For my in laws, Art and Mary. Written June 2001.
He sat in front of the television. In his wheel chair. The size 14 corduroy slippers looked like the fins on an old Cadillac. We walked in. My wife and I. Afraid to say what we had come to say. Art turned from the TV and smiled when he saw us. A big smile full of his own teeth. They were yellow but they were all there. It was the Friday before Memorial Day weekend and Art was watching TNT's day long John Wayne movie marathon. As far as hospitals went... Art could do a lot worse than Lake Forest. Reproduction 18th Century furniture surrounded his futuristic hospital bed while the TV had a built in VCR.
My wife and I were his only family in town due to the holiday. And so we told Art his wife had just died. The light in his eyes went out like a switch had been thrown. His smile disappeared and his lips trembled as he brought his hands to his face and cried, "I just talked to her." My wife cried, "I know, Dad. I know." She did not hold him. She did not touch him. And he did not reach for her. I thought it odd my wife's legs were crossed. I was suddenly aware my legs were crossed. Uncrossing them I wondered what to do with them.
We went to the funeral home. The nice man in the rep tie and blue blazer showed us the caskets. I pushed Art around the show room in his wheel chair and slammed his foot into a casket named the Virginian. "Goddamn that hurts!" "Sorry, Art," I said as I thought of a parchment map of Virginia City burning on my television screen. The Virginian was a dark walnut with a cream quilted interior. It did look comfortable. It was nine thousand dollars. Not too bad when you figured the daily cost spread across an eternity.
Every ten minutes or so I would wheel Art into the bathroom. I would bend down in front of him and he would pull himself up on my shoulders and we would stand together as he peed. I looked at his penis and noticed how big it was. "What am I doing looking at my father in law's dick," I wondered. But not out loud. I realized my brother in law must have a big penis as well. That fucker is lucky in everything.
We looked at more caskets and discussed the advantages of more expensive vaults and after all was said and done -- close to thirty thousand dollars had been spent. All of it, tossed in a hole, so to speak. Nine months later my wife and I knelt in front of the Virginian Art was lying in. His hands were folded on his chest and covered in a thick pan makeup not unlike the stuff used on stage. His lips were sewn together and looked odd. There was some truth in my wife's observation, "Dead people always look Italian."