What have you got?
                      ...he shakes his head, does not know how to tell her,
                      What? she whispers,

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                     ...all that day he hangs on tight,
                     ...and that night when Monica comes into his room, she sees
                his worry,
                     Are you sad for the Ejit?
                     ...he shakes his head, No,
                     ...she puts her arm around him, draws him in with her scarred
                hand, What? What’s the matter, then?
                     ...the boy stares at his knotted fist,
                     Are you hurt?
                     ...he shakes his head, No,
                     What, then?
                     ...the boy does not answer, thrusts his clenched hand toward
                     ...a sudden fright sweeps across Monica’s face, she takes the
                boy’s small fist into her fire-scarred hand and looks at it, then at
                the boy’s eyes, Tell me, what is it?
                     ...his eyes desperate,
                     ...Monica’s words, jagged as tin, What’s wrong? What! Tell
            a burst of tears the boy confesses, I don’t know where to
                put him.

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