Recovering the Body
a short story
I finally find the hotel, and I ask the man with white gloves
if my father is there. The man points to a place inside and says, "You
should ask at reception." I go there. I put my hands on the counter
that comes up to my eyes. The lady there smiles at me when I tell her
what I want. There is a phone I can use, and to make sure I understand
how to do it, she comes from behind the desk and shows me.
My father sounds surprised to hear my voice, but he's much more surprised
to hear that I'm in the hotel. He comes down to see me. He's wearing
his suit, but with the tie loosened like it is when he comes home from
work at the end of the day. "Hey, Tiger," he says to me. He rubs my
head and then looks around. "Where's your mom?"
"At home. She sent me."
"She sent you?" His face gets serious. "By yourself?"
"She said I had to come collect the body."
My father's face goes white. He whispers, "She said what?"
I repeat what my mother had told me.
He studies my face. "It's just a business trip," my father says. "What's
wrong? Am I traveling too much?"
My father looks past me, through the glass doors of the hotel. The
sun is shining outside. People are getting into a taxi. I can't tell
what he's looking at. After a while, he says, "Jesus. Well, the ways
of women are mysterious." Then he looks at me again. "Why didn't she
send one of your sisters?"
"She said it's my duty. She said I'm the new man of the house."
He puts his hand on my shoulder. He squeezes. "I guess you are. I guess
you are at that."
"I don't understand."
"I don't really understand it myself," he says. "I don't suppose that's
any help at all, is it?"
I'm disappointed. Grownups are supposed to understand things.
He says, "Have you eaten?" He takes me to dinner in the hotel restaurant.
He asks me about school. That night, I sleep on the couch in his hotel
room, and in the morning, we fly home. People don't fuss over me on
this flight like they did on the other one, when I was alone.
When the plane lands, we take a taxi to the cemetery. My mother and
my sisters are already there. They're standing next to a hole and a
big pile of dirt. My mother hugs me. She is crying behind her black
veil. My sisters are crying, too. They look like grown-up ladies in
their black dresses, holding hankies to their eyes. There's also a man
in a black robe next to the hole.
"Well," my father says, "I guess I know what to do." He straightens
his tie, gets into the hole and lies down.
The man in the robe talks for a while. He uses words I don't know.
I look down into the hole. I wave to my father. He waves back. Then
my mother throws a handful of dirt into the hole. My sisters do the
same. The dirt makes a soft sound, like rain hitting my father's shirt.
My mother puts a dirt clod in my hand. I start to cry. I hold the dirt
clod while my mother and my sisters are picking up more and more dirt
and throwing it in. Most of the dirt lands at the edges of the hole,
not right on top of my father.
"Tiger," he says, "there's a lot I haven't told you about being a man."
Dirt slopes in toward him from the sides of the hole. It's as if he
were at the bottom of a crater. Clod by clod, the dirt they throw tumbles
in at him from the sides. His pants are covered in it. Then his shirt.
Pretty soon, all that's showing is his face.
"Don't do anything crazy or stupid," he says. "Like when you're older,
don't you go getting some girl in trouble. You can wait. Your mother
and I waited."
I don't know what he's talking about, but I nod and wipe my nose with
my sleeve. He blinks, then shuts his eyes against the dirt. Now all
that I can see of him is his mouth. Specks of dirt dot his teeth. "And
this is very important," he says. I crumble the dirt clod in my hand.
"Listen to your mother. Like she says, you're the man of the house now."
Some of the dirt my mother has just thrown sets off a little landslide.
My father says, "I'll visit you when I can." Dirt covers up his mouth.
My mother wails, pulls her hair, and throws more dirt.
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