Grant would be baffled by the little dance that was now going on at our dinner table every night. Maeve and I compulsively discussed Jason's life and death -- he'd built a tree house with an elevator, he'd won the soapbox derby three years in a row, he'd put on swimming goggles before he got into the bathtub -- and our conversations about him infuriated Olive. Her anger, as unexpected and irrational as our curiosity, only spurred us on. "What station do you suppose he listened to?" I asked Maeve.
"What difference does it make?" Olive said. "Morbid ghouls. Pass the salad."
I passed her the salad bowl, a cumbersome crystal thing we'd gotten as a wedding gift. I kept hoping it would break, but it never did.
"It was country and western," Maeve said. "That's what Bernie said, anyway."
I said, "I can't picture Jason listening to Reba McIntyre."
"Maybe he liked the newer country stars," Maeve said. "Like Travis Tritt."
"You don't know a thing about country music," Olive told Maeve. "Or anything about anything."
"Bernie also said he collected rubber knives." Maeve covered her mouth, and I wondered if she'd been making some of this up.
"You know," I said, giving Maeve a little wink, "I ran into the Grouts, Jason's neighbors, at the food co-op yesterday. I guess Jason's parents let his pigeons loose, and they're taking over the neighborhood, pooping all over everything."
Olive glared at me. "Jason didn't have any pigeons."
Maeve looked up hopefully. "What'd he have?"
Thunder rattled the windows, and the lights blinked off and then on again. Maeve and Olive froze, their forks in midair. The previous summer lightning had struck our neighbors' tree, and the current, snaking underground and invading our wires, blew our telephone right off the wall. I wanted to dive under the table, but I sat up straighter. "Did Jason have any pets?" I asked Olive, hoping to trick her with my matter-of-fact tone, but she just shook her head.
We all went back to our pasta, and I felt as if the three of us had always lived alone, eating our lonely dinner, the rain endlessly falling. Grant left us gradually, spending more and more time up north with his bears, until at last I realized that we were already separated. At this very moment a bear might be dragging Grant's lifeless body down the trail. How many weeks would pass before we found out?
Maeve tried again. "Bernie Spalding said that Jason was naked when he did it."
"He was taking a bath, stupid."
"Jason's parents are coming over tomorrow night," I told the girls, hearing the self-importance in my voice. "To talk about Jason. His father says he wanted to be a magician."
"Cool!" Maeve said.
Olive sighed and gazed at the ceiling.
"They want me to give them a poem of Jason's," I said. "And I don't have one."
"So?" Olive said.
Exactly, I thought, popping a caper into my mouth. I decided I wouldn't try to re-create the driver's-test poem for Jason's parents. I still thought it was a brilliant poem, but to them it would seem silly and cynical, and besides, Jason hadn't written it. I would tell them the truth. Their son hadn't felt like writing, and I hadn't felt like making him write.
recently received the James Michener Grant from the University of Iowa, to enable her to complete a collection of short stories.
Illustrations by Michelle Chang
The Atlantic Monthly; June 1998; Electric Wizard; Volume 281, No. 6; pages 74 - 82.