They say goodbye. They say it with a strange smile like a kid who overheard a secret. But they don’t share what they know. They just walk out the door. Maybe it’s a cabin door. Or an office door. Or a plain screen door in suburbia. They walk out and they don’t come back. My Uncle Ray’s the first in my family to vanish. It happens in the early weeks when the chattering faces on television and the mindless voices online still claim it’s some newfangled fad that will taper off like acid-washed jeans or hula hoops did.
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Grandmother died when I was seven and aliens raided the village. Their long guns fired out of nowhere, shattering walls and smashing bodies. Father threw me to the floor, shielding me, and I didn’t see Grandmother die, didn’t realize Mother was missing until the raid was over. Father got up and looked outside the house, cautiously; there were shouts of dismay and distress everywhere, and my ears were still ringing from the gunfire. The whole world seemed wreathed in smoke, blurred. My eyes stung.
I don’t read much, out here on the highway, but I remember everything I’ve read. And here’s something I remember, a stray scrap of poetry, cribbed from a water-stained paperback that someone left on a bench in front of a Valero. I left the book where I found it, but I kept the words: “The living are wrong to believe in the too-sharp distinctions which they themselves have created.” That’s Rilke, sister. Keep it in mind.
Outside was too big. Eric felt like an ant crawling on the surface of a volleyball, as if the big white cotton dome of the sky was surrounded by giant faces peering down at him and sniggering. He wished it was raining; heʼd have an umbrella then, at least. Tilly was waiting at the bus stop already. Her hair needed cutting. “Hi,” she said, eyeing him warily. He hadnʼt been at school for a week.
Hand in hand, your family and some friends stand in a circle around your father. Ten seconds have passed since his last breath, and you’re counting, wondering if it was his last breath or his last breath. Your eyes lock on his face, and you try to remember when he last opened his eyes and looked around. Days, at least. The memory blooms in your head, something like a flower or a drop of ink expanding in water.
The hike hadn’t been Ella’s idea. Of course it hadn’t; nothing about this holiday was. It was Nick who’d chosen the destination, Nick who’d chosen the hotel. It was Nick who wanted to go walking, though the day was hot, the sun already furious. At least, she thought as she pulled on the new hiking boots he’d insisted she buy, it would be cooler under the trees. This part of Croatia was thick with them, the trunks tight-packed, keeping out the light.
They took shelter outside of Boulder, in a cookie-cutter subdivision that had seen better days. Five or six floor plans, Dave Kerans figured, brick facades and tan siding, crumbling streets and blank cul-de-sacs, no place you’d want to live. By then, Felicia had passed out from the pain, and the snow beyond the windshield of Lanyan’s black Yukon had thickened into an impenetrable white blur.
Buildings were built, in the beginning, everyone knows, to hold the dead down. Every cellar floor was built over the ceiling of something else. Now cellars are used for all sorts of purposes. Roots. Paint cans. Pantries. Workshops. Other. There’s a rhyme someone invented for children. It’s chanted in nurseries in the Banisher’s town. The nurseries are upholstered in chintz, and the walls are padded, as though they’re asylums and the babies inmates.
You’ve been here before, but not day after day after day in some karmic trap set by an unseen screenwriter who wants you to achieve inner growth and redemption. You’re here because you always fly American and the nearest hub to your house is Miami. The hub and spoke system of airline travel sucks. Only the rich fly direct. The rest of us shuffle endlessly toward our connections, zombie passengers lost amid acres of gleaming glass, soulless architecture, uncomfortable chairs, synthetic plants, incessant television, and expansive views of horizons we’ll never reach.
When writing a recipe, you have to be linear. This, then that, then this. You can’t jump ahead of yourself; you have to follow the logical progression from ingredient, to action, to end result. Meanwhile you keep things on the boil and prepare for the next step. I sometimes feel Temptation Tor wrote my recipe template, everything leading to this moment; an episode of my cooking show, in the place where the idea for Motorbike Munchies was born.