Issue 126, Spring 1993
The funeral of Anne’s son Harry had not gone smoothly. Other burials were taking place at the same hour, including that of a popular singer several hundred yards away whose mourner fans carried on loudly under a lurid, striped tent. Still more fans pressed against the cemetery’s wrought iron gates screaming and eating potato chips. Anne had been distracted. She gazed at the other service with disbelief, thinking of the singer’s songs that she had heard now and then on the radio.
Her own group, Harry’s friends, was subdued. They were pale, young, and all wore sunglasses. Most of them were classmates from the prep school he had graduated from two years before, and all were addicts, or former addicts, of some sort. Anne couldn’t tell the difference between those who were recovering and those who were still hard at it. She was sure there was a difference, of course, and it only appeared there wasn’t. They all had a manner. There were about twenty of them, boys and girls, strikingly alike in black. Later she took them all out to a restaurant. “Death ... by none art thou understood ... ” one boy kept saying. “Henry Vaughan.”
They were all bright enough, Anne supposed. After awhile he stopped saying it. They had calamari, duck, champagne, everything. They were on the second floor of the restaurant and had the place to themselves. They stayed for hours. By the time they left, one girl was saying earnestly, “You know, a word I like is interplanetary.”
Then she brought them back to the house, although she locked Harry’s rooms. Young people were sentimentalists, consumers. She didn’t want them carrying off Harry’s things, his ties and tapes, his jackets, anything at all. They sat in the kitchen. They were beginning to act a little peculiar, Anne thought. They didn’t talk about Harry much, though one of them remembered a time when Harry was driving, and he stopped at all the green lights and proceeded on the red. They all acted as though they’d been there. This seemed a fine thing to remember about Harry. Then someone, a floppy haired boy who looked frightened, remembered something else, but it turned out that this was associated with a boy named Pete who was not even present.
About one o’clock in the morning, Anne said that when she and Harry were in Africa, during the very first evening at the hotel in Victoria Falls, Harry claimed that he had seen a pangolin, a peculiar anteater like animal. He described it, and that’s what it was clearly, but a very rare thing, an impossible thing for him to have seen really, no one in the group they would be traveling with believed him. He had been wandering around the hotel grounds by himself, there were no witnesses to it. The group went on to discuss the Falls. Everyone could verify the impression the Falls made. So many hundreds of millions of gallons went over each minute or something, there was a drop of four hundred feet. Even so, everyone was quite aware it wasn’t like that, no one was satisfied with that. The sound of the Falls was like silence, total amplified silence, the sight of it exclusionary. And all that could be done was to look at it, this astonishing thing, the Falls, then eventually stop looking, and go on to something else.
The next day Harry had distinguished himself further by exclaiming over a marabou stork, and someone in the group told him that marabous were gruesome things, scavengers,“morbidity distilled” in the words of this fussy little person, and certainly nothing to get excited about when there were hundreds of beautiful and strange creatures in Africa that one could enjoy and identify and point out to the others. Imagine, Anne said, going to an immense new continent for the first time and being corrected as to one’s feelings, one’s perceptions in such a strange place. . . . And it was not as though everything was known. Take the wild dogs for example. Attitudes had changed utterly about the worth of wild dogs. . . .