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An Involuntary Intimate, Part 19: To begin again

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he hands of the funeral home director were hot and dry as if the man held them under a Conair to dispel the fear of clamminess. George nodded dumbly to questions, signed papers without reading them and, then, though he did not want to, sat in an empty chapel because he had nowhere else to go. His mother’s service was scheduled for the afternoon the next day. For hours in stillness, George faced the fact that his entire family was gone. Everything else familiar was gone, too: his job, girlfriend, friends, home, even his bank account. He wondered if this was what it was like to be a ghost. No ties. Nothing. He felt as substantial as Joe Baldwin wandering along the Maco tracks, fruitlessly looking for his head. There was no reason to think that any different action in his entire life would have changed his lot one bit, except for one nagging notion. Instead of turning off the computer monitor showing Cheri-the-receptionist hemorrhaging in the ladies room, George might have called for help. He would still have been fired for putting the spy camera there in the first place. But, if he had simply made that

by: Claude Limoges call, then sitting alone in the funeral parlor’s chapel might have proven more bearable, because he might have liked himself better. As it was, he felt trapped in a funhouse full of mirrors, where every turn gave his reflection back to him: distorted, hardly recognizable. That, he decided, was the worst part of being a ghost: being trapped with who you never wanted to be. *

* * In the morning, George went to where his mother’s house had stood and walked among the rubble. He half-heartedly searched for his brother’s urn and ended up trying to gauge what temperature was needed to render a recliner a piece of charcoal. It wasn’t his brother in that urn, anyway. Chad was out at sea while his mother had cradled the ashes from her husband’s cigarette and Sal’s joint. It was like his mother to hold on, and apparently it was like his father to, at last and with flare, let go. In this respect, George was like

his mother. He was there searching for the urn because he knew that is what his mother would have asked him to do. He was picking up a door knob to examine when the sound of a car-door slam made him straighten and turn around. Cheri came around her car and stood before the ash heap. She wore a navy blue dress patterned with calla lilies and white pumps. When she started to step toward him, George shouted, “Stay there! I’ll come to you.” He dropped the door knob, picked his way through the rubble, swallowed down tears of gladness at seeing a familiar face and gave her a genuine smile. “I passed by here last night,” she said. “I don’t know why. It’s sure out of my way, but thought I might just ... I don’t know. Anyway, I saw this and thought, Oh, my God! Was he in there?” “My mother was.” “George, I’m so sorry.” Cheri closed the space between them and put her arms around him. He clenched his eyes shut and stood very still inside her embrace, afraid to breathe lest this too would disappear from him. “It’s OK,” she said softly. “Cheri, I did something really stupid.” “I know.” “Really stupid and hurtful.” “Martin told me. George, your flowers already said you were sorry.” George wrapped his arms around her, put his face into her hair and held onto her. Cheri accompanied him to his mother’s

service, and there they met up with Martin, Ruth, Nogo, his wife Alma, and Sal Mastropietro and her three kids, who dodged into every chapel while the funeral director stalked after them like a great blue heron. That George sat among friends who knew him only too well and yet still were there by his side gave George a sense of vertigo one moment and great peace the next. Most of the time he relaxed into it, but sometimes the gratitude threatened to take away his voice altogether. After the service, Sal pulled George to the side and said into his ear, “I take it back.” “What?” “That bit about you not being able to love because you don’t let anybody in. You’ve got some cool friends, George, and that one—” She nodded to Cheri. “She’s crazy about you.” Cheri caught George watching her and broke off speaking with Ruth. She gave George a smile. “Honestly,” George said, “I was sure I’d be here alone.” He scratched the back of his head, then shook it, unable to say more. That Friday evening, they all met at Martin’s and drank Ruby Reds and this time listened to Mario Lanza. George and Martin added to their Monty Python repertoire some old “Saturday Night Live” skits, with Sal chipping in as Jane Curtin, Nogo as Eddie Murphy, Cheri as Laraine Newman, and Ruth as Gilda Radner. Over the following weeks, George and Martin began to tutor again in computer skills, in exchange for anything.

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September 8, 2010  

Your alternative voice in Wilmington, North Carolina

September 8, 2010  

Your alternative voice in Wilmington, North Carolina

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