Her face had become round and bloated. Mourning had widened instead of thinned her. Perhaps it was the calming pharmaceuticals she'd recently been prescribed. She now, behind her large glasses, had the double-triple face of the middle-aged, her most forward face, the one she used to have, framed again in yet another oval of flesh, a cameo of meat.
Their stillness, the fact that as apparitions they seemed to recede and keep the same distance from me always no matter how I tried to close it, and that they didn't say a word before they turned and walked away, melting into the dark, though the sky remained mapped and spangled with constellations, was an omen. Plus they came again the next night in the exact same way, neither vaporous nor cadaverous, but wordless and turning and walking away, this time with a little bruised-up boy who I realized instantly in the way of visions was Gabriel Thornwood-Brink: this made me understand that they were unfindably dead, all of them, and that now the really useful things of life, like stars, would become incomprehensible decoration.
I had never eaten such intricately prepared food before, and doing so in this kind of mournful, prayerful solitude, in a public place, where by this time no one but I was seated without a companion, made each bite sing and roar in my mouth. Still, it was an odd experience for me to have the palate so cared for and the spirit so untouched. It was a condition of prayerless worship. Endless communion. Gospel-less church.
My mother had taken slightly to her bed. Mrs. Miniver she wasn't. The plants in her mirrored flowerbeds had crept out into the lawn itself, which was soon waist high in weeds, fuzzy and humid, which for ten days in mid-July revealed themselves to be not just sneezeweed but nightshade and phlox. A field of purple. A riot of violet—balloon flowers, foxglove, and sage. It was a weird and beautiful joke that her flower garden had never looked this good before. The hollyhocks stood bright and straight and as high as the windows, with only the slightest of lists. Ghettos of echinacea appeared, and fuchsia-hued tobacco and yarrow, as if it had all made a deliberate decision to do so. Only the unpruned hydrangeas missed her and had begun early their self-cannibalizing tinge to green; lit to the gills with chlorophyll, barren and virginal both, their branches drooped into the dirt with robust pustules of cream and lime. Only in their bowed and defeated eating of the soil did my mother's absence show. Ordinarily she would never have allowed this.
At the park I pushed her on the swing, higher and higher, and when she got off she dashed over to the slide and I gulped anxiously, fearing its dangers, but let her go. It was a fast slide, and from our previous visits I knew that children typically shot out from the flattened scoop of its slippery, sun-heated metal and landed on their faces, their thighs burned. Mary-Emma was no exception, but none of it fazed her. She and another girl had started a little game together, and they giddily took turns on the slide and then tried to make each other laugh at the bottom by assuming outlandish poses. Sometimes one would pretend to be unconscious or dead while the other one forced her back to living, which was indicated by giggles and brought about by tickling or pouring sand onto bare bellies or into hair. Sometimes it seemed to me that children believed death occurred in different forms than adults did, in varying degrees, and that it intersected with life in all kinds of ways that were unofficial. It was adults who felt death exerted a lurid sameness over everyone. Why couldn't it be as varied as life was? Or at least have its lurid sameness similarly gussied up and disguised?
He had a smile that made you realize that some skulls contained an entire power plant set up in miniature inside, and the heat and electricity they generated and spilled their voltage out through the teeth and eyes.
I nodded, trying to imagine the very particular sadness of a vanished childhood yogurt now found only in France. It was a very special sort of sadness, individual, and in its inability to induce sympathy, in its tuneless spark, it bypassed poetry and entered science.
Once I woke with the feeling that I had actually died in the night. I awoke with a sense that during ostensible sleep I had encountered not just life's brevity but its speed! and its noise and its irrelevance and its close.