Spotting Ray

The day I spot Ray lounging in the doorway of Harry's
boarded-up pawn shop, my therapist leaves town for
a death in the family. I drive by Harry's every day
on the way to work through that sorry stretch of
downtown. Around Harry's lately I nurse swallowing
a washed-out and bitter orange pill, whose bottle says
as needed for anxiety. It's a taste I've acquired.
Harry's been up for sale for a while now, but I've
never seen Ray by there before. Ray was looking
pretty good in battle fatigues. The beard all still
there he said he planned to shave. Why, I said, it's
a good beard. Keep it. Wondering could I ever
positively identify him without it. I look back, long
as I dare, knowing I need to keep my eyes' custody on
the road. But I want to roll my window down and wave,
Hey. I want eye contact when I say, Who have you
buried, Ray. Instead, I remember skipping the cemetery
to go directly from Mass to my grandmother's house,
charged by my sister with care of her cobalt enameled
casserole, along with warming her sweet marinated
chicken hors d'oeuvres, famous at family funeral
parties. Trouble lighting the gas oven loses me
some eyebrow, singes edges of my hair. I lose my
sister's directions in the mirror above the bathroom
sink, convincing myself everyone will be too distraught
and who in the family has enough sight left anyway
to notice. If caught, I'll say I got carried away
with plucking. But even skirting the get-together's edge
I can't miss what my sister has to say about her
scorched enamel. Daddy's first cousin, Helen, whose hair
remembers waving passion bright, doesn't let me slip
past. How are you, Honey, she says. Fine, thank you,
Helen, I say, And you. Helen takes me by the shoulders,
looks me in the eye. No, Honey, she says. Your grandfather
you loved, who loved you, is dead. Honey, you are not
fine. In the doorway of the room where he left his body
in his own bed, in his own sleep, we lean into one
another, looking out into the kitchen. When it was
linoleumed red, he stood singing there. For me.

Frances Driscoll
Contents | Mudlark No. 2
Some Lucky Girls | Baskets