Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Sky Was the Color of Skin

The sky was the color of skin. A cadaver’s skin. And she was smiling, a plastic smile.  A sort of fake flowers on a fresh dug grave sort of smile. And I was asking her what was wrong and she was just then going to tell me, once and for all. 

But the words stuck in her throat. I mean really jammed, like a stick in the spokes kinda jammed. And the years of resentment flew over the handlebars of the little bicycle of her mind and she simply said. “I’m tired.” So I said “we’ll go then” and of course she had a good cry to which I said I was sorry about a million times until we were both t-i-r-e-d, tired. 

She asked me to drive us home but I forgot to move the seat back so my legs were clumsy long on the pedals. I hated her car anyway because the seats were leather and I was always being reminded that they were leather and being told to be careful of the leather or mindful with my coffee on account of the leather. I was driving way to fast and by the time I realized it she was already looking disdainfully at the speedometer which made every muscle in my leg want to push the accelerator straightaway through the floorboard. But I eased off, though imperceptibly gradual so she wouldn’t have the satisfaction. She started crying again to which I said, “Is it something I did?” Which is really like screaming, “What now???” To which of course she cried harder and I white-knuckled the amaretto creme colored fine Italian leather steering wheel cover all the way home.

She went straight to bed and I tried to get a little work done and then had a cigarette on the patio careful to place the butt in the ash tray "this time" and not on the ground, "again". I smoked most of another and returned to my typewriter.

Death is a dark animal.

No. Too....warm milk and white bread. Let’s see. Death is....

Death is black bird. 

Yes! Yes, I like that. Ok good. I typed the words. Then retyped-

Death is a black buzzard


That feasts on fallen flesh.

No, that’s too obvious.

Death is a black crow. 

No. A cat. Yes. A cat!! I started over and typed-

Death is a black cat, with yellow eyes that sits on a fence in a dark alley, licking its paws.

Wait. What does that even mean? Death licking its paws? 


I needed coffee. I put on a pot and waged a war of words in my tired mind. Death is….

Death is a black buzzard with a brown hangman’s hood.

Yes! I forgot all about my coffee and hurried back to my desk.

Death, dreadful death, speckled bird of death that feasts on fallen flesh.

Um, no.... 

I got up and got my coffee from the kitchen. Ok. Maybe death is a cat. 

Death is a demon fiend in feline form with eyes of tourmaline and black velvet fur.





And....or wait, what about an oil black crow? I typed-

Death is an oil black crow with beady black vacuous eyes.

Something moved outside of my window.

No. Death is definitely a buzzard. Or a cat. But not a crow. Never EVER a creepy crow! A needle-beaked, beady-eyed, beetle-black crow!!

I sat at my desk staring into the milky brown cataract of my coffee cup. I thought about death, conjured death, called it by name. Libitina, Azreal, Than, Valdis, whispering each name into the silence of the room. 

I thought about the first time I ever saw death. It was a bloated yellow dog in the shadow of my grandparent’s house one miserable Maryland summer. I held my breath against the smell and with one arm I shooed flies away while the other poked the dog with a stick. It was writhing white inside with what surely must have been a hundred million maggots. And only later did I realize that it wasn’t death that had scared me, nor was it the squirming fester of the maggots that sent the sudden shock of fear freezing and electric through my chest. But it was something else, something about the dog itself. The smile that was stuck on his face, and the way his wide open eye watched me eagerly, waited patiently, for me to throw the stick for him to fetch.

Death is a bloated yellow dog with one wide eager eye.

That. Is. Just. Dreadful. I paced back and forth.  Ok.

The day she died the moon was a great white gash in nights black skin.

OK!! Cigarette. Coffee. 

Or....I typed faster now, like machine gun fire.

The day she died the moon was a far flung coin minted in the mind of God.


I poured another cup of coffee, walked outside and smoked another cigarette and rehashed the clinical definitions I’d read earlier about death and the process of dying. 

Know your enemy sorta stuff.  

Death is a journey. A person starts down that road by acknowledging death will undeniably occur and by accepting their own mortality. There are common markers along this road; withdrawal-as a means of preemptive separation, reminiscence- evaluating how they lived and dealing with regrets, and resignation-the first  death, the death of will. The dying eat less, drink less and a strange euphoria settles over them. They sleep more and their senses alter. Some experience delusions or hallucinations. Thinking others are trying to hurt them or seeing people who are not really there. The body temperature lowers. Blood pressure decreases, pulse becomes erratic. There is increased perspiration. Skin color changes; breathing alters, becomes rapid and labored. Speaking dwindles and eventually stops altogether.

I closed my eyes and went through the mental checklist I’d just made, trying to imagine myself slowly succumbing to death. I finished my cigarette and went back inside.

The night she died the moon was a pale priest presiding.

OK!! 3 a.m. and I was so hopped up on caffeine I’d never sleep. I crept up the stairs to grab a sweater from my closet. I tripped over the cat and received such a brutal tongue lashing from it that my skin went warm with humiliation. 


Surely that woke her, but there she was lying so still. She was beautiful, doll like and distant, and I had loved her once. We were married so young, we practically raised each other. Waif like and worldly, we were emaciated twins, all heroin chic and thrift store couture. We had opinions on every subject under heaven and summarily dismissed all the ones above. Our souls withered in the shadow of our egos. But god she was beautiful. I kissed her and her skin was cold. 

Too cold! 

I felt for her pulse. 

Holy Capote she’s dead! 

I reeled backwards and crashed into the dresser. I panicked. A scream frozen in my throat finally thawed into a gasp. I ran down the stairs to find the phone and then I thought....YES!

The night she died the moon was a yellow dog dead and bloated.

No that’s pure shite! 

I dialed 911 but got a busy signal.

Death is busy signal, a dead line, the last dropped call. 


I redialed. The operator answered. Emergency vehicles were dispatched. 

Death is the voice of a stranger on the other end of the line.

Or how ‘bout....

Death is a siren’s wail.

Not bad.

Behold, death stood at the door and knocked but no one answered.

Very Old Testament/ camel skinned prophet.

Death bangs on the door, demands to be let in.

Well now I do like the sense of urgency.

Death breaks down the door and scans the room.

But I mean, what would death be looking for?

Death comes with many questions. 

Death as an inquisition. Interesting....very heady.

Death asks what are you doing, where is your wife, why are you typing!?!?

Death angry, Death yelling. Accusatorily. Good, good. Very strong, again with the urgency.

Death is the final incarceration.

That’s good!

Death is the last stroke of the key, the unfinished sentence....

....the end.

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