by Joe Medeiros
$1 a Carload
These days, I don't fantasize about my wife's death as much as I used to. There was a time I did it a lot. I'd tell the guys at work about it and they'd know exactly what I was talking about -- especially the married guys. I'd tell them there were nights when I was driving home from work depressed with no interest in listening to the radio or to CDs that I'd think about getting "The Call."
Here's how my fantasy goes: I'd get home from the office at eight but my wife wouldn't be there. I'd think nothing because she was probably at a neighbor's house or at a store running up the Visa bill. Eight would turn to nine, nine to ten -- and then the phone would ring. It would be the chief of police, the coroner -- someone with the power to tell me my wife was dead. Killed in a car wreck usually. When I was in a morbid mood, she'd be abducted in the parking lot of a strip mall and murdered by a madman.
At the killer's trial, I'd be so angry and grief-stricken that I'd jump over the courtroom railing and try to throttle him with my bare hands. I'd have to be pulled away and I'd beg the police to give me five minutes alone with him.
I'd see myself at the funeral in a dark suit and dark glasses, crying but checking out the women who were there thinking which ones would bring me pans of baked ziti with pesto sauce
and give me a sympathy fuck when the appropriate grieving time was over.
I'd make an eloquent eulogy about what a wonderful wife, friend and mother she was. I'd
see my in-laws, heartbroken and I'd wonder if I'd still have to see them on holidays or if I'd still
have to call them 'Mom" and "Dad." Then the casket would go into the ground and my children and I would leave.
I don't think about The Call like I once did because I've talked about it, written about it and even told my wife about it. And bringing my dirty little secret to light took away its power.
Especially since she told me that she thinks about getting The Call too.
My mother held a small clear glass vial between her forefinger and thumb. It was three-quarters filled with a silver, powdery substance. "Is this uranium? Is it radioactive?" she asked me.
I was thirteen and going into high school. She was forty-five and this was the start of a change in her.
I took the vial from her and angrily snapped that it was silver glitter, the kind you'd use in a school art project. She said she'd found it in the hallway closet. "Did your father put it there?"
For a moment I considered it. I'd never seen the vial before. How did it get there? Although my father was always picking up things that he thought were useful, but more often than not turned out to be crap, I knew it was nothing dangerous.
When my Uncle Mike came over later that day, she showed the vial to him. He took it, pulled his glasses lower on his large nose and peeked over them at it. He turned his hand, looking at the vial from all angles like I imagined Einstein would have at being presented with something curious and unfamiliar.
"No, it's not radioactive, Marie," he said. "It's just kid's glitter."
"See, I told you," my father said to her. "You'd better snap out of it."
That was my father's prescription. "You'd better snap out of it." Like she was under a magician's spell and with a snap of the fingers she'd be all right again.
I waited for the rest of that summer for her to snap out of it.
I didn't understand her breakdown. My father attributed it to the "change" she was going through.
I often wonder if I was the one who had changed, if my mother had always been like that and I had simply become aware of it.
She never physically abused herself, my brother or me (unless you consider the secondhand carcinogens we got from her chain smoking). She kept a clean house and functioned normally, except for what was going on in her head.
None of us wanted anything to do with that. None of us wanted to hear the crazy talk, the weird associations, like the day she saw a red car pass by and said that's why it's raining. Or when she said she saw Khadaffy in K-mart.
I lost my mother to something I didn't understand. I went into my own head like she went into hers. And we pretty much stayed that way for thirty years until she died.
I kept my distance, not wanting to get close, like she was uranium, like she was radioactive.
Eyes: A True Story
The old woman's eyes were in a night stand in a glass of water. I was in a doorway listening to the rain fall somewhere in China. When I knew no one was looking, I took her eyes from the glass, put them in my pocket and left in search of adventure.
I traveled to London where I slept in a bathtub that was too short. The owner of the apartment, a man considering suicide, was making dinner -- liver and milk -- which he poured onto a plate from a box marked "Corn Flakes."
He wanted to see the eyes, so I showed him. "These are like my mother's" he said, "but a different color." He pulled a pair of blue eyes from his pants pocket. "See?" he said. "Want to trade?"
I told him I didn't. But if he wanted to get rid of them, he could always try to sell them on the Internet where they might fetch a fair price. He said no. He'd rather hold onto them and maybe have them turned into cufflinks.
"My mother simply adored cufflinks," he said. "She used to wear them as earrings. She'd be proud to know her eyes have been put to a solid purpose. What are you going to do with yours?" he asked.
I thought about it for a week and then one night while drinking too much, I took a spoon, gouged out my eyes and popped in the old woman's in their place. They were difficult to see with at first since they hadn't been used in over a year. But the more I looked at things, the clearer the images got.
I looked out the kitchen window and saw that every car on the street was red. I knew that it meant it would rain.
I walked to the store for cigarettes. Everyone was looking at me as if I were strange and alone. Overhead, Nazi bombers dropped leaflets saying that they lost the war and out of their bomb bays fell hundreds of bodies. Obviously, someone's dead uncles.
I went to a K-mart that was built where a shop once stood that gave haircuts to ice cream cones. Inside, at a K-mart cash register Moammar Khadaffy was buying a crock pot on layaway.
As I passed by a bank of color TVs, the Kennedy assassination being replayed in slow motion to the tune of Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night." When Frank sang the "do-be-do-be-do" part, I chopped onions so I would cry. Before I left the store, I was given a pink piggy bank as a souvenir of New York City. But its eyes moved so I knew that meant it was radioactive. I put it on my back lawn where it wouldn't be able to watch me.
Next door, there was a life-size statue of the Blessed Mother. Her face was dirty so I took a garden hose and squirted her down. The dirt and mud trickled down to her feet where it pooled into the shape of rosary beads. When I was done, she came to life and yelled at me that I was insane. I saw my reflection in the plate glass window. My face was my brother's face and on my head were lumps that felt like the devil's horns.
Across the street in a field that belonged to a church, a man whose head was bandaged was drinking a quart of beer and eating a banana covered in ketchup which I had cooked earlier that day. He walked with a limp and left black footprints wherever he went.
I lay down in my bed and my left hand curled up into a knot until my nails dug into my wrist. With my good hand, I drank melted orange sherbet. The room was dark because the Venetian blinds wouldn't open. They were held together with string and black electrical tape.
The shadow of death hung in the corner of the room. He wore a red corduroy car coat trimmed in black and white rabbit fur. While he was waiting he cut a picture in Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in half with pinking shears.
I decided that I'd seen enough, so I dug out the woman's eyeballs and replaced them with my own. Now, thank god, I'm like everyone else again -- seeing only what I want to see.
A Cub Scout Memory
I'm at the Cub Scout Jamboree
with my shirt tail out
and a finger up my nose.
I don't think they give
Merit Badges for that.
Sabotage the wayward bookend
Alabaster chin straps in a white wine gumbo
while the Pekinese fidgets behind the beard of the major domo.
Florida expands a cockroach panty
and the bat in the Tupperware
has no inkling of the truth.
"Knockwurst rules the abattoir," said my spleen
to the idle merchant. The stogie has an aura of bleakness that the pedestal sink can no longer bother.
Linger in the lust of the vacant uptight hornbill who considers the buildings an ark
filled with paper mache buzzards.
Square knots for the Cub Scout King!
Elfin dribble everywhere
Swinging cashews in a bucket seat
pants askew, antennae flinging
My basket is full with splendor, but the screw is bent. No matter.
Time to ski the Embarcadero in a page boy haircut.
On the other hand, Nordic Quonset huts often are ablaze with fortune,
especially when the zipper is festooned with idiots.
No good looking for bric-a-brac
in the sea of garbage molting on a stemware cheeseball.
I need a torque wrench to butter Winston Churchill anyway.
Practicality makes mustard of us all.
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