snd Other Stories
Originally published in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1974, this new second edition of Claire Clemons Cowan's first book adds two more stories. Reporting on a materialistic, uncompromising society, Cowan observes and faithfully describes a wide range of subjects and conditions, often funny and ironic, at times horri- fying. Cowan gathered her information first hand, distilling her observations into these delicious examples of her versatile and vibrant talent.
Excerpt . . .
and thou shalt become a flower inscribed with my regretOvid, 'The Metamorphosis'
David died in March. I don't know exactly why he died, except he had been born in a drafty farmhouse in 1936 in the worst winter my father said he could remember. And times were bad. So bad your Great Uncle Charley had gotten married on the radio, because, if he did, an advertising company promised him free rent for a year."
The man smiled uncomfortably. He had not planned to speak to the child standing beside him. He never had talked to his children, didn't know how or had no use. They were the sort of family that shared a lifemeals taken in silence, scoldings about muddy shoes on farmhouse floors, and an occasional tenderness from the woman, burdened with their chores, whose floor they forgotbut they didn't talk about it.
The smile faded.
What had the child asked? he wondered. Something about this business. Something about David.
Yes? Well, honey, . . . you see, David got sick . . . .
The child looked up inquisitively.
And, . . . the doctor . . . well, he didn't know enough about it. And then there was a fever. It got too high . . . .
The man stopped. The unanswerable question. Why? Why was there such a stirring, such a search, after all these years, for a reason? He changed the subject. No. He tried a different answer, one that circled around the question.
As he spoke, the man slowly slipped back onto a purification of memory, into a fusion of boyman, into someone he had beenconcentrated and distilledwith the sudden insights of a man looking back at his own past, though he remained undivorced from it.
Your grandmother talks a lot about it now, though she didn't used to. I don't know what's come over her lately. She shows those pictures of David to anybody who comes around . . . .
Though I never saw your Granny grieve then, I figure . . . now, that she was attached to him. I was too. The older children, your Aunt Thelma, Uncle Jackmy big brothers and sistersthey weren't bothered as much. They went to school. At the visitation, they wrestled on the staircase just outside where David was laid for the viewing in his little box covered with smooth grey satin. But, I sat inside with Momma and Lottie Canfield, them in the chairs, me sitting on the bed leaning on the cool, brass rail.
I guess I missed him more than the others did because my brother Bob picked on me a lot, being ten years older. And the girls had each other. And . . . because I had . . . longed for him before he came. I had had secret talks with him in my daydreams from the time Momma told me of his coming. I told him we'd have great times napping in the barn when the house was hot and still in summer. We'd keep together, happy and not caring when the big kids ran ahead just to tease us in the fall when school was new. And we'd keep warm and cozy in Aunt Myrtle's old bed at the top of the stairs at bedtime in the deep of winter.
Now that I'm a man, I can imagine how nice it would have been, me teaching him his colors at three and his phonics at six; drilling him later on his multiplication tables, the capitals of countries, and the presidents of the United States, hoping together for the bike that would never come at Christmas and dreaming of sharing the ride: him on the handlebars, me doing the pumping; then feeding and milking and baling; and taking the strap and the curses from Daddy, who was never . . . never satisfied. Yes, I guess I longed for that brother . . . I longed for him all my life.
Most of the neighbors who I remember attending David's funeral are dead now, or nearly. Ida Graiseley's bedfast. I remember her fondling David's head when I sat with Lottie. Ida's husband, John, who came to work for Ida's daddy and who ended up in Ida's bed two hundred acres to the richer, passed away years ago after being crippled and bitter from a tractor rolling over him after the war. Your great-grandmother Denny, red-haired and frail, succumbed to a chronic cough long before you were born. My Uncle Grayn from diabetes. My Aunt Ann from heart disease. My Mom and Dad are still alive, of course, but . . . old. Dad'll be eighty-four come December. I guess, the cemetery on Stephen Hill will claim them all, like it did our David.
It was sunny in the morning the day we buried him. That's when Uncle Charley took the pictures of Momma out in front of the house. The ones she used to keep hidden in her closet. Though it was freezing, they had stood there at the corner, the old oak breaking the wind. And Momma had folded down the blanket to show David's face.
I'm sometimes haunted by the memory of my mother, cradling him, leaning forward, eyes not red but glistening.
My memories of the service are hazy. But I know Walter Everman closed the coffin. It began to rain. And Dad and Bob had to hitch up the team to pull the eight or ten cars out that were mired in the lane.
Before we left to the cemetery, Wilma Allan, who three days earlier had stood at the sink, doing the diapers for Momma on an old scrub board and worrying at David's fever, had to excuse herself from the parlor and go to the kitchen to blow her nose . . . so that she wouldn't upset Momma, I guess. I remember watching her and thinking she was the prettiest girl in the valley even with red-rimmed eyes.
`How old are you, Wilma?' I had asked.
That made her laugh a little, and wiping her eyes, she said, `Twenty-five and much too old for you!'
You know, Wilma is teaching today in Beaver Valley, and she's still just as pretty as ever, only in a motherly way.
I guess Aunt Olive brought the only flowers: a potted plant done up in brown paper and lavender ribbons. You'll remember I said it was March, the snow not gone, and the people terribly poor. She told Momma the funeral parlor in town had sent them . . . on account of Dad had bought the casket there. Then Momma placed them on the dresser beside the chair that held it, so that he could see them, too, she'd said. After that Lottie left, to get a glass of water in the kitchen. But when she came back, she hugged me a little too tight and a little too long to make me like it. I didn't understand that . . . then.
Momma kept the plant in her bedroom on the dresser 'til the end of April. Then she took it to this flower bed just below the front of the house. She planted it in front of the hollyhocks and the irises and beside the bleeding hearts.
`When it blooms, Jimmy,' she said to me, `Let's hope it's rose in hue.'
Then pressing down the soil with her fingers, the tears running down her face, she smiled at me.
`There, she said gently, . . . there's David's dahlia.'
The man paused, looked down at the ground, at the plant they were sheltering, at the child beside him.
She's too young to understand, he thought.
He shifted his weight a bit.
Daddy, the child said, I'm cold..
by Claire Clemons Cowan