Monday, November 13, 2006


Bazooka pink and studded with pearly teeth, the denture lay between the dried dirt clods that the gravedigger was pulling over the coffin. Perhaps I was the only one to notice the teeth being pulled into the grave for the second time, joining bits of old coffins and who knows what more as the ground was re-used for the final resting place of my friend’s husband. His mouth was parted and his hands hidden by the flowers they had packed around his body. I forever associate these flowers and caskets with flies and dried blood. I cannot get Jeferson’s face out of my head, nor the heat of the cemeteries here which bakes me dry and without tears.

On the entrance road, where mourners wait the arrival of the body, worn vendors sell their wares: water, sandwiche natural, fruit salad. Thin Mr. Frutas was easily in his seventies, with a wavering, insiduous voice and trembling hands. He carried his three styrofoam coolers like woman’s purses, their straps criss-crossing his shoulders, their contents fruit salads, small tortas, corn sweets, various toppings. A squirt bottle held a white sloshy liquid which he called “special sweetened condensed milk.” After encouraging a try from a plastic spoon, he asked his victim what the secret ingredient was, with a smile that made me shudder: would I want to know what the secret is, from a man who makes his living selling food among the dead? I expected embalming fluid, or urine of some unique species of graveyard cat, and from the look on the face of the tester, she did as well. But it was just guaranĂ¡. I guess it’s one way to save a bit on costs...

The mourners came in gaudy silver flip flops, blue jean mini skirts, halters and tube tops. I don’t know why I was so worried about finding something dark. So few of the mourners were in anything resembling black. The widow wore a red bikini as a bra under a brightly flowered halter top that easily could have been the nicest thing in her closet, black pants with three creamy white bands at the bottom. She hadn’t touched her hair from when I saw her that morning, when her tear-stained face appeared under my window and I knew without asking that it had finally happened.

It is sad to say that we were waiting for this death. It seems to demean us as humans somehow, saying that this loss of a husband, child, father, brother, friend was long-expected, or worse, welcome. Chosen. But he had. At least as much as this death had chosen him, this long cancer with its ravenous hunger. He ran away from the hospital when they’d tried to check him in, ran away from the chance to treat it before it rampaged his organs and stomach...he became violent with the pain, tried to beat his wife even though he’d become a skeleton. It was traumatizing to see the pain he was inflicting on himself and on his family. It was welcome to know that he was suffering no more...

And yet we cried.

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