My dad is standing in front of a line of life-sized, clay copies of my dear, dead mother. They are in the garage, standing at something like parade rest, tipped back on their ankles, stiff bodies against the wall. I’m hidden outside the door, and he’s choosing which one he is going to use next.
The family car has been parked on the lawn ever since he turned the garage into his private mother workshop.
My mom, she’ll be back soon—until one of us manages to upset her. This means she will once again be walking around from room to room in our house, silent except for the thud of her heavy, flat-footed steps. And she’ll sit with us at dinner, even though she won’t eat. And she’ll be in the kitchen, staring out the window when I get off work. She’ll be sitting on the couch in the morning when we get up, and she’ll leave a little clay dust on the dark fabric cushion when she rises—a little imprint on the hand rest, a little silhouette behind her head. My dead mother back among the living—though certainly not living herself. Not living at all. Just close enough—apparently—for Dad.
He has picked out a comfortable pair of sweatpants, a collared shirt, and a blue cardigan for her to wear. The sweater has an ivory cameo above the breast. All the mothers are propped up against the wall, and he’s walking up and down the row, trying to choose.
I’ve never seen this part. I don’t know how he does it. I don’t know how he chooses, and I don’t how he animates these lumps of mud—stuffed beneath a layer of clay as they are with things, with objects that belonged to the living, real her—and makes them move around and act as a stand-in, because I’ve never wanted to see it. I’ve watched the mothers being built, but I’ve never seen them come to life.
Or come to whatever it is they come to. Not life, though. Certainly not life.
Sorry. I misspoke.
I’d made a promise to myself that I would try hard to no longer yell at Dad. So, instead, I had decided to yell at our lawyer. We were in his office for our annual visit, my dad and me, in two brown leather chairs; the lawyer was turned to the window, looking out through the slats of the open shades. “There has to be something you can do,” I said. “What good was the living will if Dad can just breach it like this? She said do not resuscitate. Her instructions were very clear.” Dad creaked against the leather of his chair.
“I don’t know if you can really say that your,” and our lawyer bit his nail and hesitated before he said, “mother has been resuscitated.”
“She breathes. Or, does something like breathing. Her chest seems to expand and contract. Isn’t that resuscitated? And she’s here. She’s out there. Look at her,” I said, pointing out the window at our car. The model I was calling Saxophone Lung—there are four models, and I have named each by the stuff Dad uses to fill their torsos—was sitting in the back seat, still belted in and moving very little. Our Pekapoo, Glory, was in the front passenger seat, her nose stuck out the cracked window, and she was straining up to catch scents on the air. She was clamoring, her paws slipping against the glass, as she struggled to force her muzzle farther out. “Just look at that. Look at Glory even trying to ignore her. You have to tell him to stop.”
“We go through this every year. I really don’t think—” said our lawyer.
“Dad, come on,” I said. “She wouldn’t have wanted this.” I stared at my father. He was wearing his old brown suit, and a deep burgundy tie. The suit he bought and wore to his retirement party a few years back. He always dressed up when I forced him to come with me to see the lawyer. He was stooped over in his chair and he was staring at his hands, which were draped between the knees of brown corduroys. He wouldn’t look at me, and wouldn’t look up. He smoothed the wales of his pant legs with the butt of his hand, pushing it forward like a snow shovel.
The lawyer stared out the window, ripped a bit of nail from his thumb, took it from his mouth, and pocketed it. “He won’t listen to me,” I told him. “You have to do it. She trusted you to do exactly what she wanted after she died. And she wanted to remain dead. No heroic measures. No feeding tubes or machines. Dead. Dead dead.”
“I don’t think I can do anything. I don’t think this is even my area.” Our lawyer pointed out the window, turned his back to us and away from his desk. We heard a quiet sniffle.
“Look at this. You’re making the lawyer cry, Dad,” I said.
“Hay fever,” our lawyer swore, turning back and grabbing a tissue from a box on his desk. “It’s just hay fever.”
Matthew Simmons is the interviews editor at Hobart (hobartpulp.com). His work has appeared, most recently, inSleepingfish, Juked, and The Believer. He is a graduate of the Warren Wilson College MFA program, and lives in Seattle with his cat, Emmett. He is also The Man Who Couldn’t Blog (themanwhocouldntblog.blogspot.com).