Communion with the Dead

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Paulo overheard the news that Father was ill, very ill, likely dying, while he was cleaning the dinner dishes, and it penetrated him thoroughly, like the way a Christmas sunrise can, or a direct look from a pretty girl, so that even his deepest marrow registered it. Mrs. Stevedoré brought the news, and a blackberry cobbler. She told of Father's condition while Paulo's mother arranged the ground coffee in the pot and increased the fire in the stove. The smell of virgin coffee and Father's illness became paired then in Paulo's recollection forever, he knew . . . the baying of a dog and All Saints preparations, numbing cold in the toes and fingers and. . . . 

Paulo absently finished the dishes then went out and poured the dirty water on the garden plot in the yard. His mother was convinced the washwater would help to fertilize the earth; Paulo doubted that such meager bits would do anything, except attract cats to their yard to noisily fight and make love in the dead of night. He often lay sleeplessly in bed listening to their feral communion. 

Paulo put away the dishes--almost dropping a saucer, his young fingers clumsy still--and smelled the coffee beginning to brew. He asked, told his mother he was going out. She surfaced from her conversation with Mrs. Stevedoré long enough to tell Paulo not to be too late, her usual farewell. Mrs. Stevedoré and Paulo's mother had been neighbors for many years but only friends since his mother joined Mrs. Stevedoré in widowhood. Their dead husbands connected the two women indissolubly. Paulo did not understand the kinship but was glad his mother had someone to talk to besides him. 

The village streets were quiet, save for the wind in the trees and leaves raining down, like paper bats that have lost their gift of flight. Paulo had not taken a jacket, so as he walked he buttoned his sweater as far as he could and hoped it would be enough. The moon was low and only a quarter waxed--"Uncle Felix," the elders called such a moon. "Take your sweetheart for a stroll with Uncle Felix," the saying went, "and she will love you like no other." 

A paper bat struck Paulo on the shoulder before wheeling to the ground. It stirred Paulo's senses and he realized he was near Angela's house. Paulo stopped in Uncle Felix's weak glow and studied Angela's. There was only light from a back room, the kitchen presumably, and it spilled lemony onto the side yard and hedge. The rest of the girl's house, upstairs too, was dark. For a moment Paulo thought he heard people talking inside, then realized it was the record-player, Mascagni, Le Maschere--  

/ they are lying beneath the hedge on their stomachs the opera is playing the handkerchief that lies on the ground between them is covered in the red berries that grow on the hedge her eyes are as brown as her legs that show beneath the plain white skirt raised unusually high when they scooted under the poking branches feet first he is in disbelief at what she has just told him that her parents have arranged a marriage to a boy whose father owns an olive business the boy's name is the same as his is that not funny the olive business will be the son's one day he is in disbelief still he cannot help but sneak looks at the back of her thighs he puts a berry in his mouth and lets it lie beneath his tongue before she makes him spit the inedible berry to the ground even without chewing it has a bitter taste / 

There was someone coming along the street. Paulo did not want to meet anyone so he backed into Mr. DeAngelo's dark yard and stood next to the black trunk of Mr. DeAngelo's apple tree (the fruit was almost lemon-yellow, and delicious, he recalled). Paulo felt the knots of rotten apples through the soles of his shoes. None of Uncle Felix's light reached him; he was completely invisible, as corporeal as a shadow. Paulo could tell by the walker's gait it was Angela, her stride long and light, still girlish. He used to worry that Angela's accident--the whole village called it her "accident"--would alter her girlishness but these many months had passed and Angela's movement was the same as before. Just nothing else. 

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