The clothes of the dead
By Richard Messer

should be disposed of carefully. Trimmed and tailored, if possible into Art.
But Art can betray. Calender art, soap operas, murder mysteries, bad dreams.
The art of simulacrum.

The Doctor prescribes tranquilizers--I've had a bad shock--and later maybe one
of the new designer anti-depressants: Prozac? Zoloft? Why waste time being
down? Why not be carried as promised by the American Dream inside the bubble
of the present moment from first breath to last, impervious as a plastic
milk bottle to life's terrors? No pain no gain, and best of all, no brain,
no pain.

Born out of our need for perfection, the artificial surpasses the real,
costs less, tastes sweeter--IS better by definition. The authentic experience
can only be earned; perfection can be marketed.

I kept her old leather coat--but she had that brand new beautiful yellow one,
why was she wearing this, her father's castoff, shabby and too big? I put it
on and feel the hairs on my neck rise. Something has fallen out of the
sleeve and under the table, then under the bed, as if it were alive. Down on
my knees, I feel into the darkness under the box springs. The soft whorls of
lint dust. It is at this moment I know again that someone else is in the
room. At the table by the window in the other room. Someone who sits writing
down everything I do with a black pen on white paper. And if the leaden pen
stops its slow-motion scrawl, the wall of language will dissolve, and there
will be nothing between me and the writer, between the writer and the

Together we watch a name appear on the white surface: Bruno.

The one on his knees rears up as though struck. And so he has been
struck--by the thought of his children dying. Where are they? They have to go to
school, tell curious playmates what has happened. They don't want to stay home.

He explains this to himself and it is to Bruno he speaks, the one who sits
like a bear, the one who records, the one who listens. All week he has only
been going through the motions; he knows it now. People around
him try to act as though nothing has happened; so does he. But Bruno knows
better. From the moment he recoiled in the hospital morgue after seeing her
body, he has been split in two. The part of his life he lived through her
began to recede into the past, calling out to the rest of him like someone
buried alive. That it will always be this way is what he fears most. That he
will never feel wholly involved, wholly there in the world again. That,
diminished, preoccupied, he will drift on in the prison of an unreal
present-past, always reaching back inside himself, trying to save her.

Everything has changed, nothing has changed. With a young couple,
acquaintances from work, he wanders a showroom of caskets. They have no
price tags. The salesman tells him the peach-colored coffin he has opened is
the Sweetheart model. He must find the children and go to see the deputy
prosecutor. He will be given a lie detector test. A man will be identified
and confess and be charged and someone will say, Well, for you it's just a
matter now of getting through the night.

Getting though the night. The words echo like a line from some
half remembered song, words he has sung and never understood--hate to see that
evening sun go down. It isn't hate as in anger, it is fear. Because the
sunset lets loose the dogs, the dogs of inner darkness. So he takes
anti-dream medication. And as he falls through language to sleep, he prays
for nothing.

Previously published by Bottom Dog Press in Messer's book Murder In The Family


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