The Dead Are Always with Us


Will's bedtime routine was the same that night. As usual, he first shared his day's most interesting online discovery on his i-Pad. Next, son and father read together from Will's current library book until he wanted to read alone. Then Daniel kissed him goodnight. Daniel could now see in the boy's blue eyes both his mother's and her doppelganger's at the New Haven funeral parlor decades earlier, as if they were reflected along a nearly infinite corridor of facing-mirror images, one of the artist's signature trompe d'oeil effects.

After Faye had also been settled by Jill, she asked, "Did Will say anything?"

"Not a word about the word. He just wanted me to see rotary telephones on his i-Pad. Most interesting fact, in Will's opinion, is that they only had one ring tone. 'You couldn't even choose your own!'"

"Why on earth do you suppose your mother kept that letter all these years?"

Daniel awaited his wife's answer ready. "Why?"

"We keep our scars. They're the hieroglyphs Life writes on us. That letter depicted someone wrestling his own psyche. As I guess your mother does. I never understand her paintings."

"If Reilly's child -- older than we are -- or the mother ever appeared in the ER, would I recognize those blue eyes –"

"Will learned, you poke your nose where it doesn't belong, it's likely to get punched. My parents didn't keep anything. They divorced and he moved cross country. My mother died leaving only her regrets. Right now, I'm too tired to think. I have a hyperparathyroidectomy in the morning."

They were in bed. As usual, Jill fell asleep instantly. It was dark and quiet except for the humidifier and occasional creaking of the old frame house. They would soon move to the solid Connecticut brownstone they had found that day. Daniel dreaded sleep's vertigo. As if viewing a documentary film narrated by his mother's apology, he saw Reilly's penciled letter exposed like his body on a tiled stairwell, then in a coffin. The camera rose to an aerial longshot presenting New Haven in time lapse. The voiceover lowered to masculine, "The past is a ghetto, the future a gated community." Daniel dreamed he resisted sleep. He argued, "No, the past is a cadaver, the future a coroner." Then he saw a sharply-focused frame of his mother as a college girl changing with the time lapse into a blurred septuagenarian paint-daubed at her easel. Will stood beside her, dialing an ancient phone, and Daniel fell into the relief of solving a difficult equation. He saw it clearly: Life was the crime; Q.E.D.: the sentence awaiting them always had the same end.



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