Pastrami on Rye
by Carole Taub

He had died. Too soon; much to soon. He wasn't supposed to have gone, certainly not just yet. And it was permanent. Permanent! In ten years, perhaps then. Still she couldn't believe it; must be a bad dream, mustn't it? That's what she thought, or wished was actually so, not wanting to deal with this reality.

The man was to have been her father-in-law. Indeed, could have, should have, would have. If only he'd waited. But then it wasn't his intention to go. He didn't want such a heinous act to occur, and it was entirely out of his control: an accident? Not really. Nor was it intentional, but then how does one excuse an error? Is that what they call it? Turn your back for a second, listen to their instructions, 'go home, he'll be okay; come back in the morning, and he'll be ready. You can take him home tomorrow. Now get some sleep. Don't worry, he's in the best of care, the best of hands.' Yes, but, shouldn't I stay? she only thought, as she walked out of the sterile room.

And the next morning does come, as promised, and all prepared to bring him home, an announcement is made, spitting bludgeoning words at her face, screaming out that, 'He didn't make it. We're very sorry.'

But she didn't want sorry, nor need it, 'Bring him back. You said, you said...and I did what you said. You lied. You're not God, like I mistook you for.'

Her wedding was to have taken place sometime in the future. No particular date had been set. Only that it was to be. And he, her future father-in-law was to wear a white dinner jacket. And he had been promised the first dance with his new daughter-in-law, following her first dance with her groom. Without forethought of music, to dance the first dance as a legal member...finally. She was so proud, an honor bestowed; a father-in-law to lean upon, to walk with through a wooded terrain, shielding her from the devil-coated blinding sun, and learn all about Canadian Geese, and Big Berthas, and Tucson real estate, and riches from the heart. And in the midst of it all, stealthily stuffing a pipe, and sharing an unspoken smoke.

Now sitting beneath a huge pine tree, the biggest one at the cemetery, she pondered her would-have-been new father-in-law. Quietly listening, cradled in a garden of headstones, decorated with sporadic yellow daffodils, white roses, and rocks of plenty; her new husband was meandering about in his own private confusion, only to join her in silence, which was abruptly interrupted by her own laughter.

"What's so funny?" he asked.

"Oh my," she said aghast. "He, he tried to sit up."

"What? Who?" said her new husband.

"Your dad. I saw him. And he tried to sit up, in his coffin, and he hit his head on the top."

"On the top of what?" her new husband demanded.

"On the top of the coffin. The lid's still on," she said, badgered by his ignorance, "and he bumped his head."

"Oh." he said, with a shady glance.

"I saw him, and I heard him too. I mean this. Truly I do."

"I don't hear anything," her new husband said as if he were a jackass sitting in a bucket of shit. "What did he say?"

"He's hungry."

The new husband only wished he too could hear his father, let alone see him. It had been four months since the burial, and this was the first time they had visited the grave site. Hoping that time would blindly seal away some of the memory, and blend itself into their lives, like a mixture of white flour, salt, and baking soda.

They were to have been married along the small boat pond in Central Park; veiled in white lace, it had been planned that she would arrive in a gondola, white gardenias strewn about, where the promised father-in-law to be was to have met her, guiding her onto the landing, and arm in arm, escorting her down the aisle: a short, narrow path covered with rustic autumn leaves, roped off on either side in heavy gold; off to meet the promised groom. Not too much froth, or silvery buttons, or glistening lights, but rather candles glowing and dancing in the waters mirroring a titillating agitation.

A white dinner jacket, a tiny ballet pink rose, encased inside of a hefty pride embossed frame: the picture, notched deep into her memory bank. But soon transforming her dismal muse to that of an obese Fairy Godmother clutching a magical wand containing the power to strike out her noir memory....shall we dance a waltz? Show me your hand. Yes, you are my daughter-in-law now.

The new husband so much coveted for her cunningness, "Teach me how to do it," he pleaded. "What's he saying now? How does he look?"

"Crowded. Cute."

"Cute?"

"Cute," she repeated. "He was telling me about the deli we passed on the way here, and sardonically added that we should have brought some lox and bagels and cream cheese. All he talks about is food." Her eyes were closed, and her lips regaled a continuous smile.

"How does he sound?" the new husband asked.

"Strong. Content. Peaceful. He's not bothered by the fact that he's there, other than he's so damn hungry." A pervasive serenity hovered for a moment, then she continued, "Relax, and close your eyes. Take some deep breaths, and..."

"Oh, oh, he spoke to me."

"No kidding. What'd he say?" she asked.

"He said, 'Pastrami on rye'. And 'Don't forget the extra mustard.' And he wants to know 'What took you guys so long to come here'?"

"He's sitting beside you now. But you already knew that. And his left arm is resting along your back and left shoulder," she told the new husband.

Then the new husband suddenly stood up, and reached out his hand for her, his new wife, to join him. At that point he placed his right arm around her waist, took her right hand into his left hand, holding her very close. Situated in their small circle under the enormous pine tree, they danced, without song, they danced. And the new husband said to her, his new wife, "He asked me to have this dance with you just for him. A waltz. We shall waltz then, my wife."

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