"Yes, of course, Susan. That's fine. And we can talk about the urn when you come back."
"Great. That'll be great. Perfect."
Susan and Ricky stood up, and I followed. They shook hands and I put my hand out to Rick and took two steps in his direction. He stepped toward me and put his left hand lightly on my shoulder for a moment and shook my hand. "Very good, Charlie. Just let me know whatever we can do."
"Thanks, Rick. I'm sorry, I can't really talk. I really don't know what to say"
"It's okay, Charlie. That's fine."
When we arrived back at the house, Susan went to the basement to get the clean laundry from the dryer. She said she'd washed Kate's underwear.
"Will you go and get her T-shirt and pajama pants?" she asked.
I went up to Kate's room. There were some flowers for pressing on her desk, chicory and a magenta-colored zinnia and an orange tiger lily, and some seashells she must have picked up at the beach. I opened the middle drawer of her bureau. I looked at her small, colorful, neatly folded T-shirts and my knees gave out. I almost dropped to the floor. I squeezed the edge of the drawer and closed my eyes for a moment and took a couple of deliberate, deep breaths and opened my eyes again and took a top and a bottom from each pile, without looking at them more than to confirm that neither had cartoon characters or some other inappropriate design on it. What could be inappropriate, though? I thought. What's appropriate? Who at the funeral parlor's going to undress and dress her? Rick? Some guy in a rubber smock and gloves? There might well be health codes or laws about what clothes people can be cremated in. Ricky might have been humoring us and he won't even put Kate's slippers on, just throw them out. Who, I thought, is going to trundle my daughter into the fire? Then my legs really did give out and I sat down on the rug in the middle of Kate's room. I sat with my legs under me and the clothes I'd chosen for her in my lap. My body shook and I could not hold myself up. I lay down on my side until Susan found me, fifteen minutes later.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"I can't do anything," I said.
"We need to, Charlie," she said. She came into the room and knelt next to me. She'd been crying. She combed her fingers through my hair. "We have to do all this stuff."
"I don't think I can, Sue. I want to, but I can't even get myself to move."
Susan's parents and her sisters were gigantic Finns from Minnesota. Sue herself was tall, but not as tall as her parents and siblings. Her dad was six foot five and her mom was five foot eleven. Both of her sisters were nearly six feet tall. Sue was the shortest in the family, at five nine ("Five nine and three-quarters, Charles," she'd remind me), and that was still two inches taller than me. Her family skied and biked and hiked together and looked people straight in the eye and were in intimidatingly good physical and moral health. They were always affectionate toward me but I was certain they were disappointed that their daughter had taken up with me. I felt like I must look puny and sound as if I did nothing but mumble to them. My deeply ingrained habit of proceeding by irony was lost on them, and when I was with them I deliberately had to make an effort to be straightforward. Luckily for me, Susan was just enough unlike them to want to keep a loving but firm distance. When we visited Minnesota or they came east, they mobbed her and tried to get her to go off on some alpine excursion or other. Or so it seemed. Her sisters, both of whom looked like Olympic athletes, would get on either side of her and take her by the elbows as if they were going to whisk her away to a ski lodge. "Sue," they'd say, "you look pale; you need to get some oxygen in your blood." Susan's father, a tree of a man, with a white mustache and a white halo of hair running from ear to ear and a perennially sunburned and freckled bald-topped head, used to look around at my stacks of books and maps and say, "The scholar. Charles Crosby, you need some exercise, too. You'll get water in your lungs." He'd give me a pat on the back with his huge hand that felt like being belted with a wooden oar.
Excerpted from Enon by Paul Harding. Copyright © 2013 by Paul Harding. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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