Subtitled The morgue, part 2. A slice of memoir.
And so it was that the house for the dead became a house for the living. If there were any ghosts of soldiers or prisoners lingering in it for over twenty years, perhaps a three-month-old baby’s cries and the acrid odor of diapers drove them on.
Even I wouldn’t be there long. The shadow of death falls like a blanket; the living must keep moving out from under it.
My memories of the house are fragmented, all in black and white. A living room with plain white walls. A window with pale curtains likely made by my mother. The black slats of my crib. Years later my mother said there were little black footprints on the wall from where I pressed my feet through the crib slats. She didn’t have the heart to wash them off. My grandmother wanted to know why I’d been put to bed with dirty feet.
I had a white blanket with satin trim. I sucked my thumb and rubbed the satin against my nose with my forefinger; eventually the satin pulled away from the blanket. I’d rub it between my left thumb and fingers while sucking my right thumb. A soothing rustle, rustle, rustle. I called it my Silky String.
That is almost all I can remember for myself of the old house that was once an Army hospital morgue.
Pa-Pa was the reason we came to live here; he was the reason we had to go. He owned the house. When he died suddenly from a heart attack, his children took over his property. We were the stepfamily. Grannie had to leave the big house next door. My father, mother, baby sister and I had to leave this first house of my remembering. It was March. I was not yet three, when the long shadow sent us searching for a place to be.
When death calls, the living must answer.
All these years later, I watch the news. Tanks, warships, airstrikes, destruction. A hundred and nine empty baby strollers placed in Lviv’s central square today, commemorating the children killed in the invasion of Ukraine.
I think of morgues.
And of the mothers. And little footprints left behind.
And people being driven from home. That is what wars do. That is what death does.
My son, in his mid-twenties, comes in as night falls. Dressed in suit and tie. I know he’s tired.
“Long day, wasn’t it?” I ask.
“It was,” he answers. “Maybe I won’t get called out tonight.”
For a minute I see him at age five, pulling out the church directory every time a member passed away. He’d grab a pen, cross out the person’s photo, and write the word Died.
Funny how these things come back to you. Memories are ghosts.
And life is circular; all things are connected.
My boy eats supper, collects Dennis the dachshund, goes upstairs to rest and, I hope, to sleep. Unless his phone should ring in the night. If it does, he’ll be back in suit and tie, leaving home to pick up someone. He’ll transport them to the house waiting to receive them, where he’ll begin the preparations for their burial or cremation. Got a death call, he’ll say, if his dad and I are still up. If not, he just goes quietly into the night, a mortuary emissary.
For when death calls, the living must answer.
Window in the living room of the house that was originally an Army hospital morgue.
I lived here from about age three months to almost three years.
with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.