Jun 10, 2007


The boy doesn’t know yet. He’s been upstairs, in a den, with antler heads on the wall. Playing video games, hour after hour, in the dark, in this enormous house.

His mother has been dead for three days but no one has told him. He saw her in the hospital, she smiled, she kissed his hand, she said she would be home soon, everyone said she would recover. But that was a week ago and now suddenly today is her funeral and someone has to explain.

His father is the one who should do it, but he would rather not. He believes a woman should do it. His mother might do it. Meanwhile, people are milling around below in the great house. There is the father’s family and the mother’s family. The one is from Ohio, the other from Texas. They are as different as Dickens from Danielle Steele, as Gore from Bush, as heartland from Wasteland. As a family gathering from a board meeting.

Right now the families are circling each other, everyone a matador, a boxer. In one corner, inside the Alamo, the conversation is about the mother’s half brother, the wife’s half brother who has come to be a pallbearer but doesn’t have the right shade of suit, not black enough, and too sheeny. “Like a cheap suit,” one of them says and there’s a chuckle all around These are the father, the husband’s friends, from college, asked to be pall bearers, his old frat brothers, and they all have the same shade of black suit. In fact, they all got their suit from the same store, just for the funeral. Like they did when he got married.

In the other corner, the people from Ohio, all women, and shaking their heads. The dead woman is their sister’s daughter. It’s all so tragic, they’re saying, and their mother having just died a few months before, but then to see their niece’s husband playing the role of a victim. They scowl and hurtle derision across the room. How is he going to take care of these kids? Seriously, how is he going to do that? The girl will be okay, she’s a little older, but the boy is only 4, what’s going to happen to him? And who’s going to tell him? It’s outrageous.

The house sucked the life out of her, it really did, the dead woman’s closest friend is whispering to someone from Ohio. Well, just look at it.

The pretentiousness of it, she means, but not just the size, but also the Etruscan style arches, the faux painted walls, the marble, the slate, the mirrors, my God, the frames on those paintings, which aren’t even original....

This is one of those super houses, set on a mapley clean street in a prominent neighborhood in Houston. Once the houses on this street were in proportion and that was the nature of its prominence. People who lived here understood proportion and looked down on those who didn’t. If you lived out of proportion, they felt, it meant you had to prove something, and if you had to prove something then you weren’t really rich, you were a wannabe, a ‘bourgeoise type’, and they, the elite, pronounced the word the way people in New Haven and New York pronounce it when they want to make fun of people who live in Texas and in places that are not a la mode, that are, if you want to know the truth, ignorant.

But you could argue that either way, couldn’t you? You could argue on behalf of people who don’t want to live in proportion. You could be a rebel; you could want to burn down the country club, and for good reason. Not to mention artists, geniuses, prodigy’s, many homeless people, crazy people, all kinds of people, live out of proportion. In their minds at least. You could even say the nouveau riche, for all their vulgarity and ‘ignorance’ got to where the are for their energy, because they often said ‘fuck you I’ll do it my way’ and they did.

In fact, that’s why this daughter of Ohio married the son of Texas. Because he was up and coming and she admired his courage and his bravado and if he wasn’t rounded at the edges, it was okay because he provided and if he wasn’t always as attentive as he might have been, then that’s okay too, because he had other qualities.

But the women from Ohio didn’t believe any of that. They knew it, they even hoped it might be true, but they didn’t believe it. They didn’t see any rebels here, and they know rebels, some of them had been rebels themselves, diggers in Oregon, anti establishment types in Berkeley. No, there were no rebels here, just a man who wants to get as much as the can and doesn’t care what you think, so long as he can live it his way and be with his buddies and his ticket business and his money....

However, you look at it, he paid for the original house to get a boob job and now it fills the lot. A fat man in a corset couldn’t get between the house and the fence. A thin man with boots and spurs would have to walk like a line dancer. And when you get from front to back, there’s nothing more than a small pool that comes right up to the living room door. The old trees and shrubbery are gone. Now there’s new trees and shrubbery, although not much room to put it in, and a lot of furniture and potted flowers...

Whatever is good about it, whatever you find appealing about the backyard, she did it. He didn’t care, just so long as she made it nice, so other people were awed and said how pretty it all was.

The inside of the house is like a hangar, like a new car showroom for Mazaratis. “Like wow baby, I like it”. In the words of friends of the ticket master who made all this happen. Who brought his wife in to this place and said, “Look at this, honey. Wow, huh?’ And she smiled the big blonde smile, sexy and big, but always a touch of down, now that you think of it, a little eyeliner of doubt there.

Wow, she said, but how are we going to live here? It’s so big.

Oh honey, we’re gonna have a big family. We need it. And anyway, we’re gonna live big. Know what I mean?

Sure. Why not, she thought. Why the hell not. Live big. This is Texas after all.

So he went off and made fortunes scalping tickets so he could have leather pigs around and pretend he was somebody refined. Gimme a bud, baby, will ya? How ‘bout those Astros, huh!

Meanwhile, she tried to fill the house as best she could, got Patty Madden's Etruscan collection of contract vinyl wall coverings. She read the magazine where it said, ‘Take this incredible turquoisey blue-green, like you'd see on a cloisonne vase, and paint it on the reverse side of glass. Then use it as a tabletop. You have the effect of color, once a long time ago...’

It wasn’t really her, she would have done it another way, but she would do anything to please. Not a mean bone in her body, and if she didn’t feel so well those last months, but thinking it was just pneumonia, that’s what the doctors guess it was, she just kept right on going, and when she was throwing up blood and they finally discovered it wasn’t pneumonia but cancer, she kept right on going. Don’t worry, she informed her family, some chemo and cutting and it should recede.

Then two weeks later she was gone.

But in the moment after they said, well you’ve got this thing and it’s everywhere all through your body but we can beat it, she saw how this was going to play out, and with no time left on the clock she went off on a trip with her kids, and then came back, got in her hospital bed, lingered, smiled, cried, and died.

* * *

The people downstairs are getting ready to go to the funeral. The boy’s still upstairs plying videos in the dark. Finally, the husband, the ticket guy’s mom goes upstairs. She doesn’t make a sound. ‘Your mom’s gone,’ she tells him. And when they get to the cemetery he wants to know if this is heaven. Well not exactly, his grammy explains but wherever it is your mom’s there.

The boy can’t grasp it all so he needs to understand this again. I want to see he says, I want to see her. Grammy tries to put the kibosh on that but he keeps insisting and then he starts to make a scene, starts screaming, and even if you’re deaf and dummer than dirt you can hear something in that scream that says, ‘wake up, people, my mom’s gone and I want to see her.’ The man in the boy called out and after a while, after the they got finished saying, we’ll come back and visit or there’s nothing to see or it’s private or just think good thoughts, finally they agreed.

The casket was still atop the gurney and they brought him over and the weird men from the mortuary, undid some levers, because these days you never know when you might have to do another autopsy. They opened the lid and the father lifted his son up and he looked inside and there she was, kind of like she was sleeping, and he wondered if she couldn’t just wake up, he reached out to touch her but his father pulled his hand back, and before he was ready they shut her up in there and did everything real fast, got the casket down in the ground, and threw in the dirt and sang a song and then got him back in the car and home and said it was okay if he went upstairs to the den and played his video games, and grammy brought him a sandwich and milk and sat with him, as best she could, because she was done in herself. And watched him, and didn’t have a thought in her head, and meanwhile, the boy was being a hero in the game, slaying dragons, and fighting as hard as he could to stay alive.

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