Today's Story by Benjamin Wachs

Now they turn to me. Now they all turn to me.

Editing the Dead

Okay, this is how James died.  He and his wife Annie, who never really liked me but we tried to get along because we knew he couldn’t choose between us, were on a trip to Spain.  They take trips all the time, and I’m incredibly jealous.  James is an intellectual property lawyer, so they have money, and Annie doesn’t work, so they don’t have to coordinate schedules.  They just up and go when he gets vacation.  My girlfriend has a government job, and our vacation schedules never seem to overlap.  We’d go on trips if we could.

They’d just seen the Alhambra, which I hear is beautiful, and gone back to their hotel to clean up before going to some fancy Spanish restaurant.  James liked to say, “Do you like tapas?” the way I used to say, “Do you like sushi?” back when there was a good chance somebody would have never tried it.  But I stopped.  I knew when to stop.

So James gets into the shower first … if MY girlfriend and I had been on vacation, we would have showered together … and he starts to rinse himself off and (this is according to the official report) he slips, and starts to fall.  So he grabs on to the bar that holds the shower curtain up, but it’s a flimsy European job, not an American manufactured shower curtain bar, and so it comes right off the wall.

“Shit no!” he shouts, and his feet go up in the air, he falls back against the tub, and cracks his head open.  He was dead by the the time the Spanish paramedics arrived, and his last words were “Shit no!”

He really wouldn’t have liked that.  “Shit no!”  He was an eloquent guy.  A lawyer.  He liked to put little legal jokes in his court briefs, something that would make the judge laugh without coming across as inappropriate.  He liked to walk that line.  “Shit no”?  Are you kidding me?  He was the kind of guy who would have worked on his last words for months.  They still wouldn’t have been half as good as something I whipped up on the train ride home, but, he could have done a lot better than “Shit no!”  That wasn’t him at all.

Except, of course, that it was.  That was him.  Even if it wasn’t before, it is now.  We’ve all heard the story.

And now I have to write his eulogy.  And everybody will be there, and they’re all expecting something big from me.  I’ve known James since the second grade.  His family is expecting me to blow the roof off the church. At James’ wedding, his dad actually told me that he was disappointed in my impromptu toast, because he’d expected so much more from me.  “It was kind of … conventional,” he said.

Jack and Bill are going to be there, the popular kids who James threw me over for in high school, and even after making that up to me in college always kind of liked better.  He made Jack his fucking best man, not me.  I’ve been nursing that grudge for years.  James was always going to be my best man, always – and then I couldn’t do it, because it would have been like asking a favor of the kid who took your lunch money.  So I assumed that Masa would be my best man, except that then Masa asked Jack to do it, too.  So I was out in the cold;  if I’d gotten married, I don’t know what I would have done.  I’d been insulted by all the men I’d known that long and felt that close to.

But now that it’s time to write James eulogy?  Now they turn to me.  Now they all turn to me, expectantly, waiting, hoping — knowing that I’m the only guy who can write “Shit no!” out of their minds.  Give his dignity a chance to live again.  Bring James back, just that much.


Benjamin Wachs has written for Village Voice Media,, and NPR among other venues.  He archives his work at

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