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Being Dead, Jim Crace

Viking Press, September 2, 1999

I overheard her talking on the phone. She was explaining how her dear friend Jessica appreciated the fact that they did not talk about Jeff, Jessica’s husband of forty-two years whose fall from the roof was not one week removed.

A hundred years ago no one was silent or tongue-tied, as we are now when death was in the room. They had not yet muzzled grief or banished it from daily life. Death was cultivated, watered like a plant. There was no need for whispering or mime. Let the hubbub drive the devils out, they’d tell themselves. Let’s make a row. Let’s shout.

Pick a card, any card, the price of gas, last night’s storm, the big game, even a horoscope. But death? Don’t go there.

This was not death as it was advertised: a fine translation to a better place; a journey through the calm of afterlife into the realms of instinct and desire. The persons had not gone elsewhere, to blink and wake, to sleep and salivate in some place distinctly other than this world, in No-reality. They were, instead, insensible as stones, imprisoned by the viewless wind. This was the world as it had always been, plus something less which once was doctors of zoology.

So and so’s mother has terminal cancer. Isn’t it horrible? A shake of the head. Silence.

The swag flies found it easiest to feast on the blood in her hair to to settle in the swampy bruises on her neck and gums or at the damage to her hands. They fed in clinging multitudes. Loose knots of flies. They made black balls of wings and antennae amongst the clots, as weightless and as dry as tumbleweed.

A prayer: That the end be quick—painless—and that we not be the ones (the one) left behind. That we never, among other things, find ourselves adrift in post-death, vacant conversations with friends who may or may not mean well.

He and his wife were also waterlogged, two flooded chambers, two leather water-bags. Nothing in the world concerned them any more. They’d never crave a song or cigarette or making love again. At least their deaths had coincided. There can be nothing lonelier than to outlive someone you are used to loving. For them, the comedy of marriage would not translate into the tragedy of death. One of them would never have to become accustomed to the absence of the other, or need to fix themselves on someone new. No one would have to change their ways.

We are invisible now in the final days of August or somewhere off in September and there is a cold wind creeping in. The bugs and critters in the ground below feel it too.