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SELWYN ON WINGED FEET / Barbara Phillips February 29 I tried to teU MUdred about the cemetery today, but as soon as I started on the business at Father's grave—I hadn't even gotten to what happened at Walter's—she put me off: "Oh, please." "But let me teU you about WaI-" "Stop it!" She clapped her hands to her ears. "You and your relentless imagination! It's driving me crazy!" Well, I'm sorry for that, but it's keeping me sane. Step by step, then. I intended just to nod to Father on my way to Walter, but those same sounds—the dry cluttering, the Uttle burps and farts—made me stop. And a good thing I did. There is even less of the old miser to see than last month. That beaky curve to the nose and the long cleft above the upper Up are gone, aU fuzzed out. Bony shoulders blurred. Things are getting eaten away. But neatly! No rags of flesh hanging off the cheeks. The worms nibble and digest, nibble and digest, tucking the debris inside their tiny lower parts, processing it. Depositing neat Uttle BBs of hard shit around the perimeter of Father's dwindling corpse. A tidy goodbye. At least to part of him. Two months dead and stiU I can't make out what's happening below the waist. Father wouldn't stand for it. "Stop fingering your lower decorations, boy!" Yes, sir! Then to Walter's gravestone, and at first it was the usual circus, the numbers flashing and screaming Uke some vulgar neon sign: 1976—1992! As if the arithmetic wasn't already burned into my brain. Six from twelve leaves six. He wUl never be more than sixteen. Steadied myself for the tears to begin, but then I saw it— a diploma!—roUed up and tied, resting like a flower on his chest, in the V between his crossed wrists. I drove home writing my boy a fine epitaph. Magna cum laude; Classical Ut, Ancient Greek. Here at Berkeley, or Stanford—more than affordable, what with Father's estate. Harvard doctorate. Professorship at Yale. Endowed chair. But then the old questions came: Would he have wanted to go to college at aU? Did he say? Did I listen? These uncertainties about Walter wiU break my heart. Can't even recaU his face, not clearly. AU I get are memories of ancient snapshots. Walter propped in his infant seat, teething on The Missouri Review · 193 the leg of Louise's Barbie doU. Walter in baby pajamas, straddUng MUdred's hip, tugging at that daffodiUy nightgown she used to wear. "Don't take a picture of me now," she laughed, but I wanted to capture her in that nightgown. Then I waited for her to calm hurt and come back to bed. Got home from the graves to find her at the maUbox, head bent over a page from an opened envelope. It wasn't till the car door slammed behind me that she looked up. Her eyes were relaxed into their long-ago, placid, pale-lashed softness. But of course. It was a letter from Louise. "She's taken that job," Mildred said, and went back to her reading. A while later she was still mild-eyed, so I tried: "Did he ever talk to you about music?" I seemed to remember Walter diddling with an electric guitar. "Or Uterature? Just imagine, if he had become a writer." Her mouth tightened, pulling the skin at the corners into pouchy furrows. I shouldn't have barreled on about the graves. February 29, p.m. Depressed, and thought a jog would help. Ran the steep trail to the crest (behind that same woman for a whUe—magnificent haunches!) and for a short time did feel better: muscles pushing, lungs pulling, aU that mattered was the climb. But at the stretch where the path levels out, the trapped fog and the sharp, woody smeU of eucalyptus threw me back a year. Accident, the poUcemen said when they came to the door. Your son. I couldn't teU if the wet on my cheek was mist or tears. God, those first...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 193-208
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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