Excerpt of Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos
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The phrase friable earth voices itself in Vineys mind suddenly.
Where has she heard that expression? What does it mean? She goes
to look it up.
In 1966, Viney replaced the family Bible on the lectern with a massive
Websters International Collegiate Dictionary. She makes a point of
learning a new word every day and then using it in conversation. Staying
mentally agile is crucial as one ages. There is no reason why a person
should stop learning. Yesterdays word was sangfroid.
And then she remembers: One of her granddaughtersthe one whos
having so much trouble getting pregnanttold her recently that she was
diagnosed as having a friable uterus. Viney was a registered nurse for
over thirty years and maintains a keen interest in the medical field;
nevertheless this expression was unfamiliar. She didnt have the heart
to ask what it meant at the time, and a good thing, too:
Friable, she reads. Brittle. Readily crumbled. Pulverable.
How in the world does a uterus crumble?
Viney looks up. Llewellyn has backed out of the garage and is loading
his clubs into the trunk of his Marquis. Hes going then, without a
word. His expressionnormally so benign and handsomebears a sour
residue, the result, she supposes, of their recent spat.
The sex in the beginning was very good, probably because it felt illicit,
even though their adultery was completely sanctionedmore than
that, encouragedby Llewellyns wife, Hope.
Viney and Welly still have sex, at least once a month, after lunch.
Welly is an improviser, a person who bends, goes with the flow. They
have their routines, of course, but overall their life together has been one
of freedom, quiet adventure, and discoveryboth in and out of the bedroom.
Viney has kept them on a semivegetarian lacto-ovo diet since
1980relying heavily on Fresh Vegetable and Fruit Juices: Whats Missing
from Your Body? and The Vegetarian Guide to Diet and Salad by N. W.
Walker. She credits this with their physical health, mental acuity, and active
love life. Viney pictures the two of them engaged in stimulating conversation
over glasses of beet juice until they are well into their hundreds.
Dr. Walker himself lived to be 110. No one has yet found any reason
whatsoever why the human body should die.
All those years ago, when she charged through the front door of
McKeevers Funeral Home, and, ignoring staff urgings to be reasonable
(State law my ass! she proclaimed), stormed down to the basement prep
room to see Waldos pre-embalmed remainssuch a strange word in
that context, remains, because at that point Wally was still all there
she noticed a protrusion, something like a tent pole, midway down the
Whats that? shed asked, even though she had a pretty good idea.
She was thinking about the fact that it was her fifteenth wedding anniversary,
her husband was dead, and never once had they had sex with
her on top.
Malwyn McKeever repositioned himself so that she no longer had a
view of Waldos nether regions. Its a reflex, Mal said, clearly embarrassed
by the question. A common postmortem reflex.
That figures, Viney muttered. She had stopped crying and was
starting to feel the undertow of a fierce, angry grief. She was young and
foolish enough back then to believe that the worst thing in the world
had just happened to her. She didnt know anything.
She was curious to hear about how embalmers deal with postmortem
stiffiesimagining this almost made her laughbut Mals face was
as pink as a medium-rare steak. So she picked out a coffin, signed the
papers, and (vowing to never put herself through the experience of laying
eyes on him again) bid farewell to her beautiful dead husbands erect
Excerpted from Sing Them Home
by Stephanie Kallos. Copyright © 2009 by Stephanie Kallos.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Press. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.