Thursday, 25 March 2010

Sometimes That's All You Need

This week's sentence was taken from Willa Cather's 'Death Comes For The Archbishop'.

It was:
'Muerto,' he whispered.

Sometimes That's All You Need

Tharp blinked funny.
His right eye always seemed a little ahead of his left. Or perhaps it was the left eye that was slower than the right. Either way, people found it hard to talk to someone whose blink was out of sync. Before long they would become acutely aware of what their own eyelids were up to, which left them kind of distracted.
Tharp's sequential blink rolled across his face from left to right as you looked at him and your eyes couldn't help but follow the movement off to one side, somewhat in the manner of a typewriter carriage, with the result that you found yourself constantly flicking your gaze back to meet Tharp's from a point somewhere above his left shoulder.
People got the impression he was doing it deliberately, which of course he wasn't. Or at least you thought he wasn't until you next met him and then you couldn't help but have your suspicions.
Oblique by nature, Tharp liked to live in profile, more comfortable at counter than table. As long as you could only see one eye at a time he was pretty good company. Errant eyelids aside Tharp was as normal as you or me, although knowing you and me that might not be as reassuring as it sounds.

He had worked at the mortuary all his adult life. The dead don't care how you blink at them. Tharp felt that his charges respected him more than the living so he cared for them with skill and tenderness.
His one real friend among the living was his boss, Stent. A much younger man, Stent had married a beautiful but simple girl whose closest approach to academic achievement was to obsessively search for the image of Jesus in her food. Their life was idyllic yet Stent craved from Tharp the conversation he could not get at home. Tharp was older and wiser and loved to talk.
And so they got along.

Somewhat superstitious, Stent could never bring himself to mention death in his native tongue and substituted Latin or Spanish when the subject raised its grisly head, which at the mortuary was not an uncommon occurrence.
'Muerto,' he whispered.
Tharp blinked at the figure on the slab. Stent's diagnosis was, as usual, concise and accurate.
'So what was yesterday's count?' Tharp asked, as he did every day before they got down to work. Stent didn't look up.
'Three,' he said. 'One burned into the toast at breakfast, one in a pork chop and a particularly good one in her mashed potato.'
Maria posted photos of her edible saviours on a blog. She had quite a following.
The conversation strayed to last night's radio adaptation of Chekhov's 'Seagull,' meandered on into politics, books and the entertaining collection of tattoos adorning the elderly lady who no longer felt any sense of shame at the ministrations of these strange men on her naked body.
They worked on, happily. Tharp liked Stent. Stent liked Tharp.
Life was good.


Scout said...

Where to start—"as long as you could see only one eye at a time, he was pretty good company"—brilliant.

And "edible saviours" is just wonderful.

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

And I love those names!

dive said...

Thank you, Robyn; you are too kind. The 'edible saviours' line reminds me of Tom Waits' wonderful 'Chocolate Jesus', which I seem to remember posting a link to in the distant past to accompany a chocolate Jesus from the Barcelona chocolate museum.

I had been listening to Sister Rosetta Tharpe sing gospel on the train journey to the office and the word 'Tharp' kept popping up in my head as I worked.
When I got out my notebook on the train home, the phrase 'Tharp blinked funny' just came out and I rolled with it.
When it turned out he worked in the mortuary I decided his friend should have a nondescript medical name and 'Stent' came to mind.
The Stent and Maria relationship is based on a couple I used to know: Malcolm and Katrina; he was ugly but smart and she was beautiful but completely brain-dead. He used to invite me over to talk and talk while Katrina made tea and sat on the floor gaping at us.
Truth, as ever, is stranger than fiction.

be of courage ~ adonia prada said...

Love it! :)

dive said...

Thanks, Adonia!