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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
Things You Can Be Certain
Grandmother asks me to test her coffin for durability and overall quality.
“You gotta try everything before you spend the bucks,” she says. “My big box is no sedan, sweetheart. This one’s for keeps, so get inside.”
She likes to find an upscale bargain. She likes to use the word sustainable. She likes to taste the flavors of fro-yo twice before sticking her spoon in any particular scoop. She says she tried out a few other grandchildren before settling on me. She brought a housewarming plant to my apartment, sealing the deal. “I think you have potential,” she says, “even though you live alone.” We grab a cup of chocolate and a cone of pistachio before heading to make her final purchase.
The wholesale casket warehouse is chilled with dry dust, and I look at Grandmother to make sure she’s serious. “With haste, missy,” she says. “Get in, I haven’t got all day. Just ask my doctors.”
I shrug at the salesman and sort of shake my head to diffuse things.
“Grandmothers, am I right?” I laugh. His ponytail is tied long and low. Maybe he’ll climb inside the box with me, show me the bonus features. Maybe we’ll buy the box for ourselves, take it for a spin, flip the top back, wake-style. I lean on the coffin and pop my hip. The store phone rings and he goes to answer it.
“Take a look around, whatever you need, you know,” he says.
In the warehouse, there’s some saxophone tunes playing at a low volume. This must be what music sounds like underground, I think. I am still leaning on the coffin, and Grandmother nudges my lower back with her famed depression-era muscles. I lose my balance and tumble in.
“How are the acoustics?” she asks.
“Not bad,” I say. I sort of nestle my face in the foamy padding, wondering if it’s hypoallergenic. “It’s so soft!” I say.
“What’s that now?”
“It’s really quite soft.”
“Here, you want your purse in there?” she asks.
“Sure.” My purse lands on my feet. I think about sitting up to grab my phone, but it’s truly a comfortable box, and I stay where I am.
“Now try it with the lid closed,” Grandmother says, and I oblige.
Should I work on my taxes tonight? I think. It seems like a far away chore, like a germ trapped in a jar, and I can look at it without getting anxious or squirmy. It’s nice! The box keeps me in my own skin. I have that feeling when I know I’m about to take a nap, and I don’t try and stop it.
You don’t seem yourself, I say to my plant. She looks like she has plant flu. My apartment doesn’t get much light, but it has been particularly dark. Poor plant. I cancel some plans to dine out, and tend to her with a yellow water pitcher. Then I remember that I forgot to actually cancel the plans, but no one seems to mind. My fridge is stocked with things I love to eat, and I eat them whenever I want.
The coffin salesman shows up at my door several times when I am not in the mood. I can see his face through the peephole in the door.
“Not in the mood for you, sir.”
“Just saying hey there.”
“What can I do?” he asks. “I think you’re excellent.”
“Do you want to help me with my taxes?”
“That’s what I’d call a terrible idea.”
I look through the peephole again. His hair is combed out long and wavy. It’s been growing for years.
Do you want to help me with my taxes, poor plant? I am an adult now, I think, and perhaps I deserve an accountant. I don’t use one for the same reason I don’t go to the dentist. I don’t like being judged on things in my mouth, in my wallet. My receipts are in my purse, but my purse is in the living room, which is much too far away. I’m so comfortable, plant. I wonder if I can write off Grandmother’s coffin as a transportation expense. Or research, perhaps. A gift? Who needs an accountant when you’re a creative type.
“Do you want to come see the new caskets we have in stock?” he asks through the peephole. Is he getting gray around the temples?
“Are you getting gray around the temples?”
“Probably on account of you.”
“Tell me about the new caskets!”
“There’s this one, and it looks like a pink ferrari. Wanna take a ride?”
Grandmother bequeathed to me her fro-yo punch cards, among other prized possessions. She accumulated twenty-five punches, and I only need five more to get a cone of pistachio for free. I am excited for my free cone. It’s a bargain I can anticipate.
“I have a free cone coming my way,” I tell him.
“Is that right?”
“No lie. Any day now, I’ll be thick with fro-yo.”
I think, I’ll call the coffin salesman to see if he wants to come and share the cone with me. I am lying on the floor next to the door, and he is in the hall. When I get enough punches., I’ll give him a ring. I stretch my arms up to the fan and the recessed lighting. I’ll tap open my ceiling and climb out to meet him.
Hilary Leichter‘s work has appeared in n+1, The Barnes & Noble Review, The Kenyon Review, the Indiana Review, the L Magazine, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. She is an associate editor for NOON Annual and a recipient of a 2013 fellowship from The Edward F. Albee Foundation. She has taught at Columbia University and FreeBird Bookstore, and lives in Brooklyn, NY.
*Tin House is now accepting flash fiction (under 1,000 words) for FLASH FRIDAYS. Please send to firstname.lastname@example.org with FLASH FRIDAY as your subject line.