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Today's Story by Michael Harris Cohen

I sketched a kind of materialist sermon on the nature of death, the recycling of matter, the 2nd law (or was it the 3rd?) of thermodynamics and so forth.


Our special cloud of forgetfulness descended again. At the cemetery I realized I hadn’t the foggiest notion of where X’s grave lay.

My wife, perhaps sensing my mystification, squeezed my arm in that ambiguous way of hers. Her bicep clutch expressed a hundred things: Love; fear; frustration; a childhood reminiscence of graveyards (maybe a six-pack-date with a boyfriend she’d never mentioned) and a myriad of other things I could never read for between us exists a trench, grown wider with the years, even as we attempt to span it with meager conduit building words such as “How was work?” or, in a moment of inspired sensitivity, “Are you okay?”

I took stock: the symmetrical stones in even rows, the sagging flowers, the bald spots in the lawn. And X? Instead of recollecting him, he who had seemed so important a figure to us all, the details of this place swept my head, a tidal flow, leaving only an uncomplicated sentence: “This is it.”

Our children played somber as they paced from stone to stone, but I knew the potential in their limbs and their efforts in containing it. They were crafty and sensitive creatures. They possessed a certain awe of silence but I was certain some inner revolutionary prodded them toward a feral act (the effacement of a grave with a well-concealed crayon, a game of hide and seek, a bogus emission of flatulence). Had there been only one child I’m positive something nasty would have come to pass in this aimless lull but, providentially, there were two: boy and girl, brother and sister, hands locked together in a rare moment of truce. They kept each other suspended like a high-tension bridge spanning the abyss of waywardness.

The sun yawned downward. No other visitors lingered among the stones. What would I say to them, my family, knowing today we would not visit X’s grave? We’d failed again, would always fail to find it. I concentrated. I sketched a kind of materialist sermon on the nature of death, the recycling of matter, the 2nd law (or was it the 3rd?) of thermodynamics and so forth: “X might be existent in that tree there or in a small bush by the road…”

But whom would I be speaking for? The children? It was simply the same lesson I’d been imparting since the moment of their birth: Life disappoints. Of course the children had already grasped the lesson utterly. Their sweaty little hands assumed the same tranquil positions each time they heard it. Every time they absorbed the Treatise of Disappointment stoically, never betraying an iota of emotion on their flabby little faces.

I cleared my throat. I spent an eternity with insensate fingers scrabbling over my tie.

The silence of the place was almost enough, the drawn out shadows pushing us out, back to the lot, to our car, to home, to the rest of our lives, to our own eventual deaths, almost enough, but I felt, still, some things needed to be said, something, to sum up.

I cleared my throat.


Michael Harris Cohen is  a graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing program at Brown University. His stories and essays have appeared in Our Stories, The Virgin Fictionanthology, The Land Grant College Review, The Brooklyn Rail,and Lurch, among others.  He received a Fulbright grant for translating Bulgarian folk and fairytales.


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