The Dead Are Always with Us


Ed found Fran at work on a new canvas in the attic. The one open skylight brought in non-toxic air, and a heater warmed the lofted space. Fran was sketching in another rotary dial portrait. Likely there would be a series of these huge faces in a future gallery exhibition.

She put down her brush and palette. "Did you eat?"

He knew every one of her voices. "Long day?"

"Faye created another masterpiece. And the kids found a house."

"Good news? Closer to New Haven?"

"Much shorter commute to the hospital. I'm relieved," Fran said. "And your Saturday?"

"Tomorrow, you'll read in the Times that your 'exquisite realism is fused with mythologized technology,' and here you are at it again. What happened?"

She picked up an old envelope from the paint-spattered table.

"I forgot to lock the studio, and Will got in. He looked as guilty as Adam with no Eve to blame. I am the Snake."

She took out the pages and handed them to him. He read quickly.

"This is from back in your classmate Liz-Mad-Men days? Reilly was the drug pusher who died in an acid flashback?"

"I had to show the letter to the kids."

"Well. The real reveal of The Sixth Sense movie is that we all see dead people all the time.    "Matthew 26:11, 'the dead, like the poor, are always with us.'"

"That's you, not Matthew."

"Did you eat?"

They went downstairs to the kitchen. She sat on a stool and Ed cooked. He waited.

"Junior year, Reilly was Liz's boyfriend's roommate. She apologized for arranging the blind date because she thought he was ugly. His father was a mailman in New Haven. I saw Reilly as Horatio Alger surrounded by halo, but I was so sleep-deprived, I barely saw him at all."

"Ah, this was the hitchhiking overnight from Poughkeepsie to New Haven?"

"Yes," Fran sighed. "Years after graduation, when I told my mother, her face turned Portland light oil grey. Reilly ran the concessions at the Yale Bowl. He put Liz and me on an I Love Lucy assembly line filling soda cups, and when we were immediate failures, he got us seats in the Bowl for the Yale-Princeton game. That night, I slept utterly unmolested in his bed, and he said he fell in love with me.

"You and Liz could've been expelled for breaking parietal rules staying in the dorm." He placed a plate with toast in front of her.

"A detail I omitted in the confession to my mother. She would've turned the song's whiter shade of pale. I saw Reilly only once again when he and Liz's Yalie showed up uninvited on a weekday night. All I did was argue with him, and he wanted me to win. Other things," Fran waved the hand not holding a fork. "That weekday night at a bar, he saved me from a stupid drinking game he saw upset me. But he rattled me more. A year later, when Liz brought me the Yale Daily News with the headline and his photo: DRUG RINGLEADER ARRESTED/ EXPELLED, I felt like Will today. Why are you smiling?" Fran said.

"Because I'm feeding you eggs."

"Liz told me Reilly was in the City and asked to see me. Her father paid our rent. She was having an affair with a married guy she couldn't tear herself away from until Fate hit him with a car."

"The Sixties. The word 'draft' still makes me shudder."

"I agreed to meet him by the right hand lion. At the last minute, I panicked and stood him up."

"That wasn't panic, it was your frontal lobe kicking in."

"He made me feel I was falling, though never for him."

"The right hand lion in front of the 42nd Street Library? Patience and Fortitude." Ed sat down beside her and ate. "And I enter the picture a year later."

Fran brightened. "In May at the art fair in Carl Shurz Park near the Mayor's mansion. Who was the Mayor then?"

"Lindsay? Far more memorable was your painting. It sold the moment I got it back to the gallery. How I wish I'd kept it."

"I wish I hadn't kept that letter. In an acid flashback in the Village, Reilly jumped from a sixth floor stairwell. I went to his funeral with Liz. We took the train up here to New Haven. Reilly's face and hair had been so many Irish shades of rust iron red.  In the open casket, he looked --  deflated -- blanched. I started to fall in a faint, but someone caught my elbow. I was the image of a girl there. Reilly had talked about her. How she disgusted him for making sounds during sex. She'd had his baby. Who must be forty-something now."

Ed rinsed their plates and filled the dishwasher. "How many Reillys died in Vietnam?" He poured coffee into a white cup, assuring her, "Decaf."

Fran took a long swallow. "Maybe he tried selling drugs again on a New Yorker's turf?"

"Maybe he was pushed?"

"Then, I romanticized the only way for a Reilly to compete with his rich classmates was to risk the criminality they depended upon and after graduation would practice with inherited socio-economic impunity. Now, maybe there just are punk genes?"

"You were never a punk." Ed sipped the coffee. "The transgressions of art break different laws. You're still bad."

"I'm sure the kids agree. How could I forget the attic door?  Am I losing my mind?"     

Ed teased, "Your mind's not lost, it's just gone before."

"Who said that?"


"Ah," Fran said, "you're both comedians."

"It's just two weeks till Daylight Savings."

"You always look on the bright side."

"What can you see in the dark?"




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