Dead, I had become transparent eyeball, not Emerson’s, but godlike. Dead, I
knew and perceived more than alive. My father Gustav was dead, mother Hildy too, but
sister Herpy’s alive. My entire life, its repellant bloom had yielded nothing of
importance. A man without biological necessities, lacking essential neurons had no
reason to sit down at dinner to discuss his day, the news, vocations they regretted not
pursuing. Mother wrote for the town’s newspaper, Gustav ran a pharmacy, Herpy taught.
I, dead, and not loquacious, sat and endured.
Some said I died from untreated syphilis, others said the white trash hooch I drank,
glycol from antifreeze giving me cirrhosis of the liver killed me, others saying it
was cancer, too many soft drinks, ignorance dominated the town. I never had sex, seldom
manually released, never drank alcohol, thinking folks would never again doubt my
ignorance, and I drank only herb teas. Soft drinks I associated with white southerners
drinking Coca-Cola, gibbering about how superior they were, unlike dummy blacks.
While putting up storm widows, bracing for the Midwestern cold, Gustav was in the
garage attic where we stored the windows, me up a ladder on the concrete floor, and
instead of carefully handing me the heavy wood-framed window, my weak arms could
not balance on the ladder. I had been born with multiple sclerosis, an undeveloped
twenty-one year old, due to oxygen deprivation at birth, the umbilical cord twisted
around my neck. Gustav bullied me into work, all the time knowing the obstetrician’s
absence, nurses fondling each other, not attending my primal needs. Gustav flung
one wildly at me, thinking I would hold on to it but it smashed my forehead,
knocking me off the ladder. I thudded on my back upon the cold, hard floor,
gazed at the ceiling for two seconds, then oblivion, blood haloing my head.
A Blue Jay cawed. A diesel truck throbbed down a far off highway. A dog barked. A
spider’s legs noisily crawled over my face. Dust hummed through the air. The door,
squeaking, from the house opened, then slowly, creakily shut. I lay dead.
Herpy grabbed my body, wrapped it in a heavy tarp, and then rolled me to the
backyard, hiding me in thick, gray dogwood. It kept me comfortably out of the world,
concealing me from the backsides of neighbors. Herpy told mother I had met a friend from
my high school years, reliving memories at a tavern or restaurant, possibly sharing a
downtown theater’s movie. Mom looked surprised, then her expression changed---
downtown theater’s movie. Mom looked surprised, then her expression changed---
for the first time her eyebrows bent low over her eyes, finding me intolerable.
Who would date me?
Think of nostalgic western films, on sheriff’s walls, Wanted, Dead or Alive posters.
Mom and Herpy liked those old TV westerns, seeing dead outlaws heaped in a
big pile in front of the hoosegow. She still watched them on rerun channels. I pulled
at my suspenders, puffed out my chest, momentarily pride and glory engorged me,
then I snapped the bands, too loud for Hildy. “Don’t interrupt me, please,” she said,
her mean eyes staring hard. Watching “Rawhide” reruns better than speaking to the dead.
Herpy slid me from the shrubs, barely able to lug my pear-shaped corpse into the
trunk, driving to deep woods, pulling off the tarp and found maples, locust, hickory,
hemlock, a thicketed undergrowth, used the shovel she snagged from the garage,
digging four feet in a patch of soft mire, mostly mud, near a small pond, rolled me into
the hole, tamped down loose earth making my cadaver impossible to locate. I sunk to the
bottom of a manure pit. That lasted until she left the scene, then I rose from the wretched
earth, seeing the dead more plentiful than before.
Later, Herpy committed mother to a mental hospital. She wanted to protect Hildy from
the fact of my death. Nothing would conceal my deadness, not even motherly affection,
though that was nil in her case. Mother always hated my insufficiencies, and would have
gloated at the news of my death. There, psychiatrists put her on serious medications, the
kind that never let you know that you were better off dead.
My albino sister Herpy taught at the community college in town. Damn Gustav had
driven me out of my gourd, always directing my eyes toward mirrors. Gustav made
sure of that because there seemed to be a hundred scattered about the house, in the attic
and basement as well, but he never mentally hogtied and tortured albino sister. My face
and body were covered with wens, warts, bleeding moles, body smelling like fiery crap,
hag-breath so foul father wore a gas mask bought at an army navy surplus store, hell, was
he a cruddy, mean dad. And what a cruel simpleton donning a gas mask. Photos of me in
earlier days, a handsome Gene Autry, good looking in a cowboy outfit. Our family ate in
a cramped dining room, full-length mirrors on two walls. Dad never flouted traditional
kindness except when it came for me. At heart, my kind of visage people despised
because it reminded them of suffering, sorrow, pain, decline, ruin, and decomposition.
Dead now, Autry looked and sang better that ever. Mother had no appreciation of Gene.
Gustav gabbed about his day at the pharmacy, telling there were rumors of customers’
hospitalized because he scrimped on medications, like watering down penicillin, and
buying them cheap online, he using big Latin words, ticking drugs off as if proud of
what he had done. And he lost membership in a downtown business club. The members
thought him grand at first but funds went missing, so they banned him from their midst,
preferring not to press charges. Ostracized, but shallowly, unlike the grateful density of
my own exile. Deaths brought about by him also. He died in prison, an inmate slashing
his throat with a razorblade, settling the score, avenging his wife’s murder.
Herpy was sensitive about being albino, pigment leached out of her. When we were
in nursery school, could it be that when we played kissy-kissy, touchy-touchy, you know,
stuff going on everywhere on earth, made her whiter and whiter as years progressed?
Herpy collected paintings from the art store, prints the owner said, but I still called
them paintings. I was stuck in my ways, hating change. Herpy, the artist, drew my
portrait, my hair uncut, more balding than I assumed, my Dumbo ears making me goofy
looking, my fat cheeks as if big chaws of Mail Pouch bulged out, my chin long and teeth
crooked, me thinking I was as good looking as Adonis. She drew my tongue protruding
out the side of my mouth, my bug-eyed-monster eyes, one iris greener than the other,
my nose aquiline, my mustache, how skimpy it looked by her steady hand. Herpy
said it was a fine Roman nose, one looking like Emperor Commodus’s. Herpy told me
the assassinated emperor begot the word, commode. Whether that was true had not
mattered, but merely associating with toilets, its receptacle of excrement and urine,
even blood, lent my deadness greater potency. I beamed at the thought of toxic, liquid,
chemical turmoil. My mustache, how skimpy it looked by her steady hand.
Herpy and I inherited the house we lived in since birth, both having a trust fund from
which would last our lifetimes. Mother out of touch with us, her mind overloaded with
pills and tablets, too may westerns, perhaps. Herpy paid her visits, mother’s expression
offering Herpy recognition as her daughter. I visited once with Herpy, mother staring
at me blankly, lifting up her flabby arm, pointing wobbly at me, stammering, “You two,
stay together,” that barren, empty look still there. Herpy gave her an easy going hug. I
tried copying Herpy’s embrace, but Hildy withdrew, staring at the ceiling, a nurse ready
to change the sheets.
One day, during visiting hours, I saw mother alone, she sitting in an upright chair,
watching Fox News. She looked better than last time. What were her days like? She said,
“I watch Fox all day, eat, pray in that cute little chapel, take meds and sleep. Nightmares
of our house and garage, the yard.”
I decided to leave, moving toward her, clasp her floppy body, seizing it in my arms,
squeezing it, showing my exuberant love. No, not love, I only wanted to be Herpy’s
equal. I kissed her and she recoiled, saying, “Cold lips you have. Are you my son?” I
moved away, telling her Gustav killed me. I witnessed her hair turning from gray to
white. Dark outside, a single fluorescent light bulb lit the room, like moonlight. I said
goodbye, “Goodbye” a clichéd response, then recalled a song about a woman lover
not knowing whether she had said "Goodbye" when she and her lover split.
Home, Herpy said the hospital called: Hildy just died. I crushed her dead, though I
never told her that. Unless Herpy had gotten pregnant, there would be no offspring. The
family line stopped. We began quarreling, trivial stuff, like who would rake the leaves,
weed the small garden, vacuum, cook, go shopping, maintain the car, wash the dishes,
sweep the porch. She at her computer, creating digital art, I knowing nothing about
technology except for archetypal toilets.
I sat on a soft chair in the enclosed porch, staring at cars, watching families walk by,
listening to leaves cry in the wind, hearing end-time, funereal noises of birds, snakes,
ladybugs, dogs, hearing historically unrecorded sounds emitted from mouths of folks just
prior to their deaths in our neighborhood---it grew maddening, the events known only by
the transparent eyeball, how its majesty, its grotesque lowliness exalted me.