“Why’s it matter? Why’s it matter?” Shelda—she calls herself Shelda now that enough years have passed — is yelling and she’s in the living room and she knows better than to yell in the living room, but she’s yelling and she’s yelling, and repeating, “Why’s it matter?” but it’s as much a yell as it is a point-of-fact that she knows (that we all know) can’t be taken as fact if it ends in a period, so she makes it look like a question—it’s that same loud spoken yell the desperate do at the last minute, or no , it’s that sudden fact that dresses for the occasion, always in season, or is the—
“Shut up, Curtis.” From Shelda.
“I’m not talking to you.” From Curtis.
“Goddamn, he shit on the floor. He shit on the rug. Our father shit on the rug in the goddamn living room.” This is Denise talking.
And he had.
And that’s how we knew he was dying. But didn’t we already know, really? And Shelda, looking at Marty—
“Shut up, Curtis!”
Shelda said that, that second time with such a weight on the name that it felt like a stranger was in the house, and from then on I knew I loved her but I didn’t like her and that it was probably mutual, a third stepmother, because by this time, the Ferris wheel that often brought my father round on his prodigal cock was rusted, a dime store dick (wasn’t that the joke before, wasn’t that the laugh at the dinner table that one time last year or a hundred years ago?) But whatever, it taught me, or maybe even us and not just me, to put faith in shapes, in circles particularly because circles were whole and complete and circles were—
“Shut up Curtis…” This time I said it to myself, in that same strange was as Shelda.
(And maybe that’s the issue now. What name to call myself, or, or was I supposed to borrow, to give myself permission to stand, to speak or not speak on the subject of this thin stretching out of death he’d been on about for months, in a house I used to know as my own, in order to stare at a man I knew as the father who had taken a shit on a rug in a living room.
Orphans don’t get to keep their names, is that it?, not on occasions like this? They’re expected to come up with new ones).
So, I started laughing, at first, a little, and then at second, a lot.
It was inappropriate but sometimes that’s what a Thursday is, but you shut the fuck up now, Shelda says again—Shelda who had been asleep on the other couch, I should point out—while we’d gone through all possible toilet papers: Charmin, Bounty from the kitchen and that was when he still used the bathroom which was a yesterday, which was a Wednesday when the world was still all right, but the living room was much worse, much less contained, for a sick man’s shit, and Oh, god, we used up the Kleenex, the Gain dryer sheets, we did dirty pillow cases, clean pillow cases, towels, t-shirts, socks. The washing machine worked, the dryer didn’t, twice. Then, I thought you would and you thought Denise did and she thought Marty should and the man we called our father still took a shit in the floor when we were doing whatever it was we were doing (Marty said, “Cards, we were playing cards in the kitchen.”) and died, in front of us but mostly in front of Shelda, the stepmother, who woke up screaming, “And why’s it matter? So he shit, shat. Even Queen Elizabeth shits,” Shelda said.
And we said, like family for the first time, in ages, together, as we put him back on the couch and wondered who would call for the ambulance, “Shut up, Shelda,” and “He’s dead, Shelda,” and that made her louder. Shelda said, “The up and down, that’s what matters, that’s what your Daddy says, said, always did, there’s life and its ups and its downs,” said Shelda because she didn’t shut up when we said, “Shut up Shelda.” She didn’t do it when just one of us told her to, either, and she wasn’t about to shut up now, she said, just because we all said it this time at the same time. And she got louder. And she didn’t shut up.
“The up and down, is what matters,” Shelda said again and again, “The up and down,” Shelda said for, I like to think, hours, “is all that matters.” Hours and hours she said it, and we all stood around the rug, for hours and hours, and stared at her, and at the little threads of spit between her lips, that stretched and stretched—how they stretched lip to lip—but they never did tear away from the skin, until it was Curtis who threw up and said, while he was throwing up, “Oh god, I’m so sorry.” And when he’d finished, “I threw up on the rug…I’m sorry.” Like that was worse than the shit.
But then, Shelda said, “No. You threw up on my rug.”
And nobody said one word after that.