by Stephen Berg

It doesn't even matter who we are, all three of us, sitting in the living room of a
house in the city-a sick old dying man, a woman, a younger mantalking
over what the sick one wants to leave, and to whom, after he's dead. The man
and wife sit in front of a bookcase wall. He's almost dead from a massive coro-
nary. She's half-hysterical. The other man's their son, and he's half-nuts from
the sickness and the craziness, from how this moment resurrects an entire fam-
ily history by condensing it, a primal myth, without imagery from the past, into
one room, one time, forever, forever, the young man thinks, although he has no
memory of other incidents like this, of a mad trio hacking out of their souls
sheer loveless misery, so pure it could pose as joy or ecstasy, a singleness of pur-
pose like one of those celebrated Tudor lyrics organized to perfect its argument
by coiling it tight around a single image, theme or idea. The drama here is after-
death, or whatever term is right for the near-dead writing a will after waiting a
lifetime, not consulting his heirs, too ill now to think straight, too terrified to
know what he feels about "his loved ones," who should get what?-the car, the
tiny row house, the money from a policy or two-all an ambitious business-
man, who didn't really make it, has to leave them. The sick man has never ad-
mitted he might actually die. The woman has aways worried that she wOuld
wind up with nothing. She has always felt she had nothing, or less, or not
enough. It's impossible to describe the scar on her mind. The air in the room is
like old unventilated sweat now. The man, in his faded blue and white striped
bathrobe, balances a pad of yellow lined paper on his knee with his right hand,
a pencil hung between two fingers like an unlit cigarette. Meawhile the parents
are chattering about the young man (in his late thirties) and what he should
get. "He shouldn't be able to sell anything until he's s5," the woman barks. "Hell
be a big boy, someday, squeaks the old man, an insane, hostile remark, the
young man thinks, knowing he has heard a sentence from his father that wil
fester permanently. Finally the yellow sheet has writing all over it and the
woman is satisfied. The young man, who feels like a weary, abused boy now,
hates them both. Three weeks later the man dies. The woman gets what she
wants, what there is, although she never forgives the man for-it doesn't mat-
ter. All this continues in the mind long after it is over, immortal, as such things
are. The identities of the people do not matter, as I've said, because, as the years
pass, in the mind, it all becomes the person in whose mind it lives. The only sal-
vation for certain minds is if they believe death destroys everything that was
there, in the mind, believe immortality beyond mind doesn't exist-unless one
tells in vivid detail the story to someone else, so it becomes part of another
mind. But tha?'s mere theory. On the bookshelí, a few inches above those two
aging heads-Zola's Nana, in a cheap paper binding, several pages still stuck to-
gether at erratic spots, six or seven sepia photographic likenesses on slick paper
of Nana, scattered throughout, in different naked poses,-a man's head
plunged between her breasts; lying on a couch; standing, nipples stiff and pink,
semi-profile. They were okay, but as a boy I loved the SEX passages more, where
the couple is described fucking or staring at each other undressing or fondling
each other's parts or doing strange oral things. Day after day, while I read I
jerked off by standing the book on my chest, holding it with my left hand, and,
each time just before I'd come, slip the open book down and ejaculate onto the
pages, then close the book and put it back on the shelf, hoping my parents
would pull out the book someday, try to open those pages, know me.

Last updated November 30, 2022