Wednesday, January 21, 2009

When Joe Died

They had not sung Amazing Grace at the funeral, because the organist did not know it and besides, everyone attending was over 80 and most of them never knew Joe.  The organist was a small boy, wearing brown pants that were too large for him and lugging a shiny-looking book of service music that was made to open flat.  He had stood to the right and behind the pastor, his father, until the service started and then sat up high on the bench and could not reach the foot pedals.  Anna had not given the pastor any other hymns or favorite readings because by the end Joe was agnostic when it came to almost everything and Anna had never cared much for church herself. She sat on the folding chair in the center of the first row and the rest of the funeral regulars arranged themselves around the room.  They all cried for the people they had lost long ago and no longer remembered, but Anna held very still and gripped the Kleenex the pastor had given her.  At the end of the service she shook his hand and looked for a long moment at his little organist boy and then walked out to the bus stop and waited for the bus that was headed downtown.  

The air around Anna cracked and shattered as she sat at the bus stop looking at her hands in her lap and wondering where they came from.  She had forgotten to wear socks, and her skirt pulled up around her calves when she sat, revealing cold, grey ankles and flat, backless shoes.  She also forgot where they kept the sugar and how to make lasagna and what time they met their friends for poker.  Days seemed to pass as she sat and forgot things because Joe had kept them for her, had tuned their radio and bought the eggs, and all that was left was the breeze that shifted her light collar against her neck.

When she got into downtown, Anna had to walk four blocks to her bank, and the dry snow sifted underneath her feet.  Behind the tall counter, the bank teller was kind enough not to smile when she took Joe's check register and closed the account on her computer.  She handed Anna twelve crisp one hundred dollar bills and a little slip of paper that slid away and drifted to the floor.  Folding the bills in half, Anna tucked them into the inside pocket of her coat and made her way back to the bus stop.  

Bits of Joe bumped up against one another in Anna’s head, and their shells were brittle and already cracked.  She still knew which way was South and that she needed to take the number 29 bus, but if she turned too quickly that would be lost too, and so she held very still.  A young Asian woman sat down on the bench beside Anna, and she asked carefully, "The number 29 stops here?"  But the woman did not hear her, and so she had to say it again, too loudly now, and the woman nodded her head and said, "Yuh huh," but she was wearing very unusual shoes that Anna had never seen before.  Casually she moved her fingers and thought they looked like earthworms.  She thought of the face of a bus and the shape of the numbers two and nine, and also of Amazing Grace, which floated around the back of her throat.

When the bus came Anna still remembered it, and climbed aboard carefully and piled her bag up on her lap.  She would think of the door to the nursing home for the entire ride and save her energy for tomorrow. 


  1. L gave me the link to your blog and I'm as big a fan as she is. Keep posting stories.
    L's Mom

  2. Thanks so much! It's nice to have readers :) I'd love to hear feedback too if you have it!