You didnt work right through lunch again, did you now? Lord, look at you, all skin and bones. Go on upstairs, Alma has some of that leftover turkey pot pie with that homemade cranberry sauce of hers.
Linus, the M.E. called.
He drops his chin and mumbles a brief prayer before he speaks. You call if you need me.
I will, I say, though I never do. I turn to go, but the child. Theres a girl out in the mourning room. Trecie?
Trecie? His face twists and he appears confused.
Yes, about seven or eight, with long dark hair, I say. She said you let her play here.
Linuss pen, a good one, is caught in midair and then twitches in his hand. It spasms there until he drops it and begins to massage the knotted joints of his fingers, his eyes never wavering. I wonder if he thinks Ive lost my mind, but then he speaks. She was paying me a visit just a little bit ago. She still here?
I nod. So its all right, then?
Oh, yes, Linus says, his jowls lifting into a smile.
I close Linuss door and hear his chair creak as the latch tumbles into place. He begins to hum and then his bass drifts into song. Softly, for only his ears, but for mine, too, Was blind, but now I see . . .
For all the years Ive known Linus, theres still much about him that confounds me. In our work, were privy to the underside of humanity: the bludgeoned grandfathers with generous wills; the strangled girlfriends with dead babies nestled deep within their wombs; the many shaken infants. Yet again and again he seeks the humanity in people, though again and again he must be disappointed.
I head back to the room where Trecie is standing next to a silver candy dish brimming with peppermints in cellophane twists. I dont expect either the candies or the dish to be there when I return.
You may have one, I say. Just one.
Trecie doesnt respond, just shakes her head. She walks toward the empty room where the bodies are waked, where the old woman will soon lie. Her funeral bouquets have already been arranged, and the upholstered folding chairs line the walls, set to receive her mourners. Trecie nears the space reserved for caskets, then abruptly plops down, cross-legged, her fingers encircling her naked ankles, her tiny feet hidden inside once white sneakers with faded cartoon characters.
I like your hair. It looks like mine, she says.
My hand goes to my head, grasping the hair pulled back in its elastic. Its a thicket of wiry brown coils, woolly, my grandmother called it, not at all something to be admired. It hangs nearly to my waist, since salons arent a part of my routine. I havent worn it loose since the day of my senior-year portrait.
Trecie gathers her own between her hands to form a ponytail. How do I look?
She drops her hair and cups her chin in her hand as she regards me. When you were a girl, did you wear your hair down?
Theres a sore just above the nape of my neck, raw and sweet, obscured by the elastic. Without intending to, my finger goes there.
Whenever it was long enough, I wore it up, I say. She couldnt know; its simply an innocent question. She continues to watch me, unblinking. I have to leave now, so you should probably go.
She hesitates, unraveling her legs, and then lifts herself, slowly. Trecie wanders back toward the foyer, her fingers skimming the funeral bouquets along the way; the flowers wave as she retreats. Then she stops. Pointing to the room weve just left, Trecie says, Where do they go when youre done with them?
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