Let us praise the interminable graveyards Dad dragged me through as a kid, the long drives down to Wheeling to the Palestine Christian Church, the rutted red clay road up the hill to Uncle Pete’s farm where Dad grew up, Dad with his notebook penciling in names and directions. Let us praise his example of tracking the dead. If what Swift said is true (all of us only fleas on the backs of bigger fleas, biting away, ad infinitum), if it’s all just a matter of scale, why can’t my bigger flea be Santorini? — the lost Atlantis, guidebook Eden, sky-blue sky. Why is my flea Massillon, Ohio, dead steel town, U.S.A., truly deserving, but passed over as the site for the Football Hall of Fame? — where even the Cameo Grill’s plate-sized Tigerburger gave way to McDonald’s. Everybody’s dad worked at Republic. Everybody’s dad was always out on strike. Or talking strike. My dad worked up at Goodyear, open shop. When I was a kid, the town was known for three things: the high school football team (State Champs my senior year), the National Shrine of St. Dymphna, and the numbers games on Erie and Main. Massillon was thirty thousand then; Tiger Stadium sat twenty-two. § St. Dymphna: one of those female saints with a missing body part — her head. Cut off by her father when she refused to marry him. He didn’t want anyone else to have her. Well, everything’s fair in love. But who’d ever brag she’s Massillon’s own — Republic’s “girl”? And who’d ever brag that the Headless Woman at the Stark County Fair has been Kept Alive thru the Miracle of Science! See her Living Body without a Head! But there she is: out on Erie Street, just past the graveyard, at the Massillon State Hospital: a padded red dress propped in front of a plywood box with holes for some carnie’s arms and legs to poke through. Fuzzy red anklets. Red battery charger for a head, gold letters: Wizard, 6 amp. Let’s interview the Headless Woman, the real woman inside the box — the one stuck back there in the dark, who can’t even go to the can unless her boyfriend lifts her out.§
Sometimes I think about what it’s like inside St. Dymphna’s head. Like I’m this tiny person inside her skull, and it’s dark and nobody can see me or hear me, but I can see out and see everything that’s happening.
Sometimes I’m in there watching St. Dymphna’s father pick up his sword. And I say, Daddy, don’t. But he keeps coming, and it’s dark and nobody can see me or hear me, but I can see out.
I’m in there watching, and I keep saying, Daddy, don’t. But he keeps coming, and he raises up his sword, and he’s bringing it down. And I say, Daddy, don’t! But he keeps coming and coming.
Sue D. Burton | The Reunion Contents | Mudlark No. 60 (2016)