Apparitions (2)

August 10, 2009

There are some, I am told, who never see the dead, though I am as yet unable to believe it.* We go to sleep with them as with an ex-lover, for familiar, wordless embrace, and when we wake, understanding that another rendezvous will soon occur, the parting is unhurried, a gradual readjustment towards day. Myself, I admit that in my first hours in the city I was no more attuned to them than a mirror is to the blind, yet over the course of several weeks I came to absorb, like a mirror, without thought or comment, the weight of Mule’s departed. The saying goes, If not me, then somebody else. In my interactions with them in my work for Dr. Yu, I have emended the saying to something suited to my experiences: If not me, then surely me.

Once, I may have thought them a nuisance. Their habit of appearing at one’s feet like dogs is an embarrassing display of prayer and occurs during unexpected moments. To them this interaction is a form of affection, I think, while one experiences only the nauseating sensation of stepping into a void as one’s feet pass through their supplicating figures. Their insides, vacuumed of any organs by this stage, work towards an empty goal, but their hands are always pressing water to their mouths, their jaws working themselves as though water were to be chewed and swallowed. I’m not clear yet on why this nourishment is important to them, though yesterday, while watering Dr. Yu’s dying plants on his sill, I saw suddenly how water could be considered food even to those who are no longer alive. It is a nourishment that deserves some attention. My mother, a rice farmer from Sichuan Province, once told me a story about a neighbor who had pulled his family up the side of Golden-Haired Mountain, a region famous for its mudslides that ran in muddy yellow strands into the river; at the peak, he sat his family down and waited for the typhoon rounding out the southeast to reach them; when it did, after a period of three days during which it rained lightly and the children, not yet comprehending their fate, would suck water from grass blades, the ground on which they stood split open. The mother and the two sons clung to one side of the divide, to the melting mud, while the man who’d led them there watched helplessly from the other side, safe, alive, and alive for many more years afterward. Later, long after my own mother died of cancer and the fascination with the story of the mountain had left me, I found out more to the story: the father in the family was my father, and the new life he began as a diminished, unkempt figure in the wet yellow landscape of Mule City would be a lonely and self-lacerating one. My father had always been a silent figure to me; I saw then how his grimness had formed, necessarily, around a deep well of guilt. The morning he himself died, about a year after my mother, he was finally emptied of any trace of this guilt. We had a long discussion that morning—about his past, about how many of the last pills to feed him, about my future—and today I think about that conversation every time I help Dr. Yu’s patients, every time one comes limping toward me with its hands cupped to its mouth or pressed together in prayer. To deny the dead, I repeat daily, is to deny life itself.

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4 Responses to “Apparitions (2)”


  1. […] also this, this and […]

  2. lucas green Says:

    You won’t believe this, my water-bearing friend, but I wrote my latest before I read this.

    I think we’re being watched.

    Anyhow, this is really good, of an inviting density, so that one can’t quite catch all of it on the first reading.


  3. […] are some, I am told, who never see the dead, though I am as yet unable to believe it*. We thought you electric. You had come from ether. Some sort of changeling with those unblinking […]


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