Light Gleams an Instant
This story begins fifteen years ago.–I’m not looking for sympathy or something, he tells Sheryl over breakfast. I’m being objective. Pass the marmalade, will you? Sympathy is the last thing I’m looking for. –I didn’t say you were. But you’re not dying, Donald. Why are you dying? –This minute I’m not. But I want to face the facts. Like those old-school monks who used to sleep in their coffins? Or the skull on the window ledge, remember, in Dürer’s St. Anthony? –Face or don’t face, but please keep it to yourself, Sheryl says. She takes up the B section of the Boston Globe to hold it between them. Then with a sigh she lowers the paper. Donald, I heard all this last night.
The doctor says you’re fine. Our own son—and this, after all, is his business—says you’re absolutely fine.
–Not the point. You miss the point completely. In a few years, I’m a hundred percent guaranteed, they’re going to take this body of mine, the chevra kadisha, the Holy Society, and wash it and put it—dead, God willing, heart stopped, brain stem inactive—into a plain pine box and lower it into the ground. Quickly, quickly, down we go, within a day, right?—because Jews don’t let the body sit around. And my flesh—my hands, marvelous creations though already with their marks of age—will begin to disintegrate and to smell. If there were anyone to do the smelling. Begin to rot, eaten by worms and bacteria, no one to see. Does a tree falling in the forest make a sound? Does a body make a stink? What’s the big difference, a few years more or less? I’m already well past my three score and ten. Practically eighty. You see what I mean?
About the Author
John J. Clayton’s novel, Mitzvah Man, was published last year. His most recent stories in Commentary are “The Name Changer” (March 2011) and “All the Children are Isaac” (July 2010).