The Dead Are Always with Us


Six year old Faye was at the table with their grandmother, cutting and pasting a colorful collage. Voices sang with the oboes and strings playing the mournful Dvorak's Requiem low on the speakers in the adjoining family room when Will entered the kitchen.

"You look a bit eau-de-nil green around the gills," Gran said.

"What's R-O-T-A-R-Y?" Will asked, locating his i-Pad.

She slapped her mouth with her palm, then said, "It's a kind of circle. In my painting, it's a landline telephone."

He Googled:

"Like that?" Will said.

"Yes, and they came in colors, and they hung on walls."

Will found

"When I was a teenager, there was even a Princess phone," Gran said.

"I found an aqua one," Will showed her. princess _telephone

Gran touched her heart. "When you'd put your finger into the last hole to 9/zero, and then let it go, you could hear the sound of going back the way Macbeth couldn't go. You can't imagine."

"I can do better," Will said. "Listen: com/watch? v=PNfnwdi EiV0."

"I wonder what the sound of your childhood will be."

Faye handed her a cut-out, gluestick, and directions about where to paste the soccer ball image on the green construction paper.

Will protested, "The President gave Gran a medal, and you're giving her orders."

Gran held up the collage. "Faye's doing fine. Her picture is almost fini. Did you find what you were looking for upstairs, Will?"

The boy turned to his sister."What rhymes with runt?"

"What's a runt?"

"A shrimp like you."

Faye kept cutting out pictures with the small plastic scissors. "Runt, blunt!"


"WalLAH! FEE-NEE!" Faye put down the scissors and slid down from the chair, flourishing her picture. "When will Mommy and Daddy get back from house hunting?" She chose magnets to center her work on the fridge and then crossed the wide room to a pile of children's library books.

"Soon, I hope. Voila, Will, help me clean up," Gran said. "Cunt is another word for vagina."          

Will looked down at the paper cuttings he began separating by color. "I read a letter I found in a file cabinet. I'm sorry."

"So am I. When I was your age, I found what looked like yellow M & M's in my mother's pocket book, and I ate them. I spat them out, but I threw up anyway."

Will sulked. "I don't like the music on your shuffle."

Gran put a bowl on the counter beside salad ingredients. "It's a disk player. The only shuffle I know is off to Buffalo."

Faye wandered over and broke lettuce into pieces. Will drained chickpeas in a colander. Gran sliced tomatoes and peppers. Then she went to the envelopes and fished out a red circle she placed on the counter beside a white coffee cup whose rim she had used as template. Will watched. Then Gran turned on the faucet. She picked up the red circle.

"How might I fill this with water?" she asked.

"It's a trick," Faye said, "like trumpet oil?"

"No, not trompe d'oeil this time."

"It won't hold water," Will snapped. "Who was Reilly? Who was Macbeth?"

Gran cupped his cheek. Will pulled away.

"They fell down wells."

"I hope they drowned."

In a small frying pan pancetta sauted. The kitchen filled with the scent of bacon. A February sun set.




L. Shapley Bassen

A native New Yorker now in Rhode Island, L. Shapley Bassen was the First Place winner in the 2015 Austin Chronicle Short Story Contest for "Portrait of a Giant Squid." She is s a poetry and fiction reviewer for The Rumpus, etc., as well as the Fiction Editor at She is a prizewinning, produced, published playwright, and a has published four novel/story collections, the latest being What Suits a Nudist (Clare Songbirds Publishing House, 2019). Her poetry and collected works are at L. Shapley recommends the Foundation for Prader-Willi Research.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, June 18, 2020 - 21:41